The following comment was recently submitted and approved to one of my previous posts:

“We have 550 Teach For America teachers in the Delta this year, and the 60% who stay in education after their two-year commitment aren’t staying in Mississippi… they’re going to charter schools in other states. You tell me: are kids in the Delta better off or worse off when we’re bleeding some of our most passionate young teachers to other states’ charter schools?”

Thus enters the newest player in Mississippi’s ongoing charter school debate — the national organization called Teach For America.

Teach For America recruits college grads from around the country to teach in high-poverty areas like the Mississippi Delta for a minimum of two years. A degree in Education is not required of TFA “Corps Members”, although, according to this article from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, TFA members receive the same salary and benefits as a first-year traditional teacher with a four-year degree in Education.

In today’s post, you will hear no criticisms of the good work that TFA’ers are doing in the areas of our state that need the most help. As for me, I could not last two days in any classroom, much less two years. I applaud the efforts of not only the 520 TFA’ers working in Mississippi, but the more than 33,000 traditional K-12 teachers in our state — many of whom are career educators who have been fighting the good fight for as long as I have been alive.

What I would like to talk about, however, is the connection between Teach For America and the push for charter schools in the Magnolia State and across the country.

The reader who submitted the above comment is a former TFA’er who recently taught at Greenwood High School(I know this because we follow each other on Twitter and frequently discuss education). Interestingly enough, he is now employed as Communications Director for the state’s leading critic of public education/proponent of charter schools, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

At the national level, the founder and CEO of Teach For America is married to the President of the KIPP foundation, which serves one of the nation’s largest chain of charter schools(including Mississippi charter proponents’ poster child of “school choice”, the Kipp Delta Prep school in neighboring Arkansas).

The connections between TFA and the movement for charter schools are obvious. The question is “why”?


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Things we often hear:

“So-and-so’s child transferred to the local public school because the classwork there is easier and less challenging.”


“Public school teachers simply “teach to the test” and our kids aren’t being taught how to think for themselves.”

After hearing these things over and over, I decided to find out the answers to these questions: 1)What is being taught in our public school classrooms? and 2)Exactly what types of questions are on these state tests?

I called my good friend Ed Abdella, a History teacher at Meridian High School. Ed holds a Masters in American History and is an Army veteran of the Iraq War. He currently teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History as well as the standard U.S. History class that all Meridian High 11th graders were tested in during the ’10-’11 school year(this year, 9th graders will take the state History test, as well).

“The upcoming state tests are extremely difficult”, he told me. “If all I did was ‘teach to the test’, none of my kids would pass. The questions require a large amount of critical thinking.”

I asked him if I could get a copy of some of the types of questions that would be asked. He agreed. Here’s a few of them — and keep in mind that these are the tests that all public High School students take in Mississippi, not just Honors and AP:

1)The 1920’s are sometimes called “The Roaring Twenties” because:

  1. the United States assumed a leadership role in world affairs
  2. political reforms made government more democratic
  3. widespread social and economic change occurred
  4. foreign trade prospered after World War I

2)After World War I, which factor was the major cause of the migration of many African-Americans to the North?

  1. the start of the Harlem Renaissance
  2. increased job opportunities in Northern Cities
  3. laws passed in Northern States to end racial discrimination
  4. Federal Government job-training programs

3) Which events best support the image of the 1920’s as a decade of nativist sentiment?

  1. the passage of the National Origins Act and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan
  2. the Scopes Trial and the passage of women’s suffrage
  3. the Washington Naval Conference and the Kellog-Briand Pact
  4. the growth of the auto industry and the Teapot Dome Affair

4) The mood of “normalcy” invoked by President Warren G. Harding connoted:

  1. a return to the Jeffersonian ideal of an agrarian republic
  2. strict government regulation of business
  3. turning away from Europe and away from the programs of the Progressive Era
  4. U.S. assertiveness and leadership in world affairs
  5. a progressive government that would care for the needs of the common man.

These are just a few, but each and every one of the questions found on the state test have something in common: the requirement of critical thought. In other words, any of these answers look to be correct to the student who has not fully grasped the essential concept of the material. Therefore, “teaching to the test” is not an option.

But what about classroom instruction? Sure, the tests look challenging, but what are public school students actually learning in the classroom? Here’s a sample of a week-in-the-life of the average MHS History student(and this doesn’t even include the other subjects like Math, Science, etc.):

United States History 1877 to Present

Class Schedule January 5 — January 13, 2012

Thursday — Lecture on the Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s 14 points. Read Chapter 11/ Homework is due Friday January 13.

Friday — Lecture on The Roaring Twenties

Monday — Lecture on The Roaring Twenties/ The Republicans.

Tuesday — Lecture on The Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance

Wednesday — Lecture on Marcus Garvey and his back to Africa movement.

