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Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 11.13.35 AMOn August 26, 2015 the Joint Education Committee met, one of their minimum two statutorily required meetings per year. They had two agenda items. The first was to receive reports about the progress of the HB1490 work groups. Initially they were going to hear testimony from the Chairs or liaisons from the work groups, but a letter from the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core at the beginning of the month, containing items found in a DESE FoI request showing the Department’s overreach into the HB1490 process and requesting that the Committee allow additional testimony besides just the Chairs, appears to have caused Chairman Rep. David Wood to rethink the structure of the meeting.

Instead of hearing testimony, Executive Director Kevin Gwaltney read summaries of the responses the Committee received from Chairman Wood’s letter to the Work Groups asking three questions.

  1. Please name in rank order the two most influential curricular models/set of curricular standards the group has used to guide the revision of standards. Please briefly explain why the group chose those models as exemplars.
  1. How similar are the standards you are producing to the most influential models mentioned above? Please respond by indicating low, medium, or high similarity and briefly explain your answer.
  1. How similar are the proposed standards to the current Missouri Learning Standards. Please respond by indicating low, medium, or high similarity and briefly explain your answer.

The rest of this agenda item was addressed by two DESE staff, Courtney Rush, Legislative Liaison, and Stacy Preis, Assistant Commissioner and former Executive Director of the JEC. Their presentation covered the plan that DESE had made up to handle the standards after they are given to the State Board of Education on October 1st this year.

DESE, through its legislative supporters, was successful in getting language added to HB1490 that provided avenues for them to maintain influence and control over the standards. With but a few poorly defined words they have carved out the ability to change the standards before the Board officially adopts them in March 2016. “The state board of education shall also solicit comments and feedback on the academic performance standards or learning standards from the joint committee on education and from academic researchers.”

Now here’s what else the public needs to understand.

The law does not specify what the nature of the feedback from the JEC. However, the statute that created the JEC, should give the committee members a clue.

RSMo Section 160.254.1 The Joint Education Committee shall:

  • Review and monitor the progress of education in the state’s public schools and institutions of higher education.
  • Receive reports from the Commissioner of Education concerning the public schools and from the Commissioner of Higher Education concerning institutions of Higher Education.
  • Make recommendations to the General Assembly for legislative action.

Elementary and Secondary Education

  • Upon review, approve or deny any expenditures made by the Commissioner of Education pursuant to section 160.530, subsection 5.

Higher Education

  • Monitor the establishment of performance measures as required by section 173.1006, RSMo., and report on their establishment to the Governor and the General Assembly.
  • Annually review the collection of information under section 173.093, RSMo, to facilitate a more accurate comparison of the actual costs at public and private higher education institutions.
  • Within three years of August 28, 2007, review a new model for the funding of public higher education institutions upon submission of such model by the coordinating board for higher education.
  • Within three years of August 28, 2007, review the impact of the higher education student funding act established in sections 173.1000 to 173.1006.

Here is the timetable DESE developed for the back end of the process. The JEC members merely nodded their heads when told what their assigned deadline for input would be.

  • October 1, 2015 – Work Groups Present their reports to the SBE
  • October 26-27, 2015 SBE holds third required public meeting on the standards where they will receive public comments.
  • December 2, 2015 JEC comments on the standards are due
  • November 2015 – February 2016 – DESE appointed Academic Researchers will review and provide comments on the standards. MDHE will provide names for these reviewers. There will be simultaneous public comment during this time period.
  • March 2016 – DESE will collect the standards into a “uniform” format to present to the SBE along with a curricular framework.
  • Late March 2016 – SBE meets to finally adopt the Missouri Learning Standards for implementation in the 2016-17 school year.

Members of the JEC began discussing how they would divide up the standards to provide comment. Many seemed clearly lost as to how they were going to provide such comments without finding academic experts in their districts.

Rep Mike Lair questioned whether DESE would be able to take “multiple creations” of the work groups and the comments of the academic researchers and put them into usable Grade Level Expectations in one month (Feb-March 2016). Is this an indication that DESE could dramatically change the format or maybe even the content of the standards to meet their defined uniform format?  Preis responded that they knew it would be tight, but they could probably meet the deadline. Given that many of the groups are providing their standards in GLE format, it actually should not be a large task for DESE to combine them. However, there was nothing said at the meeting that indicated DESE’s intent to maintain the expectations in the grades identified by the work groups except a brief mention that they would not change the “content” of the standards.

Preis brought up the concern that K-5 teachers in particular will be faced with four new sets of content standards to teach starting next year. Teachers in middle and high school, because they typically only teach one subject, will only be looking at one new set of standards. What was not mentioned at the meeting was the fact that only two of those content areas are tested, and only once in 4th grade, on a statewide exam. Districts will be able to adjust their curriculum as they are able with the other two subjects, unless the state decides to pile more standardized tests on children in K-5.

Senator Jamilah Nasheed spent several minutes lambasting DESE on the new standards and the tests, providing the committee with scores from her district where, in one school, only 2.2% of the students scored proficient on the math portion of the SBAC test given this spring. She asked what DESE is doing to hold those schools accountable and said that, if DESE didn’t have a strategy to fix those schools, the state should “close their (DESE’s) doors.” Scores on math dropped across the state, although other districts do not have the extreme results like those in St. Louis City.

Preis responded that they don’t teach the students, they teach the adults who teach the students.

The statutory language makes it clear that the JEC is  charged with  oversight of district processes and fiscal review of DESE, and it is with these two elements of their mission in mind that they should be providing input to the SBE. Their comments should address things like the possible need for additional legislation to adjust the timetable for implementation of the new assessment, or the need to adjust the use of the new instrument for district accreditation. Their review should look at whether local districts might need additional resources for implementation of the standards. It certainly does not make sense for the JEC to provide academic review of the standards content as that has been done by the work groups, many academics around the state in work group surveys that were done in the past several months, and the additional academic researchers that HB1490 calls for.

Senator Nasheed called for better leadership in education. It would be nice to see the leadership of the JEC make the most productive use of the members’ time by guiding them to adhere to their mission in state statute and provide input on elements of standards implementation that none of the other stakeholders can.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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