On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle explains how the late Lillian Gobitas Klose’s battle to end mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the last century, as well as battles over school prayer today, show the need to transform American public education from traditional district bureaucracies to the public financing of high-quality traditional, parochial, charter, and private school options.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
One of the myths of American public education still perpetuated by both traditionalists and even some reformers is that suburban districts provide higher-quality teaching and curricula than their big-city peers. Certainly this is true in some cases (as evidenced by Contributing Editor Michael Holzman in his comparison of Rochester, N.Y., with the district in nearby Greece). But in many cases, suburban districts are doing only marginally better than big city peers in improving student achievement, and doing terribly by kids from poor and minority backgrounds. This is particularly true with places such as Fairfax, Va., often considered the nation’s premiere suburban district, as well as Montgomery County, Md., both in the D.C. suburbs. And particularly in the case of aging suburbs that are increasingly becoming urbanized (and have never dealt well with poor and minority kids to begin with), they can as atrocious in condemning kids to low expectations as failing urban counterparts.
This has been made clear by Dropout Nation last month in its collection of profiles on the Ferguson-Florissant district near St. Louis, which has garnered attention as a result of the senseless alleged murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Ferguson. Readers were shocked by the high levels of suspensions meted out in Ferguson-Florissant and the fact that few of its students were being provided college-preparatory learning; this latter fact especially stood out in light of Missouri’s decision in June to end implementation of Common Core reading and math standards.
But the question some raised was this: How well is Ferguson-Florissant doing compared to St. Louis’ perpetually-failing traditional district? So your editor took a look at data from the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights database and Missouri’s state education department. What was learned is that in many ways, a child attending a school in St. Louis is better off than their peers in Ferguson. More importantly, the failings of both districts call for both the expansion of school choice and a return by the state to implementing Common Core.
In 2011-2012, 855 young black men and women attending schools operated by Ferguson-Florissant school district were labeled as being developmentally delayed, emotionally disturbed, suffering from an intellectual disability (also known as mentally retarded), hampered by a specific learning disability like dyslexia, or suffering from a speech or language impairment. This means that 9.2 percent of black kids in the district were condemned to its special ed ghettos.
Certainly this is nearly double the 5.9 percent of white peers in Ferguson deemed special ed cases in the top five categories. But it gets worse. The percentage of Ferguson-Florissant’s black children condemned to the top five special ed categories is just three-tenths of a percentage point higher than the 9.5 percent of kids in St. Louis’ perpetually-failing traditional district labeled in the top five special ed categories. Ferguson-Florissant’s percentage of white kids labeled as special ed is just slightly higher than the 5.7 percent for their Caucasian peers in St. Louis.
This means that a black kid in suburban Ferguson-Florissant has a one-in-10 chance of being labeled a special ed case, a rate no different than for peers in St. Louis. Given the high levels of over-diagnosis of kids as special ed cases — as many as 75 percent of kids considered to be suffering from Speech Apraxia (the most-commonly diagnosed speech disability) are not actually suffering from that while many kids diagnosed as mildly retarded are simply illiterate — far too many kids in both Ferguson and St. Louis are being denied brighter futures.
It gets worse. Ferguson-Florissant meted out at least one out-of-school suspension to 11 percent of black children condemned to its special ed ghettos (including kids covered by Section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act); that rate is double the 4.9 percent of black kids condemned to special ed in St. Louis who were suspended once from school. Ferguson-Florissant also subjected another 13 percent of its black special ed kids to two or more suspensions, a rate higher than the 6.6 percent rate for peers in St. Louis.
Meanwhile Ferguson-Florissant meted out one or more in-school suspensions to 28 percent of black special ed kids, while St. Louis only subjected 8.5 percent of black kids in special ed to such discipline. Put bluntly, if you are a black kid condemned to special ed in Ferguson, you have a one-in-two chance of getting suspended at some point, while the chances of harsh school discipline for a peer in St. Louis is a (admittedly not great) one-in-five. As for the use of restraints and seclusion (or as prison inmates would call, solitary confinement)? Ferguson subjected three special ed students and four kids in regular ed programs to such discipline in 2011-2012. What about St. Louis? Big fat zero.