Thursday — Lecture on the rise of the Ku Klux Klan

Friday — Lecture on the Flapper movement

To get even more specific, here is an actual list of the topics that Mr. Abdella and the state test require students to be familiar with as part of the “Roaring Twenties” unit:

  1. The Treaty of Versailles
  2. Wilson’s 14 points
  3. The Age of Prosperity
  4. Failing Farmers
  5. The Great Migration
  6. Marcus Garvey
  7. Republican Power(President Warren G. Harding)
  8. President Calvin Coolidge
  9. Culture of the Roaring Twenties
  10. Celebrities
  11. The Lost Generation
  12. Flapper Girls
  13. Sacco-Venzetti Trial
  14. The Red Scare
  15. Mitchell Palmer
  16. J. Edgar hoover
  17. The KKK
  18. Scopes Monkey Trial
  19. Prohibition
  20. Al Capone

So, you tell me folks: Are public schools “easier”? Are we “dumbing down” our kids?Are public school teachers merely “teaching to the test”?

I’ve presented the evidence. You decide.

Oh, by the way, of the three-hundred-and-eighteen MHS 11th graders who took this test last year, 82% passed. Given the fact that Meridian High is a public school that is required to enroll and administer these tests to all children, regardless of learning disabilities or household situations, I’d say that 82% is a pretty phenomenal number.

Stay tuned for this year’s test results, which will be made public in August.


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Legislation was passed recently that replaces Mississippi schools’ current accountability labels with a new scale of, simply, “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F”.

Who led the lobbying effort? Why, none other than the state’s leading proponent of charter schools, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Given that the MCPP has also been one of the leading detractors of our state’s schools, one must assume that this new accountability scale is part of a well-designed battle plan that is two-fold: 1)Convince the people that public education is a dismal failure and 2) Market charter schools as a viable alternative.


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The teacher gets up before sunrise every day. For roughly seven consecutive hours, she simultaneously plays the roles of educator, caregiver, counselor, coach, cheerleader, disciplinarian, manager, bad guy, good guy, social worker, personal hygienist, and shoulder to cry on.

She doesn’t get a leisurely, one-hour lunch like you and I. Her lunch “break” is usually about ten minutes and consists of a pack of crackers and a canned Diet Coke(unless she is using that time to catch-up a student who is behind, fill out paperwork, or listen to an irate parent explain to her that it is, in fact, “her fault” that her sweet little boy told Mrs. Teacher to “Go to hell” in the middle of class yesterday).

But, yes, sometimes she does get a minute to herself during the school day in which she can relax, pull out her iPhone and read the day’s headlines, which often say something like “Public School Teachers Are Failing”. Nothing like a pat-on-the-back…

She is required to earn various college degrees and certifications in the advanced, complex field of professional education, yet she is paid a small fraction of the average salary of an attorney, physician, or accountant(yes, even when you include her state retirement benefits, which are deemed by many today as “wasteful government spending”).

Unlike many of us, she doesn’t leave work “when the bell rings”. Instead, she stays in her classroom and fills out even more paperwork, spends more time with that struggling student, or prepares lesson plans.

“Teaching is leaving a vestige of one self in the development of another.” — Eugene P. Bertin


And, when the day is finally done, she often goes home to clock-in to her second full-time job as Wife, Mother, Homemaker or all of the above. She gets up the next day and does it all over again, just as she does almost two-hundred days out of every year.

When she complains, we call her “bitter”.

When she asks for higher pay, we call her “greedy”.

When she doesn’t react favorably to our criticisms, we call her “unapproachable”.

When she tries to explain the many challenges of the modern day teacher, we brush her off as “making excuses”.

We demand that she be “held accountable”, yet we’ve never stepped foot into her classroom.

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, folks. Don’t just thank a teacher. Go to a local school, introduce yourself and ask “How can I help?”






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I love competition. I’m a car dealer. In my opinion, there isn’t a more competitive business sector on Main Street, U.S.A. than the sale of new and used vehicles.

I’ve mellowed somewhat in my current position as General Manager. It’s one that forces me to see the overall picture of our multi-department business as opposed to throwing myself into each and every potential car deal, which is exactly what I did as a young Salesman and Sales Manager.

And boy, did I throw myself into every car deal. I despised losing a sale to another dealer. I took it as nothing less than absolute, personal failure when one of my potential customers would go elsewhere to buy. I would lay awake all night in perpetual rage and self-loathing, replaying the “steps to the sale” and wondering what I did or didn’t do to lose the deal. My wife, in an attempt to console, would often say “Maybe they just liked the other car better.” I would respond “Maybe so”, but in my mind I was thinking “Nope. I lost. I got beat. The other guy at the other dealership did a better job than I, and that is why he sold the car and I didn’t.”

