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Guest Reporter: Missouri Pilots Early Childhood Assessment Program This Fall

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by Mary Jo Hackett

Missouri is not losing ground in the nation’s race to educate its’ children. Instead, we are stagnant. We are treading water. We are mediocre. Rather than wallow in our failures, though, the Missouri State Board of Education met to discuss progress of a pilot program to pull us up by our boot straps.

On Monday, August 20, the Missouri State Board of Education met with Kathy Thornburg, who leads the Office of Early and Extended Learning within the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Thornburg has over 40 years of experience in early childhood education at the state and national levels.

Thornburg presented a pilot program for educating Missouri’s children aged 2 ½ to 5 ½ years; both Head Start other early childhood programs would be involved in this program. The pilot locations for this program are in Kansas City, St Joseph and Columbia.

Currently 167,825 children are in the age range for the program; only 14.2 percent of these children are involved in the pilot. Of those children involved, 30 percent are living in poverty, yet there is no difference in achievement based on gender, age, special needs or poverty in their progress. Instead, the research is showing that preschool is the time to begin working with educating our children.

This is a pre-kindergarten program that would be considered for the state. The major components of the program would include:

  • It would be voluntary.
  • It would be available in all public school systems.
  • It would have a sliding-fee schedule.
  • It would have community involvement.
  • It would require standardized assessments.
  • It would have oversight by the local or regional systems.

According to Thornburg, children of all socioeconomic classes would be mixed together in this program. Thornburg went on to say that Missouri is not keeping pace with most states.

Peter Herschend, the president of the Missouri State Board of Education, said “if the program becomes available, it must be voluntary and universal.”

What is really wild about the Missouri State Board of Education is that there is no community involvement.  The first day I was the only outsider in attendance.  Only staff members were there.  The second day I was joined by a woman from St. Louis along with vendors.

Editor’s Note: Last year, officials with the Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education applied for but did not win a federal Race to the Top Grant Early Learning Challenge grant. Nevertheless, they are proceeding with their early learning assessment pilot program. 


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


6 thoughts on “Guest Reporter: Missouri Pilots Early Childhood Assessment Program This Fall

  1. You write:

    “Editor’s Note: Last year, officials with the Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education applied for but did not win a federal Race to the Top Grant Early Learning Challenge grant. Nevertheless, they are proceeding with their early learning assessment pilot program.”

    Your note is important but there are two points you didn’t mention.

    1. The RTTT Early Learning Challenge grant would have provided $60,000,000 to the state.
    2. The projected cost over four years? $1.6 Billion.

    $60 Million is a DROP IN THE BUCKET for the projected costs between the Early Childhood Initiative, DESE, Dept of Mental Health and Dept of Social Services, all who are now to receive no funding for this $1.6 Billion plan. As this state cannot even meet its formula funding, DESE is $900,000 in the red, and Common Core is set to cost $350,000,000 (for which there is no funding), how can Missourians even begin to celebrate even more debt? Just how can a state government and agencies operate like this?

    This reminds me of Chris Nicastro’s proclamation that we were going to implement RTTT for K-12 even if we didn’t get the funding. And we are implementing this even though there is no funding. We have no money and our State Board, Nixon and DESE turns all control over to a centralized agency. Isn’t taking orders from Washington DC wonderful….and expensive? How much money is the Pilot Program going to cost? Where is the money coming from?


    Posted by stlgretchen | September 9, 2012, 7:59 pm
  2. Questions about funding are especially important in today’s economic environment. I just passed your concerns along to DESE and asked them to respond. Will keep you posted.

    Posted by jwmartinez | September 9, 2012, 10:03 pm
    • Thanks very much. The lack of funding and going ahead with programs concerns me greatly. I wonder why we are paying bureaucrats to make plans for programs that cannot be implemented.

      Posted by stlgretchen | September 9, 2012, 10:36 pm
      • Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, responded promptly to your concerns this morning:


        Whoever is providing you these numbers is coming up with some incredibly inflated and false costs as well as some bad information.

        The Early Learning assessment pilot is being fully funded through two private grants, and it will cost very little to complete for the betterment of Missouri children. The Kellogg Foundation just approved MO for a $20,000 grant, and we are receiving a $13,000 grant from the Francis Family Foundation in KC. The private grant funding will cover the costs of the assessments to be used in the pilot as well as other expenses.

