Tag Archives: accountability

Cut to the Chase: The Initiative 42 Bottom Line

Think about this for a moment:

If I had signed a contract with you 18 years ago for your services or products for $100.00 per year, you would expect to be paid $100.00 per year for that contract. Now suppose I had only paid you $100.00 a year twice in the past 18 years. For 14 of the remaining 16 years, I decided all I was going to pay you was $40.00 each year although the contract called for $100.00 each year. As you became more and more agitated that the contract was not being honored, I finally paid you $50.00 and $60.00 respectively for the past two years. On top of that, I boasted to everyone who would listen that in the last two years I had put more money into your business than in any time in history. Never mind, I short-changed you hundreds of dollars in 16 of the past 18 years that impacted your ability to attract quality employees, service your equipment, and repair your facilities. How well would that sit with you? If you had been consistently short-changed the money you were promised, what would you do? Wouldn’t you seek relief from the courts? Isn’t it a function of the courts to resolve such contractual malpractice?

The representation above illustrates exactly the bottom line for Initiative 42! In 1997, the Mississippi Legislature made a law (a promise) to fund Mississippi public school education based on the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) formula, but they only honored the law twice over the next 18 years. I dare say, there are few people in this state or any other state who would have exercised the patience Mississippi educators exercised during those 18 years. In the business world and as private citizens, if someone refused to honor their monetary commitment to us, we would have sought relief through the courts long ago. However, educators did not because they kept hoping and praying the state Legislature would do the right thing and honor their commitment. Of course, they never did! So, since they repeatedly failed to honor their commitment to fund education, what recourse did legislators leave citizens and educators other than to go through the initiative process and seek relief through the courts? The legislators and their supporters can cry the citizens and educators are trying to circumvent the power of the Legislature by taking the funding issue to court all they want, but the truth is the initiative process is simply taking the next logical step to resolve a problem the Legislature created.

Initiative 42 is the result of the Mississippi Legislature’s failure to do its job! If legislators had honored their commitment (the law), there would not be a need for Initiative 42. But, year after year they have refused to honor the law! Governor Bryant can claim all he wants that historic amounts of money have been placed in education the past two years, but he cannot deny state legislators have failed to honor the law and fully fund MAEP during the same two years as well as in all but two of the preceding 16 years. They simply have not! As a result, nearly 200,000 Mississippi citizens signed a petition to get Initiative 42 on the ballot in a grassroots effort to get state legislators to honor their commitment to education. Even so, citizens and educators are hoping, even when Initiative 42 passes, that the legislators will do the right thing and honor the funding law rather than go to court. With Initiative 42, legislators will have the option of doing the right thing by following the law and fully funding the MAEP formula, or they can opt to ignore the law as they have done year after year and choose to send the funding issue to court. Under Initiative 42, whether a chancery court judge hears the issue or not is completely up to the state legislators.

Remember this, if you had a contract with someone to pay you for services, supplies or maintenance you provided, you would expect to be paid for those services. If that someone consistently refused to pay, eventually you would have no other recourse but to seek relief in the courts to get your money. Why shouldn’t school kids and teachers be entitled to the same relief? Also, you should think about this. What would happen if you refused to pay your state income taxes or ignored the income tax law completely? You can bet money your state government would not hesitate to fine you and drag you into court. So, if citizens must honor the law or face being taken to court, why shouldn’t their elected officials be expected to honor the law or face going to court as well? It is time we stopped hiding our heads in the sand while the Legislature picks and chooses the laws they want to honor. It’s time to pass Initiative 42, and make the Mississippi Legislature accountable to honoring the laws they pass.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 25, 2015

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You might need to go back to school if . . . .

Part III: Politics

Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.  Sloan Wilson

Have you ever wondered why so many politicians claim to represent the people who elected them, but when they get to Jackson or Washington they become independent contractors representing special interest groups and personal agendas rather than the people? Listen to them speak; all too often they speak of the people, but not for the people. Although they may be elected under the umbrella of a certain party and therefore owe a certain allegiance to that party, they tend to forget their first responsibility is to the people and not the party. They are the elected voice of the people and not the elected voice of the party, or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

Such contradictions of purpose are common in arenas such as politics where there is little accountability. During elections, politicians know they can make any promise they need to entice people to vote for them. They know accountability comes once every two, four, or six years according to their office term limits, and more important, they know voters have notoriously short memories. Therefore, once elected, they can do practically whatever they want until their final year or maybe eighteen months in office when they once again hit the streets and airwaves campaigning, political hobnobbing, fabricating new promises, and padding their accomplishments to fit the ear of the voter. Face it, most voters are basically lazy; they rarely take a deep look into the past records of candidates they vote for in elections – locally or nationally. They simply vote for the party; they follow the lead of friends and relatives; they cast their vote based on image; or they decide who to vote for when they get to the polls and see the ballot for the first time, which means they often favor the incumbent.

