They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. To better understand the seemingly intractable problems in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, I decided to head to the St. Louis Public Library newspaper archives to see what folks had written about Normandy in the past. I found this:
Hire more minority teachers, revamp the high school curriculum, improve discipline.
Sound familiar? These suggestions are quite similar to the comments Normandy’s most recent superintendent, Ty McNichols, made in 2013. In fact, what I found in the archives was written by former Normandy Superintendent Bruce A. Smith in a 35-page report about the status of the school district in 1988.
“Everything here is fixable,” McNichols had said. “It takes time. It can’t happen overnight. But it can be fixed.”
Nearly 30 years after Smith's report, we seem to be no closer to improving the Normandy School District. The same old tactics will not lead to a better result.
A recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute points toward a more stark strategy—closing low-performing schools.
In School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio’s Urban District and Charter Schools, researchers found that school closures have positive impacts on student achievement. Three years after schools closed, displaced students from urban districts, on average, gained 49 cumulative days of learning in reading and 34 cumulative days in math, relative to the comparison group.
The authors of the study also found that students who were displaced after a closure typically ended up in a higher-quality school. Fifty-nine percent of traditional public school students and 68 percent of charter school students transferred to higher-quality schools.
The evidence presented suggests that if policymakers are concerned about student achievement in low-performing schools, they should shut down those schools, instead of wasting more time, money, and patience trying to fix them. Resources then could be redirected toward starting new schools or expanding the capacity of existing higher-performing schools.
After decades of proposed “fixes,” are further attempts to improve Normandy Schools Collaborative misguided? Is closing down the district and allowing the students to be absorbed by neighboring districts the solution policymakers should really be thinking about?
These tough questions need answers. But one thing is certain, if we want to get serious about saving Normandy students, perhaps it’s time we stop trying to save Normandy schools.