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Some days I think I’ve seen it all, and then I am surprised yet again. Today was one of those days with this St. Post Dispatch article.

Department-appointed facilitators paid $500 per education-standards meeting

There was not much in the article that was news to me or the other appointed members of the work groups. What was a big surprise was finding this article in the Post Dispatch. Kudos to Ms. Stuckey for covering it. Maybe now the rest of the public will understand the challenges of the K-12 Standards Work Groups.

The major focus of the article was the cost of the facilitators that were sent to the work groups by DESE. The amount of $500/facilitator/meeting begins to add up when you consider that there have been approximately 48 individual work group meetings since they started in September. There was no fiscal note attached to HB1490 which created the work groups, but still DESE found money to pay for facilitators who intended to direct a pre-planned process that I  have already written about.

There was one major fact revealed in this article that we did not know. According to Sarah Potter, Communications Director for DESE, these facilitators were not merely trained to help move a meeting of opposing viewpoints forward, they had “extensive content knowledge and are familiar with the standards setting process.”

No wonder Vic Lenz said that some of the work group members were “hijacking” a process. DESE didn’t just bring in your run of the mill professional negotiators who would leave the specifics of the deal to the experts, they brought in content experts. That piece of information was never revealed by the facilitators at the meetings when they were originally questioned. In fact, the one facilitator claimed almost no expertise at all. She hadn’t even developed the presentation she was about to give and had no idea who had hired her. The air of impartiality they tried to evoke was a smoke screen. They knew what the standards setting process was all about and they were prepared to direct it in their work group.

The article points out that members of the work groups are not compensated for their time and expenses. If anyone wants to point to a state full of dedicated people who care about education they should point to Missouri and specifically to the Missouri parents on these work groups who must lose days of work at their own expense and pay for all travel and lodging costs out of their own pocket. There is no secret payout by well heeled private philanthropists like Rex Sinquefield backing those parents’ participation.

The teachers in the groups serve with the support of their employer. I know this to be true because I spoke with many teachers who would personally love to be a part of this process but who could not get their school district to support their participation. The parents’ employers view this effort as their employee’s personal hobby and allow their participation only as much as their allotted employee days off will allow. These folks are up against well paid “content experts… familiar with the standards setting process.”

The facilitators who were not outright dismissed by the groups continued to sit at the table and no doubt report back to their employer (DESE). They had to justify their daily pay. The additional DESE personnel assigned to the groups included someone to manage the video recording and a “note taker.”

If DESE has extra money sitting around to fund activity for the work groups that money would be better spent on hiring actual court stenographers who know how to make transcriptions. What these note takers are producing is a set of notes full of their own bias as they try to summarize the conversation. This is not a slam on the note takers. That is the way humans work. Our best efforts to be completely impartial are hampered by our understanding of what we hear and the prior knowledge we possess. The records they are producing are therefore not accurate unbiased records of these meetings. The only accurate ones would be a true transcription of the meeting.  If DESE has money to spend, that is where they should be spending it.

 

Published November 1, 2014

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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