Missouri Passes Bill To Reclaim State Control of Education Standards
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – With strong support in both the House and Senate, the Missouri legislature passed HB1490 whose main purpose is to define a system wherein state education experts will evaluate and recommend state K-12 education standards. HB1490 passed the House 131:12 and the Senate 23:6. While not going nearly as far in returning local control of education as members of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core had hoped, the bill is a good first step towards reclaiming state sovereignty over education.
“We would have liked the language to be a lot stronger in terms of rejecting the Common Core State Standards. We will have to rely on the professional integrity of those selected to be on the various work groups to really focus on what is best for our students and teachers and not be swayed by outside political or financial interests,” said Anne Gassel a co-founder of MCACC. The coalition is a grassroots group made up of mothers and fathers, grandparents, teachers and school board members who are working together to restore local control of education.
HB1490, sponsored by Representative Kurt Bahr of St. Charles county, originally called for just the immediate cessation of implementation of Common Core State Standards. Several amendments were added by the House to address the practical issues of what would happen to districts while the state was working on new standards. “It was a team effort between grassroots supporters and our counterparts in the Senate. I am happy to have gotten a bill that will force an open and transparent process involving all of Missouri in the education of our children,” said Bahr.
The bill contains a one year moratorium on actions that could be taken based on student test scores on the statewide standardized tests aligned to the CCSS. Teacher evaluations cannot be affected by these scores, nor can they negatively impact district accreditation. The Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP5) which the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education imposed three years ago in a process that was far less consultative with local administrators than it had ever been in the past, required student test scores be used for both accreditation and teacher evaluation.
Senator Ed Emery (District 31) carried the bill in the Senate which added additional measures including the protection of student data. The bill which passed out of the Senate differed enough from the House bill to require a conference committee to work out the differences. The committee also sought input from the Governor’s office to make the bill less vulnerable to a veto.
In February 2009, Governor Jay Nixon told C-SPAN, “Education… is primarily a state responsibility, no doubt about it.” He stated that Missouri had an “outstanding” public education system. During 2008 a visit by then US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, she had this to say about Missouri’s standards, “Massachusetts gets a lot of air time about their high standards, but it’s a little known fact that Missouri’s are right up there and very, very strong.” Yet just four months later Governor Nixon committed the state to adopting the, then as yet unwritten, CCSS in exchange for $1.7 billion in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds.
“The essence of HB1490 is an affirmation of the Governor’s February statement about local control of education and we hope that he continues to support his publicly stated position by signing this bill,” said Gassel.
This bill could provide a conflict of interest for the Governor as he sits on the Board of Directors of Achieve Inc., who was instrumental in the development of the CCSS and actually had several seats at the drafting table. Achieve Inc. is also the developer of the Next Generation Science Standards which Missouri is poised to adopt and implement.
The standards are part of a larger package of education reform measures referred to as the Four Assurances that Governor’s had to sign on to in order to receive the SFSF. Those assurances included adoption of college and career ready standards and aligned assessments, student data tracking from pre-K through college, teacher evaluation programs that included metrics laid out by the US Department of Education and turn around models for failing school districts. Those same assurances were included in the state waiver applications for No Child Left Behind.
Members of MCACC recognized the unprecedented control those four assurances gave the USDoEd over education in Missouri. Combined on all the bills calling for the repeal of common core this session, more than 4,000 witness statements in support were turned in by the public, an unprecedented number. In their testimony on the common core bills working their way through the legislature this session, MCACC witnesses noted that the state has signed on to use a privately owned, copyrighted product that we had virtually no role in developing and which has no process for us to affect any improvements or changes that the state needs. “Yet our school districts will spend millions implementing this product. This is taxation without representation,” said Mary Byrne, one of the founders of MCACC and an active speaker around the state on Common Core.
That desire for federal control has become more apparent as states that have rejected various elements of the assurances, like Indiana which rejected the CCSS and Washington which rejected the specific test the Department wanted for teacher evaluations, even though Washington’s teacher evaluation program, established long before the USDoEd requirements, included a provision to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations, have found themselves potential targets for retaliation by the USDoEd.
“It’s not about what is best for the students, its about making sure that states follow the Department’s instructions to the letter,” said Gretchen Logue another founder of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core and editor of MissouriEducationWatchdog.com. “Those states are being punished for Congress’s failure to act to fix or repeal No Child Left Behind.”
Many teachers have quietly complained about the standards, but refused to do so publicly for fear of losing their jobs. Two teachers from the Sikeston School district did speak at a Senate hearing on SB798/SB514 (Emery/Lamping) which also addressed common core. “I just could not do this to my students any more without saying something,” said Susan Kimball a kindergarten teacher in Sikeston, MO. “My kids are not developmentally ready to do a lot of this work.” Her comments are consistent with those in a letter signed by 500 early childhood education experts with The Early Childhood Education Alliance submitted at the time the standards were being drafted which called the standards developmentally inappropriate and in “conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.” There were no early childhood educators on the CCSSI work groups and that letter was ignored by the drafter of the final report from the CCSSI.
A special education teacher in Missouri believes the standards put even more negative stress on her students. “For kids who are already behind in achievement, the more rigorous standards are causing them to give up.” She said the increased amount of testing and the mandatory online format for the assessments do a great disservice to special education students who already have attention and focus issues. “It is impossible for them to do well. This is setting them up for failure.”
Senator John Lamping sponsored legislation last year requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide information on the cost of common core implementation and the data collected on students. He offered this perspective on HB1490. “While this bill is a victory for the grassroots supporters who have worked tirelessly to educate Missourians it is but a first step. I hope they will continue their efforts to educate Missourians on the very serious concerns that exist with common core and the process by which it was adopted.”
The Governor has until August 28 to act on the bill.