Mississippi Could Be Next to Drop Out of Common Core

Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have dropped out of Common Core. Mississippi could be next if state House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Miss.) and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant have their way.

Gunn has introduced legislation that would squash the Common Core standards in Mississippi.

The legislation would replace Common Core with a new set of academic standards designed by Mississippians for Mississippians — the state’s public school children — that would be known as “College and Career Readiness” standards.

"I think there's a general feeling of concern," Gunn told the Clarion-Ledger, "over Common Core and exactly what it does and what it is.”

Common Core opponents believe the nationwide academic standards backed by the White House are an unwelcome intrusion into local education.

Proponents argue the nation’s public school students are falling behind the rest of the world and the U.S. needs a more rigorous system of standardized education.

And no matter on which side of the Common Core debate they fall, Mississippians agree Mississippi has fallen behind the rest of the nation.

The annual Education Week Quality Counts report released Jan. 8 gave Mississippi an “F” in kindergarten through 12th grade achievement, ranking the state last in the nation.

Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, is one of those who believe Common Core is the way to fix public education in Mississippi.

After a full year of adhering to the Common Core curricula, Wright told the Sun Herald she hopes enough data has been collected to change Mississippian minds about the educational program.

"Let me be up front with you: I have no idea why Common Core is a lightning rod," she said. "I mean, I have no idea. I'm not getting that part of it.”

Wright and the Mississippi Education Department began a five-year strategic plan based on the standards in December 2014, and Wright said they intended to stick to it.

Wright said the need for a more exacting public school curricula couldn’t be more obvious after the October 2014 release of Mississippi’s first statewide assessment of kindergarten readiness.

It revealed two-thirds of the state’s youngest students entered school unprepared to learn.

More than 40,000 kindergarteners from 144 districts in Mississippi took the STAR Early Literacy exam during the first month of the 2014-15 school year. More than 65 percent of students scored below the 530 benchmark score that indicates a student has mastered at least 70 percent of early reading skills.

The state average score was 501.

“If there is evidence as compelling as it could possibly be for the need for early childhood programming, it’s the results of this kindergarten assessment,” said Wright.

The assessment evaluated skills such as the ability to recognize letters and match letters to their sounds and a student’s recognition that print flows from left to right. The exam produced reports for parents and teachers that detail each child’s early reading skills. Teacher reports also included diagnostic information and instructional plans for every student.

Research from a four-year study shows that 84 percent of students at the beginning of kindergarten with a score of 530 or above on the STAR Early Literacy exam are on track to become proficient readers by the end of third grade.

Coincidentally, a study was released Jan. 13 that showed Common Core was just what the nation’s kindergarten students do not need because teaching to the Core would mean kids have to be reading when they enter first grade.

Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood —two groups made up of educators and parents who oppose Common Core — released the study that takes issue with the Common Core concept that pubic school students should be able to read by the time they leave kindergarten, and shouldn’t be admitted into the first grade until they are able to read.

The report’s authors argued kindergarten teachers are buckling under the pressure and resorting to “inappropriate drilling on specific skills and excessive testing.”

The report also shows teacher-led instruction in kindergarten classes has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that children need “based on decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.”

In an effort to shift back to a developmentally appropriate, child-centered curriculum, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood called for the withdrawal of the kindergarten standards from the Common Core so they can be rethought along developmental lines.

Superintendent Wright’s boss, Gov. Phil Bryant (R-Miss.), is on Rep. Gunn’s side in this debate.

Bryant said that when Common Core was first proposed to the National Governors Association in 2008, it sounded like a good way to fix the nation’s crumbling public education system.

“The new standards would emphasize problem solving and competitiveness and would ensure that students throughout the nation met certain achievement benchmarks. The concept sounded solid, and we were assured that this was a state-led initiative with no federal control or connection to federal funds,” said Bryant.

But Bryant said it became obvious in 2014 that something had gone “terribly wrong” with Common Core.

He said state control over the standards turned out to be a myth, and adopting the standards has been required if a state wants to even apply for major federal education funding.

“In Mississippi, we need a public education system that works best for students,” Bryant stressed. “What we don’t need is a one-size-fits-all program with federal government strings attached.”