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ZweiferThe Missouri State Treasurer has weighed in on Common Core and state autonomy over education and has come down clearly on the side of – the bureaucrat. In a response to a Post Dispatch article on the new ESSA passed by Congress, Clint Zweifel wrote,

“In 2014, the Missouri Legislature passed a measure that requires a virtually insurmountable process to make necessary updates to education standards in our state. The measure, House Bill 1490, requires a working group of nearly 20 people appointed by a plethora of public entities, followed by multiple public hearings before adoption of changes can even be considered.”

He goes on to state that a guiding principle of government control over education should be “remain[ing] nimble enough to readily incorporate changing realities in education” and sites changing government regulations of newly created economic instruments as an example of why we need to remain nimble.

“Few other areas of study have evolved so rapidly over the last two decades, with new financial tools — and traps — becoming available to consumers every day.” He laments that the requirements we have for personal financial literacy have not changed since 2006 when they were instituted. I question whether he has really read the requirements since the competencies listed under PFL Spending and Credit already state:

  1. Compare the benefits and costs of alternatives in spending decisions.
  2. Evaluate information about products and services.

or #4 under Saving and Investing

4.  Compare the risk, return, liquidity, manageability and tax aspects of investment alternatives.

This leaves the door wide open to tailoring lessons to whatever new instruments have been invented recently. Perhaps he is referring to the Personal Finance Curriculum guide in DESE’s website which is dated August 2006, but in that case Zweifel needs an education in the difference between standards and curriculum. Or maybe he already knows the difference and is really promoting an official statewide curriculum. Nothing would make schools less nimble than being forced to use a statewide curriculum.

A little background on the Personal Financial Literacy (PFL) requirement in Missouri. In 2002, at the insistence of multiple banking groups which formed the Missouri Coalition for Economic and Financial Literacy, the legislature passed HB1973  to study PFL. The study, Towards Economic and Financial Literacy: A Final Report published in 2003, outlined recommendations intended to facilitate financial literacy of all Missouri K-12 students. In 2004 MCE appointed a task force on high school to look at graduation requirements for personal financial literacy. That same year the legislature encouraged the task force, via resolution, to make recommendations to the State Board of Education for a mandatory high school PFL requirement. Money was appropriated in 2005 for the development and validation of personal finance competencies and development of a resource guide for teachers’ use in addressing the validated competencies. This led to the standards and assessments for a single topic being finalized in 2006.

This system of identifying standards, done nimbly by a single group with little bureaucratic hurdles to get over, still took 4 years to produce a set of single content area standards. The HB1490 process collected information from across the state, across interest groups, cooperatively (wink) developed standards in four subject areas and should have a final product ready in just 18 months. Huh.  Too bureaucratic?

Mr. Zweifel thinks parental and teacher involvement in what our children are taught in our publicly (and largely locally) funded schools is a “bureaucratic hurdle.” In other words, the progressive think you need to sit down and let the actual  government bureaucrats tell you what you need to teach. And if those people are heavily influenced by business interests, that is just fine so long as it keeps the money flowing. The bureaucrat’s process of just rolling over and doing whatever is necessary, like adopting untested, unseen standards and non-validated tests, to get a little more federal money is preferable to a community’s involvement in education for progressives. That process, unfettered by public scrutiny, certainly is more nimble.

If he were really interested in being nimble, Mr. Zweifel would support local control of education, where communities could decide which new fad or federal overreach to focus on teaching their children. This could be done in just a few school board meetings and be updated annually. Heck, if we were really serious about teaching PFL well, we would allow schools to bring in outside financial experts to share their vast content area knowledge taking advantage of their industry’s continuing education programs, rather than making regular academic content trained teachers take, and our districts pay for, extra courses or PD on a single topic, or burdening our colleges of education with supporting a major for a very narrowly defined specialized high school graduation requirement. That would make us very nimble and cost effective, don’t you think?

The problem Mr. Zweifel is that when the state decides to dictate what we need to teach in our schools they feel the need to make sure we are doing what they say and reaching the goals they set. That means first of all spending time and money teaching the teachers what those expectations are. Then the state must establish reporting requirements and evaluation systems to make sure the teachers are following the nimbly, and probably more frequently, changed statewide standards. More importantly, the state needs to make sure the kids are grasping the ever changing landscape of business needs through standardized tests whose scores can be used as a cudgel against any district whose kids aren’t meeting business needs enough.

This is the progressive utopia where a well oiled central planning committee, made up of experts who are politically connected enough to get the job, can tell the rest of us what to do and we are expected to just fall in line.  Let’s be sure to put these people in charge of statewide government.

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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