The Summer Education Forum in Jackson this weekend was an amazing success!
It offered a political-free zone to public school educators, administrators and concerned parents. They came from all over the state to be able to hear from and speak to experts, lawmakers, teachers, parents and professors about Mississippi public education. The two-day event resulted in identifying many problems, solutions and recommendations about cost-neutral or cost-saving ideas to improve the quality of the classroom experience in Mississippi public schools. While those ideas will be organized and published in greater detail for all school districts and lawmakers in the near future, there were several topics that were apparent and constant:
1. FREE SPEECH: Educators are universally scared to exercise their right of free speech in Mississippi, even outside of the classroom and school. They were relieved to know that all teacher-silencing bills failed, and that the teachers do still have first amendment rights outside of the instructional time at school.
2. HUNGER: It was crystal clear that they teachers were HUNGRY to have their voices and concerns heard, and know that their opinions about education matter.
3. STANDARDIZED TEST: Educators and parents uniformly believe that the standardized tests are useless and paralyzing good instructional time in the classrooms. The results come in far too late to offer any benefit, long after the students are in another grade. The educators and students are equally stressed, with children actually throwing up in bathrooms or refusing to go to school (many teachers feel the same way). The state is paying $122 Million to the current testing company, with many schools unable to finish the computer tests because of poor Internet connectivity. Teachers and parents estimated the standardized testing robs the children of an average of 21 days of quality instructional time every year.
4. RECESS: Teachers and parents spoke about the need to follow the state law that requires grades K-6 receive 150 Minutes of uninterrupted recess time per week (two 15-Minutes recesses per day). The point was well made that similar breaks are given to adults in their jobs, courtrooms, even those in attendance at the education forum. Everyone benefits from a mental break.
5. HOMEWORK: Arguments were made that the reason for so much is because of the lack of time to cover material in classrooms because of the time lost for standardized testing. Some pointed out that every home is different, and many cannot dedicate three hours at home each night when they may be working, or caring for siblings or parents. Studies were discussed which showed little or no correlation between homework and the quality of education in the school.
6. RESPECT: Teachers feel they are under attack by the legislature and special interests who want to privatize education. As such, they feel they are blamed for all problems in the school when they are not given any discretion to do much of anything. While they did not go into the profession for the pay or respect, that does not mean we should not reward them with these things.
The “Ninety Percent” factor: Ninety percent of our children in Mississippi attend public schools. Ninety Percent of adults in Mississippi attended public schools. If a child is not reading on grade level by third grade, there is a ninety percent chance they will not graduate high school. If they do not graduate, there is a ninety percent chance they will be on welfare or incarcerated by age thirty. Education is far cheaper for society. This means that the teachers are the most valuable people in our communities. Without them, there would be no doctors, lawyer, police officers, firefighters, teachers, etc. We MUST protect public education from assault by secret money simply wanting our tax dollars.
Oxford lawyer Jay Hughes serves the 12th District in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.