EDITORIAL: Balanced learning

Ties between Tupelo and Lee County public schools and the communities they serve have always been strong. Education’s role has long been recognized as central to the Tupelo/Lee County/Northeast Mississippi economic success story.
In the future the connection between the quality of local public schools and the overall quality of life will be even more pronounced, so intentional efforts to solidify an ongoing relationship between schools and community organizations are critical.
Last Thursday, Tupelo and Lee County teachers participated in the annual Industry-Education Day, sponsored by the Community Development Foundation. In its 33rd year, the program is the most direct effort to bring together the people who prepare the community’s future work force with the folks who will be hiring them.
Teachers need exposure to what employers are looking for in future employees. The private sector leadership needs to hear the concerns of those charged with the education of children.
This year’s featured speaker, Ray McNulty of the International Center for Leadership in Education, struck a chord with the 1,300 educators present when he said, “We’ve overreacted to the importance of test scores. Our work is complex. A test score is not a synonym for what a student has learned or a school has accomplished.”
There’s a lot of truth in that statement, as any teacher will attest. But public accountability requires some objective means of assessing student achievement, and imperfect as they are, test scores are now the primary vehicle for determining how effective teachers and schools are in educating children. That’s a fact of life that schools must learn to live with.
Really, though, getting test scores up should be the minimum, and committed teachers do much more. They encourage their students to be creative, critical thinkers who can analyze problems and formulate solutions, and they work hard to inculcate the skills to do that. It’s clear that the jobs of the 21st century – or at least the jobs that communities like ours will want to have – are not those for which regurgitating memorized facts is adequate preparation.
Yet some facts must be memorized and some rote learning undertaken to build the basis for critical thinking. You can’t think critically if you don’t have the facts to support your analysis. Some of the school instructional reform movements of the last 25 years or so lost sight of that fact and veered too far away from the kind of learning that standardized testing measures.
The annual Industry-Education Day is an appropriate place to help underscore the need for a proper blending of the emphasis on critical thinking and test taking so that one isn’t shorted at the expense of the other – and students get all the skills they need to succeed.


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