By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Mississippi’s lieutenant governor said the state needs to raise its education standards.
Tate Reeves said he is supportive of its switch to the Common Core State Standards but that he’ll be carefully monitoring their implementation.
“If in fact, it is ever proved the federal government will be involved in making decisions for curriculum for the state’s schools, I will be the first to take charge in fighting it,” Reeves said during a media interview on Tuesday at the Mississippi Education Symposium at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
One day earlier, the Tupelo Tea Party held a meeting in the same building to air its concerns about the new standards. At that meeting, state Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, said she would file legislation calling for a pause in implementation of and testing on the new standards.
The Common Core Standards are new guidelines for English and math instruction that were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They were fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
They are standards, not curriculum. That means they outline skills that students should master but do not tell how to teach them.
Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said that parents who have concerns about a book students are reading won’t need to go to Washington or Jackson with their concerns. They’ll be able to address those with local school districts, which will still write their curriculum.
“We will continue to monitor the implementation, as we should do in every area of government,” Reeves said.
State Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, also was present at Monday’s symposium. Collins, who serves as vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, said she is generally supportive of Common Core but also will be watchful of implementation.
“I know there are still a lot of questions we have to ask and parents are right to ask questions,” she said. “I know we have to raise our standards in Mississippi. Where we are is not good enough.”
Collins also vowed to fight any “federal government intrusion into education.”
Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Bill Bennett, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and is a conservative commentator and author. Bennett said he favors national standards, but not a national curriculum.
“It is a mess because an academic question has become a political question,” he said. “There are a lot of people at fault for that, but I don’t think we will get anywhere until the dust settles and we can have a real discussion.”
The reason for the politicization, Bennett said, is that the Common Core has been taken “as a symbol of the federal government’s overreach in our lives, like Obamacare.”
While it is not a federal government program, the U.S. Department of Education has encouraged states to adopt Common Core as part of its federal Race to the Top grant program.
Though he feels national standards are important, Bennett said Common Core has been mishandled and he can understand why there are concerns. He said he believes the language arts standards are good and the math ones are “so so.”
“We need a national discussion,” he said.