Show-Me Institute

Nixon needs to act on standards, now!

Missouri is one of only four states to not have the governor sign on to work together to create a set of voluntary national standards. Texas, Alaska and South Carolina are the other three--conservative governors with presidential aspirations is the common denominator among them.

Why didn’t Gov. Jay Nixon sign on for Missouri? presumably because we are currently without a commissioner. However, since this was an association of governors, Nixon has the authority, the responsibility to lead the state. He doesn’t have to wait until a new commissioner is hired.

The president of Missouri's board of education said he, too, expected his members to revisit the issue soon."I think we'll seriously consider it over the next several months," said state board President Russell Thompson. "Once we're assured Missouri can have higher standards." (Missouri Balks, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

But the state doesn’t have that much time. Panels are working on suggested standards set to come out in July.

Later, a separate national "validation" panel, made of up of experts nominated by the states, will review the proposal. (46 States, Washington Post)

If we wait too long, we won’t have a chance to review the proposal. We have to make that deadline.

Some (such as Caitlin Hartsell for Show-Me Institute) say we don’t need to join the common standards movement because Missouri already has high standards.

And, as it is, fewer than half of Missouri’s students are meeting or exceeding the MAP standards Adopting lower national standards instead would only provide a misleading inflation of achievement metrics.

But this is mixing up the challenge level of the MAP, which is high, with the Missouri standards, which are not. In fact the math standards are under review, which is being extended because of disagreement with the draft standards.

Members of prominent university mathematics departments in Missouri are calling for an evaluation of state standards and expectations in K-12 math curriculum. (Math Professors, Columbia Missourian)

The math wars are nothing new, but the rigor of the Mo. standards is not high, is confusing and contains jargon.

For example, for fourth grade, the proposed standard is broken into Core Concept, Learning Goal and Performance Indicator. (Ed. to add--I chose this somewhat randomly. I’m familiar with 4th grade, and fractions are difficult and important. I did not pick and choose.)

Grade 4, Core Concept B--Develop understanding of decimals, including the connections between fractions and decimals.2) Understand relationships among whole numbers, commonly used fractions, and decimals.
  • Model fractions (halves, fifths fourths, eighths, and tenths) on a 10 x 10 grid representing one unit in order to convert fractions to decimals.
  • Rename whole numbers as fractions with different denominators (e.g., 5 = 5/1, 3 = 6/2, 1 = 7/7), with or without models.
  • Relate fractions with denominators of tenths and hundredths to decimals of equivalent values.
  • Identify equivalent fractions and decimals (less than one, equivalent to one, and greater than one), with and without models, including locations on a number line.
  • Use a variety of methods to compare and order decimals and fractions.

Compare this to a similar California standard:

Number Sense
1.0 Students understand the place value of whole numbers and decimals to two decimal places and how whole numbers and decimals relate to simple fractions. Students use the concepts of negative numbers:
1.1 Read and write whole numbers in the millions.
1.2 Order and compare whole numbers and decimals to two decimal places.
1.3 Round whole numbers through the millions to the nearest ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, or hundred thousand.
1.4 Decide when a rounded solution is called for and explain why such a solution may be appropriate.
1.5 Explain different interpretations of fractions, for example, parts of a whole, parts of a set, and division of whole numbers by whole numbers; explain equivalents of fractions (see Standard 4.0).
1.6 Write tenths and hundredths in decimal and fraction notations and know the fraction and decimal equivalents for halves and fourths (e.g., 1⁄2 = 0.5 or .50; 7⁄4 = 1 3⁄4 = 1.75).
1.7 Write the fraction represented by a drawing of parts of a figure; represent a given fraction by using drawings; and relate a fraction to a simple decimal on a number line.


As a state with a difficult assessment, I think we’ll benefit from a common standard. We won’t look bad when compared to states with easy assessments when they upgrade their tests. We won’t need to “dumb down” ours; instead, the rest of the country will need to catch up to our assessments. In fact, our standards need to catch up to our assessments.

Agreeing to work to create the common standards is not the same as agreeing to follow and change the MAP to assess by the common standards. This first step is a no-brainer. I’ll wait until the actual standards come out to make a decision on the next, but with our transient population that needs to meet international standards I applaud the effort and strongly encourage Gov. Nixon to sign on today. Otherwise, we’re likely to be looking at standards we did not have a role in helping to create.

Parents tracking their kids' attendance, grades online

school bus
Photo by Ian Fuller
When Sarah Brodsky of Show-Me Institute asked why St. Louis area weren’t being more innovative by implementing programs such as online grade and attendance monitoring by parents, I was surprised as I thought they were doing that. After checking most of the county school districts, I found that they were. (I couldn’t find it on Parkway’s website. Do they not have it or is it just not easily found on the website? They do have online lunch accounts, which I wish my kids’ district had, so I’m assuming they have chosen not to have attendance and grades monitoring.)

The St. Louis Public Schools did not have any online monitoring that I could find. For a district that struggles with attendance, I would think that allowing the parents to easily check on their kids’ attendance and tardies would be a high priority. “Johnny, you were tardy for biology again today. You’re grounded!”

A+ for school choice--private anyway

A fellow parent who is from the west coast remarked that while while her former area had schools in the typical top 10 lists, she is impressed with the educational opportunities in St. Louis, especially the choices available. Forbes recently ranked St. Louis #9 best places for education. We received an A+ in private school options and college opportunities. If there had been a category for public school options, we would have scored high there also (although not an A+ because of access). We like options.

The Libertarian-leaning Show-Me Institute is recommending tuition tax credits for families in St. Louis city, Kansas City and Wellston school districts that are under a certain percentage of the poverty level.

Another, very visible, attempt to increase access to choice is Mayor Slay's push to increase charter schools. Andy Rotherham of Education Sector has proposed five "deals" (pdf) for critics and advocates to work on.

I was especially intrigued by #3.

❝School districts should receive temporary transition aid to help them adjust to losing students, but that funding should be linked to giving charter schools access to unused space..❞

SLPS has extra room, charter schools don't have room, and transitional money would make everyone more likely to sit down at the peace table at come up with a plan to help our kids.

St. Louisans like choice after all. Now we just need to find a model that will work in real life and not just in ivory towers.

Photo of 6th grade Lift for Life students at space camp