“You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.”
St. Louis Public Radio posted a piece yesterday about $54 million in stimulus funds that Missouri has received to spend on underperforming schools. One particular paragraph caught my eye (emphasis added):
The competitive bids will fund interventions into schools that are in the bottom 5 percent academically, or have graduation rates below 60 percent. But districts have to agree to one of four draconian options, including firing the principal and most of the staff, closing the school and reopening it as a charter school, closing the school and sending students elsewhere, or a model that focuses on teacher education and curriculum changes.
Last time I checked, “draconian” meant “rigorous; unusually severe or cruel.” I’m not sure I would consider “closing the school and reopening it as a charter school” or using “a model that focuses on teacher education and curriculum changes” as severe or cruel. In fact, they seem to be rather obvious solutions, especially considering these schools consistently underperform.
Show-Me Institute scholars have written extensively about charter schools, including a recent policy study highlighting the benefits of charter schools. Of the four options summarized above, charter schools provide the most promise for improvement. Although they’re not a cure-all, charter schools can inject some needed competition into the school system. Not every charter school will succeed, just as there will be public schools that do not succeed. Nevertheless, the ability to innovate — and to close failing schools — gives charter schools an advantage over traditional public schools. If a school is failing, as these are, it does not serve the children or the taxpayers to continue funding it. Schools that are not fulfilling their mission to educate their students need to be overhauled.
With this large potential influx of federal money, it would be imprudent not to require that some radical changes occur first. The four options given may seem extreme, but they are necessary to improve the schools. Keeping children in failing schools without expecting those schools to make changes that might better serve to educate them properly is the truly draconian option.