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Commentary Detail

The Race to the Top for School Reform
Commentary by: Susan Uchitelle
Aired May 07, 2010


So what went wrong? Why was Missouri ranked so close to the bottom? One reason is that the Federal Department of Education favors states with Charter Schools statewide while Missouri permits charter schools only in the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City. The Federal Proposal also asked for programs that include strong collaboration between school districts, parents and the community at large. Missouriís first application did not include that kind of comprehensive collaboration. The second one will according to the Missouri Commissioner of Education. Additionally the government just announced a $650,000,000 funding for innovative grants for educationsí most vexing problems

But Missouri is in need of education resources and very specific guidelines for theimplementation of major proposals for change. It is essential for Missouri to qualify on the next round for one or both of these grants. Our community needs educational guidelines, strict accountability and community support for all of our schools. I also know that the St. Louis Schools have among the highest high school drop out rates in the nation and that their academic outcomes are very low.

And many of our suburban schools have not scored well recently on the Missouri Assessment Program (the MAP test) that is given each spring. I am certain these issues will attest to our need for these grants in round two. It goes without saying that a quality education provided by all states is crucial for the future success of our children and our nation. And Missouri is among those states most in need.

On March 28th the St. Louis Post dispatch wrote about the slow growth in our region which is about one half the national average. Many reasons were cited: disappearance of high paying jobs and businesses; lack of highly skilled people; graduates leaving St. Louis because it does not attract young people as a vibrant community. But the major reason was the lack of an educated constituency. Sadly, of those who finish high school in the St. Louis region, only 33% go on to obtain bachelors degrees as compared to 48% for Washington D. C. and 53% for Boston.

In essence without a highly educated work force our regional economy will grow very slowly and talented youth will move elsewhere. This State and our community must recognize how important it is that our children be well educated. We must acknowledge that this is not the case for so many children in our region. And we are the ones to take responsibility for this.

Missouri may or may not win the second round of competition. Whether we do or not, we must pull together the necessary resources, talent and commitment for our schools. Many cities depend upon their corporations to assist in funding and even staffing. We have done so in the past and need to continue to do so with those corporations and businesses that still exist in our region. It is to their benefit as well.

Not only is there an extraordinary amount of funds for the Race to the Top but President Obama is making additional funds available for exemplary schools. So where do we fit into this one time unusual competition for funds? And if we are not competitive I ask this community what can we do to become so?

This city and metropolitan region have their work cut out for them. The onus is on all of us. Now with the tremendous push and resource allocation at the national level with The Race to the Top program we have little excuse for saying we do not have the resources and for continued failure. If we can create more cooperation between the city and county which would make our region more attractive to people to work and to stay, and improve our urban school system, we would bring excitement into our city and once again begin to reach the heights of success that were so connected with St. Louis in the past.


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Susan Uchitelle

Susan Uchitelle

Commentator

Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.

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