The Danforth Report, which was made public this week, recommends a critical change of direction for the St. Louis Public School District. I agree with the report, because it represents a rare chance for everyone to come together to chart a new direction for thousands of our City’s children.
The St. Louis Public Schools are in a state of crisis.
Today, 90 percent of the SLPS’ 7th graders cannot read at grade level. This lack of such a fundamental skill colors everything that happens next to these students. About three thousand kids enter high school each year. Typically, between 50 and 60 percent of them will graduate — with many of the drop-outs still handicapped by the same lack of basic skills that made further schooling intolerable to them. Of those who do graduate, fewer than 200 kids test at or above the average on the ACT.
So, three thousand kids enter high school, and 200 of them graduate with the skills to have a realistic chance of succeeding in a competitive, global economy. If you take out high-achieving Metro High School and Gateway High School, the percentage of kids with good ACT scores approaches zero. By any measure, the SLPS is a failure for most of its students.
Dr. Danforth’s recommendation is simple: step off the road to failure.
Because the next several weeks are likely to be contentious ones, I want to be very clear about my position. I support the Danforth recommendations; and I support a return to local control when the SLPS has stabilized.
The troubles in the St. Louis Public Schools did not begin yesterday . . . or in April . . . or four years ago . . . or ten years ago. They will not go away just because one person, or any group of people, goes away. These schools have failed children for a very long time. It will take a major overhaul, sustained over a long period of time, to raise the schools to the standard that we all want.
Once schools have been stabilized and put on a path to success, the SLPS should be returned to local control with a governance structure that will maintain reform and promote innovation. Until that time, we all have plenty of work to do to provide every child with the chance for a good, free education.