JEFFERSON CITY — Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro says Missouri public school students aren't up to speed with their national peers.
Nicastro spoke at a meeting for the Missouri Public Education Vision Project on Monday in Jefferson City, where representatives from 80 school districts gathered to discuss the future of the state's schools. Nicastro's presentation highlighted areas of improvement in the education system.
"We have pockets of success, and individual schools and individual districts all over the state have some programs that they're justifiably proud of," Nicastro said. "We need to step back from that, and we need to look at the entire state. We need to look at how we compare not just to ourselves and not just to each other but also nationally and internationally."
On a national scale, Nicastro said Missouri falls "in the middle of the pack," consistently earning C's and D's on nationwide assessments. Nicastro said these scores could be improved with greater attention to early childhood education and better preparing high school students for college.
According to Nicastro, four out of five Missouri students never attain a college degree, an "alarming" figure given the competitive nature of the current job market. Nicastro urged education leaders to "start earlier" and "shoot higher" to best ready students for success.
"We've been a little complacent," Nicastro said. "We've allowed ourselves to get a little satisfied with our progress, and we need to look closely at those people who are outpacing us. If we don't take charge of changing our system, others will."
Missouri School Boards' Association director Carter Ward said several Missouri schools have generated successful teaching methods, and education administrators should focus on replicating this progress in schools statewide. Ward seconded Nicastro's call for change.
"We can't be casual, or just hope that maybe someday these practices that lead to success will be transfered to other schools," Ward said. "We have to be very proactive. ... We can't just wait for this to happen."