Sunday, March 4, 2012

School reform in Missouri

There's an interesting article in today's Post-Dispatch about the state of various reform proposals for Missouri's K-12 system.  A major impetus for reform is the Turner case, which is the result of a Missouri law allowing students from unaccredited school districts to attend neighboring school districts on their home district's tab.  The law is pretty straightforward on that point, but it didn't lay out any procedure for this to happen.  Nor did it give the recipient districts any possibility of turning away students.  Given that two of the state's largest school districts (Kansas City and St. Louis) are currently unaccredited, there are tens of thousands of students who are eligible.

According to the article, legislation is tied up because it is bundled up with other, related, issues: Tax credits to promote private schools as an alternative to public schools, state-wide expansion of charter schools, abolishing tenure for new teachers, and an underfunded school-financing formula.

Some comments:
  • The legal case in favor of the tax credits rests on a misunderstanding of tax credits as being different from spending. They're not. The state constitution clearly prohibits state spending on religious schools. If we want to allow it, then the state constitution should be changed, which I would favor. In the meantime, the proposed program sounds like a good way to push school choice to its legal limit.
  • The tenure question is an easy one. It should be abolished wherever it is found. Teachers should have a degree of employment protection, but their protections should be the same as everybody else's.  I have had university tenure and I now work at a university that doesn't grant tenure at all.  I know from experience that I prefer that my colleagues not have tenure and that students (remember them?) are better off if their teachers do not have tenure.
  • Why is it considered bad for city school districts to go bankrupt?  That's what should happen when entities fail to do what they are supposed to.  Failed private or charter schools shut down, but failing public schools get more money and don't get any better.  How does that make sense?