On Tuesday, April 3, 2012, Senate Bill 2401, which proposed to expand charter schools in Mississippi, failed to make it through the House Education Committee by a 16-15 margin. In response, Gov. Phil Bryant is considering convening a special session, hoping that the bill will pass in the full House as opposed to dying in committee by one vote.
State Senator Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and State Representative Chuck Espy, D-Jackson, who are both members of their respective chambers' education committees, have vowed to continue the good fight and that is to be commended. I sincerely believe that these men support charter schools for all the right reasons and it breaks my heart to see the bill go down in defeat. Politics were once again pitted against the best interests of Mississippi's children and we all know who won, as usual.
Mississippi is perennially ranked near the bottom in the category of K-12 achievement, and according to Education Week, it deserves a grade of F and a #50 ranking for 2012. This serves as a stark reminder of just how bad Mississippi's educational system has become, and just how ineffective most of our efforts at improving it have been. Mississippi's educational system has reached a turning point, a time when things seem at their most dire, and yet many appear to simply sit idly by and do nothing.
Mississippi's public schools have had years to clean up their acts and they have consistently proven that they cannot or will not do it on their own. One of the main problems is that many school districts in Mississippi focus on maintaining programs and paying adults, not on seeking the best way to educate children.
To take it a step further, I believe that several politicians voted against charter schools in Mississippi simply to appease their constituents, instead of doing what's best for Mississippi's children. It is discouraging to realize that our children's futures might be used as a political device to win elections. If charter schools are allowed in Mississippi, it would provide parents with an innovative alternative to the traditional K-12 education system. Districts and schools who consistently fail their students would have to shape up or be supplanted by charter schools.
From what I have read and observed, many of Mississippi's leaders do not understand the complexities of its education system, and several of the leaders who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of teachers and students. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where scores of educators lack the skills necessary to perform their duties adequately.
High student-to-teacher ratios are found in a lot of schools, and they often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges that teachers face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken rural, suburban and urban areas in Mississippi, it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal. If Mississippi does not make a concerted effort to develop effective ways to educate its youth, then the education crisis will continue. However, there is an exception to every rule, as some Mississippi school systems are providing their students with a quality education.
Enhanced skills and technological talents are going to be desperately needed in the future, as Mississippi continues to struggle towards sustaining a dynamic 21st century labor force. Production is not getting easier and simpler -- in fact, it is just the opposite. Along the same lines, workers down the road will need to be able to adapt to technologies that are just now being developed. If Mississippi's students and workers find themselves in an educational system that cannot fulfill these necessary, required functions because it is sub-par, not only will these individuals and their families find little success in an economy that has left them behind; it will cripple Mississippi's competitiveness.
Charter schools are by no means a cure-all, but at least they provide Mississippi's education system with a viable option. If Mississippi fails to deliver educated adults into the workforce, it risks falling behind even further economically. Will it choose to continue the status quo, pushing through reforms that have been proven to fail? Or will my home state learn from its mistakes, and create meaningful reform through charter schools and other measures? It's time for us to become the change that we want to see in our educational system. You are the supermen and superwomen that our children are hoping and praying for. Please don't disappoint them.
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