By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant, backed by the legislative leadership, said Monday that local and state officials – not the federal government – are in charge of setting the academic standards for Mississippi’s public schools.
Bryant stated those beliefs in an executive order that a news release from his office pointed out was being issued as the state “prepares to implement” the Common Core academic standards adopted by most states.
Various conservative groups, including some Mississippi legislators, oppose Common Core, a set of standards initiated by the nation’s governors and state public school leaders. They contend the push for national standards could lead to federal control of state curricula, though supporters emphasize it is not a federal program.
The Mississippi Board of Education is set to fully enact Common Core next school year as the standards on which all students will be tested.
State Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, policy chair for the Senate Conservative Coalition, praised Bryant on Twitter for “leading the charge against Common Core,” and said he hopes Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves would join the effort.
But Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor’s order makes no attempt to block Common Core.
Common Core supporters have emphasized that it involves the setting of national standards, not a set curriculum, and that each state is free to design its own curriculum to meet those standards, which stress critical thinking skills, application of knowledge and increased academic rigor.
In the news release, Bryant said, “There is serious public concern about the reach of the federal government into state public education policy, and this order makes very clear that Mississippi and its local school districts and not the federal government are vested with the authority to define and implement public education standards …We have made tremendous progress in enacting improvements in our public education system, and we will continue pursuing what works for Mississippi children.”
New state Superintendent Carey Wright, who has voiced strong support for Common Core, did not object to Bryant’s executive order.
“I am pleased that Gov. Bryant supports higher academic standards for Mississippi’s students,” she said in a statement. “Over the past three years, the Mississippi Department of Education has been providing professional development to educators across the state in preparation for higher standards.
“School districts have developed the curriculum around Common Core state standards and have implemented these more rigorous learning goals in classrooms. The federal government hasn’t done any of that. Our teachers and school leaders across the state have done the hard work to make this happen.”
In a news release, Reeves and the two chairs of the Education committees, Gray Tollison in the Senate and John Moore in the House, voiced support for Bryant’s action.
Reeves praised Bryant’s actions and has said he intends to monitor Common Core implementation to ensure that the state’s prerogatives in education are not lost to the federal government.