In America, our leadership problems are as much the result of the laissez-faire attitude of the public as it is who the public elects. We vote out of allegiance to a party, we vote how someone tells us to vote, or we don’t vote at all. In today’s world, people even tend to shy away from voting their conscious for fear of being politically incorrect or out of sync with family and friends. The days of deep independent, intelligent thinkers have been replaced by strict party allegiances, apathy, and fanatical bigotry sometimes thinly veiled by the auspices of patriotism and religion. When it comes to putting the right people in leadership positions, we are our own worst enemy. We are guilty of paying an unbelievable amount of lip service to the political process, but when it comes to voting and accountability, we display an incredible lack of interest. We talk a good game, but talk is about all we do when it comes to politics. So, maybe, its time the voting public went back to school and learned about their responsibilities as a citizen . . . .

You might need to go back to school if . . . .

  1. You believe the Tea Party is the party of the people;
  2. You believe Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Tea Leoni’s character on “Madam Secretary” have more than hair color in common;
  3. You believe the Mississippi Republican party supports public education;
  4. You believe either party – Democrats or Republicans – holds all the right answers;
  5. You believe the nationwide GOP push to privatize public education is for the good of children and not a ploy to line the pockets of the private sector eager to get its hands on education dollars;
  6. You believe Mississippi does not have the $1.3 billion it has shorted education over the past few years, or you believe the $1.3 billion Nissan received from Mississippi during the same period came from the tooth fairy or Santa Claus;
  7. You believe like 4% of the American public that “lizard people” control our society through big business and politics;
  8. You need or allow a political party to do your thinking for you;
  9. You can identify the Three Stooges but not the three branches of government; and
  10. You believe a “merge right” highway sign is an invitation to a Ted Cruz political rally.

Although it is easy to believe politicians are the blame for so many of our problems, it is not as easy to look in the mirror and see the real problem. If a politician or political system becomes unaccountable to the people, there is no one to blame but the people. When citizens fail to understand this simple truth, then maybe it’s time they went back to school and revisited Political Science 101 and History 101.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 23, 2015

Educating Mississippi’s Children: Can We Really do it on Our Own?

Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright recently announced the Mississippi Department of Education will seek public comments for Common Core English and math standards. She said a committee of educators will then examine comments and issue proposals for possible deletions or changes to the Standards to the state Board of Education. Of course, Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves applauded her decision, but why shouldn’t they? In their eyes, Wright’s study panel constitutes a softening of her support for the Standards. That might not actually be the case, but Wright, who is caught between a rock and hard place due to her support for the Standards and her future as the State Superintendent of Education, has taken the only action available to allow her to “save face,” confront public conspiracy hysteria, and appease the Governor and Lieutenant Governor as well as the Republican dominated state house and senate. If the results of the study point negatively at the Standards, Wright will probably be given the opportunity to renounce her support and be welcomed by Bryant and Reeves as the long lost “prodigal son” who has finally come to her senses; however, if the study sheds favorable light on the Standards, Wright’s future as State Superintendent of Education could be in jeopardy. The only thing that is for certain with the study is that regardless of the results, Phil Bryant’s distrust of the Standards and Tate Reeves’ political aspirations will not be curbed.

In spite of its detractors, Common Core Standards represent a major step in the right direction for the education of Mississippi children who year after year rank nationally at or on the bottom in academic achievement. The Standards are not a threat to Mississippi children; the threats that hold potential disastrous consequences for Mississippi’s children are the lack of support for a curriculum (any curriculum) that dares step outside public and leadership comfort zones, lack of understanding or interest in the basic concepts of learning, and the inability of many in the public and in state leadership to comprehend the long term and unintended consequences of their failure to embrace a rigorous curriculum that teaches children to be critical thinkers rather than masters of simple recall of information. There are those in the public and state leadership who believe Mississippians do not need curriculum or even funding help when it comes to the education of our children; they believe we can do just fine on our own. If that is true, why haven’t we done so before now?  Instead, on our own, we have demonstrated year after year that when it comes to the education of ALL children in the state, we lack the motivation, resources, and maybe even the capacity to pull ourselves off the academic bottom.

When the facts are considered rationally without acerbic denials, bitter accusations, and acrimonious blame, the only plausible conclusion is that as a state, we have passed the point of “do it ourselves.” Decades of bad choices, bad leadership, bad men in important positions, quality of education dictated by geographical boundaries, and an embedded belief by state leaders that education is just another item that needs to be funded have led Mississippi to the brink of educational bankruptcy. Our children – we – do not deserve that! Unfortunately, too few in the public and leadership have any interest in understanding the facts or making the tough education choices required to end such malpractice. But, maybe, we are incapable of comprehending our dire circumstances or acting for the common good of Mississippi.

