Monthly Archives: February 2015

Education Questions All Mississippians Should Ask

Over the past several months I have written about Common Core Standards, MAEP, and other topics related to Mississippi education. I have given my opinion as well as presented facts in an effort to understand what is going on in Mississippi. However, a year later I along with many other educators are still asking questions that fall on deaf ears or are completely ignored. The questions we are asking are not questions that just educators need to be asking; all Mississippians who are concerned about the future of our state and children should be asking these questions. Although there seems to be few willing to listen and even fewer willing to take action, the bigger problem comes in the form of those who “know it all,” those who are apprehensive about saying anything, and those poor apathetic souls who stick their heads in the sand and ignore what is happening. Education in Mississippi is coming unraveled around us, and because of these attitudes little is being done to stop it. State leaders in Jackson have made it clear they believe the education system in Mississippi is broken primarily due to the incompetence of educators across the state, and that they alone know how to fix it. With the exception of a few, education leaders across the state have been strangely silent on the issues, and when they do speak they tread lightly for fear of possibly angering the leadership in Jackson and bringing down more condemnation on their heads. Many teachers have simply battened down the hatches to weather the storm with the mindset “this too shall pass,” and maybe it will, but at what cost? When it comes to education, there are few on the same page anymore. Little trust or respect remains between educators and those they elected to represent them in the state legislature. Legislators have made it clear they do not want to be bothered by educators; they believe they know what Mississippi needs educationally, and that educators should stay out of their way as they go about taking control of the state’s education system. The Governor has made it clear that when it comes to decisions regarding education that he, the legislature, and the public are the ultimate decision makers regardless of what educators say. The 2015 Mississippi legislators have made it very clear that educators do not have a voice in Mississippi, and it has become painfully apparent that educators no longer know which way to turn or who to turn to.

Any group without a voice is an oppressed group, and lately the most oppressed group in Mississippi has been educators. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.” In recent memory, I cannot think of any greater oppressors of a single group in Mississippi than the oppression that has been demonstrated by Governor Phil Bryant and his Republican buddies in the state legislature toward state educators. When a bill is introduced such as HB 449 that advocates silencing educators, that bill is an act of oppression.   When comments of expertise by the state’s top education leader on an impending education bill is solicited by Democrats but denied by Republicans in favor of hearsay and parking lot opinion that is oppression. When the unqualified opinions of a few regarding state standards are given consideration over the expertise of state educators that is an act of oppression. For whatever reason, Republican legislators headed by Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves would rather bruise the heads of teachers and school administrators under their boot heel than work side by side with them to improve Mississippi. What a shame! The current state of affairs in Mississippi differs little from what can be expected of children fussing and fighting on the playground. We could accomplish so much more if the boys and girls in Jackson could learn to play together and with others more effectively.

Unfortunately, that will probably not happen, which means we most likely will be asking the same questions we are asking this year again next year. Of course, who’s to say anyone will listen next year any more than they have listened this year or any previous year for that matter? Until someone truly listens, questions about Common Core Standards, college preparation, MAEP, and the Third Grade Reading Gate will always be on the table; down the road they may be called something different, but the issues will remain the same. So, why not address the questions now, so we can regain a bit of our dignity and move Mississippi forward? Anyone looking at the questions understands all it takes is a little common sense and gumption to do what is right.

Education Questions All Mississippians Should Ask:

