Save Gordon Parks Elementary School
Gordon Parks Elementary School, a charter school in Kansas City, has abysmally low achievement scores. In 2012, just 13 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on the state’s communication arts exam and 17 percent in math. For this reason, among others, the State Board of Education, at the behest of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), voted to not renew the school’s charter. The decision of DESE and the State Board to close Gordon Parks may sound reasonable, there is just one problem — it may not be their decision to make.
That is the argument of the Gordon Parks School Board and Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. In a recent Missouri Times article Thaman said:
Our concern is that this action overstepped authority. It’s the responsibility of the sponsor of the school to make a decision whether it’s renewed or closed. There was no indication to University of Central Missouri about the closing or information that they weren’t conducting evaluations correctly.
You see, in Missouri, colleges and universities sponsor charter schools. It is up to these institutions to evaluate their charter schools and to revoke their sponsorship if they are not performing or improving.
I certainly don’t believe low-performing schools should remain open. (For the record, there are five traditional public schools in the Kansas City District that performed lower than Gordon Parks in communication arts and nine that performed lower in math.) However, that decision is best decided by the school’s sponsor and by the individual choices of parents and students, not bureaucrats in Jefferson City. After all, it is the parents, students, and the school sponsor who benefit or are hurt due to the school’s performance. Therefore, it is the parents and the sponsor who should have the final say in closing the school.
The courts likely will settle this case; still, the damage to Gordon Parks is most likely done. Many of the students and staff have already left. The court decision, however, could set an important precedent for charter schools in Missouri. It would either give greater authority to the state to close charter schools or reserve that right for the charter school’s sponsor. I hope it’s the latter.