This school year, every public school student in my home state of Mississippi will get their first taste of Common Core State Standards and the new Core-aligned assessment. Mississippi joined 45 states in adopting the Core, but unlike states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut—where already-high standards predict a smooth transition to these college-and-career-readiness benchmarks—Mississippi faces quite the uphill battle.
Traditionally, Mississippi has always fallen to bottom of the charts when it comes to student success. In this year’s Education Week report card of K-12 education systems by state, Mississippi earned an “F” (and the lowest score nationwide) for K-12 student achievement and a “D” in the “chance for student success” (13 indicators that span a person’s life from cradle to career).
As a product of the public school system in Mississippi, and later a social studies and special education teacher for seven years in Jackson and Hazlehurst schools, these annual reports cut right to my heart. I know the struggles these students face both in the classroom and outside it because I once sat in these same desks. I know intimately well as a teacher what it takes to guide a classroom full of students who come from some of the most entrenched poverty in the entire country and whose parents are working so hard to put food on the table (in the best case scenarios) that they have neither the time nor expertise to help with homework or guide them on the path to college.
The resources available to improve Mississippi schools also are slim, because despite the fact that the state spends close to the national average of its taxable income on education (3.6 percent), the spending is significantly less than other states because income levels are so low.
So when I see headlines and editorials about how Common Core is just too much for Mississippi, and how it will only further the cycle of low achievement and discourage students, I get where this pushback is coming from. Asking students to meet a much higher bar is a tall order—especially when those students are already lagging far behind their peers nationwide.
Yet despite this, I truly believe that the move to Common Core is the right move for Mississippi. To break the state’s cycle of low academic performance, and ultimately of poverty, higher standards are a must.
Mississippi must persevere, even if it means a dip in assessment scores in the short term. Even if means a few years more of those scathing headlines about how the state is at the bottom of the barrel (again) when it comes to student achievement. Even if it means educators having to revamp their lesson plans and approach subjects in a whole new way. Even if it means angry parents and constituents who holler about their rights being tread upon in the name of a “federal agenda.”
Simply trying to tread water, not completely drowning but not making any progress forward, is a disservice to the students, teachers and state of Mississippi. The people of Mississippi deserve better, not easier.
I believe the road to educational recovery starts with Common Core implementation. As students move from rote memorization to comprehensive problem solving, their critical thinking skills will improve. As they drop their #2 pencils and shift to a computerized assessment model, they will strengthen their real-world technology skills. And as the state rises to the challenge of an internationally benchmarked standards, its economy will improve and so will residents’ quality of life.
Over the next decade, I look forward to seeing vast student achievement improvement in Mississippi for the first time in my lifetime. For Mississippi, Common Core is just what the doctor ordered.