  1. Common Core Standards:
    1. Would it make sense to spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to build a bridge and then refuse to use it and demand it be torn down because it was discovered Federal dollars may have been used to construct the bridge?
    2. Would it make sense to spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to build a bridge and then without ever conducting the first structural analysis or running the first vehicle across the bridge call it “failed,” and demand it be torn down?
    3. If neither situation makes sense, then why does it make sense for Common Core Standards?
  2. 50% of high school graduates are not prepared for college:
    1. If 50% of Mississippi high school graduates are not prepared for their first year of college, why are state leaders condemning education as a whole?
    2. If 50% of Mississippi high school graduates are not prepared for their first year of college, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at the data to determine who the students are who are not prepared, where they come from, and the demographics of the schools they attended before condemning all schools and teachers? What if we found it was a poverty related issue and not an instructional issue, or what if we found it was indeed an instructional issue? Isn’t that what we need to know and address? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pinpoint the problem rather than to lay a blanket of blame on all teachers?
    3. Also, wouldn’t it be much wiser to look at the 50% who are prepared for college and study why they succeed when others fail. Wouldn’t it make sense to take what we learn from the study and replicate what led to the upper 50%’s success?
  3. MAEP:
    1. Why are so many state legislators opposed to fully funding MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program)? Do they have an agenda, and if so, what is it? Obviously they know something the rest of us do not know, or do they?
    2. Instead of all the games, wouldn’t it be smarter to change MAEP to the MISSISSIPPI ALMOST ENOUGH PLAN, and forget it?
    3. Wouldn’t it be smarter not to worry so much about MAEP and focus on establishing bread lines and shelters for the unemployable, funding larger prisons, and improving airstrips and shopping malls for corporate America as they flock to Mississippi to take advantage of the state’s billion dollar tax breaks as well as a minimally educated cheap labor force?
  4. Third Grade Reading Gate:
    1. I don’t always agree with Phil Bryant, but Mississippi needs a reading gate (I believe the gate should actually be a year earlier, but third grade is a start), so wouldn’t it be wise to go ahead and hold students and schools accountable for the Third Grade Reading Gate this school year as planned?
    2. What will delaying the reading assessment for a year accomplish? A year from now, education will most likely still be underfunded and most likely, there will still not be enough reading coaches in place to make a dramatic difference, so why bother to delay?
    3. On the positive side, wouldn’t taking the reading test help the schools gather baseline reading data that can be used to make a difference? Does it really matter if it’s 25% who fail this year or 14% who fail the reading test a year from now? Aren’t both unacceptable? Who are we protecting by delaying, the children or the adults?

Isn’t it a shame we have to ask these questions over and over – year after year? Why can’t legislators and educators work together for the common good of our children?  Why do our elected representatives insist on being adversarial?  Believe it or not educators are the good guys!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 22, 2015

Mississippi Stud with Apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford: Mississippi Education in Perspective

Recently, I was playing some old songs on my guitar when I came across the classic Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons.” After thoroughly murdering the song, I lay my guitar aside, but I could not get the lyrics out of my head. Something about the words would not let me go, so I picked up the song for another look. The relevancy of the words to today’s world simply amazed me, especially their relevance to education in Mississippi. As I poured over the lyrics, I found myself tweaking them a little here and there until I had an updated version I call “The Mississippi Stud.” Of course, nothing can ever replace the original lyrics or the rich bass-baritone of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “Sixteen Tons,” but the song’s original lament of hard times and struggles with “the man” experienced by coal miners of the 1940’s and 1950’s was so easily identifiable with the persecution of Mississippi educators by the Governor and other self-proclaimed education experts that I just could not resist. Like those miners, today’s educators in Mississippi are the victims of shameful bullying by the Governor and many legislators in Jackson, and unfortunately, like the miners, Mississippi educators have little choice but to obediently bow to the injustices of the “man.”

The Mississippi Stud

[“Sixteen Tons” adapted by Jack Linton with apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford]

Phil Bryant believes he’s the Mississippi stud;
He believes teachers are little more than mud.
Made of sand and mud and tears and moans,
He likes weak minds with backs that are strong.

He puts teachers down just to see them sweat;
Treats them with disdain with no regrets.
He believes educators are a bunch of duds;
No one knows better than the Mississippi Stud.

Teach twenty-nine kids, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt!
Saint Peter don’t call public school teachers home;
They owe their soul to the Mississippi Stud.

Teachers were born in the drizzlin’ rain,
Disrespect and trouble their middle names;
They were raised to be feisty by an ol’ mama lion,
But the Mississippi Stud commands they walk the line.

