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State panel sets education goals for Missouri in 2020

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 17, 2010 - If a state Senate panel has its way, Missouri students 10 years from now will be better prepared for kindergarten, three-fourths of them will do well on state standardized tests and 60 percent of them will get college degrees and credentials.

Further, charter schools will expand throughout the state, not just in St. Louis or Kansas City, new lawmakers will have to take lessons to learn how public schools are funded and one agency will oversee education from pre-school through post-graduate degrees.

Those were the recommendations released Friday by the Missouri Senate Educated Citizenry 2020 Committee, one of several such groups appointed last year to study various aspects of the future and how lawmakers can make their vision come true.

State Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, chairman of the education panel, said its report would be used to help shape legislation. Pearce also chairs the Senate Education Committee.

In an interview, Pearce noted that two other committees, on health care and job creation, are also due to submit reports by the end of the year. All three, he said, were designed to focus on how the state might improve in those areas in the next 10 years.

On specific issues, Pearce said that he has filed legislation to study how teachers are compensated. Specifically, he said, it might be time to ask teachers if they are willing to be paid on a merit basis if they would give up the protections of tenure at the same time.

"If we're going to do this," he said, "it would have to be voluntary for schools as well as for teachers. If teachers want to go on merit-based, performance-based reimbursement, they would have to give up tenure. We need to take a look at that, perhaps beginning with districts that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited.

"Tenure is something that for the most part doesn't resonate well in the state of Missouri. Education is the only place where people have tenure," continued Pearce. "People outside the system don't necessarily support it or appreciate it, and now may be a good time to do some tradeoffs, like tying it to merit pay."

Pearce noted that online learning, one area that the committee mentioned, was successful a couple of years ago, with 1,000 slots for students quickly filled, but the budget couldn't sustain it.

"You can learn online more cheaply than in a bricks-and-mortar school," he said, "so there are possible cost savings down the road, even though it might take a big investment upfront. Online learning is here to stay. It's not a fad."

The report said that the committee "operated under the guiding principle that education is the foundation for Missouri's success in a global society. To that end, the committee was intent on developing a comprehensive, yet focused, strategic plan to identify and prioritize reform initiatives that will shape Missouri's education system through 2020 and beyond."

In comparison to the goals set out in the report, the committee also included current statistics:

  • In kindergarten preparation scores, 46 percent of Missouri children score average and 45 percent score above average.
  • In MAP scores, 51 percent score proficient or advanced in communication arts and 48 percent score proficient or advanced in math.
  • In secondary education, 85 percent graduate high school, 37 percent enter a four-year college or university and 29 percent enter a two-year college or university or technical school.
  • Postsecondary graduation rates are 61 percent for public four-year colleges and universities and 22 percent for public two-year colleges and universities or technical schools.

The panel held a series of meetings around the state to get opinions on what skills and preparation educated Missourians should have by 2020. Its recommendations were organized according to five major themes:

  • Access. The panel said all students should have the opportunity to attend a fully accredited school, with technology used to help deliver lessons at all levels. Online learning should be a key component and should have long-term, sustainable funding.
  • Accountability. State education officials should have the authority to move against charter schools that consistently underperform and revoke the sponsorship privileges for sponsors that do not meet their responsibilities for their charters. Charters should be made available to all Missouri students, and any public school district should be allowed to sponsor a charter.
  • Teacher quality. Compensation should be based on performance, with a statewide system developed for evaluating teachers' effectiveness. Revisions in tenure should be considered to support retention of good teachers and ease removal of bad ones. Differentiated pay scales should be used to make sure all areas have the teachers they need.
  • School readiness. Access to voluntary, universal prekindergarten should be promoted, and parents and early child educators should get the information they need to make sure that all children entering kindergarten have the skills required to learn. The report noted that not everyone agreed on the issue of prekindergarten "because of a lack of constitutional authority or responsibility, growth in government, the inability of the state budget to fund new programs, and also because of ideological issues."
  • Governance. New lawmakers should be required to attend a seminar on the K-12 foundation formula, and education leaders in the state should be required to hold an annual public meeting to discuss initiatives and progress toward the 2020 goals. A state-level system governing education from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education should be created, merging the current departments into one.

Gov. Jay Nixon proposed such a change in governance during this past year, in part to save money, but it did not win approval in the Legislature.
In public hearings witnesses were asked to respond to these questions:

  • What will it mean to be an educated citizen in 2020?
  • What will employers need from their employees in 2020?
  • What principles will anchor our decisions about education -- flexibility, accessibility, affordability? How do we advance those principles?
  • How can the needs of all Missouri students best be balanced?
  • If you could change one things about education in Missouri, what would it be?
Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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