Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network reports here on the sad story of what happened to public education in St. Louis, once a mecca of public education. The city has elegant public school buildings that were designed for eternity, but now stand shuttered and desolate.

What happened?

Racism. Segregation. White flight. Civic abandonment. Economic decline.

Remedies? The Broad Foundation and the Koch brothers to the rescue (not). Politicians committed to privatization. Business management. School closings, almost entirely in African-American neighborhoods. Incompetent business leadership. Some charter schools with high test scores, most with lower scores than the public schools. Charter scams and scandals. Profiteering. Loss of accreditation. State takeover. A new superintendent, determined to revive public education. Improved scores and graduation rates. Accreditation restored. New public schools with selective admissions, competing with charter schools.

Bryant visits some of the beautiful, abandoned schools and draws lessons from them.

“Many of these schools, like Cleveland High, are grand structures, built a hundred years ago or more, in a style that features intricate brick and stone exteriors with turrets and arches and spacious interiors with vaulted ceilings and sunlit classrooms.

“But the story of St. Louis’s schools is about so much more than the buildings themselves. It’s a story about an American ideal and what and who gutted that ideal.

“It’s also a story that merits important attention today as prominent education policy leaders, such as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contend conversations about education should not even include the subjects of buildings and systems.

“Today’s current thinking that learning can “occur anyplace, anytime” prompts entrepreneurs to create networks of online schools and charter school operators to open schools in retail storefronts and abandoned warehouses.

“But the grand schools St. Louis built for its children caution that the permanency of schools as buildings and institutions is worth defending.

“More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

“I was recently standing in at one of the places where the revolution started: Elliot School at 4242 Grove St. It was padlocked with a graffiti-covered “For Sale” sign out front. The district closed the school in 2004.”

Footnote: Missouri legislation now debating expansion of charter schools to other districts.