DESE Reaching To Control Standards Work Groups
Attempts to control the standards Work Groups created by HB1490 were not unexpected and we are not disappointed.
After arranging an initial 2-day meeting for the work group members DESE scheduled two additional 2-day meetings between now and the end of October, without consulting any work group members. This is an inexplicably aggressive meeting schedule, especially considering that the Common Core development committee only met four times during their year long process to develop the standards.
The Missouri Work Groups are made up of teachers and parents. Can you imagine the challenge of being a teacher and being out of the classroom for 6 days in the middle of the first quarter at school? Add to that the fact that October is typically time for parent-teacher conferences and now the work group meetings require you to be out of town overnight. This further complicates teacher participation in this intensive schedule.
Then there are parents with very young children who might need to arrange overnight care for their children if their spouse travel, in addition to daytime care for six days for what has been described as an initial round of meetings.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of the work these groups are undertaking or the need for sacrifice, but DESE’s stepping in like this ignores some of the foundational 21st century skills that the department of education seems to insist we drill into our students. For example the use of technology. There are literally dozens of technology driven options for these work groups to avail themselves of, like webinars and conference calls, that would negate the need for a face to face meeting with travel time and overnight stays.
Then there is the idea of collaborative work and consensus building. Shouldn’t the members of the work group gather together first and build a consensus of how they wish to work and when they want to meet? Isn’t this a critical 21st century skill? DESE’s ham handling of meeting planning is so 19th century.
DESE had also initially reminded the nominating organizations that, because there was no fiscal note attached to this bill that there would be no money for travel or overnight expense reimbursement. Yet strangely, it seems that DESE has found money to hire facilitators for these meetings, again without any input from the WG members who may not see the need for facilitators.
“In a letter sent to lawmakers Friday, Nicastro outlined DESE’s progress so far in meeting the requirements of the law. They include seeking professional facilitators for the work groups who have “no prior connection to the development of the current Missouri Learning Standards.”
The public has a recent experience with DESE facilitators that has left a long lasting bad taste in their mouth. Remember the last group of facilitators that DESE sent out to the May 2, 2013 meetings around the state about Common Core? Those facilitators did not allow the public to ask questions and directed the meetings through scripts that that were strictly adhered to and did not allow topics they were not interested in covering to be brought up.
Kansas City also has a recent experience with DESE’s choice of “independent” consultants to come in and facilitate a required process in their choice of CEE Trust. That choice turned out to be not so independent when the state auditor revealed that CEE Trust’s bid came in 2/3 higher than any other bid for the work and that the bid process by DESE staff did not disclose several areas of conflict of interest. Read more on that here and here. The public is justified in their skepticism of any DESE supplied facilitators.
HB1490 was, if nothing else, a declaration of no confidence by the public in DESE’s ability to develop k-12 standards. There is no language in the law giving DESE or the State Board of Education the responsibility for directing the Work Groups. If we are to have any confidence in this process, the Work Groups must be allowed to operate independently to develop and recommend high quality education standards.