chris nicastro
Why is the Commissioner so happy? Does she have another educational reform plan she is keeping from the public?

More high drama and back room deals are being exposed in how The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education operates.  The big news last week was the revelation that Commissioner Chris Nicastro was helping to word legislation for the abolishment of teacher tenure.  The teachers would now be held accountable via Common Core assessments.  These assessments are from private organizations and not under DESE or district control.

The Kansas City Star reports that Nicastro has been instrumental in planning more charter school expansion in the Kansas City School district.  This plan is even as the district has shown improvement in its scores, a necessary component necessary to regain accreditation.  Nicastro was also creating a job for Norm Ridder, retiring Springfield superintendent, for a position in the charter expansion plan.  This plan would also ensure that DESE retain control of the district.  From Emails detail a hidden plan for Kansas City Public Schools:


The electronic trail exposes a rushed bidding process, now criticized, that ultimately landed Indianapolis-based CEE-Trust a $385,000 contract to develop a long-range overhaul for the district’s failing schools.

Summer discussions in emails reveal Nicastro’s wish for a statewide district to gather poor-performing schools under new leadership, with an office for innovation and charter school expansion.

In mid-August, days before the state’s district report cards were to be released to the public showing a surprisingly high score for Kansas City, a CEE-Trust partner shared his talking points with Nicastro and staff debunking the performance of a district where 70 percent of the students still perform below proficiency.

“It suggests a conspiracy against our success,” said Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green.

Nicastro has stated previously she did nothing out of the ordinary in contributing to ballot language for the tenure issue and apparently she sees nothing wrong with privatizing public education with charters.  She also awarded the contract to CEE-Trust whose bid was 2/3 higher than a competing bid.  The icing on the cake is that “state staff members who had collaborated with CEE-Trust on the original memorandum became part of the state’s evaluation team”.  Could there possibly be any conflict of interest in this arrangement?
A private company is planning  the educational direction/development for public schools.  This company is being paid by taxpayer dollars, but like the development of Common Core standards, the plans for Missouri students and how funds are being expended are not accountable to the state legislature or voters.
Read more here.
The Missouri Commissioner is a bureaucrat who apparently could care less about local communities directing/developing education programs for their students.  She wants to base teacher accountability measures on unvalidated assessments and create private management of public schools with public money with no public accountability.  Would you make the critical thinking leap that Governor Nixon agrees with DESE’s decisions as she is his appointed agency head?  If not, why is Nicastro still Commissioner?  Shouldn’t the governor replace her if he believes she is behaving in an unethical manner?  His silence says volumes.
She appears impervious to the legal and ethical dilemma in which she finds herself.  From an email to CEE-Trust:

The state board approved CEE-Trust at its Aug. 20 meeting, and emails show the department and the partners had prepared responses regarding their choice and the process to come.

In an internal email Aug. 21 regarding media interview requests for Gray, Nicastro wanted him to tread carefully around the question of charter schools.

“He needs to know to take a ‘middle of the road’ and/or neutral position on charters,” she wrote. “Charters are fine as part of the solution; they are here and not going away. They must be high quality. They will try to paint them as the outsiders, funded with private money, determined to privatize all public education, yada yada.” (MEW bolded)

Message to the Commissioner: Charters ARE outsiders, they ARE funded with private money, and they WILL privatize public education.  Maybe not ALL public education, yet, but as DESE determines accreditation policy, that might not be an unreasonable goal.
How much longer do Missouri taxpayers have to endure a Commissioner whose agenda is the total demise of local control of schools, standards, assessments and ultimately curriculum as curriculum will be based on the outsourced assessments?  To Chris Nicastro, those questions of questionable legal issues and educational reform are just “yada-yada”.  Nothing to see here.  Just move along.

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