School bus
Susan Pendergrass

What a mixed-up world we live in. In order to keep her daughter in the school she has chosen, a school that is working wonderfully for her daughter, Renita Jones has to do the impossible. She has to sell the home she has owned for fifteen years and quickly find an affordable apartment in Ladue, a wealthy suburb of St. Louis. If not, her daughter will be sent back to a failing school in her home district of Normandy.

Jones is part of a student transfer program that was created when the Normandy schools were so low performing that an emergency exit was created that allowed students to enroll in other districts. Now, the “system” that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) uses to rate the performance of school districts has somehow declared that Normandy, a district in which just three percent of 7th graders were proficient in math last year, is good enough. The transfer program is over, and the exit has been closed.

But let’s look at the bigger picture. Parents (and I can’t believe how often I have to say this) want to have choices when it comes to their child’s education. Of course parents in one of the lowest-performing districts in the state jumped at the chance to leave when it was offered. But guess who else chooses something other than their neighborhood school? Parents of bullied students, parents of students who are assigned to a big school but would do better in a small school, parents of students who want or need a particular curriculum such as fine arts or the classics and parents of students with disabilities who find a program that connects to their child’s needs. This list could go on and on.

So now the media is highlighting the tragedy of Tyler Ratlif Woods, who was on the path to college. Woods just found that he will not be attending high school in Ladue, where he went to elementary and middle schools. Instead he must return to his low-performing and potentially dangerous neighborhood high school in Normandy. One article quotes a transfer student’s father, Paul Davis, who called the transfer program a “gift from God.”

These stories are upsetting. It seems unfair. Forcing these children to return to their crumbling district isn’t going to help that district much, but it is going to hurt those children. In this case it’s obvious. But let’s not forget the less obvious—school-aged children are not the property of a school district by virtue of their address. They are individuals with individual needs who should have options when it comes to their education.


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.