DESE and The Hijacking of HB 1490

Last Friday, I received confirmation from the Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives office that I was picked to be a participant on a work group established by HB 1490. This allows for groups of parents and educators to work together to develop standards for our schools. The language of HB 1490 is as follows, as related to the makeup of these work groups:

3. Work group members shall be selected in the following manner:
(1) Two parents of children currently enrolled in grades kindergarten through twelve shall be selected by the president pro tempore of the senate;
(2) Two parents of children currently enrolled in grades kindergarten through twelve shall be selected by the speaker of the house of representatives;
(3) One education professional selected by the state board of education from names submitted to it by the professional teachers’ organizations of the state;
(4) One education professional selected by a statewide association of Missouri school boards;
(5) One education professional selected by the state board of education from names submitted to it by a statewide coalition of school administrators;
(6) Two education professionals selected by the president pro tempore of the senate in addition to the members selected under subdivision (1) of this subsection;
(7) Two education professionals selected by the speaker of the house of representatives in addition to the members selected under subdivision (2) of this subsection;
(8) One education professional selected by the governor;
(9) One education professional selected by the lieutenant governor;
(10) One education professional selected by the commissioner of higher education;
(11) One education professional selected by the state board of education from names submitted to it by nationally-recognized career and technical education student organizations operating in Missouri; and
(12) One education professional selected by the state board of education from names submitted to it by the heads of state-approved baccalaureate-level teacher preparation programs located in Missouri.

This would be a total of 16 members for each of the designated work groups. Notice that nowhere in this language will you find a role for DESE or their designees.

When I arrived at the Capital this morning, I was energized to be a part of the process that would determine the future of our children’s education, while preserving the local control of our school districts set forth in our state Constitution. As a parent in one of the state’s smallest school districts, the opportunity to work with parents and educators to define our State’s path in education is an honor. The responsibility of being appointed to these work groups is one that I definitely felt as I walked through the halls of our State Capital.

As I told the fellow members of our work group (History and Government, K-5), this is the single most important thing I have ever done in my life. I felt a swell of pride when I made that statement, along with a rush of emotion.

It is a responsibility not just to my children, but to all children, and parents, in the state of Missouri.

When I made my way to the Truman Building to meet the members of our work group, I was ready to get about this serious work. Upon arriving, I found myself faced with a reality that was the anti-thesis of what I was expecting and completely contrary to the language in HB 1490.

I walked in to find a small group of people, considerably less than the full 16 member panel clearly defined in HB 1490. Only ten members of our group were assembled. This was the first disappointment of the day.

I was greeted by a ‘facilitator’ when I entered the conference room. This person had assumed the role of leadership over our work group and was flanked by two other representatives from the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary education. I was puzzled. DESE, according to HB 1490, was not supposed to be a participant in these work sessions. While they are open to the public (and I encourage anyone who can attend to do so), DESE is not supposed to have a role in these groups. The state legislature went to great lengths to determine who is supposed to participate in these sessions. They did not list DESE in the language above, defining the makeup of these groups.

I didn’t say anything at first. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was witnessing. Soon after I took my seat, it became abundantly clear.

I was witnessing the same assumption of authority by DESE that has become the standard in schools across Missouri. DESE’s ‘facilitator’ was lying in wait to execute a coup of the process set forth by HB 1490, perched behind her Power Point presentation like a Black Widow ready to devour any hapless fly who dissented from DESE’s darling, the Common Core Standards.

From DESE’s own website, http://www.dese.mo.gov:

The meetings are open to the public, but are not open meetings. Only members of the work groups may contribute to the discussion, again as specified in the law. However, three public hearings will be held during the development process to allow for comments from the public on the proposed standards.

When another parent and I questioned her role and participation in the group, it became immediately clear the room was stacked with DESE designees. Administrators from across the state leapt to her defense, eager and willing to give up their responsibilities under HB 1490 in order to follow DESE’s lead.

When I questioned moving forward without a full work group, I learned how determined DESE and its supporters were to thwart the entire process laid out in HB 1490. Over and over I was told that it didn’t matter that the other representatives were in attendance. The rationale that was given was that we ‘were already here’ so we should proceed with our work session.

As I pointed out, beginning any work without the full assembly of our group was problematic. Given the importance of the task we are charged with, it seemed imperative that we adhere to the process set forth by HB 1490.

Our work group is, after all, developing standards for History and Government. It seems laughable that we should disregard the legislature’s intent with HB 1490 because DESE and a few hell bent administrators say so.

These concerns also fell on deaf ears. A majority of the group that was assembled today were all too willing to ignore the fact that we were missing six members of our group. Their desire to effectively disenfranchise other members of our work group, by insisting we play ‘follow the leader’ and continue the charade was disconcerting. Those most vocal in wanting to press forward, without a full group and, as DESE themselves said, in violation of the law with the participation of a ‘facilitator’ set off several alarm bells in my head.

It made me thankful that my children aren’t in their districts.

The hit parade continued with objection after objection being voted down by a count of hands willing to continue a process that was very clearly flawed.

Finally, when the afternoon session resumed, I found that I could not, in good conscience, continue to participate in an illegitimate process. Too much is riding on what comes out of these work groups. To begin a process under the pretense that we are following the path laid out by HB 1490, would be to participate in a sham. I cannot, and will not, lend my name as validation for a process that is flawed from inception. I cannot and will not participate in the hijacking of our children’s future. To do so, gives the charade the pretense of validity and there was nothing valid, legal or legitimate about the coup I witnessed in today’s meeting.

In talking with several other parents, I made the point that our only leverage is our participation. If we, as parents and people who can read HB 1490, continue to lend our credibility to this process through our attendance, we are failing our children and become willing conspirators in a fraud.

While administrators across our state seem willing to move forward with this, I am not.

Our children’s future is far too valuable to be traded away for a DESE meal ticket.

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3 thoughts on “DESE and The Hijacking of HB 1490

  1. Pingback: Tuesday’s Notes: DESE Coup | Crucis' Court

  2. Notice also that there isn’t room for independent public school teachers to have a voice. A teacher must be affiliated with some organization to be eligible and even then there is no guarantee that any teachers will be chosen as the terminology is “educational professional”. Doesn’t look like much room for those that do the actual work of teaching Missouri’s students on a daily basis. The first I heard of these committees was today as referenced in the stlpublicradio site (referenced from an astute poster on the dianeravitch.net education blog). This twenty year veteran Show Me State public school teacher perceives a lack of desire on most of the powers that be part to include the teachers in this dialogue (and I’m not talking MSTA or MNEA as they are part of the problem as it is, the powers that be).

    Not that any of this educational standards and standardized testing craziness has any validity to begin with. The dialogue needs to be taken back a step or two to realize that the fundamental thinking behind those two concepts is so epistemologically and ontologically flawed and error filled that it renders them completely invalid. Noel Wilson has proven such in his never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700

    Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine. (updated 6/24/13 per Wilson email)

    1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.

    2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

    3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

    4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

    In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.

    5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.

    6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

    7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

    In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?

    My answer is NO!!!!!

    One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

    “So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

    In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

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