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Education leaders discuss future of schools

Friday, November 6, 2009 | 11:43 a.m. CST

WARRENSBURG — The future of education from preschool to beyond graduate school united four state senators and top state educators for a hearing at the University of Central Missouri.

About 30 percent of students entering college need remedial education, prompting a question from a west St. Louis County Republican, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield.

"What if the students who came to your college and had to take remedial courses that tuition for those remedial courses was required to be paid by the school district that did not prepare them?" Cunningham asked Thursday.

The vice provost and dean of enrollment management for the Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla, Jay W. Goff, testified that the university had not considered that policy idea for public schools.

"I've seen few punitive programs that tend to be extremely effective," Goff said. "The thing I worry about right now (is that) they really are struggling with the budgets they have. ... It would penalize the students that were in the district simply to help the students who've already graduated and gone on to college."

The Missouri Educated Citizenry 2020 Committee members heard testimony from educators who agreed generally on broad ideas about education in 10 years. Their ideas included students being adept technologically, savvy internationally and willing to embrace changes that will come fast. University of Central Missouri President Aaron Podolefsky testified that the state needs to put more money into education to reach such goals.

Missouri ranks 45th nationally in per capita state appropriations for higher education, he said, and spends $4.91 in support per $1,000 in personal income. The amount compares poorly to the $7.96 average spent by surrounding states, Podolefsky said.

"If I could change one thing about education in our state, I would ask that the opinion leaders (who) recognize the value of higher education provide financial support for our institutions at a level that is at least average in relation to other states in the nation, and that would be a good 10-year goal," he said.

Missouri Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein called the state's examination of education's future "pace-setting not just for the state, but for the country." But making a difference requires more than talk, he said.

"I've heard the glittering generalities; I've heard the genuine good faith efforts — we're going to change, we're going to be different in two or three decades — and we slip back to the same," Stein said.

The state needs a blueprint for education and measurements that government and schools can follow, he said.

The general counsel for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Mark Van Zandt, said a voluntary, public preschool system for 3- and 4-year-olds ranks among top education needs.

"This one step would be a transformational policy that would pay long-term benefits educationally, economically and socially," he said.

Missouri's former homeland security director, Mark James, now vice chancellor for administrative services at the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, advocated asking business leaders to help set the state's education agenda.

"We need to engage the employers of 2020 and beyond to help identify the knowledge, skills and abilities they will need in their workforce," he testified.

James also suggested universal college class standards, so requirements for a math 101 class, for example, are the same statewide. The requirement would make transferring credits easier.

Representing the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, Deb Fisher testified that Missouri should not continue to diminish the value of the arts in public education.

The ability to collaborate is something education and business leaders say they value, and students who participate in bands and choirs learn teamwork, Fisher said. The arts also teach problem solving and get students to employ creativity and innovation, she said.

"Thinking outside the box, that's what the arts encourage," Fisher said, and advocated reinstating the arts requirement at the middle school level.

After the hearing, Stein called the meeting a good beginning.

"We've started a process that will begin to get us beneath those glittering generalities," he said, by providing "an open process inviting us to submit to this committee specific suggestions for how to get legislation."

The committee chairman, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the committee received valuable testimony.

"It's really important to get what's on people's minds — the real stakeholders in education. That's what we did today," he said.

The committee meets next at 1 p.m. Monday at Confluence Preparatory Academy in St. Louis.

The committee will use information from the Warrensburg and St. Louis hearings to plan legislation designed to improve education, Pearce said.

"What we're going to be doing is having targets every two or three years all the way from now to the year 2020 to actually get there," Pearce said. "Specifically, we don't have one piece of legislation right now, but we will by the time this committee is done."


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