James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
“Currently, Missouri’s education policies do not prioritize great teaching, empowering parents with quality choices, or allocating resources wisely to raise student achievement.” That is the opening statement of the State Policy Report Card for Missouri, which an organization called Students First produced. The report card gives Missouri a grade of D- for its education policies, ranking Missouri 34th among the states and District of Columbia.

The report is not an evaluation of Missouri’s performance; rather, it is an evaluation of state policies. Of course, to evaluate a policy, you must have a position. As the organization's name indicates, Students First’s position is that school policies should be aligned to accomplish what is best for students.

From a liberty perspective, I agree with many of the reforms suggested in the report card, including:

Tenure Reform: In Missouri, teachers earn tenure after five years. At that point, it becomes very difficult to remove low-performing teachers from the classroom. Teacher retention should be based on quality, not solely on seniority.

School Choice: Most Missouri students have few options for their education. Charter schools are not authorized to open throughout the state unless the local school district approves one, and many families cannot afford private schools. Missouri needs to expand charter options and enable families to utilize the many great private schools that are serving students.

School Grading: As we witnessed with the reaccreditation of the Saint Louis Public Schools, Missouri’s district grading system is weak and provides little useful information to parents. An A-F grading system at the school level would equip parents with the information they need to make informed choices.

Portable Pensions: Did you know that if you teach in Saint Louis County and then take a job in the Saint Louis Public School District, you will lose a great deal of your pension wealth? The same is true for Kansas City. The state has three pension systems set up for teachers, making it costly for teachers to move across sectors. Moreover, the pensions are not tied directly to an individual’s contributions.

Students First is correct, Missouri’s policies are not focused on what is best for students; rather, most of our policies are focused on adults.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.