By Ben Velderman
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The St. Louis school district did such a lousy job educating students and managing its finances for a number of years that the state of Missouri stripped the district of its accreditation in 2007.
State accreditation acts as a kind of seal of approval for school districts, ensuring families, colleges and employers that students are receiving an education that meets or exceeds state standards.
But yesterday, the Missouri State Board of Education voted to give the St. Louis school district back its accreditation, at least on a provisional basis, reports the Associated Press.
The board made a highly questionable call. Seven out of 10 students are reading below grade level and three out of five fail to graduate in four years. That’s an acceptable track record for an accredited school district?
The new designation also prohibits families from possibly using a state law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited districts – at the failing district’s expense.
St. Louis families have been trying to make use of that law, but the issue has been tangled up in the courts for years. The controversy is currently pending in the state Supreme Court. But the argument may be over and the children may be trapped in the district, now that St. Louis schools are accredited again, according to StlToday.com.
The board’s decision might also help out Missouri’s three other unaccredited school districts. If the state Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the St. Louis parents, it could have set a legal precedent for other lawsuits involving families from those other three districts.
In any case, what do the facts say? Did the St. Louis district’s academic progress warrant its re-accreditation?
The Associated Press reports that the district “went from meeting three of 14 performance standards in 2009 to meeting six last year and seven this year.” A district must meet nine of those standards for full accreditation, according to StlToday.com.
Even those who voted to re-accredit the district seem less than enthused by its academic standing.
“The district has not arrived, but clearly, they’ve started the journey,” said Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro.
There’s a reason for Nicastro’s underwhelming endorsement of the district’s gains.
The AP reports that “Nicastro initially said she wanted one more year of data before considering an accreditation upgrade. But with several changes taking place this academic year that would have complicated regaining accreditation, the district pushed to have the review sooner.”
Those changes include a tougher state evaluation system that will require higher student test scores in some subjects, and a batch of new students from a recently closed charter school who might have negatively affected the district’s test scores, the news agency reports.
In other words, if the district wasn’t re-accredited this year, it would likely take several more years for it to rise to the level of mediocrity.
By then, so many students may have transferred out of the district (with their per-pupil state aid in tow) as to trigger a financial crisis that would require administrators and school employee unions to make a bunch of contract concessions to stave off bankruptcy.
But pending some unforeseen court ruling, the education establishment’s “nightmare” scenario probably won’t happen, all because the Missouri State Board of Education swooped in at the last moment and saved the day.
The board’s decision is a tough break for St. Louis families, at least those that want something better for their kids.