Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro throws school districts under the bus for increased litigation, development and implementation costs for teacher tenure plan crafted by special interest groups.

An educational bombshell (via columbiamissourian.com) comes from the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA) via information obtained from the MNEA’s Sunshine Requests showing the Commissioner of Education, Chris Nicastro,

provided advice to a group crafting a ballot proposal that would end tenure protections for public school teachers and instead make their employment contingent on student achievement. State email records show commissioner Chris Nicastro met with an advocate of the ballot initiative more than a year ago, suggested specific wording and reviewed a final draft of the initiative before it was filed this March with the secretary of state’s office.

The “student achievement” mentioned in the article will be measured via Common Core assessments which are not under Missouri’s development and control.   Who is an advocate of the ballot initiative?

The initiative campaign has been financed by retired investment mogul and political activist Rex Sinquefield, who has tried unsuccessfully to advance similar ideas in the state legislature. The initiative would end tenure protections for teachers and other certified school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to use a staff evaluation that relies on “student performance data” to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.

Again, that “student performance data” comes from the Common Core data sets and other behavioral assessments.  Teacher tenure would be predicated on how the students perform on assessments not written by the state, district or school. Even as superintendents insist that there is “local control”, you can see by the article that teacher tenure will not be decided by Boards of Education.  It will be decided by student data from common assessments. The Sunshine Request showed Commissioner Nicastro changed the wording of how much financial impact the cost of the assessments would be to local districts.  An email from Kate Casas, Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM) states:

“As we talked about yesterday, our primary concern at this point is the fiscal note and (we) are hopeful that with the language you see attached here, DESE would advise the auditors office that there would be little to no cost to the state to implement this IP,” Casas wrote, referring to the initiative petition. A little over an hour after receiving the email, Nicastro forwarded it to her chief of staff Robin Coffman and general counsel Mark Van Zandt with a note atop saying: “For closed session Monday. Mark, please bring hard copies for all. Do not post.” The forwarded email left out the paragraph in Casas’ original message that referenced the specific wording suggestions made by Nicastro.

Fiscal Wkst w:Nicastro notes
DESE throws local districts under the bus for “potential for significant unknown costs” for teacher tenure plan pushed by Rex Sinquefield and Kate Casas?

From newsleader.com:

After the initiative was filed March 15, the auditor’s office made a routine request for a cost estimate from the education department. Agency records show that a staff member originally proposed saying there was the “potential for significant unknown costs” to local school districts, but Nicastro changed that to say “cost unknown.”
By contrast, the MNEA suggested to the auditor’s office that the initiative could cost $5.5 billion to implement and an additional $93 million annually to develop and administer standardized tests for every subject at every grade level for use in staff evaluations.

Again, the initiative would need to align to Common Core assessments for the teacher evaluations.  DESE has repeatedly stated Common Core implementation won’t cost the state any additional funds.  The cost will be passed to the local districts and according to the MNEA, the bill  would be several billion dollars. The revelation of this information between DESE and special interest groups answers many questions about how educational reform is done in Missouri.  Governor Jay Nixon delivered a brief report at the National Governor’s Association Winter 2013 meeting regarding his attempt to reform teacher tenure.  He talks about the “Coalition of the Willing” and bypassing the legislature to implement a teacher tenure plan.  His quest for data driven information seems to have taken precedence over what he considers legislative gridlock:   “The Coalition of the Willing” who put this plan together (Governor Jay Nixon, Commissioner Chris Nicastro, Rex Sinquefield, Kate Casas) and those who volunteered (school administrators and teachers) have essentially piloted and participated in a teacher evaluation study (without Legislative input) to do exactly what this ballot initiative would allow. Teachers “willing” to participate in the destruction of their profession should be outed or those administrators who coerced them into participating in the pilot should be fired. Governor Nixon clearly states that he uses the “coalition of the willing on the front end…put a pilot study in place….and then we’ll prove it on the back side on what works…that was our theoryIt was very controversial to get through and the only way to get it through was through this cooperative measure….and rather than fire away through the Legislature, we found a Coalition of the Willing and we should have….at least for the ShowMe state some groundbreaking data that gives us the ability to go back to the Legislature and say, well look, these are the leaders, these are the indicators on how well the students do in a class has a lot to do with how well the people teach in that class.”

The governor and DESE bypass the legislature, implement whatever program they deem necessary, believe the ends will justify the means of implementation, and shove the cost onto local districts and taxpayers….with nary a vote.  The pilot program is based on coersion from DC which wants states to change their teacher evaluation programs to contain some standardized metrics, the biggest being student assessment scores. The data generated by The Willing will be used to justify the predetermined policy, not develop it. The governor believes that the legislature will be swayed by the data which he expects to be supportive of the concept of teacher effectiveness being discernible from student scores. Meanwhile, Alan Ehrenhalt of Governing magazine tells office holders at all levels that careful statistical analysis of student test scores on standardized tests shows that what tests really track is demographics. “Schools in poorer communities around the state nearly all finished lower than their counterparts in affluent suburbs, regardless of academic methods. … It is hard not to conclude in the end that the school testing movement represents a popular fad in educational policy that is desperately lacking in either substantive methodology or common sense. Its fundamental assumption, underneath all the jargon, is that schools fail because they just aren’t trying hard enough, not because they are being asked to educate pupils who are culturally and socially unprepared to learn….We have gotten into the business of measuring school performance with precise testing numbers because its something we know how to measure.” The governor hopes to bypass all that careful analysis that tends to stall attempts to institute this policy by running a pilot study and using his own handpicked statisticians to tell the legislature what the results mean.  Meanwhile, our Commissioner states in legislative hearings that DESE is not planning to acquire vast amounts of data on students.  Is Governor Nixon, Commissioner Nicastro and The Coalition of the Willing  trying to  exercise a state form of a “Nuclear Option” in Education Reform?  Should this group have the ability to run roughshod over the legislature because a program is “too controversial” and passage would be questionable? By rushing through the data from the secret pilot program, the governor and commissioner also hope to avoid having to discuss the liability that the commissioner magically erased from such a program, litigation costs. DESE proudly states in the Fiscal Estimates worksheet that this will mean no net effect on State Funds. Lucky us. That risk and those costs will be quietly passed on to the districts to face alone.  When the teachers finally realize that a test with no validity and reliability data is being used to determine whether they get to keep their jobs, you can bet there will be quite a few who run for their lawyer. Visit the MNEA site for documentation of the collusion between DESE and special interest groups to craft and push a ballot initiative:

Download a scanned PDF file of the Commissioner’s handwritten changes to the fiscal note Download a timeline and summary of the emails Associated Press Report

Here is the NGA February 2013 presentation about “supporting teachers and leaders”.  Governor Nixon’s and Commissioner Nicastro’s teacher tenure plan apparently isn’t being received as supportive by the MNEA:

Frederick Hess and Bryan Hassell talked about ways to support teachers and school leaders. Following their presentations governors discussed their states’ practices and reforms on educational leadership. Topics included teacher pay and workload, hiring standards, policy reforms, and insularity among education professionals. This panel was part of the National Governors Association (NGA) 2013 Winter Meeting at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, an annual meeting in which a bipartisan group of U.S. governors gathers in Washington, D.C. to discuss issues affecting the states.

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