Embed America: East St. Louis schools more like ‘daycare centers’
Financial problems, teacher turnover and urban blight have left many East St. Louis schools, like Miles D. Davis Elementary School, in a state of disrepair.
July 26th, 2012
09:15 AM ET

Embed America: East St. Louis schools more like ‘daycare centers’

By John Sepulvado, CNN

East St. Louis, Illinois (CNN) – The East St. Louis School District has some of the worst reading and math test scores in the state. That’s according to state and district statistics. Only ten percent of students are proficient in reading at their grade level. And for at least one resident, 17-year-old Louis Jones, it's a problem the presidential candidates need to address.

Meanwhile, education officials in Illinois are trying to take over the school district. The state cites systemic problems with corruption. Local board members disagree, and as is often the case with fights over power and money, both parties are now in court.

Many of the school buildings, according to a local board member, are in disrepair. And some students, like Danasia McDonald, complain about their teachers insulting and belittling them.

[3:27] “We [were] working on something, and [the teacher] was moving too slow,” McDonald recalls. “And we try to speed up ‘cause we’re moving past her, and we like, ‘We past that part.’ [The teacher says] ‘Well, we dumb the lesson down for y’all so y’all can get it. You act like y’all can’t comprehend…’ They don’t do their job for real....”

CNN Radio visited the East St. Louis School District after coming across an iReport by Louis Jones. The 17 year-old is an East St. Louis native, and he says he was “lucky” because he went to a private school. But he lived right next to an East St. Louis middle school.

[1:09] “It was extremely horrible,” Jones says. “The teachers didn’t really care, they were basically there to have a job, and they didn’t really care for the kids. Like, they didn’t learn anything. They came out with basically nothing, nobody ever took books, nobody ever took a back pack, nobody like…it was almost like it wasn’t even school, it was just like a daycare center.”

Jones says he’d like to see President Barack Obama and GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, make a top policy priority the improvement of public education, especially in inner cities. Jones also says he would like to see inner city students given more of a voice in their education.

[11:45] “I feel like students should have the right to evaluate their class and their teacher,” Jones says. “I feel like teacher evaluations by the student, and looking at their academic record, I’m pretty sure you can tell a good teacher from a bad teacher.”

You can check out all our Embed America coverage here. And track the team's progress on our Embed America map.

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. bb

    Schools are now feeding kids breakfeast, lunch and dinner. Teachers are not allowed to teach or instill discipline, what the heck did you think was going to happen. How about parents feed thier kids and help them with their home work.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. chris

    On money: looking at total charitable giving in the United States in 2011 only religion gets more. Education gets more money in this country by citizens who are responding to the teachers and student needs. Lottery money..in Missouri alone 280 million in 2011. These are huge numbers yet still the teachers are paid poorly and the classrooms lack supplies. I agree about the parent argument, discipline etc. I have met my share of bad teachers. Those are topics worth discussing, but also and here is my main point. the way money is spent within the public school system is a large part of the problem where administration and management costs bleed so much money there is little left for teachers salaries and classroom supplies. In St. Louis there are nearly 550 management positions governing about the same number of students as the archdiocese in St. Louis...yet the archdiocese can manage those kids with only 12 management positions.The difference in salary ranges of teachers to middle management is enormous and in th e corporate world would be as bad as CEO pay Yet we ignore this. We write articles to contact our government officials and then make the public feel bad that we are ignoring the kids and teachers. Today with so much technology available to bring these things to light it is my hope that the Public School System will finally start getting a serious look at how it is run. The teachers and kids are well supported financially from the public as the numbers clearly show...lets start hereing some articles about how that money is being spent. If I was a reporter I'd be all over this one.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • chris

      A recent article about budgets cuts in Fairview Heights, IL where half their buses will not run and kids will have to walk to school is what I'm talking about. In the article superintendant Matt Stines puts e-mail addresses of government officials on his website so the public can voice concern...well why not the emails for the school district so we can see where all our money is going and why nothing is left for buses? The first strategy with schools is..make the public feel bad and complain to government. But look at us? oh no we don't want that, we care about kids are are doing everything proper.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
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    July 27, 2012 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. Video Mystic

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    July 27, 2012 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. AD13

    I taught in the St. Louis area for six years (not in East St. Louis but other districts in that area, though not quite as bad, have very similar problems) and I can tell you from experience that the problems are mainly in the home and not in the schools. Children, especially those in inner cities and even the suburbs of urban areas and distressingly in a large number of African American homes, are NOT being taught discipline, respect for themselves, each other and teachers and other adults, and most importantly, that education is valuable and should be a priority. The parents treat the schools like day care centers. They act like their children's defense attorneys instead of parents and partners with the school/teachers to do what's best for their child. They are so uninvolved in their children's lives. Many African American kids are being taught at home that teachers are the "enemy" and that they are out to bring blacks down and at the same time there is this pervasive culture in the AA community that to be successful in school, to be smart, and to care about getting an education makes them a sell-out to their race and that they're acting "white" so many will purposely perform below their potential to avoid being ostracized. The main point I want to get to though is that there are VERY few people who go into the field of education just to "have a job" or to be lazy or because they don't care. The pay SUCKS. It's barely enough to live on and then only enough to live on if you live pretty bare bones, especially if you're single or single with children and have no other income coming in like from a spouse. I would actually qualify for public assistance on the pay I would get as a teacher if I were still teaching and if I were the only breadwinner in my home. It's crazy. Teachers DO get burned out and it does happen very frequently in school districts like E. St. Louis and the ones I taught in due to the pervasive apathy and disrespect of students and lack of support and respect from administration, parents, and the community as a whole. I know when I was teaching I fought depression and came very close to having a nervous breakdown due to what I was seeing and experienced in the schools in which I taught.

