Student working at computer
Michael Q. McShane

Earlier this month the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a draft of its plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. This document outlines several key areas of state policy, particularly how the state will spend the federal dollars it receives and how it will hold schools that receive those dollars accountable.

I haven’t had a chance to fully dig into the document, but at the 30,000-foot level it seems reasonable to me. The state doesn’t appear to be doing anything overly ambitious (it is only slated to intervene in the law’s minimum 5 percent of lowest-performing schools, it doesn’t appear to be using any new or fancy non–test score indicators to try to hold schools accountable) which ultimately might be the most prudent path forward. It looks like the state is going to take a hard look at the lowest-performing schools and try and leave the rest alone. Seems wise.

One area where there is an opportunity, and where I wish the plan was a bit more direct, is under Title IV. Eagle-eyed readers of this blog would remember that I wrote about flexibility that the state has under this provision in the law to provide some innovative direct services to underserved students.

On page 50 of the plan (emphasis mine):

“To overcome the lack of course availability, MO-DESE intends to improve access to advanced coursework for all students, but particularly for minorities and economically disadvantaged students and for those whose rural or small school settings reduce their access. MO-DESE may also subsidize fees for AP and IB courses. Furthermore, where advanced coursework, including advanced mathematics and science are locally unavailable, MO-DESE will subsidize course fees for the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program.”

DESE’s plan is laudable, and we’re singing from the same hymnbook when it comes to recognizing that far too many students in the state lack access to higher-level coursework, but I’d like to see more than one sentence in a 94-page document laying out how to solve the problem.  What students would be eligible? Would this be a formal “course access” program or just paying for courses ad hoc if and when funds are available? The state can spend up to 3%; will they spend that whole amount? Some fraction?

This document appears to be a step in the right direction. With some clarification, the state can take a bold step to fix the persistent problem of course availability in underserved areas.

About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.