Lawmakers blast DESE, call for roll back on some education standards
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Lawmakers blast DESE, call for roll back on some education standards

Date: March 7, 2013
By: Alexander Mallin
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 616, SB 210

JEFFERSON CITY - At least two Missouri Republicans said Thursday that they want to strike down education standards set three years ago, that one critic called "academic child abuse" and "a train wreck."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the national "Common Core" standards in 2009, and Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said they should have consulted the legislature before doing so.

"When I came down and surveyed my fellow members in the Senate this year, maybe one or two of them knew what Common Core standards were," Lamping said.

In the hearing, State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said her department isn't required to get the approval of the legislature every time it makes a policy move.

Lamping and Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, filed bills in their respective chambers to remove the standards, and both heard testimony in committee hearings this week. Four other states have also moved to block Common Core.

Bill Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute, said the standards don't go far enough in preparing high school students for the ACT or other college tests.

"This is academic child abuse," said Evers, who once worked for the U.S. Dept. of Education. "Its going to ruin the life chances, the business prospects and the employment prospects of Missouri's children in the worldwide economy."

Cathy Cartier was named the 2012 Missouri Teacher of the Year by DESE. She said she thinks the standards need to stay.

"I'm offended as a teacher by that rhetoric," Cartier said. "I don't like to think I'm in the classroom trying to implement something that would be synonymous with abuse. Students are more engaged, they are more involved in the learning process." 

Nicastro said removing the standards would put students at a disadvantage.

"The bottom line here is that we want a more vigorous set of standard for our kids," Nicastro said. "Every major national assessment is now or will be soon aligned with the Common Core."

Cartier said the standards put an emphasis on analyzing text rather than just reading it and developing argumentative skills in writing.

But Sandra Stotsky, an advocate of standards reform and a former professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, said the standards aren't nearly rigorous enough.

"Common core will make us the janitors of the world," Stotsky said. "We are moving down a couple of grades worth by accepting it." 

Stotsky said the idea of setting national standards isn't necessarily a bad one, but the work put into developing Common Core was done mostly behind the scenes.

"We never even knew who was actually writing the standards and what their qualifications were before the process was already over," Stotsky said. "It was done by test experts and not teachers from colleges and high schools like it should have been."

Bahr said by side stepping the legislature, DESE implemented a system that wouldn't have likely made it through the General Assembly.

"By creating a one-size-fits-all educational model we are taking away our states freedom of being able to choose what works and what doesn't work for our students," Bahr said. "Common Core is one massive set of standards that everyone follows, and so we will either be competitive or not be depending on how good these standards are."

Cartier said that as a representative for teachers across the state, the general consensus is that the standards are a step in the right direction.

"We're having some wonderful concentrations about how we can get the kids to stretch themselves," Cartier said. "These standards build upon each other from grade to grade and I do believe this is better for our students."