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Education Reporter

Commissioner of Education
Clouds Issues at Conference

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO - The real purpose of Missouri Education Commissioner Bob Bartman's annual conference in October was to unveil the state's new high stakes assessments and Certificates of Initial Mastery (CIM). Pattonville High School hosted the conference, and Bartman performed a masterful job of discussing aspects of his new educational system (for all Missouri's children) without specifically describing them. For example, he cleverly addressed the issue of a state certificate but never mentioned the CIM.

The announced purpose of the conference was to sell a "need" for Missouri's new assessments, which will be in place in a year or two. Although the assessments are not yet completed, the conference was intended to convey to parents, teachers, and administrators the need for consequences (the code word for punishments) that students should face if they do not perform at acceptable levels. Bartman said that when the assessments are in place and students have taken them, rewards and consequences should be administered accordingly. Marc Tucker of the NCEE said the same thing in describing his "vision" for education - the national School-to-Work system that Missouri is about to adopt. Tucker's system requires both the assessments and skills certificates/CIM that Bartman presented at his conference.

"Why did Mr.
Bartman let
system hit
rock bottom
in the first
Boody, parent
What are the consequences of passing or failing the high stakes assessments? The new assessments have been redefined, and will measure beliefs, attitudes, and values. Until students pass them, they cannot proceed to the next grade level, play sports, go to college, or get a job. Students who fail will be held back until they pass. Therefore, these assessments will determine in large part our children's future.

Bartman's goals for Missouri's students include implementing higher academic standards and assessments, and creating an atmosphere that promotes greater responsibility and accountability. He suggested ways to increase academic performance and accountability, such as an expanded school year, tutorials before and after school, Saturday classes, and creating new teaching strategies. He mentioned the possibility that teachers will oversee the same group of students for a period of years to increase academic performance.

Some parents question Bartman's track record. Small businessman and parent Steve Boody notes: "Mr. Bartman needs to look at his own accountability to Missouri's education system, considering that he was in charge during its decline over the past 10 years. Now he is offering all the answers. But why did he let the system hit bottom in the first place?"

At education reform conferences, the problems facing education are often well-stated, the right questions are asked, and the platitudes are endless. According to Bartman, for example, the average teacher turnover in Missouri's schools is 30%, in addition to the fact that teachers often teach subjects that they are not qualified to teach. But then he asked the same tired, rhetorical question typical of reformers: "What incentives and encouragement can public policy provide to increase our students' test scores?"

What Missouri parents are asking for - a better education for their children - is not really the bottom line for Mr. Bartman. In his conference remarks, he posed the following questions three times: "When does performance count?" and "Who should performance count for?" He answered both questions by stating that performance counts when the business and labor force are satisfied. Evidently, parents and students are no longer the clients of Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE); the state and the economic system are the clients.

The CIM will
be required
of all High
the diploma.
Bartman opined that the new goals of the marketplace require problem solving, knowledge, and skills. This sounds innocent, but the reality is that he and his colleagues at DESE are restructuring the education component of the School-to-Work system according to the needs and dictates of business and labor. Workforce demands are now the criteria for our education policies, which have little or nothing to do with high academic standards. For example, a C+ is now considered a high grade in Mr. Bartman's new education system.

In truth, the "rigorous" new performance standards and assessments being developed for Missouri's schools include "politically correct" attitudes and values that will fit into the global marketplace. The CIM, which Bartman discussed but failed to mention by name, will eventually replace the diploma, or be required in addition to the diploma. It will soon be required of all public high school graduates, and will supposedly prove academic knowledge and skills to future employers.

At the end of his speech, Bartman invited conference attendees to divide into small groups to share their thoughts about his proposals. Numerous small group meetings followed for the purpose of obtaining consensus or agreement on the issues that had been introduced. The conclusion of these meetings was preconceived; trained group leaders used a manipulative process called the "Delphi Technique" (See Education Reporter, Nov. 1998) to convince participants that they actually had a say in what was decided. Questions were asked of the groups: "Are the current 22 Carnegie units sufficient for graduation? What can we do to motivate students? Should a student be promoted to the next grade whether or not he or she has the knowledge or skills?" The conclusions were actually the conclusions Mr. Bartman and his colleagues' wanted. For example, in this writer's group it was decided that 22 Carnegie units were not sufficient for graduation. In fact, Carnegie units as a measuring stick were discredited by the group.

Overall, Bartman did an excellent job at his conference of presenting the "brave new system" with a backdoor approach using redefined words. One of his arguments was that DESE must be able to prove to parents, taxpayers, and business people that kids can meet basic skill standards for the U.S. workforce. He used this argument to justify Missouri's need for a Skills Certificate, although again those two words were not used. He said we need standards, assessments, certificates, rewards, consequences (punishments), and scholarships that would encourage improved performance. This back door approach does not adequately describe what is planned for the future.

Steve Boody explains: "What parents have asked for in terms of reform is being twisted and redefined to justify the goals of the state. We need to understand the total system that Bartman, et al. are creating, because it's hard to find fault with its innocent-sounding components. For example, how can one be against 'high' standards? But what are those standards and whose are they? The answer is they are the business world's and the labor force's standards, and the product of Mr. Bartman's system will be a 'politically correct' individual, trained for the workforce of the global village."

Joan Langenberg is an education researcher and writer in Missouri.

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