Panel submits future of education report

What must Missouri be doing by the year 2020 — now just over nine years away — to have an educated citizenry?

That was Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields’ challenge nearly two years ago. On Friday, the six-member committee he named said the state should have three main goals for education.

“We want to make sure that our kindergartners will enter school with the essential skills that they need to be successful when they go to school,” said Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg. He chaired the Senate’s Missouri Educated Citizenry 2020 Committee.

“Obviously, the sooner that we can address the needs and problems of our young people, the better off they will be to start, and throughout their whole educational career.”

That includes offering voluntary pre-kindergarten classes.

Brent Ghan, Missouri School Boards Association spokesman, said: “We’re especially pleased to see the emphasis on early childhood education in the report. It is a key to improving educational achievement in our state.”

Committee members want 75 percent of Missouri students to “demonstrate a proficiency on the state standardized achievement measures, currently the MAP tests — and we’re not there,” Pearce said “Right now, we’re in the lower- to mid-50s in communication arts and social studies.”

Pearce said the committee also thinks it’s important that Missouri students “perform at comparable levels to the highest-performing industrialized countries.”

That’s because we “compete internationally and need to have Missouri try to be an international leader in things,” he said.

To reach those benchmarks, Pearce said: “We think that our students in the state of Missouri should have access to fully accredited schools.”

Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, served on the panel and represents one of Missouri’s most-troubled public school districts.

“Each district has its own challenges,” he said. “My district is very, very diverse socially and economically.

“So, we have to figure out different plans for different districts — even different areas of different districts — to achieve those results.”

Missouri needs to improve its use of technology as an education tool at all education levels.

And the state needs to make sure that “we have high academic standards at our schools (and) we need to expand opportunities for charter school sponsorships,” Pearce said. “We need to look at the traditional school day and the traditional school calendar.”

Some students in other countries spend more time in school each day and/or have a longer school year than most U.S. schools.

In an effort to improve the quality of classroom teachers, the committee recommended both performance-based and market-driven teacher compensation plans.

“We need to reward those teachers who are doing a great job,” Pearce said. “Yet those who are not performing up to standards, we need to make sure that they’re in a place where they’re not having a detrimental effect on education.”

Keaveny noted Colorado’s system compares a classroom’s progress within each year to gauge a teacher’s performance.

“It’s almost as objective as it can be,” he said. “So, everybody buys into the program.”

How Missouri pays for education — the combination of state and local tax support at the elementary and secondary level, and state support plus grants and tuition in higher education — long has been confusing for many people.

The committee recommended requiring all new lawmakers to attend a seminar on the “foundation” formula used to distribute state aid to the K-12 public schools.

And the committee said there should be more collaboration among schools at all grade levels — including another attempt to combine the current two state education departments — Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary — into one.

“We think this is a good thing,” Pearce said. “Not only will it save money for the state of Missouri, but it gets those groups focused and working together on a full-time basis.”

When voters approved state reorganization in 1972, they authorized splitting the then-single education department into two, because they have different missions and interests.

Pearce said Friday: “Just because a decision was made 30 years ago doesn’t mean we can’t re-address it and make some changes.”

The committee hopes lawmakers will debate the report and seek changes over the next few years.

“This isn’t a short-term goal,” Keaveny said. “This is a blueprint of where we want to end up.

“It’s going to take a number of years to get there.”

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