James V. Shuls

Officials from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) are finding out that it might not be easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, at least not when it comes to the Common Core State Standards. DESE adopted the standards without public knowledge and last night, officials from DESE attempted to justify their decision with a one-sided presentation. Many concerned citizens and parents, however, were not interested in listening to DESE’s Common Core gospel.

At the meeting I attended at the Lindbergh School District, citizens showed up with questions; DESE officials showed up with scripts and videos. The plan was to divide the crowd into small groups so we could discuss the standards. They even provided a form for us to write down what we like about the standards and what we dislike. That plan may have worked at other meetings, but the folks at Lindbergh demanded to be heard.

The DESE officials seemed shocked when patrons who wanted to be heard continually interrupted the presentation.

One lady sitting near me said, “Can’t you deviate from your script?”

Another shouted, “This goes against teaching.” She was implying that the officials should have been willing to take questions, like a good teacher would during a lesson.

After the crowd's continual pestering, and the crowd's refusal to separate into small groups, the DESE officials began fielding questions. Of course, they were not answering the questions, just listening to them.

The concerns were myriad, ranging from questions about data collection to issues of local control.

I asked two questions:

  1. How is this not an unfunded mandate? It will cost districts money to implement the new standards and to purchase all of the technology needed for the tests. If the legislature did this without providing additional funds, it might be a violation of the Hancock Amendment. What is the difference if DESE requires additional spending, but does not provide additional resources for school districts?

  2. There is so much double-speak. On one hand, you say these are just standards, they do not tell teachers how to teach. Then in the next sentence, you say that this is changing what teachers are doing in the classroom. How can it be both?

Though I liked my questions, I think the best came from a gentleman in the back of the room. He asked, “Why are you surprised by this response?” He was asking what many were thinking. As a school board member from a district in Franklin County shouted, "We’ve seen these videos." In fact, many of the people at the meeting had read the information on the script and they had watched the videos on the website.

What the parents wanted was to be heard, not to have the Common Core force-fed to them.

Missourians deserve a fair discussion; they deserve a true debate of the issues. Instead, DESE officials have made up their mind. That is apparent in the statement that Missouri State Board of Education member Mike Ponder made: “I know that people can have a difference of opinion on the matter, but the idea behind the Common Core is here to stay.” In other words, we are doing this whether you like it or not.

If Missourians want a true dialogue on this issue, it will have to come from the people.

To learn more about the Common Core, I encourage you to visit:

Why we need school choice (An essay detailing my personal story. It links math instruction, Common Core, and school choice).

What is so common about the Common Core (Blog)

DESE should consider district level waivers (Blog)

Missouri should avoid implementation of the Common Core (Testimony)

Constructive Criticism for Common Core Constructivism Deniers (on Jay P. Greene’s Blog)

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

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.