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St. Louis’ Schools Need Middle-Class Students

December 5, 2006 Education, St. Louis County, STL Region 40 Comments

A couple of days ago I did a post about government’s role in shaping the suburbs through federal lending policies, including an excerpt from the excellent book, Cities Without Suburbs, by David Rusk. Today I bring you more from Rusk, this time on education:

In 1966, sociologist James Coleman released his path-breaking study, Equality of Educational Opportunity. Sponsored by the then-U.S. Office of Education, the Coleman Report concluded that the socioeconomic characteristics of a child and of the child’s classmates (measured principally by family income and parental education) were the overwhelming factors that accounted for academic success. Nothing else – expenditures per pupil, pupil-teacher ratios, teacher experience, instructional materials, age of school buildings, etc. – came close.

“The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students,” Coleman summarized, “are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.” So important are fellow students, the report found, that “the social composition of the student body is more highly related to achievement, independent of the student’s own social background, than is any school factor.”

In the four decades since, nothing has changed. There has been no more consistent finding of educational researchers – and no research finding more consistently ignored by most politicians and many educators. They will not challenge the underlying racial and class structure of American society.

I have conducted a dozen such studies myself, charting the dominant impact of socioeconomic status on school results. The most recent is my study of all elementary schools in Madison-Dane County, Wisconsin. The study finds that

  • Pupil socioeconomic status accounts for 64 percent to 77 percent of the school-by-school variation in standardized test results and that
  • Poor children’s test results improve dramatically when surrounded by middle-class classmates. Move a poor child from a neighborhood school where 80 percent of classmates are also poor to a neighborhood school where 80 percent of classmates are middle class would raise the chance of that child’s scoring at a proficient or advanced levels by 30 to 48 percentage points – an enormous improvement.

In other words, where a child lives largely shapes the child’s educational opportunities – not in terms of how much money is being spent per pupil but who the child’s classmates are. Housing policy is school policy.

This is not really earth shattering news but among all the discussions about the St. Louis Public Schools — the performance of the long list of recent Superintendents, divisions on the school board, low test scores, and calls by Mayor Fracis Slay and others for state takeover of the system the idea of the home-life envinronment for the bulk of the school kids has been lost. This is not to say the kids have a bad or abusive home life but one in which perhaps their parents are poorly educated themselves and are working many hours to provide for their family.

The basic argument is this — the St. Louis Public Schools will continue to under-perform regardless of who is in charge as long as the social issues of concentrated poverty, lack of nearby jobs and poor housing remain unchanged. Ballpark Village is not going to change this situation in the neighborhoods. In the past I’ve said something to the effect of we don’t need school age kids — they are a financial drain anyway. Well, I was wrong. We do need kids — lots of middle-class kids.

But how is that possible? Parents are not going to move to the city until the schools improve and the schools are not going to improve until we get more kids. A costly busing system is one avenue but I don’t think that is a good long-term solution. The answer? Consolidation! No, not a city-county merger of municipalities but of school districts.

Between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County we have 25 school districts. In many less fractured regions of the country, that same area would have 1-3 districts. Of course, large districts can have their issues as well but that is more about leadership. So what to do? Well, I’d probably combine all the small districts that are fully within the I-270 loop (see map of districts) — this includes St. Louis, Riverview Gardens, Jennings, Normandy, Ritenour, University City, Clayton, Ladue, Brentwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Webster Groves, Affton, Bayless, and Hancock Place. A number of districts are mostly within the I-270 loop and could be included as well — Ferguson-Florissant, Pattonville, Kirkwood, Lindbergh and perhaps Mehlville.
Could this happen voluntarily? Probably not, state action would be needed. But, I would argue this is necessary to help the region — the St. Louis Public Schools are acting as a drain on the regions growth but the solution, more middle-class students, is outside the grasp of the St. Louis School Board and the administration. And yes, as long as poor folks are concentrated in the city and older inner-ring suburbs like Wellston we will need some busing to move people around. But as a single district this would be easier to accomplish — less of the “us” vs. “them.”

Another factor is if we had a single school district for the city and most of the county we could eliminate the “I won’t live in the city because of the schools” claims. Of course, some might argue this would drive folks to Illinois, St. Charles County or Jefferson County even faster but I’m not so sure. After the initial shock of it all I think it might go pretty well and then parents would not see the city limits sign as a big barrier. A strong city is good for the region and especially good for St. Louis County, which continues to lose population to surrounding areas. Such a school system consolidation could help both the city and county. Discuss.


