Government & Politics

Missouri’s Common Core rewrite off to a ragged start

School curriculum standards are about to be discussed.
School curriculum standards are about to be discussed. Kansas City Star file photo

The teams trying to rewrite Missouri’s learning standards can only hope things go smoother from here.

The political storms over the Common Core State Standards that propelled the Missouri legislature’s decision to re-examine the state’s learning targets has given way to a “logistical nightmare.”

In all, 132 educators and parents in eight panels are supposed to be in place Monday morning in Jefferson City to begin their work.

In a perfect world, they’d have been recruited weeks ago, be prepped and ready — with the costs of meals, lodging and transportation covered in return for their commitments to the many hours of labor ahead.

But as late as Friday, legislative and department staffs charged with putting the teams together were still completing their lists.

The fact that the bill that lawmakers passed last spring to create the process made no provisions for funding it isn’t helping the recruiting. Individuals or the agencies and school districts sending them are having to pay their own way.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is convening the initial work session, was scrambling late in the week to see whether it could equip the eight meeting rooms for conference calls, because many recruits eager to serve said they can’t be in Jefferson City that first day.

The department wanted to send panel members background materials and forms to begin organizing their thoughts, department spokeswoman Sarah Potter said.

Instead, the process is caught in a “problematic” situation where team members are rushing to make hotel arrangements and other preparations.

“Coordinating has become a logistical nightmare,” she said.

The panelists have enough on their minds already as they seek common ground between Common Core supporters, who hope to affirm the work most school districts have done adapting curriculum to the standards, and those who oppose the standards and want significant changes.

“It’s a big list,” said Todd Scott, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, whose office is designated to provide 32 names. “We’re soliciting a wide variety of viewpoints. To get buy-in, you really need a diverse amount of thought in the room.”

The education department began calling on the offices responsible for appointing work teams immediately after Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law in mid-July, Potter said. The state optimistically set an Aug. 1 target date for getting names.

It has proved difficult. Despite the costs and hassle, however, plenty of people are eager to be involved.

The Kearney School District is sending one of its top reading teachers, Ida Cessna, because “it is an important-enough issue for schools,” Superintendent Bill Nicely said.

“We feel we can pay our own way to have someone who can communicate well and provide a better understanding,” he said. “She’s not going to be a fly on the wall. She’s going to speak her mind.”

Fort Osage is sending high school English teacher Lindsay Thompson, who has been sharing Common Core-adapted lesson plans and strategies as part of the BetterLesson Master Teacher Project.

“I’m passionate that high standards stay in place,” she said. And though she supports Common Core, “it’s not a perfect document,” she said. “Could they be developed further? Sure they can.”

Cessna also figures there is room for improvement but hopes the work groups focus on making effective changes that keep the standards in place.

“I’ll be devastated if they are thrown out and we have to start all over,” she said.

Jaimie Shaver of Lamar, Mo., is one of the parents making the trip to Jefferson City. She comes with her work with the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core as part of her background.

“It’s important for Missouri to own our standards again,” Shaver said.

While she hopes the process will essentially start from scratch, that doesn’t mean the opposing ideologies can’t arrive at a common destination.

“I want to help advocate between teachers and parents,” she said. “We can make compromises, but everyone needs to see the whole picture.”

Under the law, Dempsey’s office is picking 16 educators and 16 parents, as is House Speaker Tim Jones’ office.

Those picking eight educators each are Nixon’s office, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s office, Missouri Commissioner of Higher Education David R. Russell’s office, the Missouri School Boards’ Association, the Missouri Association of School Administrators, professional teachers’ organizations and teacher preparation programs.

Twelve members are being submitted from career and technical education organizations.

The panelists will be divided among four subjects — English language arts, math, science and social studies — with 16 in each working on standards for kindergarten through the fifth grade, and 17 in each working on standards for grades six through 12.

The Common Core standards, established through a coalition of most states’ governors and chief education officers, set learning targets for math and English language arts. Forty-four states, including Missouri and Kansas, signed on, but some have pulled out as debate has heated up.

Kansas and Missouri, so far, have remained essentially Common Core states, though Missouri’s position will depend on the work of the panelists over the next year.

It’s time to step past the political struggles of opposing advocacy groups and split legislative chambers, said Chris Howard, deputy legislative director for Jones, who has been rounding up panelists.

“The politics came before,” Howard said, “and now it’s about policy. As a parent I’m concerned that this process works. I’m interested in a good outcome, not a political outcome.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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