Missouri legislators are filing companion bills to withdraw the state from the Common Core, a set of national requirements for what students should know in math and English.
Since 45 states adopted the Core in 2010, several states have reconsidered, usually motivated by local objections to the standards’ quality, cost, and potential for consolidating central control over U.S. education.
On Jan. 24, state Sen. John Lamping (R-Ladue) introduced Senate Bill 2010, which rescinds the Missouri Board of Education’s decision to adopt the Core, forbids state agencies from implementing it, and requires the Missouri legislature to sign off on state standard shifts. State Rep. Kurt Bahr (R-St. Charles) plans to file companion legislation in the next week.
“Missouri’s having problems with funding schools,” Bahr told School Reform News. “Every year it’s, ‘We need more money,’ but [state boards of education] are advocating for adopting the Common Core to spend on things we’re not [already] spending [on].”
Expensive Technology Demands
Legislators’ central concerns are cost and workability, Bahr said. The state has not published an estimate of costs for shifting to new tests and instructional materials, but independent studies estimated extra expenses at $282 million and $340 million.
The state has diverse school districts, from heavily urban to sparsely rural. Few have extra money for the technology upgrades and internet strength Common Core tests will require.
“The infrastructure required to support that is a large bill,” Bahr said. “Our state has worked in the last couple of years to increase internet connections, and we’ve made some progress, but not enough.”
For Rockwood School District, the state’s third-largest with 22,000 students, initial costs to upgrade technology so students can take the all-online tests are $4 million, said Anne Gassel, a leader of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core and a Rockwood resident. In 2012, voters rejected a bond issue to fill Rockwood’s $5 million budget shortfall
“The costs are starting to hit districts, and it’s a challenging time to pass a tax levy or bond, which are becoming less and less popular in Missouri,” Gassel said. “People are starting to say, ‘I can’t absorb one more thing.'”
In St. Charles, one elementary school found the cost of just increasing bandwidth to handle the new tests would be $1 million.
Shift in Leadership
When Missouri adopted the Core in 2010 it was consumed by healthcare debates, as were most other states and the nation, Gassel noted, so few people noticed the decision. As her group has traveled the capitol to speak with legislators, they found many had never even heard of the Core, even though it alters teaching, instruction, testing, and accountability.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has given 200 presentations on the Common Core, but none to legislators, she said.
This year several “powerful education legislators have all termed out,” Bahr noted, resulting in a new Speaker of the House, Timothy Jones (R-Jefferson City), who promised to give Bahr’s bill a hearing, “which is better than I had last year.”
A likely concern among legislators is whether dropping the Core puts Missouri’s federal No Child Left Behind waiver in jeopardy or means losing federal education funding, said James Shuls, a Show-Me Institute policy analyst.
Concerns about Local Control
Teachers are used to standards frequently changing without their input, said Shuls, a former elementary teacher, which means they have little opportunity to improve them using their experience with students.
“We have quite average standards that probably could stand to be improved, but we have a much better chance of doing that from within,” he said.
Missouri’s curriculum and standards reflect the state’s culture and values, which differ from those in Illinois, New York, and California, Bahr said. National standards thus quash cultural diversity.
“If government can plan and do a good job, there’s no reason we shouldn’t have state or federal or universal standards,” Shuls said. “But in reality we know central planning doesn’t work, and it’s hard to impose those things on individuals. The best form of accountability is not a set of standards, but giving parents options to choose what’s best for their kids.”
Image by Office of Deval Patrick.