Currently there are "40 comments" on this Article:

  1. elephant in the room says:

    Most people would see an arrangement like this as all good for the city, all negative for the adjacent consolidated areas. This would be fought to no end; it’s a non-starter.

    Parents don’t want their kids attending school with poor, ignorant kids. Thats the problem.

    If you merge the districts, you still have the poor, ignorant kids. “Elephant in the room” is a good pseudonym name, because in St. Louis, there are lots of elephants walking around.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I agree people don’t want their kids going to school with those kids.  But, something must change.  The state can, and should, intervene to consolidate the schools into more feasible districts that serve the interest of the region and state.]

  2. elephant in the room says:

    The last time the state intervened – the desegregation order in the city – middle class familes moved out of the city.

    Perhaps you are suggesting that such a desegregation order should be mandated for the entire St. Louis region? That would be interesting!

    Then you wouldn’t just have a few St. Louis city power brokers annoyed with you-you’d have people throughout the entire region!

    Uh, can I be the beneficiary on your life insurance policy? Tee hee.

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    Busing is a non-starter with most parents, rich or poor, so merger becomes somewhat of a moot argument. I agree that socio-economic issues have a large impact on students’ ultimate success. I just don’t see any good answers on how to get around the economic (and yes, racial) segregation that typifies much of the St. Louis area. EITR is right, there is absolutely no incentive or reason for any county school district (save, maybe, Wellston) to merge with the city school system now short of a shotgun wedding coming from Jefferson City. Heck, SLPS can’t even seem to easily close any existing “neighborhood” schools to balance their own books. Throw more (county) schools in the pot and you’ll just further muddy an already muddy situation. The one thing that hasn’t been tried is remaking SLPS into several smaller districts. Doing so may save and/or reinvigorate public schools on the south side, and could do the same thing on the north side IF busing is reduced and resources are spent, instead, on classroom resources and actually educating kids. Parents like neighborhood schools and they give students a much greater opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities. Parents also seem to like to feel like they have a say in how their kids are getting educated, which explains why parochial schools used to be, and why charter schools now appear to be, “the answer” for so many. It’s also why vouchers have such a great appeal to many parents – they would give them greater control over both where their kids go and how their taxes get spent. I’m in the other camp – if we can just “fix” the public schools and provide a consistently good education to all students in every public school, it eliminates the (perceived?) need for charter, magnet, parochial or voucher schools. Still, some other issues that are even harder to solve are more cultural than economic, and include a much greater acceptance of teen pregnancy and single motherhood, a hip-hop attitude that getting an education simply ain’t cool (while hanging out on street corners and engaging in illegal activities is), a lack of discipline and respect in the classroom, and the flight over fight attitudes of too many parents, who are moving further and further out into the “country” / new suburban areas in the misbegotten hopes of escaping “urban” issues in “their” schools (which also explains why the suburban districts are so much larger – they used to serve a much smaller rural student base and are just trying to keep up with exploding growth now). Bottom line, we do have a major problem, and one that will not be easy to “solve”. . .

  4. Parochial Parent says:

    The city does need middle class kids, and if they get them by familes sending their kids to Catholic schools, it’s better than not getting them at all.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The city (and region) needs them in the classroom with poorer students.]

  5. stlmark says:

    I liked your previous proposal for drawing the middle class to the city:

    “The order goes like this, in my mind: Transit, people w/o kids, jobs, schools, people w/kids”

  6. JRE says:

    Jim’s nailed this issue: “Still, some other issues that are even harder to solve are more cultural than economic, and include a much greater acceptance of teen pregnancy and single motherhood, a hip-hop attitude that getting an education simply ain’t cool (while hanging out on street corners and engaging in illegal activities is), a lack of discipline and respect in the classroom…”

    Despite the high amount of per pupil spending we have, until we solve these underlying problems, we’ll continue to have failing City schools. There’s a great discussion between Juan Williams and Michael Eric Dyson on CSpan’s BookTV web site regarding this.

