Slogans are great for getting people’s attention. They are like tag words directing you to something, but not providing a whole lot of detail. And as we all know the devil is in the details. Missouri has had a Top 10×20 Plan for several years. On a very simplistic level it means we are aiming to be one of the top ten states in education by the year 2020.  On Tuesday this week, the new President of the State Board of Education, Charlie Shields, had the audacity to ask DESE what that actually meant. He did not get a clear answer.

DESE deputies gave a presentation of their three goals under the Top 10×20 Plan for the next 4 1/2 years.

  • Goal 1 College and Career Readiness
  • Goal 2  Early Childhood Education
  • Goal 3 Effective Teachers and Leaders

Under each goal were a number of objectives such as “Increase in NAEP and MAP scores.” Given that there were no specifics provided under the objectives, Shields asked, “How will we know when we’re there?” How will we know if we are the top 10 by 2020? He pointed out that all states would be looking to raise their scores on things like the NAEP. Missouri could raise its scores, but still not be ranked in the top 10 states. Would this be considered a failure? There are numerous education indicators besides test scores such as per pupil funding, teacher quality, class size, standards etc. Are we aiming to be top 10 in ALL categories?  Commissioner Vandeven admitted that the local school districts had these same questions when DESE staff met with them. The ranking mechanism was not “resonating” with the field.

Peter Herschend said that being ranked in the top ten on ALL indicators was probably not practical. There was some debate about whether the state should be considering hard targets, specific scores or percentages of the various indicators and maybe even a ranking of importance.  Mike Jones said that we cannot equivocate on our objective. Top ten is a mushy target.  He also stated that the objective should not be to be competitive, but to win. Unlike Charlie Sheen, he did not provide a definition of “winning.”

Commissioner Vandeven did point out that there are specific targets for each grade level on the Dashboard.

Joe Driskill stated his concern that a “policy vacuum” was coming. Jones concurred and added that he is concerned there are structural impediments to achieving the top 10×20 status. From here the Board revealed their desire to have more power and more money at their disposal and proposed the development of specific policies (not specified in the meeting) that they would push the legislature to pass next session. DESE was asked to develop the specific policy recommendations.

Having three former legislators on the Board may make passage of this legislation more likely.  They know how to work the system. As former President of the Senate, Shields will likely be very effective at this. Driskill knows that the “advocacy community” as he called it, is out there proposing their own policies which may not align with the state’s 10×20 goals. As a former state rep and Director of the Department of Economic Development, Driskill will likely oppose any effort to curtail or limit student data collection.  Being proactive with the legislature is becoming more critical to the board achieving its goals.

Members of the board stated several times during the day that they are there for the children. They want “what’s best for the children.” There were signs during the meeting that, unfortunately, they don’t exactly know what that is so what they are settling for is what’s best for the state.

This will set up an interesting dynamic in the next session. The appointed Board will clearly be representing “the state” protecting its interests and seeking to expand its power and funding. Its interests are the promises made by DESE in the NCLB waiver which are further reflected in the MSIP plan and the 10×20 plan. At this point the state’s interests are basically the federal government’s interests.

On the other side are the public’s interests which stand in opposition; No blind adherence to common standards, less standardized testing, parental rights to determine when a child can stay home from school, less collection of data on children by the state. The elected representatives of the people will be squarely in the middle of these two forces.

Herschend is no longer leading the board, and his continuing level of influence is as yet unknown. Shields showed some indication at his first meeting as President that he does not plan to blanketly accept everything that Herschend has overseen for the last several years.

Herschend, in his opening comments made as outgoing President, made clear that at least his expectation is that the students owe the state a certain level of performance. The board is not there just to make sure that the state is providing the best education it can. The students must, in exchange, give the state their best performance. He said our requirements are not high enough “nor will they ever be.” What an ominous statement to follow his assertion that we must continually expect higher performance from our students and teachers.

He praised DESE staff because they have to take the “heat from parents because their perception of local school performance is off the mark.” He has no idea why parents are angry. He suggested that maybe the Finnish school model is one Missouri should be following, then tacitly supported the early childhood education goals of the 10×20 plan including a goal of having data on 50% of the incoming kindergarten students by 2020, when Finland does not even require public schooling until age 7. He led a 10×20 campaign that, years into it, is unclear to other board members and local school districts, or at least excessively broad reaching, His decision to step down as President appears overdue. The public, however, should not necessarily take this as a sign that the Board will begin listening to them.


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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