But if Ferguson is running neck-and-neck with — and in the case of harsh discipline for special ed kids, moving far ahead of — St. Louis, it is trailing behind the big city in providing opportunities to take college-preparatory math and science courses needed for success in higher education, in career, and in being a knowledgeable player in society.
Thirty percent of black high schoolers in St. Louis took Algebra II, double the 15 percent rate for their peers in Ferguson; 33 percent of St. Louis’ white students took Algebra II, also double the 18 percent rate for peers in Ferguson-Florissant. Nineteen percent of black high school students in St. Louis, along with 18 percent of white peers took chemistry, another key college prep course; that better than the respective rates of 7.3 percent and 14 percent for Ferguson-Florissant black and white peers. Meanwhile 27 percent of black high schoolers, and 37 percent of white peers in St. Louis took chemistry, a better rate than the 24 percent of Ferguson’s black high-schoolers and 27 percent rate for white high school peers.
But let’s not get it twisted: St. Louis isn’t doing better for black and white kids than Ferguson in every area. That’s not even close to reality. As with Ferguson, St. Louis does little to provide black kids (or even white kids) with opportunities to take calculus and other math and science courses needed for success in higher education. Just 3.5 percent of St. Louis’ black high schoolers and 10 percent of white peers took trigonometry, statistics and other forms of advanced math, lower than the 9.3 percent and 13 percent of black and white peers in Ferguson. A mere 17 black students and two white students took calculus, abysmal levels similar to those of Ferguson-Florissant kids.
As for Advanced Placement courses? St. Louis is doing better than Ferguson. But not by much. Four-point-two percent of St. Louis’ black high school students and 6.6 percent of white peers took A.P. Science; just 10 black high school students in Ferguson and two of their white school mates took the science course. One-point-three of black high schoolers in St. Louis took A.P. Math, barely higher than Ferguson’s 1.3 percent; 6.8 percent of St. Louis’ high school students took AP Math, double the three percent of Ferguson’s white kids. Sixty-eight point two percent of St. Louis high school grads took the ACT in 2011-2012, a slightly higher rate than the 67.9 percent rate for Ferguson-Florissant; but St. Louis’ students garnered an average score of 16.5 on the college-prep exam, 1.5 points lower than that for Ferguson.
Where Ferguson does have an advantage is in its graduation rate, with 78 percent of its students in its original Class of 2012 graduating on time, versus St. Louis’ 67 percent graduation rate. But as Dropout Nation noted last month, Ferguson-Florissant’s high graduation rate may be a result of its overuse of suspensions and expulsions, which lead to kids being pushed out of the district and end up in St. Louis and other surrounding school systems. Just as importantly, it doesn’t mean that more of Ferguson’s kids are heading to higher ed. Ferguson’s rate of graduates heading to higher ed institutions of 67 percent is only a percentage point higher than that for St. Louis. The suburban district also trails its big city counterpart in placing vocational school grads into jobs, with only 35 percent of Ferguson-Florissant vocational ed kids getting jobs versus 59 percent for St. Louis.
Put simply, when it comes to improving student achievement, especially for black children, suburban Ferguson-Florissant often does little better than big-city St. Louis on many measures. In fact, especially for kids trapped in special ed ghettos, Ferguson may be a worse district to which to be condemned than St. Louis. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted earlier this week, Ferguson-Florissant (along with another suburban district, University City) could end up being subjected to state intervention if their performance on Missouri’s accountability index continues to dive below the 75 points required to stay in good standing.
The fact that Ferguson-Florissant has managed to retain its state accreditation while St. Louis was rated unaccredited until the 2011-2012 school year says less about the district’s performance than about the slipshod approach Missouri has taken to overseeing its public education system. This was made clear in June as state education officials allowed the failing Normandy district to be rated as accredited despite its increasingly-woeful performance.
