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Work Groups Still Divided Over DESE's Involvement In Writing New Education Standards

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Members of eight work groups tasked with crafting new education standards to replace Common Core in Missouri appear to be still divided over the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's involvement in the process.

During the first round of meetings held last month, some work group members welcomed DESE's input, while others accused the agency of hijacking the process to keep Common Core in place.  Two Republican lawmakers who crafted the new law fielded questions Friday at the state Capitol from several members of the work group.  State Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said DESE officials certainly gave the impression that they were trying to interfere with the work groups.

"The very rapid short time period in which they were supposed to get their work done, to me, was a pretty clear demonstration (of DESE saying) 'if we can just keep our side empowered and the other side weakened, this won't be a problem; we'll just keep doing what we want to do and go right on,'" Emery said.

In addition, state Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, told the work groups that they are "autonomous," not under DESE's authority. 

Julie Thomas, who lives in the Village of Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks, is a member of the 6th-12th grade Social Studies work group.  She also expressed dismay over DESE's involvement.

"(DESE) is a special interest group," Thomas said. "I don't want anyone that has been appointed to these work groups to be marginalized, no matter what their background or perspective is."

TonyaPobst of Sikeston, on the other hand, described DESE's involvement as helpful.  She chairs the work group for K-5th grade English language arts.

"We are working with DESE," Pobst said.  "They come into our meetings and they assist us if we need something, so I think we've found a common ground with DESE."

In addition, DESE Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter issued the following statement:

"The department has convened the work groups as charged under the provisions of HB 1490. The dates, times and locations of current and future meetings are up to the work groups. The department will assist with logistics and administrative support only when requested by the groups. Work group members may use whatever materials they deem necessary to complete this work.  We expect high standards to come out of these meetings. Our children deserve the best education possible in Missouri and raising our expectations of what they should know and be able to do is the first step."

One question arose during Friday's gathering inside the Missouri House chambers that no one was able to definitively answer:  whether Common Core State Standards will still wind up being the framework for the new standards being mandated by House Bill 1490. Bahr and Emery were asked, "If there is something in Common Core that everybody agrees is a good standard, does that mean we can't use it?"

"That's one of the reasons specific references to Common Core in (HB 1490 were removed)," Emery answered.  "Because we don't like the entire picture, that doesn't mean nothing in the picture has any value."

But that didn't satisfy some work group members, who expressed concerns that certain proposals within a standard could be interpreted as copyrighted material belonging to Common Core.

Another question arose regarding public access to the work groups' meetings.  After a few minutes, Bahr told the work group members that he spoke with legal counsel and that their meetings are public and open to Missouri's sunshine laws.

The work groups have until Oct. 1, 2015, to finish crafting new education standards for Missouri.  They are then to be implemented during the 2016-17 school year.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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