JEFFERSON CITY _ Missouri's Education Board will confront the national debate about the direction of local schools when the board meets Thursday (Oct. 19) to consider statewide curriculum standards for public schools.
The board will be considering what is called the "Show-Me Standards," written by teachers and other administrators.
It is part of the education package passed by Missouri's legislature in 1993 that included one of the largest tax increases in the state's history.
Proponents say the state curriculum standards would give every child an opportunity to have a top-notch education.
But opponents say the standards represent the elimination of the basics in education. And, they complain, the standards would muzzle the power of school districts to make their own curriculum. And, still others say these standards are part of a continuing trend to take away the challenges of school in favor of allowing every student to get good grades.
In the state legislature, Republicans have maintained almost a continuous chorus of objections to the 1993 plan.
Missouri Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles and a member of the commission that reviewed the standards, says they are indicative of the "dumbing down" of the educational system as a whole.
Instead of expecting students to do well, Ehlmann said, the standards are taking down the achievement level another notch by replacing the old methods of testing with broader, outcome-based tests.
Ehlmann said he doesn't oppose the idea of statewide standards, just those that make a lot of broad expectations without showing people how students will be graded on their performance.
"If you're going to have statewide standards, then they have to be real standards, not just lip service," Ehlmann said.
Orlo Shroyer, an assistant commissioner in Missouri's Education Department who has worked on writing the new standards, said the fears of those in opposition are unfounded.
"If you take a look at the standards, the basics are there," Shroyer said.
Shroyer disputed the idea that the standards will muzzle school districts' power to teach what they want.
"These standards do not dictate curriculum," Shroyer said.
School districts will still have "sole control of curriculum," Shroyer said. The standards are merely a guide, Shroyer said, for school districts to follow so all students get an equally good education that the state can measure through a group of tests.
Currently, students take a standardized test called the Missouri Mastery and Achievement Test (MMAT) to determine how well they stack up against students across the state. With the new standards, the MMAT would be phased out, to be gradually replaced by a new set of tests that correspond with the new standards.
Shroyer said the state is trying to have all the tests in place for all subjects by the year 2000.
The state school board's meeting is just one more step in the process of these standards being adopted. If approved by the state education board, the standards will be published and the public will have 30 days to submit comments.
After that public comment period, the school board will evaluate the comments and then take action on the standards, either by adopting them or rejecting them.