Charter schools were not generally remarkable a decade ago when they first appeared in St. Louis City. While some school founders had high expectations and built good schools, too many others of the new school were indistinguishable from poor quality district schools.
Parents looking for better choices asked for help. In 2007, I issued a national call for high quality charter schools to open in St. Louis. So far, 13 new public charter schools have successfully answered me. These schools were willing to engage in a rigorous approval process, sign performance contracts with their sponsor, and deliver to the city's families the kind of high quality academic experience they deserve. This fall, 1 out of every 3 public school students in the City of St. Louis will attend a charter school. Many of them will be the kind of great schools parents want for their children. Gateway Science Academy, which opened in August 2010, had 100 percent re-enrollment, and added 150 more seats for next school year. City Garden Montessori has the highest 3rd grade reading scores in St. Louis City among non-gifted public schools. KIPP's St. Louis site had the highest first year growth of any new school in the KIPP network. North Side Community School, St. Louis Language Immersion, Carondelet Leadership Academy, Shearwater, KIPP and Grand Center Arts Academy have similar good stories to tell.
Four new public charter schools will open this fall and attempt to join the ranks of good city public schools: Preclarus Mastery Academy, South City Prep, Jaama Learning Center and Better Learning Communities Academy. These schools will provide hundreds of City students with public academic opportunities not currently available in their neighborhood.
To meet the pent-up demand for quality public schools among parents of children already enrolled in city schools, I hope for improvement in the St. Louis Public School District as they find working models of good schools within blocks of their own buildings. The announcement by Superintendent Adams to have district charter schools is welcome news. We can add these new schools to the 3 or 4 additional new independent charter public schools I expect to open their doors every school year.
I also expect an influx of new students. Some will be from among the 22,000 children whose families left the City in search of good schools over the past 10 years, but who miss St. Louis. Others will be the children of the 20,000 college-educated 25-35 year olds who chose to make the City their home over the past decade. As they have children themselves, they will be more inclined to stay if they have good school choices.
I have heard that a member of the elected Board of Education of the St. Louis Public School District has begun predicting the end of charter schools in St. Louis. Fortunately, the legal theory on which the analysis is based is crackpot. Unfortunately, the attitude that an institution is more important than the service it offers is still alive in some corridors of SLPS. Not even the evidence of empty desks and two generations of lost students has so far fully dispelled it.