I woke up today and told myself to be positive. That is no easy task when you are constantly being bullied by those with the “power”. I am not being bullied by the big kid that sits in the back of the classroom or the football jock who is too cool for school, but instead by the people we elected to lead our state. Yes, I am being bullied by the Mississippi Legislature and their leadership. I am not the only victim of their bullying and politicking. Every educator, student, parent, and concerned citizen is as well. What really gets my goat is that its by members of my own party! I have been a lifelong Republican and follower of conservative principles, but now I am being picked on by folks from my own team who have lost sight of our true conservative teachings.
Let me paint a picture for you concerning education in the state of Mississippi. I can sum it up into one number (made up of two digits, but that apparently is not important to teach): 50. We are dead last compared to all other states when it comes to academic achievement in K-12 education. For years we functioned under the Mississippi Frameworks which were a set of objectives that lacked rigor and often even cohesiveness. Seeing a need to improve, Mississippi along with 47 other states and the District of Columbia signed onto a set of national standards in the areas of English and Mathematics.
In 2010 (over 4 years ago), Mississippi’s elected officials voted in favor of accepting the Common Core State Standards for College and Career Readiness that came out the year prior. Common Core came from an idea brought forth by the National Governor’s Association collaboratively with the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2007. This idea was not the brainchild of President Obama nor Secretary Arne Duncan, but from the states and their executive leaders. I tell you all this to say…Common Core is not an Obama plan. It is not a mandate passed down by the federal government. Instead it was the brainchild of a group states who used state’s rights (a conservative principle) to develop a set of standards jointly for students across the nation.
Fast-forward to late 2014 and the beginning of this year. The Republican-controlled legislature in Jackson has rallied against Common Core and demeaned it to be an evil atrocity forced down the throats of the states (see above for rebuttal). This hellfire spreads to every tea party supporter and GOP faithful in the state. Suddenly teaching children to think critically and learn math in a conceptual and concrete way is communist or socialist.
Granted it is an election year here in Mississippi (primaries this summer and the general in November), but some of the happenings in Jackson are down right dirty. The Legislature forced the state to drop out of the PARCC assessment consortium because they felt that any company should have a chance to bid on being the provider instead of PARCC being a sole-source provider. Alright, seems like a fiscal conservative move. Now there is a piece of legislation in the chambers that calls for the provider chosen to have been in existence for over 50 years. Well, that eliminates two of the three current producers of Common Core-aligned assessments and leaves only ACT. I personally do not care who writes our tests, but this move is deceitful.
Of course, our Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House are attempting to abolish Common Core and write “Mississippi standards”. We have already had Mississippi standards and we finished last every year. The Senate Education Committee would not even allow our Superintendent of Education, Dr. Cary Wright, to speak on behalf of the standards before they voted to send the bill to the full Senate chamber. Only one member voted to not send the bill to the full Senate and it happened to be the one person who wanted the Superintendent to speak.
In our state seven years ago, we passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program which was to set a figure that would ensure Mississippi education was 100% funded annually. Well, in 7 years it has only been fully funded twice and both of those were election years (once under Governor Haley Barbour,a Republican). An organization called “Better Schools, Better Jobs” successfully got Initiative 42 added to the ballot this November that requires the state to constitutionally fully-fund Mississippi education. What did the legislature do? Got their own initiative, Alternative Initiative 42A, added to that ballot with very similar language, in large part, to confuse the voting public come November to hopefully defeat Initiative 42.
Dare I even mention the bill to make a teacher contacting a member of the legislature while at work punishable by a $10,000 fine? Thankfully in the writing process this bill was defeated in committee. I will give one point to the legislature on that front.
Mississippi is an amazing place with truly amazing people. I am a former Yankee who is so glad to call this land home, but we are doing our children a disservice by using our children as pawns in a political game. The Lt. Governor and the legislature may want to back away from Common Core because it is too rigorous and they believe Mississippi children cannot do it, but I along with Mississippi’s education professionals believe that Mississippi children can.
Cody S. Shumaker was born and raised in northwest Illinois and after college joined Teach For America in the Mississippi Delta. After three years of teaching high school history, he received two post-graduate degrees at Delta State and Ole Miss. He has been an elementary administrator for three years in Bolivar County, Mississippi.
Thank you, Cody, for this great guest blog post. We value hearing from educators about issues they feel are important.
Edcite provides a platform for teachers to create rigorous and contemporary assignments easily, so their students are better prepared for opportunities after K-12. Edcite’s mission is also global. As such, our technology can adapt to support any standards adopted in different states and different countries.
Today, we meet most of the requirements for the Common Core (in the US) and will adapt to any future standards adopted by any state.