They arrive at school before the sun shines,
Carrying sacks of supplies bought with their dime;
Greet twenty-nine kids with one common goal,
And the Mississippi Stud says, “Well, a-bless your soul”

Teach twenty-nine kids, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt!
Saint Peter don’t call public school teachers home;
They owe their soul to the Mississippi Stud.

If you see him comin’, better step aside;
A lotta teachers didn’t, a lotta teachers cried.
One fist of deception, the other of lies;
If the right don’t a-get you, then left one flies.

Teach twenty-nine kids, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt!
Saint Peter don’t call public school teachers home;
They owe their soul to the Mississippi Stud.

But, Phil is not alone, there are many more –
Reeves, Gunn, Tollison, and Moore;
A pack of wolves smelling educator blood;
All paying homage to the Mississippi stud.

Kick out MAEP, Initiative 42, and Common Core;
Who knows what next they have in store.
Their vouchers and charters will drain public schools,
But, the Mississippi Stud says, “Hey, that’s cool.”

Teach twenty-nine kids, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt!
Saint Peter don’t call public school teachers home;
They owe their soul to the Mississippi Stud.

So, if you see him comin’, better step aside;
A lotta teachers didn’t, a lotta teachers cried.
One fist of deception, the other of lies;
If the right don’t a-get you, then left one flies.

Teach twenty-nine kids, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt!
Saint Peter don’t call public school teachers home;
They owe their soul to the Mississippi Stud.

Disclaimer [The small print]:  The chances of royalties for “The Mississippi Stud” are mathematically in line with the possibilities the Mississippi Legislature will fully fund MAEP for the 2015 – 2016 school year. However, sometimes it’s fun to dream. Maybe, teachers should have a pajama day to express that they have not given up on the dream.

Let me know what you think, and if you would like to add a verse or two, fire away. If you would like to change the title to “The Mississippi Dud,” that’s okay too. If Governor Bryant and his cronies in the state legislature can appoint themselves education experts, I am confident the rest of us are just as qualified to be songwriting experts. So, I hope educators have a little fun with the adaptation; the Lord knows they are due.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 15, 2015

What are Reeves and His Buddies in Jackson Smoking?

This past week Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves once again expressed his objection to the amount of money school districts spend on central office administrators and school principals. Apparently, he believes if districts spent less money on administration the need for fully funding education would be far less urgent since money spent on administrators could be funneled into the classroom. That is all well and good if it was not just another political smokescreen designed to confuse and divide. Honestly with all the smoke coming out of Jackson lately, I am beginning to wonder what they are smoking up there. I am not saying that administrative costs do not need to be looked at, but if Reeves would spend some time in the shoes of school administrators or at least talk to them, he might at least change the filter on whatever it is he and his Republican buddies are puffing.

If there are school districts that are top heavy with administrators as Reeves claims, those districts are the exception to the rule. Most school districts in Mississippi operate with minimum administrative support. At the school level there are many schools that operate with one school principal and maybe one assistant principal, and if the school is an elementary school, the odds are there is only a principal and no assistant principal. Of course Mr. Reeves would argue that is the way it should be, but he has never tried to manage a school on his own or be an instructional leader, arbitrate faculty /staff disagreements, be a fair and consistent disciplinarian, offer counsel and guidance to kids, be a psychologist, function as a surrogate parent, act as school test coordinator, be the school technology guru, mediate faculty/parent conferences, direct after school programs, attend special school events/extra-curricular activities, and maintain some semblance of balance with his own family all in the space of one day. I am not saying he is not a busy man, but I am saying few people understand what busy means until they have spent time as a school principal.

