Turning Missouri education around begins with transparent school performance
School buses wait in 2021 outside Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School in Columbia (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).
Missouri students and teachers returned to the classroom this month facing a sobering reality.
Missouri students are now worse at reading and math than the average American student. At a time when our students need and deserve a world-class education, we are actually falling further behind.
According to the nation’s report card, NAEP, as of 2022 Missouri students have fallen to the bottom half of all states in the key benchmarks of 4th and 8th grade math and reading. As a lifelong educator in traditional and charter public schools that believes in my soul that a high-quality public education system is crucial to the quality of life in rural, urban and suburban neighborhoods across Missouri, this is simply not acceptable.
Back in 2009, Missouri students were in the top half of all states in every one of these categories. These precipitous declines are even more concerning when we consider the achievement gaps based on race that exist in Missouri. Presently only three in ten Missouri students are demonstrating reading proficiency at a fourth-grade level on the nation’s report card. Heartbreakingly, only one in 10 African American students in Missouri are currently proficient in 4th grade reading.
Meanwhile, 99% of Missouri’s school districts remain fully accredited.
Like me, you may be asking why parents, elected officials and community members aren’t demanding solutions to reverse these declines and create a world-class public education system for all our children. For the past 13 years, the rest of America has been passing us up, yet this isn’t the headline in every Missouri newspaper or the first thing parents and lawmakers think about when they wake up every morning.
The sad truth is that most Missourians don’t know about these declines because our public education accountability system is designed to obscure student outcomes. For example, the most important measure of school quality is the academic growth that students make during a particular school year. Never has this been more true than since the pandemic. But in Missouri, student growth only accounts for 20% of a school’s performance rating, whereas 29% is based on administrative paperwork.
Furthermore, finding useful information about student outcomes at your local school can be maddening.
The next time you sit down at a computer or on your phone, go to your local school’s website or the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website and see how many clicks it takes to get information about academic outcomes at your local school. If you successfully wade through this obstacle course, you will eventually find a confusing matrix of numbers and terms such as, “floor” and “approaching.”
Nothing about the report is intuitive to the average citizen, untrained in education jargon.
This misalignment between student outcomes and school performance ratings, and lack of transparency are staggering and must be addressed by policymakers if we are to get public education back on track in Missouri.
Many states that are surging forward, while Missouri falls behind, have aligned student outcomes and school performance ratings and deployed reporting mechanisms that make information clear and easily accessible for all parents. This is how it should be — parents are the most important consumers of our school accountability system, and they need to have clear and meaningful information at their fingertips.
State regulators have the power to make these improvements, but have neglected to do so. It seems that the needed changes will only happen when parents and state lawmakers demand them.
Thankfully, there are both Republicans and Democrats in the Missouri legislature that are taking notice. As someone who has devoted my entire career to educating Missouri’s children, I want Missouri lawmakers to return to Jefferson City next session and pass legislation that improves our accountability system by measuring what matters — student growth and achievement — and ensuring that information about school performance is clear and accessible for all Missouri citizens.
This is the crucial first step in getting Missouri back on track and providing all our students with the high-quality education they deserve.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.