But Missouri offers few options for kids to escape failing or even mediocre traditional district schools — and shuts them down when possible. The state’s move to essentially accredit Normandy shut the door on kids from that district being able to transfer out of it into better-performing districts. Even more shocking was Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision that same month to veto legislation co-authored by his arch-nemesis, Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, that would have allowed for kids in failing districts to attend higher-quality public and private schools in the area shows the callousness of state officials when it comes to providing kids with high-quality educational options.
At the same time, the fact that both Ferguson-Florissant and St. Louis struggle to provide all kids with college-preparatory curricula they need and deserve exposes the shamefulness of the decision of state legislators and Nixon to halt Common Core implementation. By deciding to roll back the college-preparatory standards, politicians in the Show-Me State have shown in deed that they have no concern for the futures of children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds who will soon make up a majority of students in traditional public schools. Common Core opponents in Missouri and the rest of the nation may be cheering what they consider a victory for their ideological and political goals. But one wonders if they can look children, especially with skins of tan and brown, in they eye and say that they did the right thing? If they can, that says plenty of terrible things about their lack of concern for children.
What reformers in Missouri need to do now is push another school choice measure through the legislature next year; centrist and liberal Democrat reformers, in particular, must hold Nixon’s feet to the fire, reminding him that opposition to choice means that he won’t be re-elected in 2016. At the same time, reformers and Common Core supporters must mount a campaign to get legislators to reverse their decision on halting implementation. This means rallying chambers of commerce and others, as well as working over the next couple of years to back legislators who understand why comprehensive college-preparatory learning is critical to the Show-Me State’s future.
For our kids, just being in suburbia is no guarantee of high-quality education. This means that we must engage in aggressive systemic reform to help every child everywhere — especially in Missouri — attain the learning they deserve.
On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle casts a gimlet eye on the lawsuit filed by traditionalists in Florida against a school choice program and explains why reformers must fight zealously to defend and expand options for all of our children.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
There’s plenty of handwringing over the Obama Administration’s decision yesterday to not extend the No Child waiver given to Oklahoma two years ago. Common Core supporters such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute are concerned that the underlying reason for the administration’s decision — the Sooner State’s lack of college-and-career ready curricula standards after it moved in May to halt Common Core implementation — plays into the narrative of opponents that the standards are merely a federal scheme forced upon states. In fact, Petrilli is so worried that he called in a Politico article for Gov. Mary Fallin to file suit against the Obama Administration over its waiver decision, claiming that it is illegal for the federal government to put conditions on its waivers.
Meanwhile Sooner State officials are annoyed that the Obama Administration’ decision will force them back into using No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress accountability rules instead of the A-to-F grading system they put in place as a condition of their successful waiver request. In the process, the state fears that it will have to label 1,600 of its 1,763 schools as not meeting AYP, something it wouldn’t have to do under the A-to-F system.
From where your editor sits, both perspectives are off the mark. Certainly the No Child waivers have certainly proven to be a disastrous adventure in education policymaking — and one that is damaging a decade of systemic reform efforts. [More on that later in this piece.] The Obama Administration should stop with this policymaking run amock right now. At the same time, the administration is correct in holding Oklahoma accountable for its failures to keep the promise that was a condition of attaining the waiver in the first place. The Sooner State could have saved the waiver if it just did a little work. So it deserves no sympathy for bad decision-making.
One thing to keep in perspective: Oklahoma keeps its No Child waiver until the end of the 2014-2015 school year. This means that Sooner State officials could immediately address the matter of college-and-career ready standards within the next six months, submit a new No Child waiver request for approval. Given that the Obama Administration has been giving out waivers like candy — and even granting extensions to states such as Indiana in spite of strong concerns over how the sparring between reformers and traditionalist-oriented Supt. Glenda Ritz is bogging down efforts to implement promised reforms — Oklahoma can easily receive a new waiver by early next year. So all the worrying is unnecessary to start.
