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Providing Rigorous Primary and Secondary Education

The expert testimony, research, scholarship, and lived experience collected by the Commission revealed the following:

  • High schools that serve predominantly low-income students usually have the least experienced and least qualified teachers, provide limited or no access to school counselors, and offer a less rigorous curriculum than schools that serve primarily affluent students (CLASP, 2015). Roughly one in seven teachers in high-poverty public high schools are in their first or second year of teaching, as compared to fewer than 1 in 10 teachers in low-poverty public high schools (CLASP, 2015). In high-poverty public high schools, 11.5 percent of teachers are not certified, compared to 3.5 percent in low-poverty public high schools (CLASP, 2015).
  • It is not unusual for school counselors in low-income and rural public schools to work with 1,000 students each, more than four times the American School Counselors’ Association recommended student-counselor ratio of 250:1 (American Student Counselor Association, 2010).  
  • Counselors at public schools typically spend about half as much of their time on college counseling compared to their colleagues at private schools (American Student Counselor Association, 2010).
  • In struggling districts like the Normandy School District, the rate at which schools send their students on to college (two-year, four-year, or vocational) is approximately 48 percent, as compared to 69 percent statewide and 93 percent in Ladue (Missouri Department of Secondary Education, 2015).
  • Over one-third of Missouri’s public high school graduates who attend the state’s public colleges and universities are deemed unprepared as freshmen (Spurlock, 2015).
  • More than two-thirds of graduates of low-performing high schools need to take remedial courses before they can register for regular college courses (Spurlock, 2015; Bock, 2015).
  • At Beaumont, Normandy, Hazelwood East, Vashon, and Riverview Gardens, more than 75 percent of 2013 graduates who enrolled in state colleges needed remedial courses. At Sumner High in St. Louis, each of the 18 graduates in 2013 who went to a public college in Missouri needed extra help when they got there (Spurlock, 2015; Bock, 2015).  
  • If all students in Missouri’s public high schools were to graduate prepared for college, the state could save as much as $91 million in college remediation costs and lost earnings (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011).
  • A study in Missouri found that the 6-year college graduation rate for Black students, at around 40 percent, is more than 20 percent lower than for White students (Arcidiacono, & Koedel, 2013). In particular, Black men have especially low college enrollment rates and high dropout rates. The study also found that the disparities in pre-college entry skills between students of different races explain 65 and 86 percent of the racial gap in college graduation rates for women and men respectively (Arcidiacono, & Koedel, 2013).
  • In St. Louis, the highest unemployment rates and lowest wages belong to those workers with less than a high school education (St. Louis Community College:Workforce Solutions Group, 2015). Unemployment rates for a less than high school graduate are nearly 50% higher than those of a worker with a high school diploma or GED, and more than 5 times the rate of a worker with a bachelor’s degree (St. Louis Community College:Workforce Solutions Group, 2015).
  • In a 2013 audit of the St. Louis Public School district, former State Auditor Tom Schweich found a systematic practice of advancing students despite below-grade-level performance. The audit found that, despite over 2,000 students testing at the “below basic” level in the 2011 and 2012 reading section of the Missouri Assessment Program, only less than 200 of them were held back each year (Schweich, 2013).

These findings prompted the Commission to draft two calls to action aimed to improve the rigor of education for Missouri’s children.

To that end, the Commission issues the following calls to action.

Take Action

Support great school climates

While policy changes are important to changing the landscapes of our schools, it is only effective when paired with culture changes. Engage with your child’s school to facilitate a great school climate and culture for all students, teachers and administrators. This can take the form of attending PTA meetings, starting discussion groups with other parents, or…

Tags Youth at the CenterAligning Resources to Foster Innovation and Build Capacity
Take Action 

Suggested Reading List

Bock, J. (2015). Many St. Louis area high school graduates are playing catch-up in college. St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved from:

Spurlock, C (2015). Database:Remediation at Missouri Colleges. St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved from:


  1. Alliance for Excellent Education. (2011). Saving now and saving later. Retrieved from:
  2. American Student Counselor Association. (2010). Mission:A drop in dropouts. Retrieved from:
  3. Arcidiacono, P., & Koedel, C. (2013). Race and college success:Evidence from Missouri (No. w19188). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from:
  4. Bock, J. (2015). Many St. Louis area high school graduates are playing catch-up in college. St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved from:
  5. CLASP. (2015). Course, counselor, and teacher gaps. Addressing the college readiness challenge in high-poverty high schools. Retrieved from:
  6. Krauss, S. (2014). When graduation feels like failing:A diploma of completion, but not competence. Ready by 21. Retrieved from:
  7. Missouri Department of Secondary Education. (2015). District Report Cards. Retrieved from:
  8. National High School Alliance. (2006) Defining Rigor in High School:Framework and Assessment Tool.  Washington, DC:Institute for Educational Leadership.  Retrieved from: – See more at:
  9. Schweich, T. (2013). St. Louis Public School District. Office of the State Auditor. Retrieved from:
  10. Spurlock, C (2015). Database:Remediation at Missouri Colleges. St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved from:
  11. St. Louis Community College:Workforce Solutions Group. (2015). State of St. Louis Workforce 2015. Retrieved from