On Friday, the Missouri Board of Education proved that school choice works.
For close to two decades families in the Normandy area have been trapped in one of the state’s worst-performing school districts.
Year, after year, after year students started kindergarten in a failing school and continued on through the school system until they graduated from high school, never once setting foot in a classroom that met the state standards.
The traditional school system and the state failed an entire generation of students and nobody seemed to care.
On Friday, that same school system was heralded as a shining example of a dramatic school-turn-around effort (although it still has a long way to go before it is actually providing the high-quality education students deserve).
In 2013 the system of failure that had disadvantaged Normandy students for over a decade and a half faced a major problem. A little-known law finally allowed over 1,000 students, a quarter of the student population, to flee the failing system for a chance at a better future.
And with those students went lots and lots of money.
Suddenly Normandy and the state had to figure out how to pay millions of dollars for tuition and transportation to other districts and, more importantly, how to get to a point where they could stop paying those costs.
The only way to survive was to actually improve the system that had been ignored for the past 15 years.
Suddenly everyone cared about fixing a broken system.
Just by giving families the choice to go to a school that provided the high-quality education they deserved, the failing Normandy schools started to see rapid improvement.
Similar improvements happened across Missouri, and across the country, when traditional school districts were disrupted by parents actually having a choice in where to send their children.
Riverview Gardens regained provisional accreditation last year after facing similar budget shortfalls as a result of families choosing to transfer students to better-performing districts and St. Louis City and Kansas City schools have refocused efforts to improve their schools after facing growing competition from charter schools.
According to Gov. Eric Grietens, from 2009 to 2015, Missouri fell from 18th in the nation to 28th in fourth-grade reading and from 23rd to 32nd in eighth-grade math. And, ACT scores show that three out of every four Missouri kids aren’t fully ready for college.
Education Week ranks the state at 31st in the nation for our overall education and gives the state a D+ ranking for academic achievement.
Our schools are not just failing children in Normandy, they are failing children across the state.
The reality is that, in today’s increasingly demanding job market where over 60 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree in just three years, our children do not have 15 years to wait for schools to improve.
We need to create disruptive forces that will spur our outdated education system to new heights of innovation and we need to do it now.
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