The Missouri State Board of Education made an historic decision this week to takeover the St. Louis Public School System
State of Missouri Votes to Take Over St. Louis School System
I am happy with this decision. It was something that was long overdue. SOMETHING had to be done to break the culture of failure and corruption in the St. Louis Public School system. The St. Louis Public school system requires a massive overhaul...sweeping fundamental changes, not cosmetic fixes. The fundamental changes that are needed require outside intervention.
The St. Louis Public School system has been haunted by corruption, mismanagement, and a culture of poor performance & low expectations for far too long. Many of the officials on the School Board and many of the school administrators were incompetent. The Mayor of the City, Francis Slay, wanted to deal with these issues, but he had little power to do so. The position of Mayor in the City of St. Louis is weak in terms of actual power. The Mayor has no control over many of the City's governmental institutions.....including the Police Board and the School Board (among other things).
In recent years the School system went from one Superintendent to another. Micromanagement and thuggery from the School Board prevented many of the Superintendents from being effective. It is a system that needs fundamental change. However, any kind of proposed change was always met by resistance from the School Board and by the Teachers Union. The Teachers Union seemed to be interested in keeping the status quo of failure, low expectations, poor performance and no accountability. The Teachers Union fought back any effort to hold teachers to higher standards, and worked in concert with the School Board to prevent anyone from coming in and turning the school district around. This situation led to a culture of corruption and failure that no one seemed to be able to break.
An outside consultant group was even brought in a few years ago to try to make fundamental improvements, but that didn't even work. The consultant group was also stonewalled by the Teachers Union and the School Board. However, the consultant group did manage to uncover, for all to see, a level of mismanagement and corruption that is best described as obscene. It basically showed that the St. Louis Public school system was a free-for-all for many many years....with no one really in charge and no one being held accountable. Teachers were having social get-togethers, and calling them "official school business" and charging the food and beverage costs to the school district account. They eventually ran up a tab of a half a million dollars. That is just one story of many. There are also safety issues (in some schools... gang activity and violence are so common that it is the norm), making it hard for the serious students to learn. Student attendance, grade inflation, kickbacks, low teacher pay and a lack of well trained teachers, crumbling schools, and all sorts of other problems also plagued the district. Most of the good teachers leave the district for suburban schools when they get the chance, because students (and parents) are often not held accountable in city schools, and there tends to be fewer disciplinary problems in the burbs. Plus the pay is much better....for less headache.
Do you recall the movie Lean on Me with Morgan Freeman as Joe Clark? This is the reality in many of the schools in the city of St. Louis. Same issues, different time.
Now the incompetent School Board (which was never able to get anything done because of infighting and personal interests of the members) has finally been shut down. Locally they were a news spectacle. It seemed as though every week or two you would hear another crazy story about the St. Louis School Board. I think the leaders of the School Board actually liked the media attention and kept whipping up drama.
Superintendents (some of them good) were constantly fired or threatened with being fired. Whenever a Superintendent wanted to make fundamental changes to improve the district and wanted to improve teacher standards and teacher performance, they were always fired by the School Board, usually with the support of the Teachers Union, which was fighting to protect bad teachers and poor standards...the status quo....although this was detrimental to the students. Approximately 4 Superintendents met that fate over the last 7 or 8 years or so. The outside consultant group was also told to leave and many of its recommendations were ignored. The School district built such a bad reputation that for a while, no one wanted the job of Superintendent. Now the School Board can BS around all they want... they have no more power after June of this year. A 3 member State governing board will take over at that time. The board will consist of an appointee of the Mayor, an appointee of the Governor, and an appointee of the President of the City's Board of Alderman. The State Board will control the St. Louis School system for at least 6 years.
But no matter what changes the State puts in place (and they will be making changes), not much will change without more involvement from parents. The management of the school district is only half the battle. Many of the parents of St. Louis Public school students don't have control of their children and are not involved in their children's education (many don't care and don't want to be bothered with it). This is the same kind of problem seen in urban school districts across the country. It would be nice if the State could pass a law that would compel parents to be more active in their childs education, and to participate in school meetings, etc.
The State meeting almost became a riot. The students, likely encouraged to act up by some of the Teachers (and the Teacher Union) and by a few former Board members, almost tore the place up when things did not go their way. The meeting was held in the Missouri State Capital. For the past several days, adults had been feeding a lot of misinformation to the students (particularly the Juniors and Seniors) regarding the worth of their diplomas and their ability to enter college...when at the end of the day, this was not a major issue. However it was part of why students were so fired up (which was what some of the adults involved wanted).
After watching these videos, I get a better understanding of what teachers must go through in the classroom everyday. No wonder there is an exodus of teachers from City schools. It is clear that many of these students have no good parental guidance in their lives. They have no sense of bounderies or a sense of right from wrong. This has led to a culture of bad behavior. And instead of correcting unruly behavior, many of the parents support it and work against the teachers. This is why there has been a breakdown in discipline. Teachers have to be scared of the students. If you look at the video (second video) you hear one of the adults saying "he didn't do anything". Evidently she must not have seen the young man shove the State Capital Police officer.
This was supposed to be a "Civil Disobedience" protest. But I don't think some of these kids really understood what that meant. "Civil Disobedience" is passive....not aggressive...as in shoving, etc.
This incident just makes the City of St. Louis look bad....especially the St. Louis Public Schools (as if it needed anything else to make it look bad). In an ironic sort of way, this incident only supports the State takeover, because it shows that the city has students who appear out of control...or uncontrollable....which is in fact part of the problem.
The City of St. Louis is out of control in many ways. The urban blight, the poor schools, the crime, and the bad parenting are all things that have exacerbated the city's problems.
Watch the Video of the State Board Meeting
Watch unedited portion of the protest, where things get ugly
Additional Sources for This Report
From the New York Times
From the Guardian