Here’s a fact: there are more good school choices for City parents today than there were ten, five, or — even one year ago. And here’s a hope: there will be even more good school choices for City parents next year, and five and ten years from now.
The most dramatic instances of this reality are the choices being made by thousands of parents in the City to send their kids to charter schools, free public schools that operate outside the district’s control. New charters have opened in every part of the City — and their total student population is already nearing the size of the parochial school system. Although the current charter schools are of widely varying quality, every student sitting at a desk in a charter school is doing so because a parent has made the decision that it beats an alternative.
A great example of the sort of charter school I hope to have in St. Louis in the near future are the excellent KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) middle schools. Founded in 1994 by Teach For America alumni Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, KIPP targets educationally underserved students. KIPP schools have a long school day (7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.), four-hour Saturday sessions, a 220-day school year, mandatory one-month summer school, access to teachers during non-school hours, and home visits by school staff. The longer school day and year allow KIPP students to spend more time in core academic classes, but not at the expense of enrichment courses. Teachers, parents, and students all sign “commitment to excellence contracts” that specify ways each stakeholder is responsible for the student’s success. KIPP has demonstrated remarkable outcomes in individual schools, and an impressive aptitude for replicating its model nationally. One hallmark statistic is that 80 percent of students who complete 8th grade at a KIPP school go on to college. That’s about 4 times the rate of other students from low-income families.
But, charter schools are not the only choices for City parents. There are also great choices being made available by the expansion plans of several local Catholic schools and the foundation of new academies here by Jesuit educators. In several conversations on the subject, I found Archbishop Raymond Burke and his staff to have a strong commitment to improving their school district.
And, finally, there are the schools of the St. Louis Public School District. The relative calm that prevails in the headquarters of the St. Louis Public School District as the administration and its two school boards face up to the challenges of working productively together, and this week’s announcement by state senator Joan Bray that she will sponsor the formal nomination of Rick Sullivan as the district’s chief executive officer are both very helpful signs for present — and for the future.