Susan Pendergrass

The past spring, much of Missouri turned into an education desert of homework packets, learning “opportunities,” and optional enrichment suggestions for children. Soon, very soon, it will be time to turn the education spigot back on. Who will lead us out of this desert? This is going to be a challenge for many of Missouri’s small, rural districts and as much as everyone loves local control, these districts are going to need real leadership from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Unfortunately, that leadership is conspicuously missing. The DESE website has a link to the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan that makes no mention of education. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that DESE and the Department of Health and Social Services hosted an hour-long webinar on reopening that you could watch. The companion pdf has one slide on reopening that mostly focuses on attendance and funding.

What should DESE be doing? Maybe follow the lead of Nebraska. The Launch Nebraska project, has very specific guidance on school governance, operations, and technology targeted to both district leaders or school leaders. Maybe pick up some pointers from the Alaska Smart Start 2020 restart and reentry guidance that has separate suggestions for low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk districts. Maybe set up a website like Iowa’s Return-to-Learn Support page with deliverables and timelines. Maybe read through Florida’s 143-page pdf titled Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES Act regarding closing achievement gaps and creating safe spaces for learning.

Unprecedented challenges in education require more than a webinar video and a slide in a PowerPoint. Having looked at the websites of over 400 Missouri school districts, I can attest that, based on what they were able to do last spring, districts are going to need real guidance and leadership. What type of staffing guidance should they develop? How will they deal with parents who don’t like their plan? How should they deal with teachers who don’t like their plan? How, specifically, should they address the social and emotional needs of students? What should they implement immediately to address learning loss?

There is no reason to make 520 school districts create 520 reopening plans. If the state education agency in Missouri is little more than a clearinghouse of links and information from other sources, then it may be time to rethink its structure and its existence.


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.