by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – It impacts everyone in the state in one way or another: public education. Even if you don’t have children in the school system, you’re paying for it through your taxes.
Problems in schools in both the Kansas City and St. Louis areas may cost you even more. That’s the word from State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who recently appeared on “Missouri Viewpoints.”
The Kansas City School District along with the Riverview Gardens and Normandy School Districts in the St. Louis area have lost their accreditation. Because of that, state law allows students to transfer to surrounding school districts at the expense of the failing ones. For Normandy in particular, that bill is threatening the operations of the entire district.
That’s where the cost could impact you. Nicastro is asking the state for a cash infusion into Normandy.
“The Department [of Elementary and Secondary Education] has asked the Legislature for $6.8 million to get Normandy School District through this year. That money, we believe, would only fill in the gap between March and the end of June.
“The purpose of that is not necessarily to save the District, but it is to make sure the children in the district can stay where they are through the remainder of this school year.
“That money, of course, would have to come from someplace and, arguably, it would be money that would, otherwise, be used for other purposes statewide.”
The ultimate goal is to improve the school districts, all of which are in some of the highest poverty rate areas in Missouri, to the point where they regain accreditation and keep their students in their local areas.
For the rest of the state, a controversy over what’s being taught, how it’s being taught and who decides what’s being taught is being debated. Many conservatives aren’t happy with the Common Core Education Standards the state signed on to in 2010. Pushback against Common Core has escalated in the past year, with accusations that it is a top-down approach that federalizes education.
Other concerns about Common Core include accusations that it results in liberal bias in education.
Nicastro says over 70% of Missouri’s public school teachers have already transitioned to Common Core compliant education. The state’s goal is to have Common Core fully implemented by the beginning of the next school year.
The Commissioner says Common Core standards are grade-level expectations and state standards are still the driving guidelines.
“I want to stress that the Show Me Standards themselves have remained intact and have not changed. So, we still have the basic overall umbrella of Show Me Standards that guide everything we do in Missouri in terms of academics.”
As far as injecting political and cultural world views and other biases into the classroom, Nicastro says it may happen, but that’s not a result of Common Core. She says the new standards don’t change one important part of education: parents holding their local districts accountable.
“I would suggest to parents, if they see material in their classroom that they don’t like, they should talk to their local school district. In the [state] Department, we don’t dictate materials. We don’t dictate curriculum. We don’t identify textbooks.”
Still, Nicastro acknowledges that the national debate has spilled over into state and local discussions. While she maintains that, ultimately, state and local officials make the final decisions, she agrees that the national process to develop Common Core has been a factor in those decisions.
“I think some of the federal involvement with the standards has been at most an irritation and at least an intrusion that we could have done without.”
Under the current approach using Common Core, at least in Missouri, the standards direct what students are expected to know and be able to do at specific grade levels. States determine the rules, other parameters and funding and local school districts decide how to teach in order to meet the standards.
In other words, the national Common Core standards set the goals, the states mark the race path and the local schools train the runners, so to speak.
Nicastro believes modern public education must remain flexible as the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s workplace evolve faster than ever. Part of the duty of public schools, she argues, is to prepare students for further education as they compete for careers.
“It’s still essential that kids graduate from high school but that’s certainly not going to be sufficient. They’re going to need a second credential: either a college degree or some kind of advanced technical degree. But, if they’re going to compete in this global society, they’re going to have to have advanced education of some kind.”
How to get today’s students from where they are now to that point is what is up for debate in more ways than one.
On the web:
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: www.DESE.MO.gov