    July 27, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robert

    The grammar of those students is awful and a sign of ignorance. Poor teachers and poor parents are solely to blame. Building shiny new schools won't help. They did that in Houston recently and the "State of the Art" school was destroyed. It was a complete waste of money and effort. The students are just as ignorant as before. They really don't want to learn, except for sagging and meat fondling.

    July 27, 2012 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. Teri

    NCLB tied teacher hands and made them "teach to the test". It took creativity out of the classroom. It also LEFT BEHIND special ed students and gifted students.. "Oh, well the gifted students already know the material, so don't take too much time with them, and the special ed students aren't going to pass anyway, so teach to the median..".

    NCLB+ lack of effective control and leadership in schools+ parents who don't parent+ micro managing policies and administrators= substandard education.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • AD13

      I totally agree. Teachers' hands are tied in many ways also including disciplining students now. There's very little teachers can do to discipline students that is effective anymore. Administrations are so afraid of the parents that they just cave to them and don't support the teachers and don't want to deal with problem students. NCLB has been the worst thing to ever happen to public education and should be discontinued immediately. Tying teachers' jobs to test scores is a horrible idea. On paper it may sound good, but in real life, it would be terrible. Would you like to have your job dependent on the attitude or motivation of someone else that you have little to no control over? In some schools a majority of the students have horrible home lives and have never been taught the value of an education. In fact, they are taught that teachers are the enemy. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink as the saying goes. Students could just say to heck with the test and just fill in random bubbles if they didn't want to take it and were bored....and people's careers could be made dependent on scores from these same tests. We need to put at least half the responsibility for a student's performance back where it belongs....on the student! Yes, teachers should do their job to the best of their ability and a good teacher can make a huge difference, but there are just too many variables in education to base a person's career on test scores. The only thing that is REALLY going to change and improve education is to start that change IN THE HOME! Make parents be responsible for their children, teach them discipline and respect and that education is important and should be a priority. The government both at the federal level and the state and local level needs to model this as well by making education funding protected from budget cuts when the govt. needs money for other things or to cover shortfalls (usually caused by mismanagement of state/fed money in the first place) and by properly funding schools and paying teachers a decent wage for their education. We don't make education a priority in this country and we are and will continue to pay the price for that and it will be this country's downfall.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. karpet permadani

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    July 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael A. Monko

    Rating the teachers? Be careful what you wish for. For some students, when the teacher says, "turn to page 138, please," the students complain to their parents that this teacher has been mean to them, & they might not have even bothered to bring their book to class anyway. I know because I'm a teacher.

    July 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sam L

    In response to those criticizing the parents...I have no doubt that parental help can aid in the learning process, however, how are parents supposed to help their children learn material they never fully mastered themselves? It is a circular problem that results when our public education system and our community fail our children. We can criticize the parents–many of whom are hard-working individuals trying to get by–or we can each do our part to volunteer our time and energy to help these children get the help they need. As someone mentioned, a school day is not enough time to learn everything, but if everyone donated a little time to volunteer with one of the many organizations that help children learn, as a community and a society we could do a lot of collective good.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • NattyB

      In regard to your comment on those who blame parents who cannot be of help, since they didn't master the material themselves–that's understandable. I know when I was in high school, my mother new nothing about calculus and thus, was no help to me. However, she taught me to respect authority. She taught me that acting up in a classroom was selfish and would rob others who wanted to learn. So perhaps it's less about a parent who knows high school math or social studies being able to aide in their child's school work, and more about teaching kids to respect teachers and school staff as authority figures. That is one feature that seems to be lacking across the board in certain areas from the parents, and it only trickles down to the children, who will undoubtedly end up in jail without a reverence for authority.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CW

    @Silver Q: Check out the KIPP charter schools–which notably, in the context of your comment, have a student body composed primarily of African-American and Hispanic students–and see all the good that a well-structured curriculum with teachers who care can do for students who are many grade levels behind academically. The KIPP schools educate students who are failing academically, and the vast majority of these students go on to graduate from high school and college. The KIPP program shows its not the culture, its our public education system that fails these students. Your comment shows how sadly many in our society would rather believe in scientifically unfounded prejudices instead of realizing that our government-sponsored public education systems are failing us.
    Look it up! http://www.kipp.org/