  7. pw says:

    Actually, I think you need to step back and expand it to look at government in general – the real elephant in the room is the city/county partition. With the county split into dozens of municipalities, and dozens of school districts you have an endless feedback loop that isolates decision makers. The schools have no reason to support any kind of taxing, transit or other issues that would affect how we live or kids get educated. Also, the bulk of the resources are in the county – at some level, some consolidation needs to be looked at.

    At the same time, I would hate to see a few large school districts – Kirkwood and Webster are good examples of districts that are large enough to manage themselves and be sustainable, but small enough to have a sense of community. Same thing with cities, as Jim says, maybe we need to abandon the neighborhood organization idea in the city and set up say 4-5 small districts in the city that would be self governed and districted, then cross the city county line with the boundaries – so Richmond heights would annex a slice of the pie, as would Clayton the middle slice, etc. As part of this, more affordable housing pockets need to be created throughout the county to support this.

    Again, Kirkwood, since I am familiar with it – has several pockets of $95- $135k houses and lower cost apartments where there is a certain proportion of lower income kids that are in the school to a point where it benefits them, without overwhelming the system. Versus the bused in kids, it is easier for them to be in scouts with the middleclass kids as well as be playmates after school and their parents can get to parent teacher conferences.

    Breaking the city into 3-4 districts would also be a good way to break up the current network of infighting and bureaucracy.

  8. Craig says:

    Could the solution to improving the education of children in the SLPS district be to offer them vouchers which would allow them to attend the school of their choice? Maybe the answer is not to bring the “middle class” students to SLPS, but to bring city students to the well-performing schools attended by the “middle class” or even “upper class” students.

    This would have the added benefit of putting many horrible SLPS teachers and administrators out of jobs.

  9. Interested Party says:

    I know several teachers at the elementary school level in the St. Louis public schools. I also volunteer several times a month at one of those schools. Here is my conclusion about the sorry shape of these schools.

    More money would be nice but not necessary.

    The major, overarching, overwhelming problem is the home life of the kids. These kids, many of which are wonderful little people, live in awful situations. Many families are single-parent households. Many times the parents are abusing drugs and alcohol. Many of the kids have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. Putting them with middle class kids from the suburbs might help, but those parents in the suburbs will fight like hell to make sure their kids don’t end up in North St. Louis.

    Bottom Line: The people criticizing the teachers, politicians, and others are missing the point. The Saint Louis public schools will not be successful until the parents decide educating their children is worthwhile. That means getting your child to school on time, well rested, well fed, homework in hand. The parents must also be involved in the schools. In some of the suburbs, there is a 90% turnout for parent-teacher conferences, in some St. Louis city schools, there is a 10% turnout.

  10. Johnny says:

    While I agree that any idea of merging school districts is a non-starter, I think that if the state and region got behind a voucher program, you could get the same basic outcome. Regardless of whether you live in Rockwood or Parkway, or Hazlewood, or the City of St. Louis, your voucher would be good for any school in St. Louis City or County. That program would be the first step in your larger goal of a consolidated school system and a good way for people to “wet their feet.” Besides, under such a program, many in the county would have benefits. Think how many would want to send their kids to a different highschool or into a different district all together. Under a move straight from the current system to a consolidated system, few if any county voters would see the value in such a system.

  11. Pyramid says:

    Interested Party makes an intersting point.

    Maybe part of the problem is not simply the lack of middle class familes, but middle class families of color. Part of the problem always cited with Camden, NJ is that the city lost the top half of the social and economic pyramid, leaving the bottom to fend for themselves. Maybe STL City is in a similar situation, particuarly areas of color. Maybe if there were a strong middle and upper class african american group living in the city (corect me if I am wrong here, I truely don’t know if such a social group existsin the City) and a clearly defined “black downtown” with social, cultural, and economic insitutions to support the entire social structure, we would get more of the home support needed to increase educational achivement.

  12. DeBaliviere says:

    My neighborhood, North Hampton, has tons of middle-class families, but the vast majority of them send their kids to the nearest parochial school, St. Joan of Arc. If these kids attended the neighborhood public school instead, there’s no doubt that the school’s performance would improve. At the same time, I can’t say I blame parents for not doing that. When I become a papa, I’ll probably avoid them myself. The idea of someday sending my child to Roosevelt High School is not all that enticing.

