Government & Politics

Missouri lawmakers approve a Common Core compromise

Missouri’s great compromise on Common Core passed Thursday with strong majorities in the House and Senate, keeping the state on board with the controversial standards — at least for two years.

Missouri remains one of the 44 states that have adopted the learning targets for math and English language arts. But whether that designation lasts is up for grabs.

The bill will set educator work groups to the task of developing a set of Missouri standards.

Supporters of Common Core like it because they expect that educators will affirm the work underway in nearly all of the state’s school districts to implement Common Core. A transparent process by Missourians, they say, will pacify persistent anger that Common Core was sprung on states with heavy federal pressure.

Opponents of Common Core like the bill because they see the beginning of the end.

“Both sides are claiming victory,” said Sen. David Pearce, a Warrensburg Republican. “That signals a good compromise.”

The Senate passed the bill 23-6 Thursday afternoon after the House had passed it 135-10 earlier in the day. It now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

A deal in the hot debate took hold because both opponents and supporters of Common Core were able to take faith in the process the bill sets forth.

The legislation takes a positive track in solving Missouri’s division over the standards — which was not the bill’s original thrust, said Rep. Kurt Bahr, a bill sponsor.

Its first version simply said the state would neither adopt nor implement the Common Core State Standards.

“My initial position was hard-nosed, and intentionally so,” said Bahr, a St. Charles Republican. “But then the question came, ‘If not Common Core, then what?’”

Collaborative work between both houses of the legislature set up a plan for work teams selected by a variety of political and departmental offices to develop math and English language arts standards by October 2015.

The groups will have to make public reports regularly throughout the process. The state school board ultimately would approve new standards to go into effect in 2016-2017.

“This puts the process back into the hands of the people,” said Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican and the Senate sponsor of the bill. “… I personally am hoping it does not get back to a model that looks like Common Core, but I do not see myself as the king of education. … We want the public involved. I think the process needs to be given a chance.”

Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City, North, Republican, was one of the Common Core opponents who voted against the compromise. He told The Star that lawmakers who want new standards should have kept the bill as a strict prohibition against a return to Common Core.

“This bill does nothing to stop Common Core,” he said. “It’s a smokescreen. We left a loophole.”

Supporters of Common Core who are comfortable with the bill want to see rancor over the standards eased and their value ultimately reaffirmed.

“From what we’ve heard, most Common Core opponents have a bigger issue with the process by which Missouri adopted the standards, rather than with the substance of the standards,” said Christine Page, the director of government affairs for the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

“We are confident that the Common Core State Standards will help increase educational attainment and workforce readiness to meet the state’s employment needs both now and in the future and hope the work groups will recommend their continued implementation.”

The bill not only allows schools to carry on with their Common Core implementation, but it also allows the state to continue its plan to begin using Common Core-aligned state assessments in the spring of 2015.

The first year will be considered a pilot year, the bill says. The tests will be scored and the scores published, but they will not count against a district’s accreditation review, nor can they be used in the evaluation of any teacher performance.

Missouri is one of 22 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that is developing common tests to measure performance under the new standards.

School districts sought at least a one-year reprieve from accreditation impacts from the testing because test scores predictably fall in the first year of a new implementation of tests and programming.

Kansas, which is also implementing Common Core in its Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, is piloting its own tests through the University of Kansas’ Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation.

The Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report.

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