The only way Mississippi can prosper is if its people are knowledgeable, educated, individually responsible, self-reliant, capable of critical thinking and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. The plantation fiefdoms of the 19th Century are long behind us; we can no longer prosper as a state where the majority submits to the will and thought process of a few.  We can no longer afford a society where prosperity is often little more than a trickle down from the affluence of a few. The future of Mississippi is in the education of its children – an education that must be more than “good enough” – an education that must positively transcend to future generations. While there is a time for Mississippians to take pride in our “home grown” “we can do it better” heritage, such notions do not always translate effectively to the real world, especially in education. In nearly 200 years as a state, Mississippi has struggled to consistently get the education of its children right, so why would the public, educators, and leadership in a state that ranks regularly in the nation’s bottom two or three in academic performance believe we now have the capacity to do better without outside help? When it comes to education, we have had multiple decades of doing it on our own with little to show for our efforts. Do we want to continue banging our heads against the wall and in five or ten years still be trailing the rest of the nation academically, scratching our heads and asking the same questions, and still pointing fingers of blame?  If yes, then all we need do is continue on the path we are going.  If not, all of us need to stop treating our children’s education as a game, a political gambit, and a whipping boy for our fears and insecurities. We need to embrace a curriculum that takes us out of our comfort zones and into the 21st Century; we need to rally behind education and not against it.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 17, 2015

Did the Punishment Fit the Crime: Test Fraud in Atlanta

Cheating is never right, so many will applaud the punishment handed out to ten Atlanta administrators and teachers charged with racketeering for cheating on state-administered standardized tests. Three of the ten convicted educators will serve a minimum of seven years each in prison while five will serve a minimum of one to two years each in prison. All ten will face stiff fines and 1,000 to 2,000 hours of community service. Did the punishment fit the crime? Maybe, but it is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the three educators sentenced to seven years in prison may have received a lighter sentence in 87% of the crimes tracked by the Commission. Only murder, kidnapping/hostage taking, sexual abuse, and pornography/prostitution carried longer median sentences than the three Atlanta educators received for cheating on standardized tests. Although testing fraud is serious and should be punished, do these educators really deserve harsher punishment than 87% of hardened criminals?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.” There is little to argue with in the judge’s statement, but as despicable as the actions of these administrators and teachers were, it is hard not to see them as victims also. Administrators and teachers across the United States are under inordinate pressure to meet district and state student achievement targets and failing to do that they often face severe evaluation and/or termination consequences. The Atlanta educators were no different. However, they could have taken the high road and let the chips fall where they may as the vast majority of educators do, but they chose to sell their professionalism and integrity for a shortcut to success – their success, not the children’s. As a result, the children became victims of their fraud, and they became victims of their own stupidity as well as victims of a “CAN’T WIN” testing system for school administrators and teachers.

That these educators should be held accountable for their actions is not in question, but their sentencing does not solve the problem. Their sentencing only substantiates there is a problem. Judge Baxter is right; when the stroke of the cheater’s pen passes kids regardless of their ability to read, write, or do basic math, the kids become victims. However, aren’t they also victims when their parents don’t take responsibility for their education; aren’t they also victims when state lawmakers do not adequately fund education; aren’t they also victims when teachers pass kids to the next grade who lack the skills needed to succeed; aren’t they also victims when principals tell teachers no one fails even when kids do not have the skills needed for the next grade or school; and aren’t they also victims when superintendents make it clear to principals and teachers that their jobs depend on how well kids do on state tests?

If educators are to be held accountable for a child’s education, which they should be, it stands to reason that not only teachers but everyone who has a hand in the child’s education, including parents and state lawmakers should be held just as accountable. Why should school administrators and teachers shoulder all the pressure and blame? After all, if judges are going to uphold children as victims in cases of test fraud and hand out prison sentences normally reserved for hardened criminals, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to parents of children with excessive absences from school or parents of children with habitual behavior problems in the classroom that impedes the teacher’s ability to teach? Also, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to state lawmakers who fail to fully fund resources needed by teachers and children in the classroom? Aren’t children being educationally harmed, cheated, and victimized just as much by the actions or lack of actions by these individuals?

There are no doubts the administrators and teachers in Atlanta deserved to be punished for their fraud, but a more fitting punishment may have been to strip them for life of their license to teach and ban them for life from involvement in education in any capacity whether it be in the public or private sectors. Fines large enough to make it hurt and community service were appropriately part of their sentencing, and the shame and stigma they will carry with them for the rest of their lives may very well be the harshest punishment they will receive. However, Judge Baxter felt more was needed than expulsion from the teaching profession, large fines, and community service. He felt such an egregious conspiracy to fraud by professional men and women who disgraced their profession, themselves, and their families deserved more, and he may have been right. Through his actions, he has sent a message across the nation that such disingenuous neglect of duty will not be tolerated. Maybe, someday neglect of duty will likewise not be tolerated by the courts in the ranks of parents and state lawmakers as well.  After all, when it comes to educating children, educators are not alone, or are they?

