Heritage Foundation ranks Missouri schools dead last in academic transparency, Top-10 in all other categories

Missouri schools’ “education freedom” rating sits in the Top 10 in several categories, but one aspect is holding back the Show-Me State’s overall rank.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s newly released Education Freedom Report Cards, Missouri comes in at No. 4 for school choice, No. 7 for regulatory freedom and No. 8 for spending – yet its overall rank is No. 17.

The outlier: a No. 51 ranking for transparency.

“Missouri lawmakers have not adopted proposals to increase academic transparency or that reject the prejudice caused by the application of critical race theory in schools,” the report said.

Unfortunately for the state’s education freedom ranking, Missouri has been at the center of education transparency debates several times as of late. In May of last year, Rockwood School District in St. Louis was hit with nationwide criticism after a school administrator lobbied for teachers to hide race-based curricula from parents. 

After Canvas, a tool used for online schooling, allowed parents to see what their kids were being taught for the first time, parents filed complaints that teachers were “pushing an agenda” and “making white kids feel bad about their privilege.” 

After acknowledging parents’ skepticism in an email to Rockwood middle- and high-school English Language Arts teachers, Literacy Speech Coordinator Natalie Fallert suggested teachers create two sets of curricula – a false one that parents would see, and a different one that would actually be taught to the kids.

“This doesn’t mean throw out the lesson and find a new one. Just pull the resource off Canvas so parents cannot see it,” Fallert wrote to the teachers. “Keep teaching! Just don’t make everything visible on Canvas.”

Another hit on Missouri schools’ transparency rank that received national attention came after Springfield Public Schools (SPS) slapped a state lawmaker with a $194,000 bill for requesting curriculum documents involving concepts of critical race theory (CRT).  

After an SPS teacher showed state Rep. Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, a “teaching guide” handed out by the school district, Fishel filed a public records request to the district last September seeking all documents mentioning any of 24 terms often associated with CRT. The terms included white privilege, white fragility and systemic racism, among others. 

“Integrity and transparency are the two issues I deal with,” Fishel told The Heartlander at the time of the dispute. “Don’t tell me you’re not teaching CRT and then your staff brings me information showing that you are. This is a public school.”

The school district’s response – a nearly $200,000 bill and a seven-year timeline to complete the request – was a direct contributing factor to Missouri schools’ poor transparency rating, Fishel says.

“I would say [the dispute with SPS] absolutely body slammed Missouri’s transparency rating,” Fishel told The Heartlander Friday. “When you get a $190,000 upfront bill to get the information you requested, isn’t that a stick in the eye?”

The transparency concerns brought forth by Fishel were reiterated by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt when he filed a similar Sunshine Request seeking all curriculum materials relating to CRT and “antiracism.” 

In response, SPS stayed the course and charged Schmitt’s office an initial deposit of $37,000 for his request, leading him to respond with a lawsuit alleging several Sunshine Law violations.

“Parents have every right to know exactly what is being taught to their children, especially when public school systems are implementing components of critical race theory and so-called ‘antiracism’ teachings in teacher trainings,” Schmitt said in a press release at the time. 

School districts blocking Missouri parents from getting a clear lens into what their children are being taught has caused several state legislators to propose legislation to create more transparency from the districts, but none has crossed the finish line yet. 

“One thing we’re trying to do is create transparency,” state Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, said about his 2022 Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation. “Obviously transparency is a key component because I think due to COVID-19 and online learning, that has caused people to be able to see what’s being taught in the schools.”

The Heritage Foundation ranked Florida the No. 1 state for education freedom, giving it Top 3 finishes in four out of five categories, along with a No. 7 ranking for spending. New York and Washington, D.C. came in at Nos. 50 and 51, respectively, “doing little to provide transparency, accountability, and choice to families,” the report said. 

If the transparency assessment had stayed on track with the rest of the state’s rankings, Missouri would be “closer to the very top,” Fishel said. The other ratings averaged together would have landed the Show-Me State at either No. 6 or No. 7 overall.

To see the full list of Education Freedom Report Cards, visit the website here.

“Our goal is that this annual ranking of states will not only inform parents and policymakers of what their states do well and where they need improvement, but that it will spur necessary and lasting reform,” the Heritage Foundation said.

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