LENA MITCHELL: Let’s embrace Common Core state standards for our children



The Common Core education standards have become another political football, instead of the reasoned outcome of discussions by government, education and business leaders across the nation who want to see American students achieve at their highest levels.

On its website the standards are described as follows:“The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English, language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing entry courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce. The standards are clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics in school.”

When I left Mississippi to attend college in Pennsylvania many years ago, I had to compete with students who had been prepared from elementary through high school at better-equipped public schools with more highly prepared teachers, as well as students from private parochial schools and some of the priciest Ivy League prep schools in the nation.

When I returned to Mississippi 25 years later, I had been working in deaf education and teacher education for several years at Gallaudet University, before making the career change to journalism.

The circumstances that brought me back to Mississippi included the need for me to assume guardianship of a 17-year-old high school junior.

It was shocking to me that, so many years later, my nephew’s last two years of high school had fewer academic demands made on him that I experienced through my school years in Mississippi:

• Courses taught with teachers lecturing and expecting students to take class notes to glean sufficient knowledge of the subject matter, with no textbooks to reference for more in-depth study or understanding.

• No regular writing assignments in English classes or research papers in any subject area.

• Multiple-choice exams that required no reading comprehension or essay writing.

These were the most glaring areas that struck me, particularly since I had spent so many years in the college environment and knew those areas would require a rapid learning curve for any student planning to attend college.

When I learned that more than 40 states had adopted the Common Core State Standards, I was pleased above all else about the promotion of critical thinking skills in the curriculum.

Students who learn in Mississippi don’t always stay in Mississippi, and they need skills that will take them anywhere they want to go.

Could there be anything more valuable to education that teaching Mississippi students how to think so they can perform in any environment? If you believe in teaching a person to fish rather than simply giving him fish to eat, how could you disagree with this concept?

At one of Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn’s town hall meetings last year, I heard a parent and several others boisterously object to implementation of Common Core in Mississippi because it would “allow the Obama administration to track a child from cradle to grave.”

How did such a common sense approach to preparing Mississippi’s children to compete in the world become something subversive in the minds of so many of our state’s residents?

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

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