A report from a coalition of church groups in St. Louis says a plan commissioned by the Missouri state board of education to help struggling school districts could result in “an educational ghetto.”
Instead of the plan presented earlier this month by the outside consultant CEE-Trust, a group known as Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis wants to give more local control to school districts. It also wants to focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing and provide so-called wrap-around services for students who do not get proper support at home.
Presenting the report Thursday afternoon at the Ferguson Public Library, Carolyn Randazzo, who chairs the group’s education task force, said that the conclusions and recommendations of the CEE-Trust plan are not supported by the evidence.
“Their reforms are not backed by credible research,” she said. “They limit real community involvement in our public schools.”
The group says it is bring its faith values into the wide-ranging discussion of how Missouri can deal with struggling school districts – an issue brought into sharp focus last summer when students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens began transferring to nearby accredited districts.
'An Educational Ghetto'
Commenting on suggestions from CEE-Trust and others that special districts be set up that would monitor underachieving districts, Randazzo said that idea would not create the proper atmosphere to improve student performance.
“I feel that is creating an educational ghetto,” she said.
Besides the three basic points in its plan, Randazzo also said Missouri has to fully fund the foundation formula, designed to provide a solid financial footing for all districts across the state.
“Without adequate funding,” she said, “any reform efforts become unfunded mandates, and they are likely to be unsuccessful.”
And, she noted, the state needs to lower the age for mandatory school attendance.
“In Missouri,” Randazzo pointed out, “you don’t have to go to school until you’re 7 years old. You’re not required to go to kindergarten. That’s too long to wait, and children in poverty need that good start.
From Kansas City
The CEE-Trust plan, which was presented to the state board of education earlier this month at a meeting in Jefferson City, concentrated on the Kansas City schools, which are unaccredited. But state officials said its conclusions could be applied to other troubled school districts in Missouri.
Students living in the Kansas City district have not begun transferring to nearby accredited districts, as state law provides and as students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens have been doing since the start of the current school year. But a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling said the law does apply to Kansas City, so the start of transfers there looms in the coming months.
Officials with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have begun hearings statewide to get public comment on the various plans that have been suggested to help troubled school districts.
The first session was held Wednesday night in Kansas City. The St. Louis hearing will be Tuesday evening at the J.C. Penney building on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
The state school board is scheduled to hold a working session on Feb. 10 to discuss the various plans, and DESE is expected to present its plan to the board on Feb. 18.
Criticism of CEE-Trust
The Metropolitan Congregations United plan found fault with many parts of the CEE-Trust report, taking particular aim at the idea that has been proposed by several groups urging changes in how Missouri deals with struggling school districts across the state. Called an achievement district, it would be in charge of monitoring and providing help for underachieving schools.
Instead of segregating such districts, the group proposed a plan for sustainable school improvement that called for more time for Kansas City, whose school showed improvement in the first year of Missouri’s new evaluation program for public schools.
“We believe,” the study concluded, “that sustainable transformation will happen only when students, parents and communities are brought to the table to help shape a unique and locally owned plan for improvement.”
Much of the group’s report dealt with what the group considers to be the shortcomings of the CEE-Trust plan.
Too Much Consolidation
Specifically, it took the CEE-Trust study to task for consolidating control over troubled districts; relying on market-based reforms and an increase use of charter schools; increasing schools’ reliance on short-term, inexperienced teachers from programs such as Teach for America; stressing the advantage of decentralized budgeting, which it said has not been shown to improve school funding or equity; and using more high-stakes tests to measure the performance of students, teachers and schools.
It also said that districts in New York City and New Orleans, which were highlighted by CEE-Trust as being successful for using its strategies, still have challenges, and much of their improvement can be traced to a time before the recommended reforms took place.
Apart from its conclusions, the CEE-Trust plan has also drawn fire for how its contract to conduct the research was conducted.
But Randazzo said that as far as her group’s efforts are concerned, that is a side topic that doesn’t directly affect schoolchildren.
“That’s not our issue at this point, about what happened in that process,” she said. “We want to keep it focused on the kids.”