Desperate Measures for Desperate Times
In the spring 2022 assessments, just 13.4 percent of the students in St. Louis’s traditional public schools scored on grade level in math, and 20 percent did so in reading. The average St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) ACT scores have fallen from 16.3 in 2019 to just 15.7 in 2022. Enrollment is dropping and chronic absenteeism is on the rise. The district is failing its high school students.
There is some good news, though, for high school students in St. Louis. Believe STL Academy, a charter school, is set to open next fall. Believe STL is modeled after the Believe Circle City (BCC) high school in Indianapolis. BCC works with “historically underestimated youth” and helps them become successful adults. BCC has achieved dramatic results, such as having 30 percent of its students pass a college-level Advanced Placement exam, spurring dramatic growth in the SAT scores of its students, and having extremely high (92 percent) average daily attendance.
Sadly, SLPS is suing to prevent this school from opening. The case rests on an administrative matter—SLPS claims it wasn’t informed that the school would be opening. The charter school’s application was approved by both the Missouri Public Charter School Commission and the state board of education. Yet, the SLPS Board wants to derail it. The board president said, “There are too many schools in St. Louis right now.”
The number of schools, filled or nearly empty, has nothing to do with the quality of those schools when students are assigned to them. When students get to choose, it does. Only those schools that can attract and keep students will stay open. Blocking charter schools, especially those with proven track records, is akin to trapping children on a sinking ship. Shouldn’t we instead be building a system of schools that best serves as many students as possible?