POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Discussions continue about the best reforms for schools

Point: Ed Holliday
As Tupelo explores ways to best educate our children, can we think out of the box? When farmers first started plowing with tractors they copied the time-honored techniques of making 40-inch rows in their fields. Why? They did this because for generations a 40-inch row allowed enough space for a mule to walk between the rows. Decades went by before farmers discovered greater crop yields as they dismantled the 40-inch row tradition.
Now Tupelo students (grades 6-12) have computers and like the farmers plowing 40-inch rows we are approaching education like we have for generations. Changes are not coming down from the top, they are happening, for example, as innovations like Khan Academy are actually “flipping” classrooms.
What does “flipping” the classroom mean? Instead of the teacher explaining the concept and children doing “homework” at home, innovative teachers are now sending children home to learn the concept at www.khanacademy.org and then actually reinforcing the learning with the “homework” in class. The students can actually use the computer to view the new concept from Khan Academy over and over until it’s grasped.
Traditional education (including bus time) involves some children giving nine hours a day five days a week to be educated and then having to come home to do “homework.” But the total amount of real learning time usually boils down to about three hours a day. We can do better for our children.
Why does every student have to come to school each day? If some students prove they can do better learning at home and then doing two days of reinforcement and testing then why not? Can private schools, public schools, and home school parents work in partnerships together for the greater benefit of everyone? Of course they can. But there must be a new concept in education to allow each student the very best of a personalized, inclusive, and innovative education environment.
Tupelo could develop this. From the city that shook up the world with Elvis, we should not be afraid to build something new using all the pillars of strength in our community.

Counterpoint: James Hull
If it were only that simple. But it’s not.
What the Tupelo School District needs is much more than a few tweaks in instructional methodology. The problems with the Tupelo Public School District are pervasive – as in other school districts across the state.
Below I will list my top 10 ways for every school district, including the TPSD, to achieve three basic goals:
1. Improve every student’s academic performance by one letter grade.
2. Increase discipline and decrease security personnel.
3. Decrease the disproportionate number of suspensions, expulsions and adverse disciplinary actions against any one segment of the student population.
The big 10:
1. Let’s start with the way we select and appoint school board members: Take the good ole boy politics out of it. I propose a selection committee which represents a cross-section of parents, students and educators.
2. Hire administrators who won’t just give lip service to “innovative, forward thinking.”
3. Scrap the current teacher recruiting process. Recruit teachers who believe that education is a calling and a mission, not an entry-level job into the larger world of work. Students know and respond to teachers who are committed, and care about them. Prospects should be interviewed on their sense of spirituality – not religion or religious beliefs – and their commitment to mission.
4. Decentralize the student population and re-establish neighborhood attendance centers to decrease busing time, logistics and associated expenses
5. Put some funds into a strong Parental Involvement component.
6. Create an independent office of Ombudsman to reinforce an environment of ethical responsibility and instructional integrity.
7. Incorporate Values Clarification, Conflict Management and Effective Study into the instructional curriculum.
8. Expand the Performing Arts curriculum for Creative Writing and Spoken Word.
9. Get involved in the Parents for Public Schools organization.
10. Incorporate a dress code requiring students to wear uniforms.
I can hear the boo-birds on all sides already, especially regarding the uniforms. But what do you want, a safe, productive educational environment, or one where your students stand out for the wrong reasons?

Dr. Ed Holliday is a Tupelo dentist who has written two successful books. Contact him at ed@teaparty.ms. James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at hullmultimediams@aol.com.

Ed Holliday and James Hull