    It seems that the way the district is currently configured – without neighborhood schools – the whole district is set up to fail. There’s no reason why the public schools in the more affluent southwest portion of the city could not be more successful.

  13. lost says:

    You shouldn’t have travelled down this road. It is a dead end.

    If you want to get a taste for how local municipalities deal with state intervention, just watch what happens when the state tries to take over Clayton and Ladue Roads through Town and Country and Ladue.

    Those munis are already passing ordinances banning big rigs from driving down those roads.

    Steve, delete this thread. Middle class families avoid the city public schools like the plague.

    What duty is it of a middle class, Catholic, southwest city parent to enroll little Meghan into a public school with a bunch of poor public school kids?

    Why do you think the whole, “where’d you go to high school” question is so linked to St. Louis?

    And please, folks, let’s not start blaming Francis Slay. With no direct control, he risked his political butt to try to do something positive about the city schools, only to have parents and entrenched employee organizations attack him.

    I’m a city parent, with a kid in parochial school. Moving to the city was a conscious choice, and we knew parochial school was our education option.

    We pay the freight-the double tax of supporting a wretched urban school system and the non-tax deductible cost of parochial school tuition. Why? It’s good for our family. Good to live in the city. Good to give a private school education.

    It’s life in the year 2006. If you don’t have kids, you don’t have to pay double. But you miss out on a lot of good times with young people.

  14. SMSPlanstu says:


    You are correct about neighborhood schools. I have looked at the MAP scores by schools for several districts and their is a significant correlation between the higher income areas and higher test scores as contrasted with lower income areas, lower test scores. My district6 created a Traditional school with grades K-8 in order to maximize learning and lessen distraction for young teenagers. Societal pressures are more manageable and student behavior can be better supervised and regulated.
    My traditional school has been well recognized for six consecutive years as top ten medium sized school in the state. Admission is based on a lottery system. The school’s demographics was a random mix of income groups. When the students hit high school they all dispersed. Craig Williams recommended the same thing and I will continue to say that a traditional school with low class sizes of 20-22 works well. Then again our school was the test school for new curriculumn, computers, teaching techniques, etc.

  15. LisaS says:

    I’m the target demographic being discussed here: middle class, two kids (in SLPS magnet schools). My initial response was too long, so I moved it to my own blog.

    What I will say here is that I am personally offended by EITR’s comment that “Parents don’t want their kids attending school with poor, ignorant kids”. If you’re from Ladue or Clayton, “poor ignorant kids” are those whose college-educated parents make 150% of the family income in this state. For most of the white “middle-class” in this area, I think that’s just an acceptable way to code their own racism. And everyone just nods and agrees.

    White middle class Americans have little in common with most people in the world, or even most people in our own country. We need to understand our own privelege to have the perspective to work with everyone else. The simplest way to provide that is through racially and economically balanced public schools. Because the magnet system fosters this to some extent, my children are getting, in addition to a good education (as measured by the state and my observations), a small taste of diversity. I hope it’s enough to prepare them for the world they’ll inherit.

  16. EITR says:

    The “world they will inherit” is being f*cked up by George W Bush.

  17. MH says:

    It is a very complex subject, obviously. The city schools spend as much per student (or more) than the wealthy districts such as Clayton and Ladue….there is just too much “government” and the money doesn’t actually get down to the students. It seems logical that this is where the board would start to cut the fat, but that doesn’t seem to be taking place.

    As much as I want the best possible education for my kids, I have no desire to move out of the city. We will find a way to stay here and pay for great schools. Contrary to what a lot of people think (I don’t know why), it will still be cheaper for us to live here and pay for school than to buy a more expensive house out in the ‘burbs, pay higher taxes, drive more, buy a second car, etc., etc., etc.

    Also, I really think I would be opposed to my kids having to travel out of the city if districts were combined and public schools were again an option. The purpose of living here is that my kids should be able to go to a school in our neighborhood (without being in a car for 30+ minutes, I don’t like the danger of that) and meet/play/socialize with other kids from our neighborhood who all go to the same school. Unfortunately I don’t know if that will ever happen in their education lifetime. We have to fight for better schools, whatever the option, because just moving out isn’t the answer and will kill the city.

  18. LisaS says:

    EITR–Dubya isn’t the only one, just the latest.