JL

©Jack Linton, April 19, 2015

Principals do not Invent Crappy Useless Time Consuming Things for Teachers to do!

Most teachers do not understand what makes their principal tick, or why so much of what he does comes across as stupid or without reason. They often wonder what planet he is from, why he constantly assigns extra work to them, why he is always on their back, what possesses him to make asinine decisions, and the list goes on and on. However, contrary to popular teacher beliefs, principals are just as human as teachers. Sometimes they may not act it, but they are indeed human, and as such, they feel many of the same frustrations teachers feel. Although their actions may sometimes appear desperate, stupid, insensitive, or outright incompetent, there is usually some rhyme or reason to their madness. But, teachers often fail to understand the madness due to not comprehending how the principalship works, and/or due to misconceptions about principals that have been engrained in the teaching profession for decades.

A major misconception of many teachers is that principals sit around inventing crappy useless time consuming things for teachers to do. The truth, however, is that most principals do not have time to sit down much less think about inventing crappy useless time consuming tasks. When they do sit, it is often with their face in their hands wondering how they are going to find time during the school day to meet with five irate parents, two bickering teachers, visit at least ten classrooms, attend a meeting at central office with the assistant superintendent and food services director on the nutritional value of serving SPAM burgers over hamburgers in the school cafeteria, complete a mega data report due to central office by 3:00 p.m., meet with the superintendent over a disciplinary issue that has the community up in arms, meet with a fuming bus driver who doesn’t think the assistant principal is supporting her when she tells kids they cannot read a book on her bus, meet with a couple of fired-up club sponsors to explain for the second time why they cannot conduct candy sales during breakfast and lunch, make phone calls to local pastors apologizing for the football team practicing late Wednesday evening, meet after school with the counselors to discuss course offerings for the next school year, supervise the junior varsity football game that night, and before going to bed at one or two in the morning complete a crappy useless time consuming report that must be on the superintendent’s desk no later than 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Another common teacher misconception is the principal and sometimes even the school board is out to get them. Unless the teacher lives in Oxford, Mississippi and his name is Dan Jones, this is not something teachers need to worry about. Principals do not have time to plot against anyone. They do not want to get rid of teachers unless they are not doing their job. One of the happiest times of a principal’s professional life is when he doesn’t have to conduct interviews to fill teaching vacancies for the coming school year. That rarely happens, but when it does, no one is happier than the principal. Principals are usually so thankful they have found enough teachers crazy enough to sign a contract that plotting to get rid of one of them rarely crosses their mind. The only plotting most principals are guilty of is scheming to find a week to get away during the summer.

The bottom line for principals is they, like teachers, are simply trying to survive. Why should they invent conflict when the very nature of their job tends to attract more conflict than they ever bargained for? Teachers understand stress and conflict as much as anyone, so why they often believe school administrators are sheltered from or immune to conflict is baffling. Maybe the problem is that unlike the principal who has served as a classroom teacher, teachers do not have a reference point to help them make a connection between the job they do and the job a principal does. In the eyes of many teachers, the principal’s job is to make sure there is toilet paper in the teacher lounge restrooms, keeping troublesome students out of their hair, and staying out of their way so they can teach. They simply do not understand what a principal does all day other than sit in his office and think of more useless crap for them to do. Therefore, it stands to reason that if they had a better understanding of the role of the principal, they might better understand that the roles of a teacher and principal are extensions of each other – each needs the other to have a successful school as well as to survive.

