Reimagining Education

Post-Dispatch gets it wrong on Consortium Partnership Schools Network

For those of us who follow education issues in the news, there is a disturbing trend popping up all across the country. Many news outlets are souring on the school choice movement.

The result? Their readers and the general public are being deprived of a fair and balanced discussion about key issues that could impact the future of our children and our society.

You don’t have to look much further than the opinion pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to see this is an issue in Missouri as well.

In the past month, their editorial board has adopted the talking points and misinformation of the anti-school choice lobby in two editorials to attack both charter schools and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Most recently, they published a guest editorial by local labor attorney William Suggs attacking an innovative plan to give two St. Louis Public Schools elementary schools greater autonomy.

What the Post-Dispatch failed to tell their readers, even after being asked to do so, is that Suggs worked as a researcher and union organizer with the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest anti-school choice organizations in the country.

How that previous experience may have influenced Suggs’ views is something readers should have been given the right to consider.

However his work for AFT may have colored his Op-Ed, one thing is clear — Suggs got a lot wrong about SLPS’s new Consortium Partnership Schools Network (CPSN).

The new CPSN will place Ashland and Meramec Elementary schools, two of the district’s worst-performing schools, into a new governance model designed to give teachers and parents more control over what is happening in their school in an effort to help these schools improve.

Suggs claims this is a nefarious plan to undermine the locally elected school board, charging that Superintendent Kelvin Adams is trying to transform these schools into charter schools run by an outside company that will “compete to enroll high-performing students and innovate to get rid of challenging students.”

The truth is that, while the governance model is changing, these schools will still be neighboorhood district schools serving every child within their attendance zone. According to SLPS Director of Communications Meredith Pierce, there will be no applications and no requirements like at a magnet school. When the doors open in the fall the same kids will walk through them that walked out when school ends this year.

Suggs centers most of his attack on the false idea that the schools are ceding local control to a private company — Bellwether Education Partners.

The truth is that while SLPS has contracted with Bellwether (a highly respected education consulting company) the company will have no role in running or managing the schools. According to Pierce, Bellwether is only serving as a consultant and resource for teachers and principals during the planning stages for the new governance model and their contract will end this summer before students are even in the schools.

Suggs makes the unfounded accusation that “the well-being of these students is determined by an out-of-state organization with no skin in the game.”

The truth is that the schools will be overseen by a carefully appointed board with strong and direct ties to the community. That board will include the SLPS Superintendent, a member of the locally elected SLPS school board, a member appointed by the mayor, a member appointed by the Board of Aldermen, and a parent from one of the schools.

“The true leadership of these schools will be teachers with input from the principals and parents,” said Pierce. “We don’t know how much more local control you can get.”

Suggs also fails to mention, in addition to his previous affiliation with AFT, that the consortium model has proven to be very effective in other states and cities:

  • In New Orleans, where the traditional district system was transformed into a consortium of charter schools, the number of students attending a school with a performance score in the bottom 10 percent of the state decreased from 60 percent to only 13 percent over a decade.
  • In Denver, where a focus on decentralization resulted in a mix of charter schools, innovation schools, alternative schools, and traditional schools all working together, student performance in English and math dramatically increased over a decade, the passage of AP courses tripled, and average ACT scores rose from 16 to 18.6.
  • While still in their infancy, innovation schools (similar to the proposed consortium schools) in Indianapolis, saw jumps in passing rates on state achievement tests.
  • In Memphis, where local school boards created more autonomous schools in an “iZone,” iZone schools had positive and statistically significant effects on reading, math and science test scores.

It seems that the Post-Dispatch needs to more carefully vet its guest columnists — both for their hidden associations with organizations with agendas and for the actual truthfulness of wha they write.

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