Review of Missouri education standards divisive

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Parents and teachers creating education guidelines for Missouri schoolchildren are hoping for the best but bracing for what could be a yearlong fight over the role that Common Core standards should have in classrooms.

A new Missouri law created several task forces charged with creating goals for students that prepare them for college and careers, but members responsible for evaluating those standards were divided within hours of their first meetings last week.

Problems started when not all of the appointees had been named in time for last week's meetings. Those who made it argued about whether to actually meet, then about whether state education officials should be present, who should take notes, and whether the public should be allowed to watch their work. At one meeting, a task force decided to shut off a video camera that had been recording the proceedings.

Some groups are preparing for more gridlock when the groups meet again Thursday and Friday.

"You've been asked to play a game with opposing teams and everyone has different rules in mind in terms of how to play the game," said Jan Mees, a Columbia School Board member appointed by the Missouri School Boards Association to review English standards for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and spell out which reading and math skills students should master at each grade level, while leaving it to districts and states how to achieve that. Supporters say the higher standards shared across state lines would allow for shared resources, comparable student performance measures and smoother school-to-school transitions for children who move, such as military kids.

Critics say the standards were forced on states without local input. Missouri is among 45 states that adopted Common Core, but it is one of several now backing away. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina also have taken steps to rewrite their standards.

In Missouri, some parents and teachers were on opposite sides before they even met.

Some were picked by lawmakers who fought to ditch Common Core, while others were chosen by Gov. Jay Nixon, who signed a 2009 agreement to help develop the standards. Standards in math, science, social studies and English now each have two groups to reevaluate those standards — one responsible for kindergarten through fifth grade and another for sixth grade through high school.

One Missouri educator picked to review standards later dropped out before discussions started, partly over concerns that the discussion would stray from academics and because the state won't be covering the costs of gas, hotels and other expenses for task-force members.

Task force members say they hope arguments over procedure will eventually give way to constructive work on the standards. The work groups have until October 2015 to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education, which ultimately decides on standards.

"The law is going to have to be clarified, and we're going to have to be told what we're actually supposed to be doing," said 40-year-old Heather Drury, a vocal Common Core critic, substitute teacher and mother of three from Sikeston appointed to create English standards for sixth grade through high school. After that, "I think we can move forward."


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