What Every Teacher Needs To Know About The Principal

  1. The principal was once a teacher too. It is doubtful that he has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher:
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was one of those principals who spent less than five years as a classroom teacher. To expect a person to be an effective administrator without adequate time in the classroom is laughable. Without a solid base of five or more years in the classroom, it is a rare principal or assistant principal who truly understands the role of the teacher and has the knowledge and tools to provide the administrative support expected by the teachers;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was socially promoted (Yes, it happens with students, and it happens with teachers). Sometimes an inept or marginal teacher is promoted to an administrative position because he is a hometown boy, goes to the right church, travels in the right circles, or at one time was a damn good coach, so when the day comes the district can no longer prop him up as a teacher or his coaching candle dims, he is promoted to assistant principal or principal as the lesser of evils;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he is just an outright A__hole, and unfortunately, just like with teachers, there are sometimes a few of these hanging around;
  2. Principals, like teachers, want to be left alone! Like teachers, they would like to be able to do their job without constant interruptions from central office, angry or needy parents, bickering teachers, gossip generated by teachers, and vendors peddling their wares;
  3. Principals hate paperwork, evaluations, and testing as much as teachers . . . .
    • Principals rarely require extra paperwork of their teachers unless by directive from central office or the state department of education. When it comes to paperwork, ninety-nine percent of the time the principal is simply the messenger;
    • Principals don’t like being judged/evaluated, and they dislike judging/evaluating others even more. This is especially true when the evaluation process and evaluation tool is little more than an “I gottcha” process or a checklist to document the principal went through the motions of conducting a teacher evaluation. These types of evaluations are a waste of time for both the principal and the teacher; and
    • Most principals understand that accountability is important, but when state testing eats up a quarter of the instruction time allotted for the school year, the school ceases to exist as a place of learning. It is transformed into a data collection venue for data that has little relevancy for the students or teachers by the time it is processed and sent back to the school several months later;
  4. Principals make decisions based on the following priorities . . . .
    • First, the safety of the students, faculty, support staff, and uncertified personnel;
    • Second, what is best for students;
    • Third, what is best for the faculty;
    • Fourth, what is best for the support staff;
    • Fifth, what is best for individual certified personnel;
    • Sixth, what is best for the community;
    • Seventh, what is best for non-certified personnel; and
    • Finally, what is best for the administrative staff can only be considered after all other considerations have been evaluated;
  5. Principals and teachers are both human, and as such, they are not always right. The difference is that teachers expect to be forgiven for their faults or mistakes, but they are often reluctant to extend forgiveness to an administrator for his faults or mistakes;
  6. It is not personal on the principal’s part if he forgets something he was told outside his office. More than likely, a principal will be stopped several times in the hall by teachers, students, custodians, etc., so the odds of his remembering all the important things he was told in the hallway when he gets back to his office are very slim at best;
  7. Teachers do not have a monopoly on stress! Principals deal with stress from home, students, parents, colleagues, central office, the state department, federal guidelines, community, church, Walmart, the mall, etc. Principals are confronted by school stress no matter where they go! Principals are on stress call 24/7.
  8. Like teachers, principals like to hear they are appreciated for the job they do. Constant negatives tend to raise stress levels and make both teachers and principals a little less human;
  9. Principals welcome constructive feedback. If something is not working, teachers should talk to their principal about it, but they should never talk to him without a solution in mind. The solution should be well thought out and even backed by research when possible. Principals value the perspective of teachers who share ideas and concerns with them. They may not always agree, and sometimes the meeting accomplishes little more than an agreement to disagree, but by initiating a conversation with the principal, the teacher has planted the seed for possible change in the future. Teachers must also understand that principals cannot make every brilliant idea happen that teachers approach them with even when the principal would like to do so. Sometimes, days or even months pass before a spark the teacher generated in an earlier meeting with the principal leads to a resolution that neither the teacher nor the principal had previously considered;
  10. Principals are put off by faculty or staff who appear to be slackers or clock watchers;
  11. Principals expect follow through when they ask a teacher to do something. Unfortunately, some teachers think ignoring this expectation and begging for forgiveness later is cute and acceptable; however, it is often a sure way for the teacher to get his name on the “poop list.” When the principal asks a teacher to do something, he expects it to be done whether the teacher agrees or not. The only exception to following a principal’s directive is if his request is unethical or morally wrong; then the teacher has every right to balk;
  12. Principals expect teachers to handle the majority of the discipline issues in their classroom. Unfortunately, some teachers see this as the principal trying to avoid doing his job. However, any teacher worth his salt knows classroom management is the responsibility of the teacher. If kids were robots, teaching would be easy, but when the robots are programed with personalities and brain waves, the difficulty of the teaching task changes dramatically. Learning to manage personalities and focus the brain on learning is the teacher’s responsibility, administrators are there to support teachers with interruptions they cannot handle on their own, but they are not there to take over the daily classroom management for the teacher;
  13. Sometimes it is hard for principals to have empathy for teachers who moan about long hours, especially when the principal logged eighty hours Monday through Saturday of the previous week working at the school and supervising extra-curricular activities. It is exhausting and unfortunate, but working long hours goes with the territory for all educators!
  14. Principals create new programs and policies each year not to make things harder or give teachers more to do, but because they understand there is always room for improvement. One of the worst things that can happen to a school is for the actions of the faculty, support staff, and even the administration to become stale or complacent; and
  15. Principals care about kids just as much as teachers do!

This list of 15 is only scratching the surface, but regardless of what is said in support of principals, some teachers will never change their perceptions of them. Nonetheless, principals do far more than drink coffee all day, take two hour lunch breaks, and sit around and think of ways to make teachers miserable just as teachers do a whole lot more than talk to kids or watch them color all day, and then go home and count their money. As a former principal, I will not hesitate to say that other than the students, the teachers are the most important people in the school. But, as a former teacher, I must admit that until I walked in the shoes of a principal, I had no idea how valuable the principal was to the overall success of the school and to my success as a teacher. There are three roles schools depend on more than any other for success: the role of the student, the role of the teacher, and the role of the principal. Without students there is no school; without teachers there is no learning; without principals there is no order.