Another thing to keep in mind: Common Core opponents have long ago abandoned any effort to weave the No Child waivers into their narrative that Common Core was an Obama Administration plot to expand federal control over education. The waivers are hardly mentioned in Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest lawsuit in his jihad against the standards, while other opponents barely mention it at all. Perhaps Common Core foes will now try again to weave the waivers into their fanciful narrative. But even they have long ago given up on that because the waiver gambit doesn’t fit comfortably into their timeline.
Most importantly of all, we must keep in mind that under the No Child waiver gambit, the Obama Administration is essentially allowing states to ignore federal law — most-notably AYP and other accountability provisions — in exchange for implementing promised reforms. One of them is putting in place college-and-career ready standards of some kind that help kids attain the comprehensive college-preparatory curricula. While implementation of Common Core’s reading and math standards have been supported by the Obama Administration, the waiver process is structured in such a loose way that any standards that someone can call college-and-career ready can pass muster. This was clear two years ago when the Obama Administration granted a No Child waiver to Virginia despite evidence that its Standards of Learning regime were rated inferior to both Common Core and standards previous enacted by Indiana and Massachusetts by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. This was also clear yesterday when the administration extended Indiana’s waiver in spite of the fact that its officials halted Common Core implementation last year.
Given that Oklahoma had begun implementing Common Core in 2010, a year before it applied for a No Child waiver, the Sooner State already had this matter covered. In fact, the state could have not even bothered with implementing Common Core at all; Fordham rated the math and reading portion of its Priority Academic Student Skills standards a B+, below the rating for Common Core, but better than most other states. But the Sooner State proceeded to implement Common Core not in lieu of any waiver — that wasn’t coming on line for at least another year or so — but because reform-minded state officials at the time realized that the latter was better for achieving their goal of helping all kids succeed. Implementing Common Core was such a key part of its waiver proposal to the Obama Administration that putting the standards in place (along with tests aligned with it) took up 14 of the 88 pages (not including attachments) in its original proposal, the second-biggest after discussion about its proposed accountability regime.
So when the Sooner State legislature moved in May to halt Common Core implementation, Fallin and outgoing Supt. Janet Barresi knew that they had three months to meet their promise under the No Child waiver in order to get it extended for another year. They could have easily asked for a quick-and-dirty study to determine that the old PASS standards (to which the state had reverted) were college-and-career ready. Given how fast and loose the Obama Administration plays when it comes to waiver matters, this could have happened; in fact, the Obama Administration gave Oklahoma an assist by asking the Sooner State’s higher education agency to make that determination. But for some reason, neither Fallin nor Barresi made this happen. As a result, the Obama Administration declined to extend the No Child waiver, precipitating all this hand-wringing.
Simply put, neither Oklahoma officials nor Common Core supporters have a case here. Whatever you think of the Obama Administration’s misadventures on the waiver front — and you know where I stand on the whole affair — it has behaved responsibly in holding the Sooner State accountable for not even trying to implement college-and-career ready standards as it promised. The fact that Fallin and Barresi didn’t even go out and hire a consultant who can bless PASS as college-and-career ready (something that they could have done by taking a trip out to the Beltway and hiring any of the myriad education policy shops out there,or any Common Core foe) is especially amazing. Oklahoma’s legislative and executive branches, both of whom already deserve scorn for halting Common Core and denying Sooner State kids high-quality curricula, merit all the disdain they can get for failing to do a few simple things to keep the No Child waiver in place beyond this school year.
Meanwhile Petrilli is wrong in arguing that Oklahoma can make a case in court that the Obama Administration’s decision is legally out-of-bounds. For one thing, the state adopted and began Common Core implementation a year before applying for the waiver; so the state can’t claim that the administration’s move is a reprisal against it for its own bad decision. The fact that the waiver rules only ask states to implement college-and-career ready standards of some sort (and not specifically Common Core), along with the administration’s approval of Virginia’s waiver (and extension of Indiana’s), also makes it difficult for the Sooner State to win in court.
