School bus on road in winter
Susan Pendergrass

The end of the year is the time for top-ten lists, top-story lists, and best-moments-of-the-year lists, to name a few. So it’s only appropriate that the Show-Me Institute have our own list of what’s out and what’s in for Missouri public education. Here are our top five:

  1. What’s out: Annual Performance Report (APR) scores
    What’s in: APR colored bar graphs with words
    It used to be that each school and district received a number between 0 and 100 that indicated what percentage of their possible APR points they received.  Now the APR reports have a couple dozen colored bar graphs with words like “Floor” and “On Track.”  “Floor” means below average and “On Track” means average. Why not just use the words that make sense? Supposedly, the change was intended to make things easier to understand. I beg to differ.
  2. What’s out: Top Ten by 2020
    What’s in: Bottom half by 2020
    Once upon a time (2009), the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) set a goal for themselves. By 2020 Missouri would be a top ten state on the Nation’s Report Card, a test given by the U.S. Department of Education to students in all states every two years. While the goal was certainly admirable, the execution got tripped up somewhere along the way. The 2019 scores were released in October and Missouri 4th-graders were 34th in both reading and math. Our 8th-graders fared somewhat better—23rd in reading and 26th in math—but nowhere near the top ten.
  3. What’s out: Kansas City charter school students receiving state funding based on the legislatively approved formula
    What’s in: Kansas City charter school students, no matter how many there are, sharing a finite and too-small pot of money
    Although the state has a formula that determines how much money each charter school student should receive (spoiler alert – it’s less than traditional public school students), the money is deducted from the public school district’s state funding. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Public School district doesn’t receive enough state funding to cover the amount calculated for the charter school students. So going forward, as the charter school population grows, the amount for each student will get smaller.
  4. What’s out: Only knowing how much each school district is spending
    What’s in: Also knowing how they distribute those funds to their schools
    For the first time (and for the first time that it was legally required) DESE released school-level spending data. This means that we can now compare, for example, elementary schools in the same district in terms of both spending and performance. We can also compare how much is spent on the central office in each district.  These data are new, but analysts and policy wonks are already digging in, and I expect to see some interesting findings.
  5. What‘s out: Students forced to go only to the school assigned to them based on their address
    What’s in: Giving every parent, regardless of background, a variety of high-quality options for each of their children.
    Ha, ha, ha – just kidding. The Show Me state remains firmly planted in the Twentieth Century on this one.  Some states, like Florida, are embracing multiple forms of school choice for families. They acknowledge the desire that every parent has to find a good fit for each child. And while Florida didn’t set a “top ten by 2020” goal, they got there anyway. Their 4th-graders have gone from the bottom 10 to 6th in reading and 4th in math. The one choice that public school districts must, by law, now offer parents—for their student to take courses online at no cost to them – is being strongly resisted by the powers that be. We’re digging in our heels on a status quo that we know isn’t working.

So, here we are, just like so many other Decembers, saying “maybe things will get better next year.” I hope so. Happy Holidays!



About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.