Failing School Districts Look for Answers
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Failing School Districts Look for Answers

Date: December 17, 2010
By: Breana Jones and Ben Wagner
State Capitol Bureau

As lawmakers prepare for the legislative session in January, a top issue will be how to correct a downward trend in some failing St. Louis school districts. After education performance reports showed poor scores, education officials are left looking for solutions. Ben Wagner has more from Jefferson City.
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Wrap: Students from failing school districts may have to search for other options if they choose to leave those schools.

That's after Missouri Senate Education Committee chairman David Pearce proposed a bill that would let St. Louis county public schools reject students from unaccredited school districts.

The bill is in response to a Missouri Supreme Court decision allowing students from unaccredited school districts to attend any public school at government expense.

Right now St. Louis City School District is the only state-run district in the state.

But the 20-10 Annual Performance Report shows two other districts qualifying for unaccredidation.

Missouri Board of Education President David Liechti says many factors contribute to a district's performance.

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Description: "Every district is different based on the board, the superintendent, the culture of the school district, the parental involvement of the school district. I mean all of those things are key factors in how they score."

Deciding where to place students of failing districts has been a topic of debate in Missouri government for the better part of this year.

In 'Jane Turner versus School District of Clayton', the Missouri Supreme Court decided students from unaccredited districts can choose to attend any public school on the government's dime.

But with the fear of overcrowded classroom's looming, Republican Senator David Pearce is proposing legislation to give schools the option to say no to students from failing districts.

Those students from unaccredited districts have state education officials like School Board President David Liechti, looking for answers.

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Description: "Early intervention, I believe, is what the department wants to do. To identify schools that are on the wrong path and to have intervention as early as possible to correct those trends."

School officials are putting the blame on the lack of early education activities in these failing districts.

St. Louis School Improvement Coordinator Robert Taylor says student success is heavily based on preparing kids for school at a young age.

Taylor says many students simply are not ready for school when they're enrolled.

Actuality:  TAYLOR1.WAV
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Description: "Not everybody is starting at the same place. Not everybody learns at the same rate. You have to have specific types of activities that are directly related to the needs of children."

Another major indicator of continued poor performance scores is a lack of a clear, common plan for success. 

While Missouri government has intervened in St. Louis City schools, Liechti says that's not the best option.

Liechti says districts facing unaccredited must take steps of their own to correct poor performance scores.

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Description: "The bottom line is the state and the board wants the school districts to do whatever they can to correct their measures, obviously. We believe that's the best place to do it. But we certainly think at times, they need help."
It's a trend showing disparity between urban and suburban school districts.
For instance, University City school district scored in the "provisionally accredited" range, but neighboring Clayton School district scored a perfect 14 out of 14.
Liechti says several factors lead to each districts success... or failure.
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Description: "Ultimately it's the leadership of the district, the culture of the district, the community support and family involvement... I think that paints the picture of what a district is going to look like."

From the State Capitol, I'm Ben Wagner.