At best, you can argue that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius could apply; after all, the High Court ruled that the federal government couldn’t apply conditions to existing federal subsidies other than those originally in place. But even that could be a stretch because of the differences in the laws governing healthcare and education. In fact, the only way Oklahoma can possibly win is if it attacks the legally questionable basis on which the administration is granting waivers (and allowing states to ignore federal law) in the first place. But that wouldn’t exactly be in the Sooner State’s best interest. After all, it (along with other states) benefits from the gambit’s very existence.
As for the end of the waiver itself? It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all for Oklahoma’s children. This is because the state’s waiver probably shouldn’t have been granted in the first place. Two years ago, peer reviewers charged by the Obama Administration with reviewing the Sooner State’s waiver expressed concern that the A-to-F grading system it was planning to implement wasn’t ready for prime time. One reason: Because state officials left several elements of the plan — including how much graduation rates would make up in the underlying calculation — were still “to be determined”, and didn’t include a student achievement growth model that would reward or hold schools and districts accountable for their work with kids in their care.
In fact, the lack of a fully-developed A-to-F grading program was so glaring that it made it difficult for peer reviewers to fully weigh out whether the entire accountability system would pass muster. [There's also the fact that A-to-F grading has been criticized by civil rights-based reformers and others for not fully breaking down how minority students are faring, and in fact, obscuring how schools and districts are actually performing in improving achievement for all kids.]
Peer reviewers dinged Oklahoma’s waiver proposal on other matters. For example, its proposed changes to its Annual Measurable Objectives were dinged because the state was only including data from kids enrolled during the first 10 days of a school year, leaving out crucial data on kids who may start attending afterward. Meanwhile the state’s plan for identifying so-called Focus schools, or those with wide achievement gaps, was criticized for obscuring data on achievement gaps for subgroups who are minorities in otherwise homogeneous schools.
The concerns of the peer reviewers — many of which were ignored by the Obama Administration — have become a reality. As former New America Foundation analyst Anne Hyslop noted last year in a study on the No Child waivers, 54 percent of the schools previously identified under the law as academically failing didn’t were allowed to escape scrutiny under the new accountability system developed under the waiver. This means that 85 schools likely serving 32,448 (or 4.8 percent of the state’s student population) were likely performing poorly in improving student achievement, but got away with it because they weren’t identified under the new accountability system.
While this is lower than that for other states surveyed by Hyslop for her report, this still meant that the Sooner State’s wasn’t identifying schools (many of which are likely serving the state’s black, Latino, and American Indian children) that deserved scrutiny. [Hyslop's data also proves lie to the contention by Oklahoma officials that a return to No Child will lead to nearly all of its traditional and public charter schools being identified as failing.] This is especially problematic given that 35 percent of the Sooner State’s fourth-graders read Below Basic, according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, three percentage points higher than the national average.
The fact that Oklahoma’s waiver allowed it to obscure much-needed data and accountability shows the need for No Child. It also exemplifies one of the numerous reasons why the Obama Administration should have never undertaken the waiver gambit in the first place. Departing from No Child’s solid, sensible, and comprehensive approach to accountability was never a smart decision in the first place. Now, with handwringing over Oklahoma’s waiver and how it may affect efforts to continue Common Core implementation, the gambit may end doing even more damage than anyone opposing the effort may have first thought.
Oklahoma deserves to lose its waiver. And the Obama Administration should stop with this waiver nonsense once and for all.
Two hundred forty-nine black high school children in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri took advanced math subjects such as trigonometry, statistics, and pre-calculus during the 2011-2012 school year, according to data submitted by the district to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s a mere 9.3 percent of Ferguson-Florissant’s 2,868 young black men and women in the district’s high schools. How bad is it? The percentage of black kids taking these college preparatory math courses is lower than the already-abysmal 13 percent of white high school peers (or 67 out of 527 white children) in those classes. What this means is that far too many kids of all backgrounds in Ferguson-Florissant schools — especially young black men and women who are from poor homes — are not getting the high-quality education they need and deserve for success in adulthood.
