April 6, 2017

Paul Ward, an eighth grade student in St. Louis, Mo., struggled for years in the public school system because he was sequestered in a one-size-fits-all program for students across the autism spectrum. Paul has a high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, and languished in a school environment that never met his needs. A new video from the Show-Me Institute, an Atlas Network partner based in Missouri, explains how a charter school in St. Louis, Kipp Inspire Academy, turned everything around for Paul.

“When I came to Kipp, I came to Kipp ready to fight, because I thought that’s what it was going to be,” explains Carmen Ward, Paul’s mother, in the video. “I thought it was going to be a fight, like every other school. But what happened was, I was introduced to his support team, and they were different. They were more like a family structure. So, coming into Kipp, they immediately laid out an IEP that would fit Paul’s needs. And within that IEP, there was team members that were willing to meet me where I was. They laid out the plan for me. They organized a support system that worked for Paul. They pushed him into the classroom as much as he could possibly do.”

Until recently in Missouri, charter schools were allowed only in the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. A few weeks ago, new legislation expanded charters to metropolitan areas, urban areas with more than 350,000 inhabitants, and school districts with various accreditation and underperformance problems. As Michael McShane, the Show-Me Institute’s director of education policy explains, Missouri is one of the only states that limits charter schools with these geographic restrictions, and this leaves many students in rural areas stuck attending failing schools without any other options.

Another recent Show-Me Institute article, by research assistant Emily Runge, points out that many of these smaller districts have “chokepoint” schools, into which all local students will filter at some point, and that many of those schools are failing — as defined by scoring 60 percent or less on the school’s Annual Performance Report for two of the three most recent years. Without charter alternatives to the failing traditional system, these students have no way to choose a quality education.

“I believe that every parent has a choice about the education that they want for their kids,” Ward concludes in the video. “But if you look at the choices that I have for an education for my son, every school in my area is not accredited. And the support system is not set up to meet a child with autism where they are, so I should be enabled with the power to choose a school that is going to educate my son and get him the best opportunity to either make it to college or get a good trade where he can be beneficial to society. Yes, he has Asperger’s, but that does not mean he has to be on disability or welfare his whole life. And to set him up to fail is to put him in a system where he has no choice. I choose Kipp because they’re going to take him through college, or to his highest level of independence that is possible to him.”

Learn more about the Show-Me Institute’s work on educational choice, school accountability, and local control over educational policy.