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McCaskill Holds Springfield Roundtable on Education, Asks for Feedback On Feds' Role

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US Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is hop-scotching across the state this week, holding listening sessions with teachers, students, parents and school administrators. She says she’s gearing up for a “debate” this summer in Washington about federal funding for education. On Tuesday, she stopped in Springfield to hear the concerns and ideas of locals. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore was there and has this report.

[Sound: People milling about, applause]

At the Kraft Administrative Building on St. Louis Street, the Senator entered to applause and took her seat at the center of a panel of 13 people, all of whom had come with something to say about education. There to meet her were a couple of administrators, including Springfield Public School superintendent Norm Ridder, several teachers and parents, a Kickapoo High School student, as well as a representative from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Senator began by saying she had come to listen.

Topic number one: the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, which is a federally mandated program that uses standardized tests to evaluate how a school is doing. The program has been criticized as being an unfunded mandate, and for being a punitive and unrealistic plan.

McCaskill heard from Kickapoo senior Chase Snider about how, from his perspective, his teachers were so worried about “teaching to the test” that they missed out on other opportunities.

Much of the discussion focused on investing in early childhood education. Past president of the School Board, Gerry Lee, reminded McCaskill that when early childhood education is given great attention and funding, the returns on that investment are impressive.

Abby Lowe, who teaches Kindergarten at David Harrison Elementary, agreed, and said several families are “falling in the crack” when it comes to needing early childhood help; they’re considered low income, but not low enough to qualify for existing programs for Pre-Kindergarten learning.

The roundtable also discussed teacher evaluations.

Ridder said right now, the school district evaluates its teachers based on a variety of sources, including students, parents, and other teachers.

Lowe said she was evaluated last year for the first time by parents.

But two parents on the roundtable said they had never been asked to provide feedback on a specific teacher.

McCaskill ended the roundtable by asking constituents to contact her about what they would like to see the federal government do—or not do—when it comes to education.

She said Missourians can do that by contacting her office through www.Senate.govand asking for her education specialist, Corey Dukes, or by visiting her Springfield office at 324 Park Central West.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.