But this isn’t shocking. Ferguson-Florissant is like other districts, both in Missouri, and the rest of the nation, in failing to provide all children (especially those from poor and minority households) with college-preparatory curricula. If anything, the district exemplifies the need to advance systemic reform to help all children attain the knowledge they need for higher ed completion and ultimately, to make it into the middle class.
As you know, as part of Dropout Nation’s coverage of Ferguson in the aftermath of the senseless slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown, your editor took a look last week at Ferguson-Florissant’s overuse of suspensions and expulsions, noting how it was far more likely for black kids in the district to be suspended than be victims of violent crime in their communities. But the district’s official graduation rate of 78 percent for its Class of 2012, a mere five points lower than the state average, gave pause. Not because it was a conundrum: It has long been shown that districts and other school operators can goose graduation rates by pushing out the kids they didn’t want to educate into nearby districts. Not even because Ferguson-Florissant has gone through turmoil over its suspension and then, firing of Art McCoy, the district’s first black superintendent.
No, the high graduation rate became interesting because it raised another question: Whether Ferguson-Florissant was actually providing kids with the college-preparatory learning they needed for lifelong success. As seen with districts such as Houston, it isn’t enough to get kids to the point of graduation. So DN took a look at Ferguson-Florissant’s data to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights database. And the answers, though not shocking, were still astonishing.
The good news, sort of speak, is that Ferguson-Florissant is providing a plurality of middle-schoolers with introductory algebra, a key college-preparatory course for our children. Some 625 black seventh and eighth-grade children in the district, or 40 percent of the 1,575 black middle-schoolers there, took Algebra 1 during the 2011-2012 school year. Forty-six percent of Ferguson’s white middle-schoolers — or 115 of the 251 white children served by the district — also took the math course.
But Ferguson-Florissant falls down on the job once kids get into high school. Just 432 black high-schoolers, or 15 percent of them, took Algebra II in 2011-2012; a mere 16 percent of white peers (84 of them) took the college prep course. Only 18 percent of black high-schoolers took geometry, lower than the paltry 21 percent of white peers taking the course. Meanwhile a mere 19 black high school students and 14 white peers took calculus in that same year, resulting in, respectively, just six-tenths percent of black high schoolers and three percent of white peers taking the course.
Matters get worse when you look at how few kids in Ferguson-Florissant are being provided science courses. Especially young black men and women, scientific illiteracy means losing out economically and socially in the increasingly knowledge-based world. Just 24 percent of Ferguson’s black high-schoolers took biology in 2011-2012, slightly lower than the 27 percent rate for white high school peers. But only 7.3 percent of black high school students took chemistry, a key college prep course; 14 percent of white peers took chemistry that year. And just 2.1 percent of black high schoolers — that’s 63 young black men and women — took physics; 5.5 percent of white high school students (5.5 percent of them), took physics that year.
One could surmise that perhaps Ferguson-Florissant isn’t providing its own math and science courses because they are directing them to Advanced Placement courses that are also key to preparation for success in higher education and career. This isn’t true. Just 1.4 percent of black high schoolers (40 kids) and three percent of white peers took A.P. math. Just 10 black high school students and two of their white school mates took AP Science. All in all, just 4.2 percent of Ferguson-Florissant’s black high schoolers and 11 percent of their white peers were taking A.P. courses. Which means that most of the kids were languishing in low-quality courses that weren’t preparing them for success in outside of the schoolhouse doors. Since the district doesn’t offer International Baccalaureate courses, not one kid was taking them.
What all this means is that most of the kids graduating from Ferguson-Florissant aren’t getting any form of college-preparatory curricula. Sixty-seven percent of Ferguson’s graduates were admitted to higher ed institutions, according to data from Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a rate slightly lower than the Show Me State’s 71 percent average. But there’s little chance that most of the kids will graduate in six years with associate, baccalaureate, and technical school credentials. Just 35 percent of Ferguson-Florissant’s vocational school graduates land jobs, a rate far lower than the 53 percent for all such students statewide.