  19. Jim Zavist says:

    While vouchers are attractive in concept, I doubt they’d be effective in reality. “Good” schools have limted space, be they private, parochial or public in Webster Groves, and there’d be little incentive to double in size to accomodate a large influx of poorer, poorly prepared students. That would leave the poor parent with the same sucky choices they have now, plus the added burden of making sure they get the right voucher and turning around and getting it to the right school bueracracy. While I lean libertarian when it comes to the delivery of government services, I seriously doubt that creating 50 shades of gray is the answer to providing a quality education for all children. When I was in the public school system in the ’50’s, ’60’s and early ’70’s, I don’t remember having a lot of choices until high school. In the lower grades, we were all educated pretty much alike, with access to some specialized programs in 7th & 8th grades. It was only in high school did I run across three “tracks”, advanced (aimed toward college), regular and vocational education. By minimizing choices and having neighborhood schools, I’m assuming it was easier for the faculty to focus on both the basics and the needs of individual students. Plus, we were trained (broken?) to sit still, pay attention, have respect and to actually learn our lessons (what a concept)!

  20. EITR says:

    Steve, why don’t you try a post about something a little less controversial, like the closing down of Highway 40 or Ameren’s tree-timming backlog?

    I seriously doubt we will find any common ground on the city schools issue. They simply aren’t attractive to the middle class you seek, and most parents with the means will move their kids elsewheres.

    Hell, even Veronica O’Brien sends her kids to the Clayton schools. For city parents, if you’re black, you have more public school options for your kids than if you’re white.

    See? It doesn’t whether you’re black or white, if you’re middle class, most of you are opting out of the city public schools.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Perhaps the headline was a bit mislead? The point of the post is to show that if we are to have a good education for those in the city the main factor is whom they are educated with.  We need a good balance of middle-class to poor students.  The middle to poor ratio!  The idea of consolidation was not to suggest that everyone must send their kids to the St. Louis Public Schools, the idea was to erase a bunch of school districts and start over — The St. Louis Regional Schools or something.  Think fresh people.]

  21. MRH says:

    As someone that loathes our region’s Balkanization, I can’t believe I’m about to suggest this:

    Why not split SLPS into smaller, independent districts, or consolidate the fragments with adjacent suburban districts?

    I don’t really have an opinion one way or another, but I figured it’s food for thought…

  22. Craig says:

    Mr. Zavist, you are correct that good schools would probably not double in size to accomodate the increased demand for their services if the voucher program was instituted.

    What would happen, though, is that entreprenours, civic-minded people, or religious orders would open up new schools to accomodate those dissatisfied with the school district that they live in.

    If the teachers and principals of bad public schools wanted to get their students back, they would have to improve the school or face losing their job.

    That sounds very workable to me.

  23. DeBaliviere says:

    I think MRH’s idea is a good one – split up the district into quadrants, for example.

  24. mike says:

    I’ve been of the opinion for years that this is the primary problem. You’ve got too many kids of parents who don’t care or aren’t educated themselves going to school together. It does take the whole village to lift up the lower economic class.

    Forcing the suburbs and city to combine school districts is not an option. Any time spent pursuing that would be time wasted. Getting the overall governments to combine would be easier, and we know how that is a non-starter. I doubt whether the courts would even allow it (and you know the Websters and Kirkwoods would fight it). Even if you could, you still have the economic disparity in terms of geography so you probably won’t get enough mixing of kids.

    The only long-term solution is to get the various economic classes living in closer proximity. It’s real simple.

    If you want to attract a particular demographic, you have to actually offer them some type of incentive. Set up a program that provides financial incentive for middle class people with kids to move to the city and stay in the city. Provide them some financial incentive to send their kids to public schools.

    Reduce the number of schools and try to use school locations that maximize diversity. You also have to address the issue of so many school buildings being run down, which means gutting some of the schools or starting from scratch with new schools.

    You are also going to have to come down with the hammer on the troublemakers in the schools, as well as the parents and administrators who enable them.

    Truthfully, I think there is a lot more keeping out the middle class besides schools (although I do think it is number 1 for people with kids). They like to have new houses, with modern amenities like master suites, big garages, lower maintenance cost, more energy efficiency and lower per square foot price. They don’t like the earnings tax, they don’t appreciate how nice it is to have dumpsters. And they don’t mind the commute. Half or more of our office has a major commute, but it just doesn’t bother them.

