Hidden deep within a story concerning the opening of public schools in St. Louis, I found the problem. Like countless other school districts across the land, St. Louis public schools opened their doors this week. By way of background, several public school districts in St. Louis have been plagued with low test scores, high dropout rates and countless other social ills that often strike urban schools.
As a result of this low performance, a number of schools in St. Louis have been identified as "schools of opportunity" which means that more tax dollars are funneled there in the hopes of raising student achievement. One of those schools is Banneker Elementary.
Armed with new teachers funded through the national Teach for America program, the school opened their doors Tuesday morning. But the problem was evident from the beginning. Just over half the students attended school there on the opening day of classes. School officials say that is a fairly normal number for the first day of class.
So there's the problem in a nutshell. If parents care so little about education that they allow their children to miss the opening day, how can more tax dollars change that attitude? The answer, in my opinion, is that no amount of money can force parents to be good parents.
I recognize that school attendance picks up after the first week of classes. That's true in St. Louis and it's true in Sikeston. But when just 101 students out of 177 enrolled show up for the first day of classes, I believe that should tell us something.
Education can be enhanced by tax dollars. That much is obvious. But when you live in a culture or environment where education is not important enough to promote attendance, money alone will do little. We have yet to fully learn that lesson in this country. And believe me, we'll spend, spend and spend until we learn. I, for one, am sick and tired of shelling out more tax dollars to provide assistance for those who don't play by the rules. First day attendance may be a minor obstacle but it's a clear indication to me that no premium is placed on education. When that atmosphere of apathy is present, more money is clearly not the answer.
For now we'll put more teachers in more classrooms. And we'll provide mentors and tutors and any amount of gimmickry to improve performance. But until we understand that learning begins at home, we're just pouring good money after bad.