For 2,600 students in North St. Louis, the start of this school year meant a tumultuous return to the classroom. These students awaited the results of a lottery system that would determine which school they would be able to attend, instead of remaining at their current, unaccredited district. The problem, however, is that the transfer districts were not adjoining the unaccredited districts but rather located on the opposite sides of the city. Of course this is a tactical move to keep students at their current school district, because the transfers mean loss of funding for those districts.
And this is not the first time this has happened in St. Louis. Before this, the issue of transfers was all the students who opted to leave the St. Louis city school district and bus to the outlying suburbs for a better education. What I can’t understand is how these transfers seem like a viable option to those who are in charge of education. Of course I promote all students receiving the best possible education, but transferring students is only a temporary fix at best that ultimately perpetuates the problems at the home districts. It doesn’t seem viable to me that busses continue to transfer students at the expense of the students and their families. Instead of partaking in activities and learning with those close to their community, these students attend schools far away from home. Loss of sleep and poorer performance in the classroom are common due to the long bus rides these students have.
St. Louis is not the only place in America where these kind of ineffective systems exist, but I have noticed that it is particularly bad here. Why? Well, the education system is rooted in the history of the city, which remains very much segregated. The first question people ask if you grew up here is “where did you go to high school?” because that one question can tell you all the background demographics of that person. The poorest performing schools in the city happen to fall along racial and socio-economic boundaries of course, which increases the severity of the situation. Decades now this has continued to be a serious issue and still this year the public sees the continued failure of civic leaders to find lasting solutions that promote educational equity. A recent article on Education News highlighted these issues on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. You can read the article here. So, despite the progress toward racial equality the gap is now widening along class lines and it’s notable in education.
Even within high-performing schools the lines between classes are visible. Here in St. Louis there are many private schools for only the wealthiest students to attend and there are many failing public school districts in the poorest neighbors. This remains a serious problem and as a teacher working in this city it frustrates me to see this happening. Students are not guaranteed a quality education and there’s something wrong with that. We need to attack this problem from within and set in place better policies that support schools.
I wrote a letter the editor of St. Louis Today about this issue. It might not have been published, but I’ll keep working until something changes. You can read the letter below:
This week begins my third year as a teacher and I hate to admit that I am already frustrated with the socio-political circumstances that plague our education system. I genuinely enjoy the challenge and reward of teaching but there were times during my first two years teaching that I felt demoralized.
I know I’m not alone in my discontent with the current system. In fact, 2,600 students in St. Louis made national news for wanting to transfer from two unaccredited districts to attend better schools in the area.
These students and their family recognize that every student deserves a first-class education regardless of where he or she grows up. Yet unfortunately, many changes still need to be made to our current system to ensure a great education for every child in Missouri.
I believe that now is St. Louis’s opportunity to either set the stage for educational reform measures that elevate education for all Missouri children or that lead us down a path of even more unfavorable news headlines. As a concerned citizen and teacher, I sure hope the former prevails.