Pioneers of American business embraced honest competition while upholding the essential requirement of a level playing field in the marketplace. One of these leaders was my paternal Grandfather, pictured here in the showroom of his Oldsmobile-Cadillac dealership around 1965.

Yes, I hated losing. But, I would always come back stronger. By recognizing my mistakes, I would come back to work the next day even more determined to satisfy the next customer enough so that he or she would decide to do business with me.

Competition is good for business. It makes us better businesspeople. It makes our customers happier.

In the car business, we all play by the same rules. Every car dealer in Mississippi is governed by the Motor Vehicle Commission. It is a level playing field 99.999% of the time, and when the .0001% get caught trying to tilt the rules in their favor, they are dealt with by the law appropriately.

When everybody plays by the same set of rules, that’s real competition that benefits everyone.

But, when one side is playing by one set of rules and the other side is playing by a completely different set, that’s nothing more than a crooked card game, a baseball team with end-loaded bats, or a renegade car dealer rolling back the odometer of a pre-owned vehicle.

In other words, that’s charter schools versus traditional public schools.

Over the next eight months, we are going to hear a lot from charter proponents in Mississippi. They are going to tout charter schools as bringing “competition” into the “marketplace” of public education.

When you hear these well-intentioned folks speak at civic clubs, community forums, etc., please keep the following in mind: real competition requires a level playing field with one governing body and one, universal set of rules for all players.

Anything different from this is a casino market in which “the house” — i.e. charter schools — always wins.

For more on the loaded dice game of charter vs. public, please click here.


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First there was the President of the pro-charter group The Mississippi Center for Public Policy, who compared the Magnolia State’s public schools to Cold War communism by stating “The education establishment has built a Berlin wall around the current system to keep their own people from escaping to freedom.”

Then there was the House Education Committee member and charter proponent who referred to certain public schools as “inferior” at about the 17:22 mark of this audio clip.

Well, friends, we now have a newcomer in the organized effort to convince the people of Mississippi that the sky is falling when it comes to public education — Y’all Politics.

In his latest post, the author freely jumps into the unprecedented beat-down of schools that is becoming the norm for many charter proponents.

Here are some morsels:

The author: “…those who are forced (by law) to attend failing schools”.

My response: Are we, the community members of Anytown, Mississippi, doing everything in our power to help the kids who need help?

The author: “…[DeSoto County Superintendent] Milton Kuykendall and the rest of the public school mob bosses are trying desperately to keep administrators, teachers, parents and kids under their thumb because it’s good for their bottom line.”

My response: Yes, because we public school administrators, teachers, parents and kids are just dumb animals who aren’t capable of thinking for ourselves. Oh, please free us from this brutal system!!!!

The author: “When legislators who are ostensibly proponents of education can get away with voting against something that would help so many of their constituents, that’s what has to change.”

My response: Exactly how many kids would charter schools help? 1% of the state’s student population? 3%? Besides, given that charter schools aren’t any better than traditional schools, would we really be “helping” the chosen few who get in?

The author: “This is particularly the case in the Jackson area (home to a severely underperforming school district)”

My response: I’m just dying to ask the author if he has ever stepped foot onto one of the campuses of these “severely underperforming” schools in Jackson.

The author: “When underserved parents and kids from poor rural and inner city areas march on the state Capitol demanding charter schools, it will pass unanimously.”

My response: That’s it, let’s blame “the poor” for the failure of charter legislation. We blame them for everything else, right? God forbid we look in the mirror when addressing the challenges that our public schools face every day.

The author, on not just winning the “political fight” of charters: “…but you will go a long way to winning the war against monopolized and underperforming schools..

My response: So, going to “war” against the schools who need our help the most is the best way to improve them? Okie-dokie.

The author:“…[charter schools will] change the culture of parents and students and administrators and teachers throughout Mississippi.”

My response: I’ll drop the sarcasm now. Taking away a school’s students and resources does not “change the culture” of that school. Giving that school the community support that it needs to thrive, however, will.

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**Rep. Herb Frierson On Charter Schools**

Thanks to the folks at the conservative political blog Y’all Politics for posting this video of House Education Committee member Rep. Herb Frierson pushing for charter schools.

In an attempt to make a case for charters, Frierson describes himself as a “free market person” and states “I don’t think competiton’s a bad thing”. He goes on to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson in saying “The person who builds the best mouse trap…so shall the world beat a path unto their door.”

Yes, competition in the marketplace is good. I agree.

Evidently, however, Representative Frierson — like so many others — fails to realize that the “free market” of charter school vs. public school is anything but “competition”. According to the proposed legislation, charter schools would play by one set of rules while traditional public schools would play by an entirely different, significantly more stringent set.

Is this the new definition of competition in America?

If so, Ralph Waldo Emerson just vomited in heaven.




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