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Matthew Lynch, Ed.D.

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Education Reform in Mississippi: Hopes and Possibilities

Posted: 04/24/2012 3:52 pm

Substantial educational change will never occur in Mississippi until its citizens decide that enough is enough and make a commitment to change, no matter what it takes. Over the last 15 years, I have hoped and prayed that my home state would fix the systematic issues that plague its public schools, but to no avail. I know what it takes for workers to compete in the global economy and we simply are not cutting the mustard.

The infrastructures of many schools in Mississippi are no longer able to meet the educational needs of students today. No longer are the Mississippi poor restricted to the prospect of becoming manual laborers in a local factory or simply entering just another blue-collar job. Nor are the benefits of education confined to the elite in society. Times have changed and it would be only natural to expect that the demands on our education system have changed as well.

I do not doubt that there are exceptional schools in Mississippi. In fact, I have worked for several of them. However, this is the exception to the rule, rather than the norm. We all know what happens to students who leave high school without basic skills. More often than not, they fall prey to a cycle of generational poverty, underachievement and possibly incarceration.

My critiques are not meant to bash my home state and its K-12 educational system; my aim is to issue it a no holds barred wake up call. Collectively, our educational system cannot get any worse, so why deny charter schools the right to come in and mix things up a bit? I do not endorse making rash decisions, but I also do not condone sitting idly by and expecting for our system to magically get better.

Education may very well be the single most important ingredient in allowing a person to achieve success in life. The ascendancy of each individual defines the prosperity of our society; hence, education is the backbone of a continuously developing society. As G. K. Chesterton once said, "Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another."

In order to learn one must take new information and process it in a way that relates it to what is already known, and in the process form a newer, deeper understanding of the material. Just as learning involves changing one's understanding of concepts and ideas over time, social phenomena such as education must also be subjected to ongoing scrutiny, evaluation, and change. It is necessary to recheck policies and practices upon which education systems are based, and continually strive to make improvements.

This is precisely why we must consider ways in which our educational system can and should grow, change, and continuously improve in ways to best serve our children. In order for Mississippi to continue to progress toward a knowledge-based society, it is necessary to reform and streamline our education system to enable the development and assimilation of information as knowledge. Our schools are the primary institutions to facilitate transference and conversion of information into students' knowledge base. It is our duty to keep a watchful eye on the schooling processes, and to change educational policies and practices to ensure improvement.

If Mississippi's school system is to get better, there has to be a sense of urgency in everything that we do. Now that the charter school bill has died, what is next? This is where my frustration emanates from. This op-ed is not directed towards teachers, administrators or support staff who are in the trenches doing their best to effect change, it is for those that shirk their duties as educators or sit idly by waiting for Superman.

The risks have never been greater: the future of Mississippi and its children is at stake. Mississippians cannot continue to allow the educational system to operate in its current condition. While there is no magic formula or configuration to solve the problems our schools face, we must engender change, and we must do it now!

On the surface, the concept of creating and sustaining school reform is an oxymoron, simply because change is inevitable. In many ways, what is needed is sustainable change. In other words, schools must change to meet the current needs of children and youth in order to support their development into contributing and productive adults.

As the needs of our society shift, our education system must adapt to ensure that it prepares an educated populous to meet society's needs. Education reform is possible, but it depends on what the state is willing to do to achieve its educational goals. Will Mississippi develop and pass effective educational legislation aimed at creating viable solutions to the problems at hand?

Over the past century, many reforms have taken place in Mississippi on a continuing basis. Most of the initiatives that led to reform originated from dynamic leaders who were capable of implementing these changes in an extraordinary fashion, despite the presence of various radicals in strong opposition to these changes. However, as soon as the leaders moved on to their next challenge, these radical individuals returned to their old ways. The reform was diminished, and eventually there remained no trace of it.

You may not believe that charter schools are good for our educational system, but what is certain is that our educational system needs to change. Our youngsters are the future of this great state, and our educators must do their part to help put Mississippi on top in both economics and education.

Lasting and beneficial change in our schools will require hard work from a committed group of stakeholders -- teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and community members alike. Ultimately, it is the children who matter most. At the end of the day, they are the reasons why we must champion the cause of education reform in Mississippi and throughout our great nation.

 
 
 

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