At around 25,000 students, the Springfield Public Schools is currently the largest district in Missouri. Just 20 years ago, the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts were much larger than Springfield, but after years of poor performance, their enrollment numbers have dropped by more than half.
Last month, former Missouri legislator Dr. Roy Holand wrote a letter to the editor of the Springfield News-Leader warning about trends—including both an increase in student poverty and declining test scores—that have the Springfield School District headed in the wrong direction. Could Springfield end up like Kansas City or St. Louis and, as Dr. Holand warns, suffer from “local urban flight” to surrounding districts? Moreover, will students from low-income families be stuck in poor-performing schools because they cannot afford to move to another district or attend a private school?
Based on data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Springfield’s enrollment is remaining steady around 25,000, but it is not faring as well as neighboring districts. Take a look at nearby districts’ performance as measured by the 8th grade MAP tests and student population characteristics compared to Springfield:
|District||2017 Enrollment||2017 FRPL||% of 8th-Graders Proficient or Advanced in English (2017)||% of 8th-Graders Proficient or Advanced in English (2017)|
|Districts contiguous with Springfield|
|Fair Grove R-X||1,085||41.8%||69.1%||44.5%|
|Pleasant Hope R-VI||796||62.0%||51.2%||14.9%|
Compared to surrounding districts, Springfield has a similar achievement level in eighth grade English, but scores much lower in math. Moreover, Springfield is close to the statewide average of 60.2 percent of eighth graders scoring proficient or better in English, but it is far behind the statewide score of 30.5 percent of eighth graders scoring proficient or advanced in math.
Given these scores, it is not surprising that six out of nine middle schools in the district scored less than 70 percent on the 2017 Annual Performance Review (APR), which is the state’s threshold for full accreditation.
Additionally, legislation has been introduced that would allow for charter schools to open in any district that has at least one school that earned 60 percent or fewer of the possible points on the APR in two of the last three years. Four elementary schools and three middle schools in Springfield currently meet those criteria. If this legislation passes, Springfield will join St. Louis and Kansas City as “charter schools as intervention” districts.
While Springfield is technically still accredited under the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) system, the number of struggling schools in the district is cause for concern. Because some of the 2017 MAP tests were thrown out, 2016 is the most recent year that all school received an APR score; as you can see, the schools’ performance varies significantly:
Considering this range in performance, can a parent in Springfield be confident that their child will be able to attend a quality school? While Springfield does have some choice programs, such as the option to enroll in schools emphasizing STEM subjects and an intra-district transfer option, the seats for these programs—and in the good middle schools—are limited. With so few quality options for middle school, and with the elementary schools being a mixed bag, it would not be surprising if families started leaving for the surrounding districts or sending their kids to private schools.
Holand is not the only one worried about the direction of the district. As the school board considered renewing Superintendent John Jungmann’s contract, former Springfield teacher Carl Herd also argued that district’s performance is “not acceptable” and it will hurt the economic health of the city. Nonetheless, the school board voted unanimously to extend Jungmann’s contract through 2021.
Kansas City’s and St. Louis’s experiences serve as a cautionary tale. Fortunately, families in these cities have charter schools as an option. And while these districts’ enrollment continues to decline, charter school enrollment grew by 11 percent last year. If Springfield’s performance continues to slip—and there is growing evidence that it this is happening—the families who cannot afford private school or are unable to move to another district will suffer.
The needs of the students and parents in the Springfield should be the top priority of the school district. Expanding school choice programs, such as charter schools or education savings accounts, which are popular with parents, would ensure that these students have more quality options.