JL

©Jack Linton, April 6, 2015

Funding Mississippi Education and Seceding from the Union

I see where Governor Phil Bryant will sign the state Senate’s education funding bill although it short changes K-12 education by another $211 million dollars. I could rant and rave about how little the Governor and the state legislators value education, but these men and women have children and grandchildren of their own, so it’s hard to believe they do not value education to some extent. More likely the truth is that Mississippi is a poor state that truly cannot financially afford to do what is right educationally for its children. However, the problem with that truth is that it makes the Governor’s and legislators’ aversion to the Federal dollars that have financially propped up Mississippi for years, and their support for doing away with state income taxes that account for 31% of the state’s total revenues even more bewildering. This is a troubling paradox which stands to be corrected only through the ballot box, but Mississippi has long been enamored with its paradoxes, so sanity is not likely to occur through the vote.

If we accept the truth that Mississippi is a poor state that truly cannot afford to fully fund education, then we must also accept the truth that cutting a third of the state’s revenues is not a practical solution to providing for our children’s education or any of the other countless services needed in the state. Anyone who does not accept that truth either has a private bankroll capable of providing for all their children’s needs, including education, or they know of some secret stash the state has hidden away in a Richton salt dome. But, this is not just an education issue; it is an issue that permeates all agencies and divisions of the state. It is an issue that cannot be resolved by throwing away your wallet and praying for heavenly intervention although when it comes to funding education in Mississippi, educators have been praying for heavenly intervention for years.

Many state legislators call for improvement in education before they “hand out” more money. I agree there are improvements that can be made in education, but withholding funding to make that point is grossly negligent on the part of our legislators. Withholding funds until improvement is realized as so many legislators advocate does not resolve the problem, but rather exacerbates the problem.   Also, although it is highly laughable, too many of our leaders in Jackson believe Mississippi teachers are getting rich off the state. As a result, our children are growing educationally poorer due to distrust and declining legislative financial support. However, the biggest problem with our leadership in Jackson is they fail to understand the education funding issue in Mississippi is not about teachers; it is about children.

When it comes to making a living for their families, teachers in Mississippi are in the same boat as the majority of the people in the state; they struggle. Most families in Mississippi, including teacher families, do not have a bankroll capable of providing private education for their children, nor do they have a key to the mystical stash in Richton; they depend on a free public education for their children’s future. Therefore, instead of conjuring up ways to throw away a third of the state’s revenue, we need legislators who think outside the proverbial box to find ways to better address state funding not only for education but for all areas that depend on state funding. To do that, our leadership needs to look for ways to consolidate spending as well as avenues for creating new revenue dollars rather than proposing schemes that will further cripple the state. Therefore, in line with the current trend of enigmatic thinking engulfing our state and country, I want to share some practical funding suggestions and benefits of thinking creatively and not foolishly.

Practical Suggestions for Funding Mississippi Education

Practical Suggestion #1: Consolidate elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools at the county level.

Benefit: Under this plan, the state would save money by having only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school in each county. By slashing the number of schools in the state by 75%, the savings in administrative and instructional personnel as well as support staff alone would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So what if it means mega schools of three to four thousand kids, the savings to the state would make it more than worthwhile.

Practical Suggestion #2: Consolidate or reduce the number of state senators and state representatives to Jackson.

Benefit: Under this plan, the state could have one senator from each county, which would increase the Mississippi Senate from 52 members to 82 members. Second, three representatives to the state house would be elected from each of five state congressional districts such as the Coastal District, Central District, Capital District, Delta District, and Hills District. In each district, one Republican, one Democrat, and one at large representative to the State House of Representatives would be elected. This would reduce the number of state representatives from 122 to 15. This plan would reduce the overall number of state legislators from 174 to 97, which would save the taxpayers around $2,000,000 annually if not more.

Practical Suggestion #3: Conduct a study to look for redundancy in the 138 state agencies and departments. Reduce the number of state agencies and departments as indicated by the study through consolidation.

Benefit: Considerable savings could be made by consolidating some of the 138 state agencies. Savings would come by eliminating redundant directorships, support staff and clerical staff.

Practical Suggestion #4: Direct MDOT to be more conservative and repair state roads and highways with pea gravel instead of expensive paving. Also, to save money on bridge repairs, MDOT should think outside the box, and build ramps on both sides of deteriorating bridges.

Benefit: Money saved by MDOT to repair roads and bridges would actually be redirected back to the working sector. For example, mechanics would benefit greatly from automobiles constantly in contact with pea gravel potholes and ramping over creeks, rivers and overpasses where bridges once stood. I can also see a sudden spike in business for body shops as people across the state opt to have their cars painted orange like Bo and Luke’s car on the Dukes of Hazard! In addition, gas stations would benefit from the need for higher priced high octane fuel, car dealers would benefit from selling more souped up automobiles, insurance companies would benefit by charging higher rates, and the demand for emergency response and medical personnel would skyrocket.