Most principals arrive at school between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and put in 10 to 12 hour days before they can even think about going home to their families. If they are a high school principal or high school assistant principal, they usually do not get home until somewhere between 10:00 p.m. and midnight five nights out of every week due to supervising sports, concerts, academic events, and other after school activities. If Reeves has his way and the number of administrators is cut, who will work all those extra hours that are necessary to provide a quality educational experience for children? It is not humanly possible for one administrator to adequately fulfill all the expectations placed on a school administrator by the school, the district, the state, the teachers, the students, the parents, and the community! My guess is that Reeves and his buddies think any administrative responsibilities that one principal cannot get to during the school day can be dumped on teachers who are already maxed out to their limits? You can only pile so much on school administrators and teachers before they break and tell the state to take the job and stick it where the sun does not shine. I am not so sure Mr. Reeves understands that, but again, maybe he does.

Another thing Reeves and his buddies in Jackson fail to understand is that every time they pass a piece of education legislation adding a new program or policy because it sounds like a good idea to them or they are delivering on a favor, they are creating a need for additional administrators to monitor compliance. Monitoring compliance just about always falls directly on the shoulders of the busiest people in the school district – the school principal or the assistant principal if the school is lucky enough to have one. When additional duties are added to the table and nothing is taken off the table, it stands to reason there will be a greater need for additional administrators. The Lieutenant Governor can look at the bulging bureaucracy of state government and see that is true. So, if he wants fewer school administrators, he should do everything within his power to steer legislators away from legislation that will create a need for additional administrative help.

Also, if Mr. Reeves is truly concerned about overly excessive administrative costs in the state, maybe he and the Governor should take a long hard look at the excess in their own backyards. How many hundreds or thousands of state government administrators are currently sucking Mississippi dry? While pointing fingers at school districts as being administratively top heavy, Reeves has at least six administrative positions on his personal staff, and the Governor has at least thirty administrators and administrative assistants on his staff.  Attorney General, Jim Hood heads up 31 divisions all with directors and various other administrative positions. Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, has a staff of 110+; State Auditor, Stacey Pickering, has a staff of 125+; and State Treasurer, Lynn Fitch, has a staff of at least 40. These examples packaged with other state elected and appointed administrative positions and their administrative support staffs as well as affiliated local bureaus and commissions provide a clearer picture of where administrative excess actually lies in Mississippi. Not counting elected positions, there are 136 state government agencies in Jackson which are manned by directors, commissioners, assistant directors, deputy directors, assistant commissioners, deputy commissioners, administrative support staff, and clerical support staff. I believe I am safe when I say few if any of them are called on daily to be a mama or daddy to another person’s child, a mentor, an academic leader, a minister, a friend, a believer, a hall and restroom monitor, a janitor, a cheerleader, a bureaucratic paper pusher, a punching bag for political gain, a passive crap dump for abusive parents, a chauffeur when there is no one to take a child home after a game, as well as a mama, daddy, and husband/wife to their own family, and all of that in a twenty-four hour day.

The only thing that may be top heavy about school administrators are the hearts beating in their chests – hearts that like the hearts of teachers do not deserve to be stepped on and ground in the dirt by power hungry politicians who have shown little support or compassion for Mississippi public school educators during the 2015 Mississippi State Legislative session. Unfortunately, as long as smoke boils from the war pipes of state legislators, state educators will continue to suffer. Who knows what they are smoking in those pipes or why, but whatever it is it is not good for the future of Mississippi. I would say “shame on you” to state legislators for what they are doing to public education in Mississippi, but it seems shame is a badge too many of them are wearing with pride these days.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 8, 2015

Peace Offering to the Mississippi Legislature: Let’s Be as Happy as a Clam

PARCC is gone! As Gomer Pyle, the simple-minded auto mechanic from the Andy Griffith Show of the 1960’s, would say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” But, it’s not really a surprise. With the on-going struggles to deliver and receive the assessment electronically, inability to provide assessment results in a timely manner, failure to adequately address teacher fears and questions about the test, and growing parental concerns as well as mounting political pressure, it was only a matter of time before the PARCC assessment was dropped. If the Mississippi legislators have their way, the next task will be to bring to life the Commission on College and Career Readiness to oversee the development of not only a new assessment but new standards as well. The legislative promise of homegrown standards and assessments free of influence from Washington, standards and assessments more relevant to the children of Mississippi, and standards more satisfying to parents as well as the general public will be welcomed by many.  Although the legislators do not promise rigorous standards or assessments designed to improve Mississippi education, maybe they know best; maybe, they they do know what Mississippi needs after all.

