State seeks public input on education flexibility

By Errol Castens | NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – The “No Child Left Behind” Act, which falls under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was intended, among other purposes, to assure that all public school students in the United States would meet certain educational goals. One frequent criticism, however, is that it stifles innovation by forcing educators to “teach to the test.”
Mississippi is one of many states potentially seeking waivers that would allow its schools and teachers to have more flexibility in their methodology and content. The State Department of Education is hosting a series of regional meetings to outline requirements of the waiver effort and to seek public input from stakeholders.
“The ESEA waiver offers the opportunity to request flexibility on behalf of the state, districts and schools to better focus on improving educational outcomes, closing achievement gaps and increasing the quality of instruction,” said Dr. Tom Burnham, state superintendent of education, in Oxford on Monday.
Audience members suggested evaluating teachers using many criteria: student engagement, knowledge of subject matter, student growth, classroom management and whether they prepare students for the next level of education.
Principals, they suggested, should be gauged on characteristics such as retention of good teachers, supervising instruction, maintaining a safe environment and fostering community/school relationships.
Student- and parent-oriented suggestions included grade-specific expectation checklists, tutoring for parents and a concentrated effort to instill literacy.
“Unload your money early and teach 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds to read instead of teaching eighth-graders how to read,” one woman said.
Tupeloan Sally Gray of Parents for Public Schools noted that parents are busy. “Brevity is key. Why don’t we have 30-minute programs before the start of the basketball game? Parent-teacher conferences – short and sweet.” She also noted that faith communities could be doing more to help parents understand how they can best help their children in school.
Mississippi will submit its ESEA/NCLB waiver application in mid-February.
“It’s not about lowering standards for students, educators, schools or districts,” Burnham said. “The whole emphasis is on advancing education.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com