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State Ed Board Wants More Counselors In Missouri Public Schools

Sonja Brewer, center, works with a gifted learning student March 7, 2018, at Washington Elementary School in Normandy. The gifted program was restored this school year.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Teacher Sonja Brewer works with gifted students in March 2018 at Washington Elementary School in Normandy. The district had restored its gifted program, something rural schools have stuggled to do following cuts a decade ago.

The Missouri State Board of Education took steps Tuesday toward putting more counselors and support staff in the state’s public schools.

Counselors in Missouri currently serve an average of 347 students, according to the American School Counselor Association. That’s under the state requirement of a ratio of one counselor per 400 students but significantly higher than its recommendation of a counselor serving 250 students each.

The state school board is considering moving up the required ratio to one counselor for every 250 students and then a recommended ratio to one per 160 students. The board advanced the rule-change process at its monthly meeting.

Fewer than half of districts in the state currently meet the proposed new requirement, according to Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale, and fewer than 10% meet the desired ratio.

“So we hope that this helps drive some resources in the direction of a real need that we have,” Neale said.

Educators and school social workers called for more staffing and resources as a way to prevent school shootings following the 2018 Parkland school massacre.

‘Disastrous’ decline of gifted learning in rural schools

The board also heard a recommendation to reinstate a rule that, when it ended, resulted in what the chairman of an advisory panel called a “disastrous” decline of gifted and talented instruction in rural schools. 

Gifted and talented programs pull students who score highly on aptitude tests into special classrooms or even schools where they receive more rigorous coursework.

An advisory panel on gifted learning delivered its biannual update on the state of gifted education in Missouri, which currently serves about 32,000 of 883,000 children.

When a mandate that districts offer gifted learning went away in 2006, advisory panel Chairman Steven Coxon told the board the impact was hard-felt in rural Missouri.

“One after the other, over 100 programs in the state,” said Coxon, who teaches at Maryville University. “And that’s a disaster for the talent development and long-term economic viability by draining that talent potential, particularly from our rural areas.”

There were 307 gifted programs in 2004. That number had dropped to 223 by 2013 as districts cut costs. Funding for gifted instruction has declined about $13 million in the past decade.

The number of programs for high-achieving students statewide is rebounding since the recession everywhere but the Bootheel. Gifted programs, of which there are now 239 across the state, are more prevalent in urban districts than rural ones.

Inequality in school accountability?

Missouri State Board of Education member Carol Hallquist at a joint meeting with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in Osage Beach on July 30, 2019.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public radio
Missouri State Board of Education member Carol Hallquist.

Last week, Missouri school districts got their report cards from the state. This week, state education officials got back to work on rewriting the criteria for evaluating schools.

The state school board added an additional day to this monthly meeting in order to take a closer look at how the education department is overhauling its Missouri School Improvement Program.

One section of the proposed new program was about equity and access. But during the public comment period, there was a lot of concern about the state overstepping. So the equity and access standards were deleted or moved elsewhere in the plan.

The change worried Carol Hallquist, who represents Kansas City on the state board. She pointed out that most everyone sitting at the table was white.

“I think we cannot underestimate our lack of diversity,” Hallquist said Monday. “And I wondered if you reached out to people who are more diverse to ask them for their input.”

Mike Jones, from St. Louis, is the only black member of the board. He’s currently serving on an expired term.

The latest round of standardized testing showed a persistent achievement gap for Missouri’s black students.

KCUR's Elle Moxley contributed reporting

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.