Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Take on Amendment 3 in Missouri

Every once in a while, the state legislature does something that is bad for education. Believe me, in Missouri we educators have had no shortage of handcuffs put on us as we try to do our job. Districts struggle with funding rules, programs are invented and pushed onto schools and, of course, there is always the testing element. Nothing so far has been as damaging as Amendment 3 could be. It is so damaging, in fact, that the legislature never even proposed it. Nope! Some wealthy billionaire who thinks he knows best has paid to have this amendment put on the ballot in November. Rarely have I been moved to write a letter to the editor. I probably should more, but I don't. Until now. This is a letter to the editor that I sent in to be published. I'm not sure if it has made its way into any papers but it sums up my thoughts about the matter.

To the Editor,

I have had the good fortune of teaching in the Webster Groves School District for the last 22 years. I love every day that I walk into school and try to make a difference in my students’ lives. Webster Groves is blessed with an excellent school system that has been supported by the community time and time again. Webster residents are proud of their schools and with good reason. We are at the forefront of innovative teaching and learning, foster a climate of caring and collaboration, and graduate some of the best-prepared student in the nation.

Webster residents should vote NO on Amendment 3 this fall. The Amendment may have its good intentions but it goes about things in exactly the wrong way. The amendment takes local control away from school districts. I have worked closely with our central office administration and Board of Education over the past 15 years and I know that they are knowledgeable and caring advocates for our students. Our locally-elected Board members know our community and our students and those are the people we want making educational decision for our district, not politicians in Jefferson City. The more local the control of a school district, the better off that school district remains.

Another reason to vote NO on Amendment 3 is the “testing on steroids” provision. Webster residents know that students already experience a degree of standardized testing fatigue but the amendment will require many, many more “one-size-fits-all” standardized tests over the course of a student’s career. Teachers will become test proctors. Many more days of the school year will be dedicated to standardized testing instead of learning. We know that student attendance days should be spent learning, creating, problem-solving and thinking. Only a couple of those days should be spent on mandatory standardized testing.

The amendment requires each local district to spend its own resources developing standardized tests that must be approved by a central governing agency in order to be implemented. The money that each district must spend developing those tests must come from each district’s general budget. Because of the amendment, those precious few dollars that every district relies on to educate children will shrink in order to fulfill a mandate from Jefferson City. What happens if a district rightfully decides that these requirements are not in the best interest of children and decides not to implement them? Not only will the district lose its state education money but the state will also take the district’s local education money as well. Effectively, the district will be out of business.

Can improvements be made to our education system? Of course the education system can be improved just as the health care system, legal system, manufacturing industry and service industry can be improved. Are teachers, administrators and board members working on improving the education system every day? Yes we are. Amendment 3 may be well-intentioned, but it is the wrong way to go.

We teachers, administrators and board members are working every day with all of our energy to provide every child with a first-rate education that not only prepares them for the next step in their educational careers, but also for their lives. We are innovating in classrooms, teaching kids how to think and create and problem-solve. We are accessing and using technology to prepare kids for the careers of the future, not the jobs of the past. We are focused on the most important aspect of school - the kids. Amendment 3 hinders each school district’s ability to provide the best education for the children it serves. It is my most sincere hope that everyone votes NO on Amendment 3 this November.

Don Eckert

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