"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Troubling MSIP5 Heading to the State Board of Education This Month

The fifth version of Missouri's School Improvement Plan, MSIP5, will soon be before the State Board of Education, but it is unclear whether the plan's authors will be able to address all the feedback given at the various regional public meetings held around the state in this final revision before submitting the plan to the Missouri Register. The plan prescribes broad standards by which individual school districts must set their own achievement objectives. The meetings were ordered after the sheer volume of comments from educators and community members around the state, concerned about the higher standards and volume of testing being proposed, forced the board to table the plan in April to allow more time for review and comment.

Many in the education community are concerned that the increased amount of testing called for in the MSIP rules would result in lost instructional time in those subjects. End of Course exams for high school students, in particular, are expanding to more than a dozen subject areas. And the testing requirements are extremely onerous for small schools.

For example,
Andy Turgeon, superintendent of the Knox County R-1 School District said,
"Every student at Knox County High School would have to take EOCs in three science disciplines: biology, chemistry and physics. But as a small school, Knox County doesn't offer enough sections of those classes for every student to take all three. [We] can't cut any classes, so the solution is to add more teachers. That would have an undeniable budgetary impact.
An expanded battery of tests would also narrow students' options for tailoring their education to their gifts and interests. Using the same example, students who don't excel in and don't plan to later study science would be forced to take numerous science classes anyway in order to meet assessment requirements."
Also concerning is MSIP's decreased standards for areas like physical education and the arts which may result in some districts using those disciplines to offset their budget shortfalls. The Plan also prescribes standards for students as much as five years post-graduation. Fits rather nicely into the cradle to work tracking plan the Department of Education has been working on for decades, don't you think?

The term micromanaging is used in the business world to describe someone who takes oversight measures to the extreme. Instead of improving productivity and increasing work quality, the end result is usually frustrated workers and piles of unread paperwork. When considering all the additional reporting being required by DESE, SBOE and USDOE, one can't help but be reminded of the scene from the movie Office Space where various managers waste additional time reprimanding an employee for not including a standard cover memo on his TPS reports. (See a version of this scene here)

DESE REPRESENTATIVE: (in an exaggerated laid back tone) Mr. Superintendent I noticed that you haven’t had all your 10th grade students complete the chemistry assessments from the MSIP.

SUPERINTENDENT: Yes, I know. But we’re working on it.

DESE: Yeah, that’s good, but uh, we’re going to need you to give that assessment ASAP. It’s in the MSIP. You did read The Plan didn’t you?

SUPER: Yes, I read it, but you see our students already have full schedules so we are having to squeeze the chemistry curriculum into their PE time. Our teachers are working on a novel teaching game that uses the periodic table as a sort of basketball matrix so the kids earn more points if they shoot from the noble gases line than they do if they shoot from the metals. But we’re still working some of the bugs out of…

DESE REP: (interrupting) I see, but if you could just go ahead and give that assessment next week that would be great. And I’m going to go ahead and send you another copy of the MSIP and the reporting forms.

SUPER: But I’ve already got all that paperwork. It’s more a matter of time and budget…

DESE Rep walks off. Super sighs.

State Board of Education (SBOE) Rep enters

SBOE Rep: (in cheery voice) Mr. Superintendent, we need to talk about the chemistry assessment.

Super: (in exasperated tone) I know. I know. DESE was just here talking about that.

SBOE Rep: Um yeah, did you read the MSIP?

Super: I did. I neither understand the point of nor agree with the policy, but you put it in place anyway and I’m left figuring out how to make it happen and pay for it. But hey, thanks for stopping by.

There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to accountability. MSIP5 may have reached that point.

"It seems that we're taking choices away from our students and forcing everybody to be the same," Turgeon said. "That's not what we are."

Perhaps a more accurate statement would be, "That's not who we used to be." Common Core Standards are all about making everyone the same and taking away the potential for individual students to make what someone else has determined is "the wrong choice."

The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16. The board will receive DESE's recommendations for MSIP 5 a week before that. That gives DESE about three weeks to work in the revisions each Regional Advisory Committee recommended.


  1. How about disclosing (without personally identifying information) to parents of 8th graders in a district how many of the prior years HS graduates had to be funneled into remedial math courses at the college level?

    One campus I know of (in state) has had the same placement exam (numbers changed, of course) for a couple decades...proportion of kids requiring remediation is increasing. Maybe the patrons (parents) could just put a little pressure on their own district; i.e., "Hey, the average grade in your HS calculus class is a B+. How come 5 of 10 [whatever] of our district's kids last year couldn't enroll right off in college calculus?"

    Oh, well, DESE probably would reject that, for one reason or another.

  2. My earlier comment didn't get posted, so I'll try again.

    Cut out the middle man!

    A relative has seen steadily increasing percentages of incoming freshmen required to take remedial coursework--sometimes not yielding even credit--at an in-state school. What are the patrons of the secondary school getting for their money and time? Maybe parents of 8th graders could be empowered with the stats on how many of their district's graduates, perhaps after getting a pat on the head and a "good" grade in, say, HS calculus, have to take something way below calculus when they matriculate at the university level. Then parents/HS students could put pressure on their school district. DESE, SBOE, pick-the-acronym would be out of the picture.


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