  25. We need a true regional authority to consolidate, at all levels, the many governments in our region. The area is too divided between the haves and the have nots. We are one Region and we must work together rather than fight each other. We must care for the poor as poverty affects the progress of our region. When capacity is horded then the poor have little opportunity to better themselves.

    Read the Peirce Report.


  26. john says:

    Middle class students cannot reverse years of mismanagement.

    Practically speaking, the integration of disadvantaged children into better suburban schools have generated mixed results. Early on, these disadvantaged children exhibit much progress. Unfortunately, this progress fades rapidly after elementary school. These extra efforts also have costs for other students that these studies fail to address. Typically, the primary instructor spends a disproportionate time with the students who need extra help and thus interns are used to educate the rest of the class.

    The most important factor in our students’ success is their family/home life. No amount of money or extra help can ever replace this foundation. This factor is the third rail in these debates, especially when the educational establishment has strong liberal biases.

    The problems StL and the County will face are numerous and are yet to be debated in a public forum. New accounting rules will require cities and municipalities to begin reporting unfunded promises (ie. retirement benefits) of public employees. The public, adminsistrators, and leaders, will get a severe jolt. The article in today’s P-D refers only to operating expenses and does not address promised retirement benefits. Financial strains will greatly change the debate and require major changes. Should our government even be in the education business?

    STLToday: Without significant oversight by the board and administration, Virgil predicted “the system will collapse in bankruptcy.” Virgil said the dilemma will be exacerbated next year when the first $7 million is due on a $36 million state loan at the same time the district’s budget for teacher salaries balloons by $8 million.

  27. Jim Zavist says:

    The fundamental problem with both vouchers and most parents is that they think their child is golden and that no amount of money should be spared to educate them. The reality is most kids are average, some are brighter than average and some aren’t so bright – it’s called the bell curve. For better or worse, public schools are charged with educating ALL students. Private institutions aren’t saddled with that mandate, so they can focus on the “cream of the crop”, or at least the top 80%. It’s that bottom 20% that’s the real problem, the ones with learning and/or behavior problems that require a large amount of time (usually at the expense of the remaining 80%). Vouchers would allow a further erosion of students who test well away from “problem” schools and districts and an increasing concentration of students who don’t test well in “problem” schools and districts, just reinforcing the downswrad spiral we’re trying to figure a way out of . . .

  28. Craig says:

    Mr. Zavist, would such a concentration of poor students in a few schools be a bad thing? Couldn’t the normal students and schools then carry on without the distraction of the handfull of derelicts who pollute the SLPS?

    I don’t see that as a downward spiral. A majority of the students would be helped.

  29. Kara says:

    The problems in the SLPS are not unique to St. Louis. Public schools across America have been rapidly declining for several decades. This is a complex nationwide epidemic and St. Louis is likely not going to solve it on its own.

    Some people with kids choose to live in the suburbs because of the poor city schools, but this isn’t the only reason. There are also many people without kids in the suburbs. America started hating its cities long before the public schools became a problem. Poor city schools are factor, but they aren’t the main reason people choose the suburbs. If people really wanted to live in the city they would find a way to pay for a private education that would most likely be better than that of most suburban public schools, just like they find a way to afford the extra gas that their SUVs guzzle.

  30. GMichaud says:

    I appreciate the attempt by Steve to breathe new life into a debate with some new thinking. However I don’t think consolidation of school districts will happen any time soon. Practically speaking what may be attainable? Vouchers, yes that is a possibility. Economic development of some sort to lift people into the middle class, yes it is possible, but difficult to make universal. The suggestion by stlmark partially hits the work around solution needed. He says “The order goes like this, in my mind: Transit, people w/o kids, jobs, schools, people w/kids”

    Building a better city will help tremendously. For instance I know there is a serious lack of vendors in St. Louis. Vendors are the minor leagues of retailing, it allows a small time operator to move the middle class and above. Also freeing up zoning so that commercial enterprises can open shops in many different locations could spur economic development. Commercial real estate would no longer be controlled by the wealthy only, but would more resemble old St. Louis with shops appearing in unexpected places. You always hear of grants to develop business incubators, but the whole city should be the business incubator. That is what has been lost in the world of superficial zoning.
    These two suggestions cost nothing, but require a supportive political structure. To me that is what is really lacking: risk taking politicians mixing it up with the citizens to achieve maximum results.
    The point is it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money to begin change, only a change of attitude. An enterprising attitude built this country, and I believe it would affect the population of students and parents that Interested Party describes in a post above. Essentially, if the city is rebuilt, lives will also be rebuilt as a result.
    One final note, I realize there is many fragmented governments in the region, but one area of regional cooperation is transit, and the City of St. Louis gets the shaft. The City should have a great transit system in place right now, the infrastructure is there, but regionalism has taken that away, to the determent of city building and by extension the education system.

