Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: The path forward for Missouri’s failing schools


The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has an interesting way of defining the state’s failing public schools. DESE calls the bottom 5 percent of the schools in our state, “Comprehensive Schools”.

Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin

According to the department, there are 63 “Comprehensive Schools” throughout our state. DESE defines “Comprehensive Schools” as public elementary and secondary schools that receive Title I funds, and rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools. Schools are eligible to receive Title I funds when 40 percent of their students are from low-income families. This list also includes high schools whose graduation rate is less than 67 percent over a three-year period.

Most of these schools are in urban areas. Some of them are very small K-8 districts in rural areas. Some of them are in places somewhere in between. Education reform with the goal of producing independent students who can compete in today’s workforce or in a business of their own is or should be the goal of all educators and parents. I have been visiting schools in Northeast Missouri to gain an understanding of some of the factors holding back today’s students. From heavy requirements to faulty classroom methods dictated by DESE, to an unwillingness to demand excellence, there’s plenty of excuses.

I believe that we can do better. Recently, I visited a school in southeast Missouri that has achieved a national Blue Ribbon designation. I learned how this was accomplished and the Superintendent basically replied that he would not accept less than excellence. Within his first three years of becoming Superintendent, he had replaced 80% of the staff. He also appeared to be able to exercise a great deal of authority in methods of instruction.  I walked the halls of his school and found an atmosphere which I believe could be replicated.  He has agreed to visit and share his ideas with those interested in improving.

Every child deserves an excellent education regardless of where they live. Even though there are no “Comprehensive Schools” in my part of the state, that does not mean there will never be one. It also does not mean that failing schools are not costing taxpayers in Northeast Missouri.

Lawmakers who see value in reforms recognize the opportunity those reforms can offer students when our traditional school system fails to provide them with a quality education.

In Missouri, charter schools are limited to just Kansas City and the City of St. Louis.  While there are those who don’t believe charters are the answer, it’s obvious that schools who have failed over a long period of time cannot continue “business as usual.” Changes must be made.

These are our children and grandchildren, and they deserve a quality education, not a “one size fits all” experience. During the upcoming legislative session, I look forward to working on behalf of our students and their families and fighting for a dynamic educational system that works for every Missourian.