        The Department does not run a deficit. The agency has a balanced budget.

        The legislature’s funding of the state foundation formula—which is the money given to the schools from the state—fell short this year and is projected to fall short again next fiscal year. The Department has followed the law in distributing the money available to school districts in accordance with the formula.

        The assessment costs for the Missouri Core Academic Standards—which include the common core—have not yet been determined. The Department’s current budget for assessment will be used to address these costs.

        As for “taking orders from Washington,” we’re pleased to report that Missouri received its waiver from NCLB earlier this summer. All the money which was previously spent according to federal mandates has now been redirected to meet local and state needs.



        Posted by jwmartinez | September 10, 2012, 4:44 pm
  3. I guess DESE just forgot what it told USDoE in its own grant application for the second round of RTTT funding. That’s where the $1.6 billion came from. Their first year implementation cost estimate was $406 million. Somehow we are supposed to believe they are funding a pilot program in 64 districts that started this month on just $33k from grants? I guess DESE also didn’t have to make any promises like other states did in order to get the NCLB waiver, promises like adopting national college and career ready standards or bringing student test scores into teacher accountability evaluations. Washington absolutely has us on a tether and we are free to go only as far as their tether will let us.

    Posted by Anngie | September 10, 2012, 6:17 pm
    • To follow up on Anngie’s reply:

      Here is the budget spreadsheet from DESE showing the cost over four years:

      Use the search word “mo” in the Pioneer Institute Document projecting the Common Core cost:

      Multi-Year Technology Cost: $150,000,000
      Professional Development Cost: $146,000,000
      Textbooks and Instructional Material: $52,000,000

      In her first RTTT proposal, Chris Nicastro estimated the cost of these mandates would be $389,000,000. We received no funding, and yet, we are instituting RTTT like mandates in Missouri. We did not receive the seed money for the Pre-K RTTT programming either but seem to be implementing the first stages of a $1.6 Billion program. This figure comes from DESE. The $389 Million figure in the original RTTT proposal has been pulled from the Internet, but I am certain DESE can produce a copy for interested parties.

      This explains why the waivers are still under federal control, and yes, we still are being pulled by DC:


      “…the administration’s negotiated waivers effectively tie the hands of the next duly elected governor by attaching federal strings that seek to micromanage the shape of teacher evaluation, school improvement efforts, and much else. The only way a new governor can regain his or her freedom of action is by abandoning the waiver. Therefore, a bold new governor looking to recover his or her freedom will be required to push forward knowing the federal government will rescind their waiver, infuriating the state’s educators, and ensuring that the vast majority of schools will newly be labeled failing. This seems to me a lot more like blackmail than responsible federal governance.”

      To try and state that these waivers give control to the state is just not accurate. State actions still need to be approved by the federal government to receive funding and relief from NCLB. It’s just trading one set of mandates for another.

      If DESE is running a balanced budget and met all its funding, then why are there articles such as this? Where and how will the shortfall from no more federal funding be met?


      Basic funding is a problem and will remain so for many years. If this is so, and this is stated in the last link, then why are we signing on to programs with little seed money ($33,000 in grants) for 64 school districts? You can read DESE’s own budget summary to see how much money is need for these Pre-K RTTT mandates.

      I’m wondering about Ms. Thornburg’s involvement in this project with DESE as Ms. Thornburg and the Legislature did not see eye to eye:

      “What is clear is that through the actions of Cunningham and other legislators, neither the Department of Education nor Thornburg will have the ability to use state funds to enact a “Quality Rating System,” or QRS, to monitor the effectiveness of preschools.

      The system ranks preschools on various factors for quality and provides resources and incentives for lower-ranking facilities to improve.

      Cunningham and other legislators view the rating system — at least as administered by Thornburg — as a government intrusion on schools and private businesses.

      Under the latest plan, using state funds for QRS would be banned in separate proposed budget measures affecting the Department of Education, the Office of Administration and the University of Missouri, where Thornburg heads the Center for Family Policy and Research.”


      Maybe DESE can shed light for those not well versed in educational lingo on who exactly is going to administer this pilot assessment, how much the total cost will be and where future funding is anticipated. If QRS is not going to be used, will the federal rating system be used? Is that part of the Pre-K RTTT mandates?

      Posted by stlgretchen | September 10, 2012, 8:41 pm

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