First graders, from left, Isreal Dani, Ian Smith and Ashton Brooks listen to first grade teacher Karin Versen read a book out loud to the class on the first day of school on Aug. 23 at Patrick Henry Elementary school in St. Louis.
St. Louis needs a citywide plan for education, and on that point there is consensus. The Board of Education proposed the development of a plan as one of three initial policy changes needed to repair a broken education system, nudging potential collaborators to lend their support. A plan-to-make-a-plan, unveiled to both the board and the public in its late stages of development, prompted an outcry of emotion ranging from consternation to satisfaction. Individuals and organizations shared ideas about how to proceed, yet nearly eight months after its proposal, the effort is at a standstill, thwarted by a failure to define the terms.
Current planning efforts have been built on a weak foundation, because without a clear delineation of terms and needs from the body that initially called for it, the phrase “citywide plan for education” has become a meaningless buzzword, not a viable cornerstone. As someone quoted in this newspaper demanding urgent action toward such a plan, allow me to define these terms as I see them, in the hope that we, as a city, can move forward.
A citywide plan for education that begins and ends with schools is doomed from the start. Any plan that does not explicitly connect the city’s educational disparities to its decades of shrinking population, racist policies and continued prioritization of economic growth over the needs of people will not produce the system of high-quality schools essential to a thriving city.