Legislature Chasing A Red Herring
The Missouri Legislative session begins on Wednesday. Among the many issues they will address this year is education with a focus on “fixing” the Missouri Transfer bill so it will get past the governor this time. The “problem,” as everyone in Jefferson City seems to be defining it, is that the way the financing is currently structured, with the home district being stuck with the tuition and transportation costs, is too burdensome for the home district. Ergo, the way to “fix” the problem is to change the way that cost is shared.
A recent Post Dispatch article noted that the St. Louis Public School district is facing a potential transfer situation despite having “posted some of the highest gains in the state,” in terms of scores on state tests. Everyone says they only use the tests to make sure that schools are moving kids ahead academically. But clearly, because over all SLPSD scores are low and they are facing a transfer situation, these sentiments are only lip service. Normandy and Riverview Gardens were pushed into the transfer situation because of their low test scores. Their experience has demonstrated that having the home district pay the costs to transfer students out can bankrupt a district in a very short time. It becomes obvious that test scores mean everything under the current accreditation plan as defined in MSIP5.
The legislature isn’t looking at the test scores of those students who transferred to another district last year to see if the grand plan that required moving almost 2000 students out of their home districts was successful in achieving what the home district was required to achieve, an improvement in test scores. It should be noted that the test score averages in Normandy remained unchanged between 2013-14 when you averaged back in those of the transferring students. Taking those students who, through self selection, are most motivated academically, out of a school district will just about guarantee that the home district scores will drop creating the appearance of further decline in a district when in fact, it is just a different sorting of the population of the district.
It is not possible to tell from the aggregate data publicly available whether individual student scores rose as a result of moving to another district. Such an analysis would be highly instructive in this instance. If the move to “better” districts did not achieve this goal for individual students, then what benefit is there to the convoluted transfer program? If half the students who tried it the first year are not willing to stick with it for a second year, where is the demonstrable public call for such a program that just about guarantees the state take over if not the death of the home district? Is anyone willing to consider that the indicator they are looking at is wrong? Is a standardized test really the best measure of whether or not the school is moving the child ahead academically? If you have the wrong metric and the wrong goal, is the time spent on determining how to fund a program doomed to fail really worthwhile?