The Missouri state test scores are in and have been released to the public. Once again, we’re seeing assessment scores that are average at best and woefully inadequate at worst. Results show that 37 percent of Missouri students are not proficient in language arts and 51 percent of students are not proficient in math.

The questions we must ask: Why are so many Missouri students failing to score at grade level? Why are so many kids falling behind?

To be clear, quite a few schools in our state do a good job educating our students. Overall, though, our education standards are not high enough. We cannot continue to teach our 21st century, information age students in the same way we taught students over the past century. Every day, our students are bombarded with various forms of media and technology. We must better prepare our teachers to use technology as an integral part of the learning process. To ignore the importance and ubiquity of technology is to miss a huge opportunity to reach students where they are.

Additionally, it is time to stop making excuses for schools that do not provide a high-quality education for Missouri students. We have been talking about holding our schools accountable for years now, and we have the Missouri School Improvement Program in place as a means to evaluate them. But when it comes to determining whether a school is successful, we have set our standards far too low. Under the MSIP standards, schools that earn 70 percent or more of the points on the annual performance report are considered “accredited.” Schools that earn between 50 and 69 percent of the points are “provisionally accredited,” and schools that earn less than 50 percent of the points are “unaccredited.” I would challenge the members of our State Board of Education to raise the bar and require the threshold score for full accreditation to be 80 percent (or even higher).

Think about it this way: If a company produced such consistently low results, it would simply go out of business. We cannot shy away from drawing this parallel. I have told many of my colleagues that we are a business – we are in the business of education. If a business is not meeting the needs of its customers, those customers go elsewhere. If we provide “school choice” for our parents – the ability for parents to select from a number of high-quality educational options – then all of our schools will have to do a better job educating our students or face going out of business.

The success of any school depends on the leadership of its school board and administration. Effective school leaders put students first, above all else. Everyone from the custodians to the teachers to school board members should be held accountable for doing the job they are paid or elected to do. Missouri must take greater strides toward providing meaningful “school choice” for our parents. We live in an age of abundant options: charter schools, open enrollment, education savings accounts, course access, etc. Why should parents not be given a choice as to where they send their children to school?

—Jerry Hobbs, executive director, Missouri Education Reform Council