I read Sen. Michael Watson’s letter on Aug. 26 to the Editor in the Daily Journal and the legitimate questions of the Mississippi Senate Conservative Coalition – most of which I have read answered in articles, web sites and publications by various governmental agencies. My question is, “Who is responsible for deciding what, when and how our students are taught? And, how do we know what they are learning?” A more relevant question is, “Who do you trust?”
Based on my extensive experience in Mississippi’s public schools I believe that the adoption of the Common Core Standards is the most logical response to the complex task of setting standards and accountability that I have seen. The process used to set the standards was thorough and inclusive and was led by the National Governors’ Governors’ Association. My early decisions about what, when and how to teach were dictated by my personal knowledge and textbooks – and those were often in limited supply. Later there was a movement to have teachers write their own standards for the courses they were teaching.
As a principal I led a totally confusing process based on this initiative. Since there was only one 7th grade Language Arts teacher in the school and she liked to diagram sentences, 7th grade Language Arts became limited to diagramming – forget literature. The Common Core is, in my mind, a positive next step. Our children are being evaluated by standardized tests. How can we not have some type of standardized curriculum?
Concern about the willingness of reporters to ask questions of our government seems to me to be justified. The decline of investigative reporting has major implications for our society but as newspapers struggle to adjust to technology and financial reality the resources to dig into a story become more and more problematic. I have found the Daily Journal to have high expectations of our public schools and to understand their value and their shortcomings. They do appear to follow educational news objectively.
Asking questions is productive to a point, but too much questioning is not. If you really want to improve public schools I would suggest that legislators look at their own roles. Are they providing adequate resources for our schools? Could they be courageous enough to reduce the number of school districts in our state?
On a personal note, my father, grandfather and uncles were state legislators. I do know the pressures legislators are experiencing, and I also know that it is easy to place that pressure on the schools and newspapers. We all just need to do our jobs and trust each other. Mississippi does not have to remain at the educational bottom but asking questions rather than finding solutions will not move us forward.
MARTHA CHENEY is a retired teacher and administrator. She lives near Tupelo and writes occasionally for the Opinion pages. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.