Practical Suggestion #5: Require all adults in the state to exercise their second amendment rights and carry a firearm. This would effectively reduce the number of sheriffs, deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and other law enforcement personnel needed in the state.

Benefit: Money would be saved by moving to a vigilante style of citizen law enforcement. What law enforcement personnel left could spend their time helping coroners identify bodies.

Practical Suggestion #6: Completely restructure K-12 education by placing one certified teacher in each school as the lead teacher, and since anybody can teach, hire substitute teachers off the street to teach classes. For administrative positions such as principals and assistant principals, conduct a monthly community lottery to draw names for a lucky citizen to serve in those positions for a month, or better yet, draw the lottery names from a hat containing the names of state legislators. For clerical positions, it would be the civic duty of all citizens to sign up to serve in their local school for one week each year.

Benefit:   This plan would allow the state to funnel the majority of public school dollars to private schools and charters and populate those schools with elite upper class, white middle class, and minorities with unique athletic skills while reserving public schools for poor whites and non-athletic minorities. This would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Practical Suggestion #7: Charge parents for any absentees their child accrues beyond 10 days unless the child is hospitalized or is bedridden for more than three days under a doctor’s care.

Benefit: Charging parents for excessive absenteeism makes sense. The money paid by parents would go to help offset the expense of providing tutoring services, loss of state funding to schools and summer schools.

Just think how much money Mississippi would save if such a plan was adopted! This plan would allow the state to save so much money that Mississippi could afford to secede once again from the distrustful United States of America. By doing so, Mississippi would no longer be enticed to accept those evil nasty Federal dollars the government keeps trying to shove down our poor throats to offset the expenses of such things as education and health care. With this plan there would be so much extra revenue pouring into the state coffers, Mississippi could afford to entice companies to build in Mississippi with one-hundred year state tax exemptions; the state would even have enough money to pay the cost of moving the companies’ management and workers to Mississippi. Finally, we could elect our own president, Bubba, field boss, or master or whatever the state legislature decides is best for us. There would be no state taxes! The only requirement would be to raise cotton in your backyard, and happily sing, “We Have Overcome” in tribute to the personal and political agendas and opinions of those who know best in Jackson.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 24, 2015

Is it Time to Do Away with Standardized Testing?

Recently, while talking with a teacher about the importance of adjusting instruction to meet the needs of children in the classroom, the teacher suddenly burst out laughing. I asked why that was funny. She stopped laughing and became very serious. “It’s funny,” she said, “because adjusting instruction to meet the needs of my students is against what I am allowed to do in my classroom. I have been given a day by day timeline for what I teach, and I am held accountable to that timeline regardless of whether my students have learned the material or not. The mindset around here is that if I cover it, the students will learn it, and if they don’t, oh well, it was covered. Following the timeline to ensure we cover everything that will be tested is the priority, not learning.”

Those words played in my mind for the rest of the day. How could this be? How could we have come to a place in education where conformity has been misconstrued for accountability? There is nothing wrong with some expectancy of conformity in instructional practices, but when it comes to learning, conformity should take a back seat to the needs of the child. When focus in the classroom shifts from learning to coverage of material at the expense of children, something is seriously wrong with our approach to accountability.

Accountability is not bad when it makes learning “purposeful;” however, accountability is bad if it becomes a “check-list” for completed tasks, which in effect makes learning “incidental.” For learning to have meaning and relevance, it must have a focused purpose. However, that has not always been the case in schools. I entered the teaching profession years ago when a teacher was given a key to the building, the book room, and the classroom and sent forth in isolation to teach whatever the teacher deemed important. Often lessons in the classroom were of special interest to the teacher with more focus on what the teacher did in the classroom than what the students learned in the classroom. There was no accountability for learning, and in fact in many cases learning was secondary at best. Of course, this was not the case for every teacher, there were exceptional teachers who raised the bar far above the norm, but the norm was mediocrity at best, and the overall mindset was that was good enough. As a teaching profession, we did not consistently hold ourselves accountable for learning in the classroom, and as a result we left the door wide open for others to hold us accountable. For the sake of children growing up in a global society where knowledge has grown and continues to grow at an exponential rate, that was not a bad thing. When it works as intended, accountability in education is a safeguard against the “doing your own thing” mentality that once prevailed in classrooms across America. For the sake of children there must be accountability, which equates to consistency of instruction in every classroom. However, when accountability is reduced to a “check and move on list,” we are missing the point! Accountability in education is not about saying “we did it;” it is about saying “they learned it.”

