By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Families play an important role in educating children, the nation’s former Secretary of Education said on Tuesday.
Bill Bennett, who served in that role during the Ronald Reagan administration, was the keynote speaker during the Mississippi Education Symposium held at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
During his address, the author and conservative commentator noted the increasing role of technology in schools, the importance of good teaching, college and career readiness and the need for more family involvement.
“I’ve been a critic of schools and academic performance,” he said. “One thing I’ll defend the schools on is that they can not do everything.”
A parent is the most important adult in a child’s life, Bennett said, and a teacher is next most important. Society must acknowledge there are some children who don’t have that parental support and find a way to improve that, he said.
“I think it is a two-way street,” he said. “Schools need to let parents know they are a critical part of the equation. They are the adjunct faculty, the support pieces…We need to be a little more aggressive in telling people to do their job.”
Bennett, who served in the administration of Ronald Reagan said that during the 1990s, he concluded that technology had a negative effect in public education because it had become a crutch for students. That has changed because of the advances of technology and better uses of it. Plus he said, many of today’s students are much more comfortable in a digital world.
He also said that schools need fewer tests and better tests.
He said they must better prepare students for careers and that the nation needs to find a way to remove the bottom 5 percent of teachers who are impeding learning.
Tuesday’s symposium was hosted by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Department of Education. Reeves said Northeast Mississippi was chosen as the location because “by and large, your school districts and schools are doing well.”
State Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, also helped organize the symposium after a chance meeting with Bennett that followed her visiting a school helped by Beanstalk Innovation, a company for which he serves as chief educational adviser.
“We want to do things like this because we want teachers and principals to feel supported, and we want our schools to be the best they can be,” she said, adding she hopes to see more such events in the future.
The symposium was the first Tupelo appearance for new state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright.
During her opening remarks, Wright spoke of the need to close achievement gaps in the state but also to challenge all students, including top-performing ones.
The challenge is not easy, she said, but the children “deserve nothing less than our best every day.”
“I’m excited about the future of education in Mississippi,” Wright said. “I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited to be a part of the team.”
The symposium also served as training to help teachers in implementing the new Common Core State Standards.
Other speakers included Andrea Honigsfeld, associate dean in education at Molloy College in New York; Harry Dickens, technology director for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center and Billy Ray Jones, founder and executive director of Superior Learning and Leadership.
Wright said she hopes to have more training throughout the state to prepare teachers for the switch to the new standards.
“Since Common Core is so different, we need to make sure we all give teachers lots of opportunities to work with it and dig into it,” she said.