Editors Note: Senator Michael Watson of District 51 joins Mississippi PEP as a contributing columnist. Check out others by going to the Contributor’s link at the top of this page.
BY: Senator Michael Watson–@MichaelWatsonMS
I’ll be the first to say that here in Mississippi we have some of the finest teachers and administrators in the education community. Mrs. Frye, Tudor, Freeman, Turnbull, Rutland, Turner, Caffrey and Mr. Gaines, among many others, made lasting impacts on my life and helped build the foundation of my education. I also spent time learning different leadership styles from Mr. Vaughn, Turner, Hand and Dr. Harrison, who all worked as administrators in my school district in Pascagoula. From DeSoto County all the way down to the Coast, our districts are full of men and women who have answered the call to nurture and grow the next generation, and they forego lucrative career opportunities to pour their hearts and souls into our children.
As legislators, any time we start discussing the changes that need to be made to the education system, or reference Mississippi consistently ranking at or near the bottom of the list in education in the U.S., we receive calls and letters from educators who feel unappreciated or unfairly criticized. Let me make it clear, hardworking teachers are not failing our students. Lack of funding is not failing our students (Mississippi ranks in the top 5 in increased education spending per capita over the last 20 years, and public education currently receives roughly 60% of our state’s general fund).
Mississippi public education is failing, in large part, because our education system has become so institutionalized, so convoluted with formulas and theories and methods and assessments that take into account every possible variable, except for the one that has the most statistical influence- parental involvement.
Mississippi public education is failing because it has systematically taken the parent out of the education equation. This did not happen because of one person, or even one generation, but little by little, government has taken the responsibility of education, and government does not take responsibility without also taking power. Our children – with sweet smiles, real interests, special needs, and special gifts – have been reduced to an Orwellian system of test scores and statistics, and this has been done so incrementally, that to many it feels like this is the way things ought to be.
When was the last time you had the power to choose the teacher that best fit your child, the classes that best fit your child’s learning style, or even the school your child attends? One teacher may be better equipped to challenge intellectually gifted students, while another connects well with the students who would rather be anywhere but the classroom. Some high school athletic programs are able to churn out college athletes, while others have a music program that puts students on a path to full scholarships for the marching band. In Mississippi, unless you have the means to move to the district that best suits the needs and interests of your child, or pay private school tuition, you have no choice in where, who or how your child is educated. This has to change. Who knows how a child learns or what stimulates him better than his parents?
The good news is, other states have experimented with various options, and we now know the most effective ways to implement parental choice into our education system here in Mississippi. As this idea progresses, those opposed will continue to present outdated or biased research to scare us away from much needed change. The fact is, there are successful programs that have changed the educational landscape of entire regions, and only programs with proven success will be allowed into our state.
I have devoted much of my time in the legislature to studying education and visiting around the country to research successful schools and teaching methods. In Mississippi, in the near future, I hope to see schools like Mateo Sheedy Elementary – a public charter school operated by Rocketship Education in San Jose, CA- comprised of 89% of free or reduced lunch students. Additionally, almost half of the students are English language learners, yet they are still outpacing the performance of other local and state schools. Closer to home, I’ve spent time with the 3-D school in Petal and look forward to the day this private school serving dyslexic students becomes a public charter school so it can serve all of the children with dyslexia in the Pine Belt area, and not just those whose parents can afford it.
When the power of educational decisions returns to the parents of Mississippi, our children will begin to receive the education they deserve. I have faith that one day our schools will be visited by educational researchers because we are held up as the standard. The only way parental choice is going to come to Mississippi is if the legislature passes legislation to allow it. As you well know, the only time many elected officials vote for change is when the voice of the people grows louder than the voice of the status quo. Parents, raise your voices.
About Michael Watson: Michael is a an attorney and Republican State Senator from Pascagoula, Mississippi. He drafted and helped guide SB 2988, Mississippi’s first law dealing with illegal immigration, into law during his freshman year in the MS Senate. A major proponent of education reform, he has extensive knowledge in charter schools and issues related to school choice.
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- Mississippi Schools to get two rankings this year to compare old and new systems
- Academia, ObamaCare, MAEP funding, and authority: The Illusion of Knowledge
- Desoto County Republican Senator Chris Massey: “We don’t need to have charter schools come in and change what we have.”
- Desoto Legislators still playing interference for government school interests against bill to toughen punishment of administrative grade changing.Mississippi schools not ready: Opting Out Of No Child Left Behind (mississippipep.wordpress.com)
- “Who Are These People?” Asks Mississippi Legislator (dianeravitch.net)