My only hope is that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will place people on the new commission with the expertise and experience to understand the magnitude and scope of creating/writing new standards and assessments. Of course, since this is a time sensitive project, I will be surprised if the Governor does not already have someone waiting in the wings with a set of user friendly standards ready to be rolled out and implemented across the state. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure – Mississippi needs a break from all the ill-will currently associated with education.  The best way to do that is for the new commission to develop assessments that are appealing to all stakeholders whether they create the standards from scratch or already have standards packaged and ready to be rolled out.

Therefore, I am extending the olive branch of peace, and to show my sincerity, I would like to offer a foolproof plan for selection of standards and creation of supporting state assessments. Hopefully, the powers in Jackson and their new commission will consider this plan or a similar plan for the peace of mind and good of all. It is time for the hostilities to end and get everyone on the same page, and I believe such a plan as the one I present below will do the job.

Plan to Development State Standards and Assessments:

  1. Step one: Develop or adopt new state standards. Legislators need to do whatever they think is best. The good teachers will continue to build rigor into their lessons regardless of the standards, the marginal teachers will be happy to follow whatever script they are presented, and the poor teachers will be thrilled that they can once again relax and enjoy the paycheck;
  2. Step two: Before final approval of the new standards, develop a battery of homework examples that support the new standards, and then administer the examples to the whole legislature including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. If there are any homework problems the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or legislators do not fully understand or they cannot work, throw the associated standards out;
  3. Step three: Next, administer the remaining homework examples to parents across the state. The easiest way to do this is through Facebook. There are more parents and people in general who are education authorities assembled on Facebook at any given time than there are anywhere in the world. We need to start using their expertise to our children’s advantage. If there are any homework problems the parents do not understand or cannot work, throw the standards associated to the overly problematic and/or rigorous homework out;
  4. Step four: Finally, administer the remaining homework examples to students. If any of the examples cause students to think longer than ten seconds, write more than two consecutive coherent sentences, or are so involved that they infringe on after school baseball, gymnastics, dance, bolo, chess, tennis, swimming, TV time, or any other nonacademic activity, throw out the standards associated to those homework examples;
  5. Step five: What is left will be the final draft of the state’s new standards. At this point, go ahead and print the standards. Step six is just a formality;
  6. Step six: The new commission can now submit their recommendations for the new standards to the State Superintendent of Education and the State Board of Education for their approval. Of course, since the State Superintendent and the State Board will only have authority to approve what is recommended to them by the commission, they will be compelled to pass the recommendations, which is exactly what we want them to do – right?; and
  7. Step seven: CELEBRATE! The Governor should lead the state in a celebration of this monumental accomplishment. Mississippians will finally be able to stand proudly and thumb their noses at Washington. Once again we will be a state of hospitality where our children peacefully reside on the bottom of the achievement ladder. There is nothing more appealing than submissive peace of mind.

I sincerely hope my plan will at least be considered; it should appease everyone. The students will not have to worry about being challenged, parents will not have to worry about their babies being subjected to academic stress or heaven forbid not getting an “A”, and state legislators will not have to worry about losing control to Washington or not having cheap labor available for years to come for the tax-exempt businesses they recruit to the state.   It’s time we accept that our state legislators have the people’s best interests in mind, and that they are the MAN! Everyone knows if you stand against the MAN, as singer/songwriter, John Prine, says, “You’re never gonna be as happy as a clam.” So, I encourage everyone to stand by the MAN and be “as happy as a clam!” Stand behind the good intentions of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislators who know and always will know better than the people and especially educators what is best for Mississippi.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 1, 2015