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Opinion: A Fresh Perspective on School Choice

For the past few years in the Education debate, the argument has centered around one word: choice. Hardworking Missouri parents want to have say in their child’s education, as they should. But in this discussion, I believe that there are a few components that have been left behind.

How did we get here?

Ten years ago, the debate around Common Core was raging. On October 7, 2013, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro testified before the House Interim Committee on Government Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Accountability. In the hearing, Nicastro stated that schools could indeed choose their own curriculum, but they would not fare well on the test.

If a school does not fare well on the test, they lose their accreditation.

This is in conflict with current state statute, which says, “… the state board of education and the department of elementary and secondary education shall not be authorized to mandate and are expressly prohibited from mandating the curriculum, textbooks, or other instructional materials to be used in public schools. Each local school board shall be responsible for the approval and adoption of curriculum used by the school district” (160.516).

But in the words of the former Education Commissioner herself, the test ultimately dictates the curriculum. So let’s talk about the test.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) currently oversees the end of year tests in Missouri (also known as the MAP test). Most Missouri citizens do not know that these end of the year tests can never be viewed by the superintendents, administrators, school boards, teachers, or parents. They are proprietary. Yet these invisible tests decide your school district’s accreditation and evaluate teacher performance. One invisible test dictates everything about the education choices in your district.

It is for these reasons that I filed SB 85, which decentralizes the power of DESE by:

a) Allowing school boards to choose the test they want to administer and therefor the curriculum that they want to institute.

b) Allowing school boards to choose tests that can be reviewed by teachers, administrators, parents, and students in order to fully inform the best practices for a district.

SB 85 moves away from the heavy handed compliance model by empowering local school boards, superintendents, administrators, teachers and most importantly, parents in their ability to choose how to best educate and assess students for the first time since the “Outstanding Schools Act” was passed in 1993.

Many Republicans will say that they believe that the Federal Department of Education should be abolished and in the same breath continue to hand authority over to the State Department of Education. At the end of the day, you either believe in the decentralization of education or you don’t.

I believe in the decentralization of the education machine. The power of bloated, lethargic government bureaucratic agencies must be taken away. Parents should have a choice in what their children are taught, and that includes parents of children that are currently in the public school system.