Tag Archives: HB 449

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

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A Casualty of War: The Takeover of Mississippi Education

The hostile attitude held by so many Republicans toward education in Mississippi is sickening. Their view that Mississippi educators have let the people of Mississippi down is preposterous. The lip service they pay to supporting public education is highly questionable. Their refusal to work hand in hand with state educators to fix education problems in favor of resolving issues on their own is dangerous. Their desire to tear down every existing education fence without first understanding why it was built is absolutely crazy. Their methods that often smell of Orwellian “Big Brother” is horrifying. That they are Mississippians waging war against fellow Mississippians is disheartening.

I have nothing against the Republican Party or the Democratic Party; over the years, I have probably voted Democrat or Republican an equal number of times. My vote has always gone to the man or woman I believed had the credentials, experience and integrity to lead and do what was right for the people. Lately though, with the lack of cooperation exhibited by both parties, I find support for either to be difficult. It is problematic for me to support what has become a messy Red and Blue political war at the expense of the American people. What went wrong with the political party system? How did politicians at both the national and state levels come to believe they know more about what is best for the people than the people? When was the Constitution amended to give Republicans or Democrats the power and authority to rule over the people rather than serve the people?

Some say it began with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. That may be true, but I believe the roots go much deeper. I believe it began when we lost respect for ourselves as a nation and a people. Recently, I watched the combined United States House of Representatives and Senate act like bad-mannered schoolboys as they riddled the President’s State of the Union Address with unrelenting disrespectful side chatter. Members of Congress do not have to like the man in power, but the man in power is the President of the Greatest Nation the world has ever known, and he is the elected choice of the people. Regardless of the man, the office of the President deserves to be treated with respect, but maybe respect is too much to ask when apparently so many no longer respect themselves or the Congressional offices they hold.

Since 2009 when the childlike pettiness and mule-headed refusal to work together began to truly escalate, the party system (Democrat and Republican) in the United States and at the state level has served little purpose other than to take up space. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned this would happen, “It (party) serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another. . . It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption . . . .” Doesn’t that sound exactly like both political parties at the national and state levels today? Their inconsequential jealousies and blatant animosity toward one another have nearly crippled our nation, and it is threatening to do the same to Mississippi.

The spirit of war that this jealousy and animosity has created between the Red (Republican) and Blue (Democrat) political parties is destroying the very foundation of our state. Unfortunately, in Mississippi, children, teachers, and school administrators are the first to be caught in the crossfire. Education has become a convenient rallying point for the Governor and Republicans’ obsessive fears of takeover by the extremes of the Obama socialist left on one side, and what they deem an incompetent education system that has strayed too far from the conservative values of the Republican Party on the other side. Yet, as the Republicans stage their own state takeover, they refuse to listen or work with state educators, and they propose bills just as heavy-handed and to the left as any regime with intentions of suppression. When it comes to education, not working hand in hand with state educators for improvement is shameful. When it comes to taking away the rights of the people, it does not matter if it is Obama or the Republicans leading the charge – both are wrong.

Although wariness of big government is not completely unhealthy, tearing apart an education system without knowing what you are tearing down, and then trying to legislate it back together is foolish. That’s like putting together a commercial airliner with Elmer’s glue; it looks good on the runway, but falls apart in the sky. You cannot fix the state’s education problems with Elmer’s glue/rhetoric nor can the problems be fixed with legislated band aids; it sounds good in theory and in the media and looks good on paper, but such superficial solutions will still fall far short of the educational needs of the state’s children. The first steps in improving an organization is to establish stringent guidelines for the product produced, secure funding, and hire the best people possible. Therefore, the first steps to improving education are to stabilize and strengthen it with stronger education standards, provide adequate funding that provides adequate resources and facilities, and secure incentives for recruiting bright young minds to be teachers. The Republicans who often speak of operating education more like a business do not seem to understand this, or they choose to ignore it. Instead, they are convinced Mississippi will be better served if they simply crusade to save the people of Mississippi from the incompetence of state educators and the socialist left of the Obama regime by increasing rhetoric and passing more laws.

I am afraid there is much more going on here than just a fight against incompetent teachers and protecting the people from Obama’s socialism. If you look closely at the Republican education bills proposed by the 2015 Mississippi House and Senate, it becomes clear this fight has very little to do with incompetent educators or the socialist left. This is a fight for power; a fight to dismantle the public school system in Mississippi to ensure the socioeconomic status of the “haves” and the “have nots.” Under the pretense of parental choice, this fight is about directing public dollars to charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling to ensure a segregated education. This is a fight that if lost will set Mississippi back at least a hundred years.

With such Republican sponsored bills as HB (House Bill) 449, designed to take away the First Amendment right of state educators, and SB (Senate Bill) 2249, which will create the Mississippi Commission on College and Career Readiness and strip the State Superintendent of Education as well as the State Board of Education of their duties as education policy makers, it is fast becoming clear that the “bad guys” on the left the Republicans have so vehemently cried against may have been on the right all along. Proposing a law to hush educator questions and concerns or imposing Gestapo like laws to strip the Constitutional authority granted a state agency are actions Americans may expect of hostile socialist and communists takeovers, but not from an American political party. There is nothing conservative or American about such actions; such actions go against everything Americans believe! Yet, this is happening in Mississippi. There is always hope that such bills as HB 449 and SB 2249 will not make it out of committee, but since the state’s Republicans have appointed themselves as education’s judge, jury, and executioner, I would hesitate to bet money against either of these bills. The Republicans often paint themselves as conservatives, but some of the recent bills they have proposed are anything but conservative. As unbelievable as it may sound, the Republican Party in Mississippi has moved so far to the right that they are now on the left. The only positive I can see is that their red colors fly well on the left.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 26, 2015