    July 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Silver Q

      CW, I was a teacher in the St. Louis area schools for a short time, and left teaching when a 3rd grader spat in my face and nothing was done about it. I have heard of the KIPP program, and it can do wonderful things. But the kids are still only in school for a few hours a day, and if they aren't learning respect and personal responsibility at home, no magic teaching program in the world will change that. I have lived in St. Louis for more than 30 years, and yes, it is the black culture. I've seen black kids threaten other black kids, just for reading a book, taunting them with "You think you betta den me," or worse. There is a serious pathology in the black community, in which they work against their own and view any hard work or responsible behavior as "acting white." Until that is resolved, nothing will change.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. penny77

    Immigrants from Mexicon come to Fort wayne and excell in our student friendly schools. Please if your parents are hard workers, come to fort wayne . Emigrate from the corruption and poverty you live in.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      How sad that ft.wayne is aiding and abetting illegals at the expense of broken Americans. You must be so proud.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. New Gawker

    dumb parents make dumb kids. don't want to put time into your children this is what you get.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Would You Look At That

    East St. Louis needs to be bulldozed into the mighty mississippi river and start from a clean slate... There's nothing but drug money and corruption floating around that hell-hole.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Trevor

    This is not exclusive to poor urban environments. I attended 1st-5th grade in Uvalde, TX and the school system operates the same way, which left me ill prepared for for academically for school when my family left for Lubbock, TX.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  16. personalresponsiblility

    Reading is a skill that requires practise. If a child and his or her parents do not feel it necessary to work on this skill it is going to be difficult to advance the learning level. A school day is only so long, and it is patently unfair to expect a teacher to be the only one responsible for a child learning. Sure the school can test a child for disabilites and outline some possible aids, but once again it has to involve the child and the parent willingly pursuing knowledge.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Silver Q

    Those schools are a mess because the black community doesn't value education. It's impossible to teach kids who don't want to learn and who think that any interest in learning is "acting white." Until the black parents take an interest and make their kids study and learn, no amount of good teaching or money spent will make any difference.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Arzach

    It's our country going to hell in a hand basket... Teachers might act like they don't care, but who can blame them?

    July 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  19. The Decline

    Did anyone notice how terrible the girl quoted above spoke English? “We [were] working on something, and [the teacher] was moving too slow,” McDonald recalls. “And we try to speed up ‘cause we’re moving past her, and we like, ‘We past that part.’ [The teacher says] ‘Well, we dumb the lesson down for y’all so y’all can get it. You act like y’all can’t comprehend…’ They don’t do their job for real..." – Holy crap that is baaaaaaaaaaad. If you take out the inserts, its even worse!

    July 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChicagoRich

      Well she is commenting about how bad her teachers were within an article about how bad her schools are. Is it really all that surprising that her grammar would be poor?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Jamal0390

    I am sick and tired of hearing about school districts that continuously lack in educating thier students. I am going to graduate college in December, and know of quite a few students that graduate from school systems such as these. Most of the students there thirst for more knowledge, and are extreamly bright, but teachers don't care. More money in these districts is not the problem its the board of education, faculty, and staff that make moving forward extreamly difficult for these students. In my university we participate in online course evaluations for every course we take, once the semester is over the departments and professors look at them and re-evaluate themselves. Every teacher gets a rating and so does the relevance of the course material. I have found that these evaluations help the professors improve themselves and the quality of information of course exponetially. These evaluations are also another good indicator to the school district on how well students are doing.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Decline


      July 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Would You Look At That

      I can assure you that's not the case... These kids want nothing to do with education... This ghetto is nothing but a gang-laced broken neighborhood. I live 30 minutes north of E. St. Louis (which isn't far enough). The entire school board got fired because they have a couple million $$$ worth of salaries going to their family members. Each school board member has multiple members of their family working for the district... it's pathetic.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  21. JEllis

    Get rid of the teachers that cant teach(union) and the kids that dont wanna learn, use the "Lean on Me" school of method

    July 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Jon

    When you have no parental involvement in any aspect of the kids lives this is whatt you get. People have these kds for a welfare check, each one by a different guy, and are illiterate themselves. Until that problem no longer exists the school problem will remain.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  23. wcb2

    Dont hold your breath for Spit Onme to take address this issue. If anything he plans to cut funding for public education.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Decline

      wcb – throwing more money at the problem doesnt make it go away. We already spend an obscene amount of money on education. I agree with Romney, we do need to cut funding and find out where the money we keep is going and how to make it more effective. We have increased welfare spending by 300% in the last decade but it hasnt declined the number of ppl on it. Throwing more money around doesnt solve anything

      July 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  24. MannyHM

    Is it possible to adopt the Khan Academy method here ? The idea is to do the homework in school and the school work at home. Using the Internet, students can listen to lectures on certain topic at home then whatever is not understood, will be clarified in the school as 'homework' by the teacher. I feel terribly sad because these are years that are wasted when the mind is quite receptive to learning.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Ralph M

    It seems that way because the crack head parents haven't taken the time to teach the kids the basics.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |