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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Jefferson City legislators' continuing quest to improve education

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

The quest to improve education is hardly new, and the proposed paths are many, but continued exploration is needed to focus on workable, worthwhile goals.

The conversation was continued last week in the state Senate Education Committee with a discussion that raises important questions. They include: who should be evaluated; what guidelines should be used; and who or what group should create the guidelines and conduct the evaluations?

With regard to who, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, focuses on teachers with his bill to create uniform guidelines to evaluate educators and their job performance.

He explained today’s graduates change careers seven to 10 times and said: "It's a fundamentally different way of educating people — what we're talking about is, how do you educate people to educate themselves?"

His answer and his legislation are designed to provide greater accountability by developing "guidelines for professional improvement plans for teachers and principals."

Fellow Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, believes students must be the focal point.

Any state legislation, she said, should be "looking at what a student knows and what they can do — what the outcomes are."

Lager said his bill doesn't propose specific guidelines "because I want to leave as much of that as possible to the (local) school district."

We question whether the district focus conflicts with Lager’s efforts to develop uniform statewide guidelines for Missouri’s 522 local public school districts.

Formal education takes place largely at the classroom level, with interaction between a teacher and students.

But education and evaluation are connected; teachers must earn credentials to be employed and students must achieve passing grades to advance.

What is the proper extent of evaluation?

Should it be confined to the district level, the state level or the federal level, manifested in No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top?

Lawmakers and educators have debated, and continue to debate, these questions.

Overall, we favor the concept of local control of local schools. We believe parents and patrons are best equipped to guide elected school board members.

And because education has two components — teaching and learning — we believe any evaluation of education must involve both teachers and students.

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