  31. Maurice says:

    Mike, I think you hit the nail on the head. There are a number of reasons that people chose to live out in the county rather than in the city. Those modern amenities come with a price that many suburbanites are willing to pay.

    Unfortunately, the best solution would be to close all the schools and start over, but that is not an option. As long as the teachers union and the administration have different goals the system will not improve.

    How many are wondering if the new superintendent is now thinking why she took O”Brian’s promises as face value? Did I make a mistake? I’m willing to bet she is doubting her choice.

  32. Jim Zavist says:

    Craig, your response assumes that there will be a shell of the SLPS left to house the bottom 20%. But the whole concept behind vouchers is a truly open market, and the reality is that no one in their right mind will want to run a school or program catering to the dregs when they can make more money and have an easier time doing it by catering to the top 80%. You’re either going to end up with sham programs that will spit out illiterate “graduates” while living off public funds or you’ll just have kids hanging out and not using the vouchers at all. Better to fix what we have now and figure out how to educate all kids adequately instead of chasing that elusive dream of finding that “perfect” program for my “perfect” child, funded by the taxpayers. IF (and that’s a big IF) we can attract the middle class student back to SLPS, we’re going to both solve a lot of their problems and make St. Louis a much more attractive place for everyone to live!

  33. City-county resident says:

    As a resident of the area who is a product of the city schools and has taught in both the city and the county it will not be easy to find a simple solution that even a simple majority of the regions schools, communities, people and local governments will accept. The answer is more complex than vouchers, consollidation, economics, etc. I believe that only a major change mandated by the state will have any effect on the current situation. Why is a major change pushed by the state necessary?
    1. The city schools, for the most part, have the poorest trained teachers ( recent study showed that the poorest districts have the least effective teachers). This does not mean that there are not dedicated teachers in the city, it simply means that the kids are not getting the best chance at becoming successful. If a teacher has a choice they will go to the county, more resources, more money, less hassle. Especially a talented black teacher, they are heavily recruited in county schools.
    2. The teachers union and personal interests have made such inroads into the management of the city schools that decisions can not be made at the administrative level without their agreement, or so they think. The amount of nepotism in the city schools is unbelieveable and really not reported as it should be. Unions are useful but they are not responsible for the administration of the district. Previous to Superintendent Williams the district was lead by the consultant group. They made many needed changes and could do so because they were not politically connected with any group either in the city government or schools. Many of these were cost saving moves to make the district more solvent. With the recent election of some school board members they are trying to undo some of these changes. This was one of their motives for running and a reason the unions supported them. If they get there way and reinstate some of the cuts, please have someone check and see who they hire and whose relative they are.
    3. Vouchers are not the answer, this is just another means to ignore finding a solution to the problem and to allow more people to run away and not look for long term solutions.
    4. It is up to city government to make St. Louis more inviting to industries, jobs, etc. There has been a considerable amount of new housing but not affordable new housing for the poorest of our residents. How many of the people who can afford the $250,000 houses have kids and will be sending them to the city schools? If anything it reduces the affordable housing stock for the poor and drives them out to surrounding counties where more affordable housing is available. Also, make landlords responsible for their properties.
    5. The make up of the city schools is too unwielding and fragmented. Eliminate the current board and have the state take over the administration on a 2-3 basis, look at ways to improve the situation and then hold new elections. You have to believe that the state is not interested in running the city schools on a long term basis, it would be a tremendous burden on them and what if they failed?
    6. During the temporay state takevover, breakup the city into multiple districts. The surrounding county districts would pick up a substantial part of the city schools adjacent to their boundaries. The city school district would collapse into a smaller city centered district surrounding the downtown area. (difficult to determine where all these boundaries would actually be at this time) The city houses would contibute their property tax to the new district and over a span of 5-10 years their property value tax would be raised to the neighboring districts tax rate. Shortfall between the current city rate and the accepting district rate would be made up by state funds.
    7. At the same time consolidate the various smaller districts in the county to make them more efficient and cost effective. God forbid we would have to close some schools and loose our identity of where we went to high school. I can think of at least ten schools that no longer exist and we have managed to survive.