Especially for the black children, who make up most of the district’s student population, the lack of high-quality education means being locked out of the economic and social mainstream, which doesn’t bode well for either Ferguson or the rest of the St. Louis region. You can say that Ferguson-Florissant’s decision this week to not open its doors to serve kids — a move done in response to the protests and militarized policing being done in the city — is terrible. But even when the district’s doors are open, it isn’t serving children well.
There are three reasons why Ferguson-Florissant’s failure to provide kids with college-preparatory learning matters so greatly, both for the people who live in there as well as for the rest of the nation.
For one, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson points out (and as Dropout Nation has illustrated in its Why Systemic Reform collection), far too many black children from poor households (along with those from Latino, Asian, and white backgrounds) are being left behind economically and socially. This is because they are not being provided the college-preparatory curricula (along with high-quality teaching, and cultures of genius) they must have in order to gain high-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs in an increasingly knowledge-based world. Particularly in Ferguson, where the median household income of $36,121 in 2012 is $9,101 less than the average for Missouri and $14,896 less than the national average (and even in Florissant, whose median income of $49,612 keeps it in the ranks of middle-class communities in Missouri), the shoddiness of the traditional schools serving it will condemn its economy and society to long-term failure.
There’s also the fact that Ferguson-Florissant’s failures to provide kids with college-preparatory curricula exemplifies the failure of the Show Me State to do well by all children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds. The move last month by the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to halt implementation of Common Core reading and math standards — along with the mishandling of the outrage surrounding Michael Brown’s slaying, and Brown’s alleged murder itself — shows that the state’s political leaders are uninterested in building brighter futures for poor and minority kids. The fact that so few white kids in Ferguson are getting college-prep learning makes one wonder if state and district leaders even care about children that look like them. No one in the Show-Me State can morally justify denying all kids college-preparatory learning.
Your editor suggests to reformers and Common Core supporters on the ground that they take to the courts to hold the state responsible for its constitutional obligation to provide kids in Ferguson and elsewhere with high-quality education. At the same time, they must team up with community leaders and families on the ground to build political support for reviving the standards. As Education Next‘s latest survey shows, 60 percent of black people queried were supportive of Common Core implementation in their states; rallying black and Latino families and communities is critical to making this effort work.
Finally, Ferguson-Florissant’s shoddy curricula (and likely, laggard teaching) also makes the strong case for expanding school choice in both St. Louis and the entire state as a whole. Doing so has been a struggle. The state’s move last year to allow kids from the failing Normandy district to attend schools in other districts has been fought hard by both officials in that district (who don’t want to lose the state dollars that come with those kids) and by counterparts in districts such as Francis Howell (who don’t want those kids and don’t want to have school choice become a reality for their kids either). Normandy beat back efforts to keep choice going for more kids in June when it successfully convinced the state’s board of education to ignore its unaccredited status and keep kids trapped in its failure mills. While Ferguson-Florissant is technically functioning well according to state law, this data makes clear that kids forced to attend its schools should also have the ability to escape.
Bringing high-quality charter school operators, launching voucher programs, and even passing a Parent Trigger law allowing families to take over failing schools in their community are key steps. Requiring all districts in the state to allow families to choose college-preparatory courses instead of them having to go through gatekeepers who often don’t want those kids to get into those classes is also important. The most-critical step of all: The Show Me State taking full responsibility for funding schools. Because the state only provides 42 percent of the $10 billion spent on public education in 2012 (the latest year available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), traditional districts can justify opposing any form of choice and Parent Power, both to families outside of their boundaries and even to those who live within them. By taking full control of school funding, Missouri can voucherize those dollars, expanding school options for every kid.
Ferguson-Florissant’s failure to provide all children with college-preparatory learning is almost as shameful as the slaughtering of Brown’s life. The children there — and all kids everywhere — deserve curricula fit for their futures.