At the end of November, three members of the Educator Leadership Council (ELC) hosted the first-ever Teacher Talk at the State Capitol with legislators and the Mississippi Department of Education. The discussion was dedicated to reviewing feedback from a culmination of house meetings, focus groups, and surveys conducted with Mississippi teachers from across the state about the implementation of the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards (MCCRS).
As our public schools work to implement MCCRS, educators were asked to share the challenges they’re facing in implementing the new standards. The ELC identifying the following challenges:
1. The Politicization of the New Standards and Assessments – The politics surrounding the standards in recent years have had a negative impact on successful implementation and teacher buy-in.
2. The Need for Teacher Training, Development, and Preparation – The changes in practice resulting from the new standards will be a daunting task for many educators. Access to high-quality training opportunities, especially for our lowest-performing districts, is now more important than ever.
3. The Need for a Climate of Support for Teachers – Several educators expressed frustration in the way that policymakers speak about educators; educators feel that policymakers often focus on problems without ever highlighting successes. Educators want policymakers to know that words matter, and what’s said about teachers has an impact.
After identifying these challenges, the ELC presented the following solutions to policymakers:
1. Protect the State Board of Education’s power to approve academic standards.
The adoption and revision of standards should be periodic, apolitical, and based on the advice of educators and experts. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) allowed teachers and the public to recommend changes to the standards for several months, and the vast majority of the standards were approved without changes. Most of the changes involved tweaking or moving standards based on student needs.
The Legislature should focus on outcomes, accountability, and replicating success. Their role should be to set the vision for educating all children, regardless of region, race, income level or background; hold schools and districts accountable for falling short; and work to replicate the best practices of successful districts.
2. Teachers need training on how to incorporate both foundational skills and rigor into their lessons.
The Legislature must ensure that MDE has the resources and manpower to provide training opportunities with school districts on a large scale. Lawmakers must also ensure that our colleges and universities are preparing aspiring teachers to teach the content and skills in the new standards. Districts cannot afford to retrain every new teacher.
3. Strengthen the lines of communication between policymakers and teachers.
Educators want legislators to take the time to visit schools and provide opportunities for teachers to share their experiences in Jackson. For example, many teachers want the Legislature to update the textbook policy for 21st-century education, but there has never been an opportunity for teachers to share that kind of recommendation.
4. Include teachers in the discussion about upcoming policy changes and rewrites.
Teachers can help think through implementation challenges of good ideas during policy development so that big changes are not a failure simply due to lack of planning.
About the Educator Leadership Council
The Educator Leadership Council is a convening of experienced and knowledgeable educators from school districts from across the state of Mississippi. Its purpose is to provide a platform for the teacher voice, facilitate conversations about classroom challenges and successes, and provide professional learning experiences to our educator-advocates. The Educator Leadership Council is an emerging entity and determining how it can most effectively serve Mississippi educators is an ongoing process. However, we are certain that Teacher Talk will be an annual event through which we will engage and organize teachers to present and advocate for policy changes.
If you’re interested in taking part in the ELC, please contact Sanford Johnson, Deputy Director of Advocacy at firstname.lastname@example.org.