    Why would this work and why not?

    * it would break up a very inefficient district and put the kids in a more supportive and better operating district in most cases. There are some exceptions, some north county districts are no better off than the city.
    * put the kids under new management and teachers, would allow for access to more resources and better teachers.
    * local districts would get revenue to take over the schools and teachers.
    * would still create a center St. Louis School system, only much smaller and more compact for the politicians and special interests to deal with
    * would not force students to be bussed and would create more neighborhood schools within large school districts
    * would create larger more diverse school districts.
    * Keep the city charter schools under the new city structure to allow county students to participate (an option)

    I am sure that this will not set well with some of the readers but it felt good having the opportunity to express my opinion.

  34. Jim Zavist says:

    CCR makes a bunch of good points – I’d fully support their efforts!

  35. john says:

    Punt before it’s too late!

    Sounds like most want more of the same but with different wrapping. SLPS has proven that it is incapable of dealing with the issues, especially educating students. Do you honestly believe for a second that the electorate (especially members of other school districts) will accept for one minute your suggestions? Rearranging the deck chairs wouldn’t save the Titanic from sinking nor will it be sufficient to save this failed enterprise.

    First accept the facts: SLPS is a failure and has been for many years. Attempts to use government, whether it is local or state, to remedy the problems is unlikely to be successful. Many of the root causes cannot be addressed or remedied by government.

    What everyone is witnessing here was predictable. The current structure/business model of public education has many flaws that will become more apparent, even in county schools. The number and variability of divisive issues in the City has sped up the inevitable.

  36. city mama says:

    As a city parent with children in parochial school, it’s really simple: stop busing, go back to neighborhood schools, and let the schools segregate or desegregate along housing patterns. That’s the only way it will work. Some schools will be all black, some all white, and some mixed, just the way our neighborhoods are. If you live in a safe, racially mixed neighborhood (like I do), then the school will be fine. That’s not the case now. I would gladly take my kids out of parochial school if we had neighborhood schools again. Many young, cultured, college educated families want to live in the city, but don’t because they can’t/won’t pay for private school. My friends love the architecture; the walkability; the diversity; the close proximity to work. They don’t live here because of the schools, period.

  37. anon says:

    Yeah, “period”. We get it.

    You good writer. You made point. Comma, period! Dot!

  38. ivebeenthere says:

    Think about this. Inner city schools have been around for a very long time. I attended a inner city school until I was 10 years old. We then moved to the suburbs. Ask me why! The demographics were changing and not for the better. Blame this on the schools NO. The schools did not change just the students and parent(s). The same teachers were there. But the reason the teachers left was because of the students and also PARENT(s) letting children get away with doing things wrong. Even threatening the teachers and staff. Interest always has to be shown, every day of the year. Not just when things look the worst. Its not the goverments and/or the schools fault or sole responsibility to educate children. Parents have to show interest at home and make a good impression on children. Its taken and been allowed a long time to get to this point , it will surely take even longer to fix.

  39. Phyl says:

    Let’s be honest and really tell it like it is. No matter where the child is sent to school, he must come home at the end of the day. And most of the mothers are NOT working, and MOST have no fathers. You must change the conditions in the home before you can expect any improvement in the schools

  40. st lulu mama says:

    My boys go to a Rockwood elementary school and we've had two separate instances this year where the oldest (5th grade) was bullied and attacked by kids that were bussed in from the city. After the first time, we were told these kids were just trying to prove themselves since they were out of their neighborhood. The second time happened yesterday and I'm no longer willing to hear an excuse about this. I agree with City Mama that the kids need to stay in their neighborhoods and that these schools need to develop so that the kids won't be bussed away some 20-30 miles. I don't know whose tax dollars pay for the bussing, but if I'm paying to have my son beaten by kids who are resisting being there to begin with, that's just wrong.


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