An effort to rewrite Missouri's educational standards got off to a tense and sometimes confrontational start Monday as parents and educators opposed to the Common Core guidelines clashed with those reluctant to ditch them.
Under a new Missouri law, eight task forces each comprised of more than a dozen appointees are supposed to recommend new learning benchmarks for public school students to replace the national Common Core guidelines by the 2016-2017 school year.
But not all of the appointees had been named in time for Monday's initial meetings. Those who were present first argued about whether to actually meet, then about whether officials from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education should be present, who should take notes and whether the public should be allowed to watch their work.
After they resolved those issues, task force members sparred over the merits of the Common Core standards, which were developed by a national organization of state school officers and the National Governors Association. They are used to gauge students' progress from grade-to-grade and create consistency among states. But opponents say they were adopted without enough local input.
Missouri is among 45 states to have adopted the Common Core standards but is one of several now backing away from them. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina also have taken steps to rewrite their standards, North Carolina is reviewing its guidelines and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has suspended his state's testing contracts in an attempt to halt Common Core standards.
Missouri's attempt to forge new standards got off to such a shaky start Monday that some wondered whether it ultimately could succeed.
"If they can't come to a consensus, what do you do at that point?" said Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We're not really sure."
There was a clear divide among task force members between Common Core opponents appointed by Republican legislative leaders and supporters of the standards appointed by public education officials.
Before the official meetings began, about two dozen appointees of Republican legislative leaders met in the House chamber for a strategy session. Among those addressing the group was Mary Byrne, co-founder of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, who asserted that the standards violate state law.
In some meetings, members at times spoke over each other. While some pushed to fully abandon Common Core, others sought more of a revision of the standards.
"I get told every day by parents, 'We're sitting at the table for hours with tears in our eyes,'" trying to do homework under the Common Core standards, said Brad Noel of Jackson, a parent representative appointed by House Speaker Tim Jones to the elementary math task force. "A lot of it is, in my opinion, not appropriate."
But "how do we know Common Core is not going to work? We're barely into it," said Ann McCoy, coordinator of the mathematics education program at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg appointed by the higher education commissioner. "It's frustrating to me as an educator to change and change and change."
James Shuls, a Jones appointee who is an associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, argued that the state doesn't need detailed standards and should instead adopt minimal requirements, leaving the rest to local districts.
The task forces are to make recommendations by October 2015 to the State Board of Education, which then must gather additional public comment.