This is a very brief summary of what was discussed during this panel session, and it may have errors. I apologize in advance. People talk fast. Video of the full panel discussion will be made available by Representative Hughes after the conference is over.
(From Left to Right)
Senator Bill Stone, Marshall and Tate County
Representative Kabir Karriem, Lowndes County and Columbus
Dr. Denver Fowler, Assistant Professor, University of Mississippi
Ann Blackwell, Dean of Education, University of Southern Mississippi
David Rock, Dean of Education, University of Mississippi
Representative Jay Hughes, Oxford
Q: These days, students have to take so many standardized tests. As far as state testing, could we move to only giving the ACT at high school level?
Hughes: It appears we agree with you.
Fowler: The question of standardized testing also brings up an equity issue with respect to testing with technology. You get a worse problem with haves and have nots. Some students understand how to use the technology, such as the “drag and drop” feature, and some do not.
Q [to university deans]: How often do you change your curriculum at your teacher preparation programs?
Rock: You’ll see two changes immediately: One, the first teaching experience for education majors in our program [Ole Miss] is with avatars. We have a program called Teach Live, which allows our students to gain experiencing without impacting a live child. We’ve gotten very positive feedback from it. Two, we’re moving to more consistent, year long student teaching, in which our student teachers report in on day one with their mentor teacher, and continue throughout the school year.
Blackwell: I will agree that teacher education today is probably different than what you all experienced. We have a different accreditation model now. We also value feedback from active teachers, like you today.
Q [to Fowler]: Why do you think we should end athletic practices during instructional time?
Fowler: That time could be used for instructional time. Athletes already have rides home after school, so that’s really not an excuse. We are 50th in education. We have to make the most valuable use of the instructional time we have.
Hughes: But kids need recess. Kids are missing that. Giving the mind a break is important. And sports can be such a tool to motivate kids to come to school.
Q [to legislators]: What have you heard your colleagues say about public education? Why are they so against it?
Stone: What we’ve seen happen over the last several years is a discussion about doing the same thing and seeing no improvement. Well we’ve consistently underfunded education forever. And then we tie your hands behind your backs, with accountability models, and then special interests money comes in and introduces lobbyists into the conversation. The end game is for-profit charter schools.
Hughes: I was involved in this session and it was toxic. We all say we’re pro-education. They get elected. Then they go vote for charter schools, tax cuts, consolidation. When they say they’re for education then vote that way, whose education are they for? You have to vote. Voting is the most powerful tool to fight it.
Q: I’ve lived in several other states. Why does Mississippi not have a lottery that will benefit schools?
Hughes: It’s a split between hypocrisy and regressive taxation. There’s a faith based group that fights against gambling. I respect the faith but the reality is, it’s similar to playing the stock market. But it’s gambling.
Q: But we have casinos?
Hughes: Well, those are on “navigable waters” and they’re “boats.” So you’re mistaken. (laughs) Those are not “gambling establishments.” They’re “river boats.”
Q: But isn’t that the same?
Hughes: Now you’re trying to use logic with the legislature. That’s not fair. (laughs)
Q: What about a mandatory spring holiday? Spring breaks rarely line up, and because some families have family members in multiple schools, it can negate our ability to take vacations.
(No comment- was asked in a series with other questions.)
Q: How do you state test somebody who sat out of their classroom for 6 weeks?
(No comment- was asked in a series with other questions.)
Q: Does casino money not go to the schools?
Hughes: That was only a law. Only the constitution has to be followed. [sarcasm]
Stone: It does go to education, but it goes into the regular budget.
Hughes: It’s called the general fund, or the vacuum.
Q: Senator Stone, how do we go about getting more programs in our state for students with intellectual disabilities after high school?
Stone: I was not aware of that. That’s something we can look into and work on.
Q: How do we have special ed teachers in 2016 who aren’t properly certified?
Rock: It’s hard to have enough highly qualified teachers in the special education arena. We have critical teacher shortages, and when that happens we tend to lower the bar to get teachers into the classroom.
Q [to university deans]: When will you have classes in methodology for teacher preparation for English as a Second Language students?
Blackwell: That is not stressed very much but we do train teachers to meet the needs of every student. I will take that back to our faculty.
Rock: With Teach Live we now have two student avatars with ELL needs. One is always Spanish speaking, and there is another as well.
Q: What can we do proactively to avoid a teacher crisis, should many teachers retire at once?
Hughes: We are actually addressing that tomorrow, in our session “Recruiting and Retaining Teachers Under 35.”
Q: At my school, we have had a flood of unaccompanied minors from Hispanic countries who do not speak English. This affects our test scores and dropout rate, and we have no control over it. They’re forced upon us by child services. How can we avoid this being a knock on us as far as accountability ratings?
Fowler: I could see something coming along to allow you to opt out unless they’ve been with you a certain amount of time.
Q: A lot of research says reduce the standards, and teach with depth. Is there going to be a movement to reduce the number of standards, and teach with depth?
Karriem: There should be. You just have a different philosophy on what’s best than what we see [in the legislature].
Hughes: Follow the money. Who is the lobbyist wining and dining them to reduce standardized testing? Nobody. On the other side, it’s not just one company, it’s all these companies competing to be the one to get the contract. When somebody wins a $122 million contract, you’re going to do your best to justify the testing. Anyone who thinks the standardized testing is about the children, has had too much of the champagne and boiled shrimp.