Commentary: Charter options should be available to more Missouri students | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Charter options should be available to more Missouri students

Oct 15, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 15, 2008 - There is a belief that minority children in our central cities are our core education problem. This ignores the basic data on how children are performing in Missouri. While it is critical to focus on minority children in central cities, Missouri's education policies have to focus on all our children.

Let's look at the data. (I'm defining a poor performing student as one who tests basic or below basic on MAP tests for grades 3-8, 10 and 11. A metro student is one who goes to school in the city of St. Louis or Kansas City and includes charter schools. The data came from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, using detailed District data.)

Most People "Know" That

Fact: More minority students test basic or below than white students. (See Table 2 below) The numbers are 78 percent for black versus 47.6 percent for whites.

Fact: More metro students test basic or below than non-metro students. (Table 2) The numbers are 79.9 percent versus 51 percent.

Fact: Most minority students test basic or below. (Table 2) 78 percent of black students test at basic or below.

Facts That May Surprise You:

Fact: Most minority students do not go to school in the city of St. Louis and Kansas City. (See Table 1 below) Only 30 percent of black students go to school in these metro areas.

Fact: Most poor performing minority students do not live in these metro areas. (See Table 3 below) 67 percent of black students testing basic or below go to school outside Kansas City and St. Louis City.

Fact: A small percentage of poor performers live in these metro areas. Only 10 percent of all students testing basic or below go to school in Kansas City and the city of St. Louis.

Fact: Most poor performing students don't live in metro areas and are white. (See Table 4 below) Almost 70 percent of children testing basic or below and living outside St. Louis and Kansas City are white.

What does this data mean? That solving the minority, metro problem will only affect less than 6 percent of students in Missouri. Solving the education problem will require an expanded focus on all schools from the bad to the great. Many minority children do poorly outside the metro areas. Almost half of white students need help.

I propose one change. Missouri law only allows charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis, because that is where most people think the problems are. Missouri is the only state with a charter-school program that is not statewide. Charters were approved in Missouri to help our poor performing students. (A reminder: Charter schools are public schools. They just aren't strangled by bureaucratic regulations. In other states, it's common for a high school and its feeder schools to convert to charters to bring back true local control. In California, for example, a vote by teachers can lead to conversion from regular public to charter.)

Since the problem area cannot be limited to St. Louis and Kansas City, and if charters are helpful, then we need charters for all of Missouri.

Jeanne Sinquefield is a philanthropist and classical musician. She received her MBA in finance and management science and a Ph.D. in demography from the University of Chicago. She is a retired investment fund executive and lives in Osage County, Mo.

Table 1. For students by race % Metro% Not MetroBlack30.569.5Hispanic30.869.2White1.198.9Total7.292.8


Table 2 % of students testing basic or below by race and metro/non metro/total MetroNot MetroTotalBlack83.475.678Hispanic77.764.468.5White63.547.447.6Total79.951.453.4


Table 3 For Students Testing Basic or Below: % Metro and Non-Metro by Race % Metro% Not MetroTotalBlack32.667.4100.0Hispanic34.965.1100.0White1.598.5100.0Total10.789.3100.0


Table 4 % by Race, Metro and Non-Metro for those Testing Basic or Below and Total Basic or BelowTotalBlack Metro8.565.48Black Non Metro12.4917.67Hispanic Metro.97.67Hispanic Non Metro1.501.82White Metro.891.07White Non Metro69.3278.06Other Metro.13.11Other Non Metro.49.79