I’m excited to say that I had my first experience with the legislative process as a witness for the interim education committee yesterday. It was encouraging that representatives took time out of their schedules to meet with the people to discuss important issues. I enjoyed listening to the testimonies that all kinds of concerned citizens brought forth and I am interested to see where this will lead the legislation for the next session.
Currently, much of the weight of the discussion on Missouri education focuses on two major issues: early childhood development and the transfer system. Transfers took up much of the discussion of course because here in St. Louis the start of the latest school year was a disaster for a few unaccredited school districts managing the transfer of thousands of students to neighboring districts. I agree with many people who spoke yesterday that education should remain a choice and where you live should not dictate the quality of education you will receive. Many people mentioned disparities in class and race as issues that need to be addressed which I agree with, but also feel lie outside the purview of this committee. In terms of early childhood education, I think this would be the area of reform most likely to support greater equality between racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Many people cited evidence of how preschooling separates those of wealthier backgrounds from their counterparts so that when public education formally begins the playing field is already unequal. We need to do more to offer all children the same early enrichment opportunities.
Now, while I agree that the last two items are major reform issues that would improve education, I also believe that more direct reform in schools is needed. I testified on the issue of teacher evaluation and elevating the standards for the profession. One of the representatives asked me whether I was aware that new measures had been passed and would be put in place very soon. After reviewing these new standards, I think there are still things to consider. I will applaud that the new standards seem more comprehensive, include student data measures (albeit superficially), and better articulate the expected growth of new teachers. However, there are still important pieces missing from the standards which in my opinion will impede any great success. The standards still include no quantitative measures of student achievement, teacher professional development, or classroom accountability beyond what the adminstration might simply assume or view in their brief observations. I will be anxious to see whether this new system promotes any actual growth and meaningful reflective practices for teachers and administrators or whether it will simply become another bureaucratic hurdle for schools.
Regardless of the new standards, there are certainly other measures necessary to the reform of the teaching profession–such as tenure, licensure, professional development, and salary–that support the retainment of high-quality teachers for all students. Regrettably, I think I failed to stress this point well enough to that particular representative, but overall I feel that everyone in the audience was receptive to my message. In fact, a few people thanked me for my testimony and one even quoted me on Twitter, which made the whole experience worth-while.
Overall, I would say that it was an enlightening evening into the legistlative process. I’m glad so many people came to speak their minds and that the committee listened. I hope that my message will promote some change, if not this time I will definitely return and let my voice be heard again in the future.