Reimagining Education

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Sometimes failing is a good thing

Preclarus Mastery Academy in St. Louis will close in June, Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology in Kansas City is having its charter revoked at the end of the year, and two other Kansas City charter schools, Pathway Academy and Academy for Integrated Arts, are being put on a one-year probation by their charter sponsor.

This might seem like bad news for the charter movement in Missouri — a movement which is currently fighting to expand the possibility of charter schools beyond the limited zones of St. Louis City and Kansas City.

It is not.

The recent announcements of charter sponsors cracking down on charter schools that have had persistently low academic outcomes are proof that the charter model is working.

This is, after all, one of the central tenets of the charter school movement — if a school is not serving its students and offering a high-quality alternative to traditional district schools then it is easy to shutter the school and quickly give those children a chance to choose a better alternative.


The difference in traditional schools

This does not happen in traditional school districts. Students in Normandy, for example, had to suffer through 15 years of failing schools before the threat of student transfers (and the resulting funding loss) forced the state and the district to focus on turning the schools around.

The district will be granted provisional accreditation in January, but their academic performance is still abysmally low with only 32.9 percent of the students scoring advanced or proficient in English Language Arts, only 16 percent scoring advanced or proficient in Math, only 7.6 percent scoring advanced or proficient in Science, and only 11.1 percent scoring advanced or proficient in Social Studies.

If Normandy schools were charter schools the Missouri School Board Association, teachers unions, and other opponents of charter schools would have called for their closure years ago and used the district as a boogeyman of why families should not be given the freedom to choose a school that fits their child.

Instead, the district was allowed to fail its students year after year after year because closing failing schools would mean cutting jobs and losing the right to claim state and federal funding for the district.


Learning through failing

The closure of Preclarus and possible closure of Benjamin Banneker will have real impacts on the teachers and staff, many of whom are exceptional at their job, who currently call those schools home.

Yes, they will lose their jobs, but they will also have the opportunity to take their skills, and the lessons they have learned from working in a failing school, to other schools in the area and continue their mission of making a difference in children’s lives.

This is another central purpose of charter schools — to provide an environment for educators to take risks and try new ways of teaching that may revolutionize the educational landscape.

When those risks end up failing, they serve as valuable learning experiences to discover what does not work.

Whether they find a new home in another charter school, a private school, or a district school, the teachers and staff from closed charter schools will take those experiences, and the knowledge they gained, with them and use it to improve what they do.

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