The Mississippi Bill of Silence: HB 449

It came to my attention last night by a very agitated teacher that Mississippi House Education Chairman, John L. Moore (R), had submitted a bill intended to silence educators across the state on education issues. The good thing is that the teacher expressed her shock and disbelief after school hours, and by doing so, she was not in violation of Mr. Moore’s proposed “Bill of Silence.” To be fair, some of Mr. Moore’s bill is common sense and justifiable. It should be a violation of state law for school employees to use school time, school property or school supplies for political reasons (i.e. a teacher should not be emailing his/her legislators at 11:30 a.m. when the school day is in session). However, if that is all HB (House Bill) 449 was about, I would not be writing, but unfortunately, he did not stop there.

As you read through the bill, it becomes very clear Moore is not only concerned with what school administrators and teachers do and say politically during the school day but after the school day as well. If his bill passes, superintendents and principals will no longer be able to even mention a legislative bill, action or issue in an administrative meeting or faculty meeting without fear of being charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000. If you don’t believe me, look up the bill for yourself and read through it carefully, or you can simply keep reading as I look at each section of the bill and offer my response. Either way, all educators need to be familiar with House Bill 449.

HB 449

John L. Moore – Republican — Representative — District 60

  1. HB 449, Section 2a, c, d, e – Section 2 deals with prohibiting political use of school time, political coercion of school personnel, and involvement in campaigning and lobbying. School district employees cannot use school district time (regularly scheduled hours of school operation), property, equipment, supplies or personnel to produce, distribute, disseminate, circulate or communicate any material or information in support or opposition of any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome. Campaigning on behalf of a specific candidate or issue or lobbying the Legislature for policy change is not permitted. In addition, school district employees cannot attempt to coerce political support from school personnel or conduct fund raising for political purposes during regularly scheduled school hours.

RESPONSE: School time, school property, school equipment and supplies as well as the directed or solicited services of school personnel SHOULD NOT be used for political purposes. Political activities SHOULD BE conducted outside the school employment day on personal time – not school time. If a school administrator, board member, teacher or other paid school employee wishes to exercise their Constitutional right of involvement in political activities, they SHOULD perform those activities on their personal time, which may include the hours before and after their work duty assignments, weekends, holidays and approved personal leave.  Nevertheless, there may be times when information of a political nature needs to be delivered to school employees during administrative meetings or faculty meetings. This is where a law such as the one proposed by Mr. Moore could be so literally interpreted that it imposes an unrealistic expectation that may lead to neglect of professional duties such as communication.

  1. HB 449, Section 2b – Section 2b deals with prohibiting school employees from using their school position to influence school personnel. School employees cannot use their official position in any way to influence or attempt to influence, district personnel to support or oppose any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome. School employees cannot campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue or lobby the Legislature for policy change. Such prohibition shall include, but not be limited to, any form of advocacy or opposition in a classroom or school setting or other school related employment relationship.

 

RESPONSE: School officials should not be permitted to openly influence or coerce school district personnel during regularly scheduled school hours or even after hours, but delivering information that may be politically charged to inform employees as to potential impact on their jobs should be allowed.  This would hold true when the information and accompanying views pertaining to that information are directly as well as indirectly connected to the job the employees are expected to perform.  Also, who a school administrator, school board member, teacher or other school employee influences, supports, or opposes outside the school on his/her personal time is their business and Constitutional right.  This may be a bit radical, but technically if HB 449 passes, all school administrators, school board members, teachers, and other school employees would be in violation of HB 449 by exercising their Constitutional right to VOTE since their vote has a direct influence on the outcome of elections.

 

  1. HB 449, Section 3 (1) – Part 1 of Section 3 clarifies many of the “can do’s” and “cannot do’s” discussed in Section 2; however, Section 3 (2) says that the school district superintendent and school board members must remain neutral by not engaging in political activities on school property and by not publicly supporting or opposing any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome.  Superintendents and school board members are forbidden to campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue, or lobbying the Legislature for policy change. 

RESPONSE: Lobbying the Legislature for policy change is a major part of being a district superintendent or school board member! The position of the district superintendent is a POLITICAL POSITION, so to keep him/her from speaking out on political issues is ridiculous! This is a blatant attempt to hush voices of opposition since the district superintendents are the ones in the best position to get their voices heard! Mr. Moore understands fully that by removing the superintendents’ right to speak out on behalf of students and teachers, he is in effect putting a muzzle on state educators, which leaves the legislators free to run Mississippi public education as they please.

  1. HB 449, Section 4 (1) (2) – Section 4 of HB 449 sets the penalties for violation of this act. Anyone who violates the act will be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000 on the first offense. A second violation of the act will result in a misdemeanor and up to $10,000 fine as well as revocation of the individual’s professional license and certification by the State Board of Education.

RESPONSE: While I am pleased to see Mr. Moore was gracious enough to allow the State Board of Education some say in an educational issue even if only in a punitive sense, I am amazed that an educator exercising his/her Constitutional rights could be fined as much as $10,000 while a parent guilty of child neglect for excessive school absences can be fined no more than $1,000. Since when in Mississippi did speaking up for yourself and exercising your freedom of expression become a more contemptuous crime than child neglect?

 

As the teacher who brought this newest development to my attention and the attention of many others said, “You (teachers) should be ENRAGED!” She is absolutely right, but if HB 449 passes, it will not matter. The Bill of Silence will effectively hush all educator protests.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 23, 2015