Lawmakers voice concern over teachers’ claims

Two Sikeston R-6 School District teachers told state senators last week they feared for their jobs because they oppose implementation of the Common Core education standards.

The two teachers — Susan Kimball and Tonya Pobst — testified at last Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, in favor of bills sponsored by Sens. John Lamping, R-Ladue, and Ed Emery, R-Lamar, seeking to block Missouri’s implementation of the standards for at least a year, to give the state more time to develop its own standards.

The Common Core standards have been developed at the national level as an answer to some people’s concerns that education in the United States isn’t keeping up with the learning and skills development in other countries — and that it’s hard to compare the educational quality from one state to the next within in the U.S.

The plan is a joint promotion of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices — and the standards were launched by many states in 2009.

Missouri was one of the last states to consider adopting the standards, and the state Board of Education voted 5-1 in June 2010 to adopt them.

But they aren’t universally supported within the education community.

And the two teachers told the Senate committee Wednesday they had to give up a day’s pay in order to testify.

“I have been strongly discouraged from saying anything negative about Common Core by my administration and some school board members,” Kimball, a 20-year kindergarten teacher, testified. “This did not just happen to me — but to others, in other buildings, under other administrators.”

Most Missouri teachers’ contracts with their districts include some “personal leave” days and, when Kimball took one earlier this year to come to Jefferson City for a rally about the House version of the two senators’ bills, she testified Wednesday: “I was asked by my principal, ‘Do you really want that in your personnel file?’ And then I was bullied and ostracized by my administration, a few other teachers and the president of the school board — and that continues today.”

Kimball said Sikeston officials refused to grant her a personal day so she could make the nearly 250-mile drive for Wednesday’s committee hearing.

“So, I will lose my much-needed pay for the day,” she said. “I need my job and I love my kids, but I feel that it’s that important to get the Common Core out of our state.”

Pobst appeared later during Wednesday’s 2 1/2-hour hearing.

“I, too, was not given a personal day for today,” she told the committee. “I am an educator with 17 years of teaching experience.

“I would like to inform you of the lies and deceit that surround Common Core in my district.”

Sikeston Superintendent Tom Williams told the News Tribune in an email: “The Sikeston R-6 District is unable to comment on personnel matters with regard to specific teachers.

“As with all people, teachers have the right to comment on topics important to them. … The District encourages input and expression from its teachers and any behavior counter to that is not tolerated.”

During a discussion Thursday morning about Wednesday’s hearing, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told Lamping he had called Williams that morning.

“He took pains to, eagerly, assure me that no intimidation had occurred, no denial of First Amendment rights was threatened, much less their jobs,” Kinder reported. “I said that a bipartisan group of senators was very concerned about the testimony yesterday and that he, the superintendent, should know that.”

The Thursday morning discussion began when Lamping raised the issue with Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, whose Senate district includes Sikeston.

“I’m glad to see they were able to come up here,” Wallingford said. “But that was a little bit of a difficult task for them to get up here — it required a letter on my part … saying I think it’s important that all sides be represented.

“And they were told they could not use their personal time for that which, to me, is a gross injustice, because personal time is personal.”

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, represents the district just south of Sikeston and is an Education Committee member.

“I am disappointed and disturbed that the teachers felt they were threatened and discouraged to testify on a piece of legislation they felt strongly about, and that affected them and their students,” he told the News Tribune in a Friday e-mail. “I strongly encourage folks to take an active role in legislation we work on. The best way to share thoughts and concerns is coming to Jeff City, meet directly with legislators, and testify at a committee hearing.”

And Lamping told the newspaper: “It’s reprehensible that they are punished for doing what they believe to be in the best interests of Missouri’s children. Unfortunately, I am not naïve enough to think that this isn’t happening to teachers all across our state.

“I applaud the courage of both witnesses in standing up for what they believe and helping to educate members of the committee on the issue. I hope that other educators will be inspired to speak out and share their thoughts on this issue without fear of retaliation.”

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