Τετάρτη, Μαΐου 10, 2006

Preserving School Choice in Springfield, MO

Hey guys. I realize I've been gone for, like, a month. I really need to stop doing that. But I have an issue that needs your help.

Springfield, MO, has five high schools, which have had open enrollment for decades. This has enabled families to choose which school was best for their children, as long as they were willing to provide their own transportation. One of the results of this policy was that many, many students over the years transferred out of Central High School, which was, at the time, a failing school. It was failing in a multitude of ways -- academics, drop-outs, fuctional plumbing -- but few as spectacular as Central's failures in sporting events. Consequently, most potential Central students athletic talents chose other schools, where they played on the sports teams without consequence and contributed to their sucess.

In about 1996, a group of parents, including my mother, started investigating the possibility of bringing an International Baccalaureate program to Springfield. They initially offered it to Kickapoo, which was, at the time, considered to be the best high school in town. Kickapoo didn't want it. Neither did Glendale, Parkview, or Hillcrest. Central, however, jumped all over it. The teachers volunteered time, the parents rallied, and in 1998, the IB program was officially installed at Central. In 2000, a large bond issue permitted the district to renovate Central, making it the flagship high school in Springfield. That year, the first class of 11 IB students graduated.

Since that time, Central has grown to over 1200 students, from around 750 in its failing years. Each year, around a hundred freshmen exercise school choice and come from all around the city to experience the best possible high school education. Other students transfer to schools like Hillcrest, which has a nationally acclaimed media program, or Kickapoo, which has an excellent Japanese program, etc.

All of this is now in jeopardy. For the first time in many years, Central has become competetive in sports. This is largely a result of the influx of IB students, as well as the decision by talented athletes who reside in the Central district not to transfer. The problem is the MSHSAA, the governing body for student activities for the state of Missouri, has a ruling that if a student transfers, they are inelibible to compete for one year. They expressly note that open enrollment does not constitute an exception from this policy. In the thirty or so years that Springfield has had open-enrollment, this policy has never been enforced. Suddenly, however, after Central became competitive, rumors that it would be enforced began to circulate.

Friday, a group of Central freshman girls soccer players showed up at a match and were told they had been suspended from the team due to lack of eligibility. Swimmers, a golfer, and various other athletes were also suspended. Today, MSHSAA has ruled that the suspended students may be reinstated for the remainder of the year, but on the condition that Springfield Public Schools must either discard its open-enrollment policy or face ineligibility for all freshmen transfers.

MSHSAA is an unelected, beauracratic body and as such, clearly has no right to tell the elected Springfield School Board how to administer their district and perform their duty to the public trust. They are not interested in promoting the welfare of individual students, but rather in preserving their own power and position. This is unacceptable and must be stopped immediately.

Missouri residents can locate the contact information for their representatives and senators here.

The phone number for MSHSAA is (573) 875-4880 - Office and (573) 875-1450 - FAX. They can be emailed at email@mshsaa.org. Even, and perhaps especially, if you are not a Missouri resident, please take a few minutes and call or email MSHSAA and express your outrage.