A crisis emerged in St. Louis last week when its ailing school system hired a corporate firm to revamp and save its failing schools. Many parents attempted to boycott the first day of school by not sending their children to school. But the protest failed; more students appeared for school than on the first day of school last year. The actions nevertheless undermined a valid way of improving schools.
St. Louis’ schools have been problem-ridden for the past several years. The schools had a $90-million deficit last year, and half of its freshmen class dropped out. Of the more than 40,000 students in this district only 7 percent had a score of proficient or higher on the state’s test for reading and writing. Furthermore, hundreds of classes were taught by substitutes.
Because of these mounting problems, the school board hired the corporate firm Alvarez & Marshal to save its schools. Alvarez & Marshal promised to reduce non-instructional costs and redistribute these funds into the educational system. This summer the company was able to reduce operation costs by $60 million, limit the number of students per classroom, and hire 94 literacy coaches. They were able to do this all without laying off any teachers.
Even with all these advantages, residents were enraged over the small sacrifices they were forced to make. Residents complained about the 16 schools that had to be closed. Alvarez & Marshal replied to this by showing that only 8 percent of the population was affected by the closing of the schools, and also added that the number of students in the past several years has decreased by 65 percent while the number of schools has decreased by only 35 percent. Another major complaint was about the privatization of some school services, which resulted in the firing of 1,400 employees, which leaves us with the question: Is it the school’s responsibility to educate or to provide jobs?
St. Louis was deeply divided over this issue.
With the education system failing as it was, severe measures were needed. The outrage of the parents over the closure of schools is understandable, but they should focus on their children’s education. If the system works better this way, the firm should be commended for overhauling a failing system.