Legislature tasks work groups with reviewing state education standards

Groups have until Oct. 1, 2015, to make recommendations

By Michael Lindquist

JEFFERSON CITY — Groups assigned to review and rewrite Missouri’s learning standards begin their work just days after Missouri’s Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced her retirement.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, released the dates in which the groups are supposed to meet. The teams of parents and educators first met on Sept. 22 and 23 in Jefferson City. Four more dates have been set for team meetings: Oct. 2, Oct. 3, Oct. 20 and Oct. 21. The work groups have until Oct. 1, 2015, to deliver their academic standards recommendations.

House Speaker Tim Jones of Eureka is just one of the legislative Republicans who have taken lead on the issue. He said it’s important to put educational standards in the hands of those who have the best interest at heart.

“Our goal with the workgroups is to vest decision making authority in Missouri parents and teachers who have the best interests of our young people at heart,” Jones stated in a news release. “The people of this state have made it absolutely clear they oppose the Common Core standards and that they want Missouri citizens and educators, not government bureaucrats, making the decisions that will impact the educational future of out children.”

Common Core supporters expect the work groups will find schools’ current adaptations to Common Core curriculumto be sufficient.

Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said the Missouri School Boards’ Association, a supporter of Common Core, supports the review of the education standards by the work groups but stands by the learning standards set by Common Core.

“We have supported the current Missouri learning standards that are in place that we feel like they are rigorous and will set high expectations for student performance in our state,” Ghan said. “We have not been opposed to reviewing those standards as the legislation calls for it in establishing the work groups and we’re certainly open to reviewing it and I think the school board members who are serving on the work groups are going into this with an open mind and are very willing to review the standards, but we generally have been pleased with standards that have been in place.”

In a statement regarding the education workgroups, Jones, along with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, and Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St.Charles, said DESE cannot influence what the groups review.

“HB (House Bill) 1490 was designed to vest in the education work groups the power to shape recommendations for academic standards absent influence from bureaucrats and politicians,” the group’s news release stated. “No entity has the power to influence the affairs of each group, whether our respective offices or the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.”

For DESE officials to be involved in the groups’ discussions, the groups must invite them, according to Jones.

“There exists no authority in the statute for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to dictate the deliberations of these work groups, nor even to guide their deliberations after the initial organizing meetings held yesterday, unless invited to do so by individual work groups,” he stated in the release.

The state will conduct three public comment sessions, but the dates have not been set.

Schools will follow current educational standards while the work groups review them.