Reimagining Education

Charter schools should be a choice for more communities

Last week the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a misleading editorial on charter school expansion. The paper declined to run a counterpoint Op-Ed on the subject submitted by CEAM Board President Brian Murphy and CEAM Executive Director Laura Slay, but instead published a shortened Letter to the Editor today. The following is the full Op-Ed that was originally submitted.

Is education about protecting a building or a district, or is it about the success of our children?

A recent editorial by the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board seems to argue that it is more about protecting buildings after buying into the anti-charter lobby’s spin that there is some nefarious plot to “weaken public school education” by expanding the “experiment” of charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools! They are far past the stage of being an experiment with 20 years of success in St. Louis City and Kansas City.

In fact, they are the most sought after option of the public school systems in the areas where they are allowed to operate.

Close to half of the students in Kansas City and over a third of students in St. Louis City have chosen charter schools over their local districts.  Outside of the city, there are thousands of students begging for access to charter schools and a chance to escape from districts that have failed generations of students.

The parents of those students don’t want to destroy schools, they just want schools that work for their children and give them a future.

The anti-charter lobby in Missouri seems to want to have their cake and eat it too when warning against charter schools. They bemoan the number of charter schools that have been shut down in St. Louis since 2000 while at the same time arguing that charters should not be expanded because it is too hard to shut them down.

But the public charter school model actually offers students more protection from poorly performing schools. If a public charter school is not successfully educating their students then it is shut down.  Students are then able to move to a better performing school.

Students in district schools do not have the same opportunity. 

Normandy, Riverview Gardens and SLPS operated for decades without full accreditation.

Students in those districts would tell you it is a good thing to close a failing school.

But the needs of those students were ignored in last week’s Post-Dispatch editorial.

Instead, the Editorial Board focused on largely affluent, largely white suburban school districts.

They warned families in those districts that charter schools will weaken the success of their districts, ignoring the fact that three charter schools in St. Louis City received the same perfect score on the state Annual Performance Report as the highest performing suburban districts.

This argument was based on a selective retelling of the success of charter schools in St. Louis and a biased report from an organization whose sole purpose is to prevent parents from having more education choices.

Real data on the success of charter schools paints an entirely different picture.

Looking at historical data in the St. Louis region, it is hard to argue that charter schools have harmed the success of St. Louis Public Schools.

Since 2008, when SLPS lost any form of state accreditation, charter schools have continued to expand and grow in St. Louis. During that same time, SLPS has seen considerable improvements, regaining provisional accreditation in 2013 and full accreditation in 2017. Many expect the state to return full control of the school district to the locally elected board next month.

A wide berth of national data shows that students in charter schools have better success than similar students in district schools.

A 2017 Stanford University study showed that, in every sector, charter schools show small but significant gains in reading and math compared to traditional schools.

Tracking of students in larger network charter schools like KIPP shows low-income alumni earning bachelor’s degrees at rates up to four times as high as the 11 percent rate expected for that student population.

Success like this might well be attractive, even to those suburban families in high performing districts, if not, then charter schools will not open there.

At the base level, changing the charter school law in Missouri is not about forcing charters on a community. It is about giving communities the option to choose a charter if they want or need one.

Giving parents options should never be seen as a threat to any school district that is already serving its students well.

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