Education issues remained center stage in Northeast Mississippi on Wednesday when a well-known former U.S. education secretary, William Bennett, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, newly hired State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright and others participated in the Mississippi Education Symposium at BancorpSouth Conference Center.
Bennett, who was President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education, has remained deeply involved in national education issues for more than 30 years.
Bennett, a traditional Republican conservative, takes a broad view of what schools, parents, teachers and government must do to ensure that American schools respond to 21st century challenges while retaining the core of integrity on which public schools have relied during their long evolution in American history.
Bennett, for example, specifically cited parents as the most important adult in a child’s life, and linked that to good teaching, the increasing use of advancing technology in schools and career readiness.
While his views were inclusive of the whole nation, all of the key points he cited are of exceptional importance in Mississippi, especially the involvement of parents. Mississippi has more than its share of single-parent households, which heightens the importance of involvement of even one parent with school children of every age.
Bennett told the more than 160 people registered for the meeting that schools must tell parents they are important support pieces.
“We need to be a little more aggressive in telling people they need to do their job,” he said.
Bennett also offered measured support for the Common Core curriculum, whose standards are under implementation in Mississippi.
Bennett, while not 100 percent sold on Common Core, did not advocate stopping it, an opposite view expressed during a Monday night meeting of Tea Party adherents in Tupelo.
Every important change and reform in public education should be closely examined, questioned and, as necessary, tweaked to work best in Mississippi while retaining the general integrity of the core as a national standard that is linked nationwide.
Other concerns, of course, arise from different perspectives and opinions, so the middle ground is essential for resolving substantive issues while moving ahead.
Common Core, while bearing the encouragement of the federal Department of Education, is a program developed at the behest of the National Governor’s Association, and among others, former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi. It was adopted in Mississippi in 2010 and is slated for implementation in 2015. It offers standards to meet, rather than giving curriculum mandates, leaving that to the states.
Common Core can become Mississippi’s strong standard, and there’s no compelling reason to stop it in its tracks.