Kids in classroom
Susan Pendergrass

I just don’t get it. A recent article in The 74 describes how the vibrant charter school sector and strong authorizers have led to a rising tide for both charter public school students and traditional public school students in Washington, D.C. It makes me scratch my head. Why don’t we want that in Missouri?

The article, which cites the dramatic rise in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for both groups of students, concludes with three takeaways that other cities can learn from DC:

  • Cities should embrace charter schools while limiting authorizers to one or two “strong” ones.
  • Cities should welcome the potential positive effects of competition. It’s been a force for positive change across the country.
  • If cities allow that to happen, middle-class families will stay.

This dynamic of charters having a broad, positive impact for everyone is playing out in big cities—Chicago, Indianapolis, Denver, Nashville, Boston—and in small cities.  While we haven’t seen dramatic results in St. Louis or Kansas City, we also haven’t embraced charter schools. There continues to be this odd notion in Missouri that charter schools are an intervention for low performance. Everywhere else they’re an option—often sponsored by local school boards—that parents across all types of communities and backgrounds are choosing.

Here’s the more important point—Missouri has a lot of other cities that would benefit from school choice. The school districts in Springfield, Joplin, Jefferson City, and Cape Girardeau are not exactly thriving. And yet, school boards and state legislators in these cities continue to fear public school choice. This year, the Missouri Senate filibustered a bill that would have made it much easier for charter schools to open in these cities. The Senate floor was held hostage for hours to ensure that the traditional public school monopoly wasn't threatened by parents who want something else.

How long will Missouri continue to cross its arms and staunchly defend the status quo of thirty years ago? How long will the positive stories about what’s working when it comes to improving public education only be about other states?


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.