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.