Separate and Unequal

Two honor students from Normandy High, one of Missouri’s worst-performing schools, choose different paths and learn that not all schools are created equal.

Normandy High honors student Cameron Hensley (l), a senior, checks his phone as some students sleep through physics class. The teacher was present, but no instruction occurred that day.
Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In 2015, a controversial Missouri law allowed students to transfer out of their low-performing schools into better ones, often located in more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods. To assess the law’s impact, Elisa Crouch follows two honor students from Normandy High, one of the worst-performing high schools in Missouri, as they make different choices. Cameron Hensley decides to stay; Angel Matthews transfers to a high-performing school in another district.

Through Cameron’s story, Crouch documents how Normandy High seems to have gotten worse, despite promises to make improvements. The school no longer offers honors classes. Cameron hasn’t written an essay, read a book or been assigned homework since fall. Teacher apathy is rampant. Meanwhile, Angel discovers that she is ill prepared to succeed in her new school’s honors and advanced placement classes. She also has to get used to being the only black student in her classroom.

Taken together, Crouch’s stories chart the decline of many urban public schools and reveal the ever-worsening gap between the education received by poor, black children as compared to their middle-class, affluent white peers.

Elisa Crouch’s stories were published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in print and online, on May 3 and May 17, 2015, respectively.

Crouch’s story about the further decline at Normandy High prompted interim superintendent Charles Pearson to respond publicly, calling the situation at the school “unacceptable” and promising to take action to make district-wide improvements. Read more.

Read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, “Leaders say Normandy schools’ status quo is ‘unacceptable.’ But do they mean it?” Published May 4, 2015.

Story Links

A senior year mostly lost for a Normandy honor student

Cameron Hensley is an honors student at Normandy High School with plans for college. He decided to stay at Normandy High rather than transfer out. To his dismay, things have gotten worse at this struggling school.

From top of her class at Riverview to a harder path in Kirkwood

For Angel Matthews, the deficiencies of her troubled school became fully apparent when she opted to transfer to a high-performing school.

Elisa Crouch covers urban education for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Her work includes focusing on inequities in the St. Louis region’s education system, which has grown increasingly more segregated by race and economics. Before joining the media outlet in 2003, she was the City Hall beat reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She also covered southeastern Massachusetts for the Providence Journal. Crouch is a University of Missouri journalism school graduate.