A Tale of Two Meetings: How outdated thinking limits Missouri’s educational future

Jun 20, 2018

Last Thursday, two very different meetings were held to focus on the future of Missouri’s educational landscape.

In Kansas City, state business and education leaders gathered for The Age of Agility a touring national seminar focused on the future of education and industry in a world that is being rapidly redefined by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The call for a reimagined education system was similar to a recent report published by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and two recent studies on the future of the state’s workforce.

At the same time, in Jefferson City, the state Board of Education met for the first time in six months to complain about charter schools and learn about a new statewide accountability plan that even further waters down our ability to see how schools are doing at their core mission- educating our children.

Business and industry leaders call for educational agility and ingenuity for EVERY student 

In Kansas City, Age of Agility participants learned that 47 percent of all U.S. jobs are at risk of elimination in the next 10-20 years as a result of automation. Even more frightening, 83 percent of jobs paying less than $20 an hour are threatened, meaning that the poorest educated among us have the most to fear.

Business leaders from major companies like Black & Veatch, U.S. Engineering, Lemen Touch and Walmart, talked about how they were seeing the employment landscape drastically change and how they had to be especially nimble and agile with their businesses if they hoped to succeed in the future.

These leaders talked about the importance of not relying on outdated models and being willing to make transformational changes to the core structure of their business in order to be agile enough to survive and thrive in a constantly changing market.

Education leaders from affluent Missouri districts agreed, highlighting innovative programs they had developed within their districts to give students more personalized learning, access to job shadowing and real-world career experiences, and programs designed to transform students into the teachers of tomorrow.

While the seminar sadly limited the discussion to innovation in the existing district school system and ignored how disruptive forces like charter schools, virtual education and expanded school choice could revolutionize America’s education system,  the Age of Agility report that spurred the nationwide tour takes a more realistic approach to what is required to create the agile educational landscape needed for the future.

“An evolving school of thought promotes scrapping our existing education systems and starting over,” reads the executive summary of the report. “The basic argument here is that the current system is so rife with perverse incentives, entrenched special interests, and ideological polarization that even the incremental changes achieved to date have occurred only after protracted political battles. In many other sectors of our high-tech society, change is often transformative and quick. There is a deeply embedded resistance to agility in the current education system, which demonstrates the need for an overhaul and simultaneously makes it difficult to do so.”

Revitalized Board of Education offers a stale vision for Missouri’s future

While Kansas City movers and shakers were being inspired to revolutionize the education system to meet the challenges of tomorrow, 150 miles away in Jefferson City the state Board of Education was playing catch-up after being sidelined for six months without enough members to reach a quorum.

The major order of business was renewing the charters of five charter schools, a move that would have inspired some faith in the board’s forward thinking if the renewal discussion had not dissolved into an old debate over how charter schools should be compared to district schools.

Several board members argued for charters to be compared to the top school in a district, as opposed to the district as a whole, despite the fact the in the only two cities where charter schools are allowed the top district schools can select their students while charters, by law, accept any student who applies. The board also did not address the issue that many middle and high school charter schools are forced to deal with students coming into their schools multiple years behind as a result of their education in traditional district schools.

The board also heard updates on the state’s proposed new school accountability measure, MSIP 6, which staff told the board was being designed to limit the impact of students’ test scores and increase the importance of school culture and soft skills when determining accreditation for schools.

This is horrible news for students forced to attend poorly performing schools based on their zip code because it would likely open up new avenues for districts to achieve accreditation without adequately addressing the quality of education being provided.  This frightening manipulation of the system was recently proven by the reaccreditation of both the Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts where increases in attendance and graduation superseded chronically low student performance in reading and math.

In short, the first Board of Education meeting in six months underlined the state’s education leaders’ inability to escape from the “perverse incentives, entrenched special interests, and ideological polarization” which will ultimately limit the transformative changes being called for by state business and industry leaders.