I still maintain accountability is important, and I believe testing is still probably the easiest solution for holding educators accountable for student learning. However, is it the best measure for holding all stakeholders responsible as well as motivating students to learn? The answer is a simple NO! When it comes to standardized tests, there are too many issues such as cost, time, priorities, stress, competition and accountability equity for testing to continue to be a reasonable and responsible solution. For example, look closely at each of these issues:

  1. Cost: With the current testing situation in this country, we are bankrolling the big testing companies to the tune of billions of dollars each year while educationally bankrupting our children. Why not spend those billions of dollars recruiting and enticing our nation’s brightest young minds to become teachers as well as researching and finding ways to deal with poverty, which is the real detriment to our children performing well as global citizens? If this nation wants to truly compete globally, we need to find ways to reduce poverty and develop a highly motivated and quality teacher work force!
  2. Time: With the current testing situation in this country, we are replacing valuable instructional time with standardized testing. For several weeks out of each school year, children and teachers are focused on taking a test rather than focused on classroom instruction that makes a difference in the children’s lives. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you WE TEST TOO MUCH!
  3. Priorities: With the current testing situation in this country, we are often more concerned with checking off the standards as taught than we are about what the child has learned. In all the years that students in the United States have been subjected to standardized testing there is little evidence to support testing as an accountability measure has improved our children’s global status. Finland, the top performing nation on such international assessments as PISA and TIMMs, does not force standardized testing on its children, yet Finland consistently has the top or near the top scores of all industrialized nations. Why? Low poverty and a focus on recruiting quality teachers appear to be the major factors.  
  4. Stress: With the current testing situation in this country, we had better be recruiting bright new teachers since the bright veteran teachers are leaving the profession in droves.
  5. Competition: With the current testing situation in this country, we are promoting competition not learning. With standardized testing and the swing toward merit pay for teachers, we are effectively pitting state against state, school against school, student against student, and teacher against teacher.  We are kidding ourselves when we say we focus on testing to improve learning in our schools. Standardized tests are little more than ranking tools designed to place a number on kids and teachers. In America, testing is part of this nation’s obsession with competition. We don’t always like to do what it takes to be on top, but we are a nation of Monday morning quarterbacks who love to see where we stand in the rankings, so we can crowd around the coffee machine and take pot shots at those sorry “so and sos” responsible for our poor showing.
  6. Accountability Equity: With the current testing situation in this country, standardized tests do not hold all stakeholders accountable.  To a small extent students are held accountable, and to a large extent teachers are held accountable.  However, where is the accountability for parents, community and politicians? If educational accountability in this country is to work, the finger must point in all directions, not just at the teacher.

So, what is the solution to the testing dilemma? Should we just throw testing out and do the best we can without it? On the surface that appears to be the best answer, but unfortunately history has shown as educators we often struggle to hold ourselves truly accountable for what is best for kids. That statement will probably anger many educators, but it is an unfortunate fact, so it is imperative for the sake of children that we keep some form of accountability in place. I do not pretend to have the answer, but I do contend there are answers available if we are so inclined to open our eyes and begin looking for them. What can we do to right the sinking ship? I have three suggestions that some might say border on the extreme, but maybe it is time for extreme measures:

Rather than depend on standardized tests for accountability, why not . . . .

  1. Embrace performance based assessments: Although not without some issues, especially logistical, performance based assessments make the best sense when assessing what a student knows and is able to do. Such assessments are certainly more cost effective, and place accountability not only on the teachers but squarely back on the shoulders of the student where it belongs.
  2. Require all politicians to take the standardized test and then publish their scores.  The test will only have to be given once, or not at all, before politicians cry foul and shut down testing for good. Hopefully, not before they work with educators to come up with an alternative to standardized testing; and
  3. Do away with standardized tests, and establish proficiency exams for entrance into all junior/community colleges, colleges, universities, trade schools, and skilled labor positions. When a student applies for college admission or for a skilled labor position, he must take a proficiency test.  If the student fails the test, the student is referred back to the high school he graduated from for remedial work.  For students referred back to their home school district, the cost of the remediation and the loss of first year tuition to the college or university will be shared by the school district and the parents/guardians. State politicians who failed to vote to adequately fund education for the home school district will also be held personally responsible for sharing in the cost to re-educate the student. Teachers who taught the student during his school years (K-12) will be required to provide remedial instruction to the student after school or even on weekends with no extra pay. The student will be mandated by law to attend the remedial classes as well as pay off his share of the remediation through weekend and afternoon community service. Basically, there would no longer be a need for standardized testing since accountability for education would be a shared endeavor by all.

The bottom line is that maybe it is time to change how we hold students and educators accountable for learning in the classroom. Testing has had its day, and although in many ways we are better off today than we were a few years ago, we appear to have reached a plateau with no hope of going anywhere but over the edge. Teachers and their students do not need to focus on completing a checklist for preparing for standardized tests when there are much more important things they need to be focused on – like learning.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 1, 2014