Mississippi Education Blog http://www.msedblog.net Perspectives on Mississippi's public schools Sat, 26 Aug 2017 16:27:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://www.msedblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/cropped-cropped-Southern-Magnolia-Flower-Wallpapers-01231-32x32.jpg Mississippi Education Blog http://www.msedblog.net 32 32 100028097 Stroupe: Mississippi Accountability: Where’s the Growth? Or Science? Or History? http://www.msedblog.net/2017/08/26/stroupe-mississippi-accountability-wheres-the-growth-or-science-or-history/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/08/26/stroupe-mississippi-accountability-wheres-the-growth-or-science-or-history/#respond Sat, 26 Aug 2017 16:12:40 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16065 From The Thinking Conservative Blog – 

As anyone who has ever had more than a five second conversation with me regarding the purpose of assessment in our schools knows, it is my whole-hearted belief that it should be growth-oriented and used for formative purposes. For all of the somewhat scattered nature of our accountability model in Mississippi, one of its strengths is the weight it puts upon growth in student achievement. Without getting too deep into a different topic, I would also say that one of the primary faults of the accountability model is that the growth it focuses upon is too heavily weighted on the “bottom quartile” (the bottom 25% of test-takers in the current school year based upon their scores from the previous year in language arts or mathematics) and leaves science, as well as U.S. History, standing alone without a needed means to determine growth. But, I will save that topic for another day. Today, I am simply referencing that growth in performance of individual students from year to year, whether the bottom quartile or the whole, is an extremely large element of the accountability model which determines the school and school district’s accountability level and letter grade (A-F). Yes, growth in language arts and mathematics is extremely significant and vitally important. As mentioned earlier, performance on science (5th, 8th, and Biology I) and U.S. History assessments are also key factors in determining how well our districts and individual schools are performing. This begs the question then, why does the Mississippi Department of Education not make any of this information (English/language arts growth, mathematics growth, Biology I scores, or U.S. History scores) available to the public at all from the data for the previous year? With all of the fanfare and publicity that is given when MAAP language arts and mathematics achievement scores come out for the state and with the subsequent very public publishing of those results for each school and district, what happened to the growth and scores in these other subjects which make up a much larger portion of the grade designation with which each school and district will be labeled?

… (Continued at https://thinkingconservativeblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/mississippi-accountability-wheres-the-growth-or-science-or-history/ )

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School Choice is a Sleazy Carnival Game http://www.msedblog.net/2017/03/30/school-choice-is-a-sleazy-carnival-game/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/03/30/school-choice-is-a-sleazy-carnival-game/#respond Fri, 31 Mar 2017 02:01:09 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16047 By James Comans, editor at MSEDBLOG

School Choice is a sleazy carnival game, and Betsy DeVos is the queen sideshow barker.

Image from https://latztravelandfoods.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/bangkok-super-giant-carnival-awesome-games-and-prizes/

You know how the scheme works- the carnies roll into town from parts unknown, pump in some music and neon lights to dazzle you, and they give you… an opportunity. A game to play. And if you win, there’s prizes in store! All just a bit of fun at the Grifter Brothers’ Semi-Annual Carnival Spectacular!

You size up the midway and decide to take a chance. Maybe not the weight guesser. His voice is just creepy. You’re not bothering with that sketchy basketball shoot, either. But the ole ping pong ball in the fish bowl game. That sounds promising. So you hand your five dollars over and size up the platform on your quest for the big, fluffy bear. What’s the harm? A few bucks for a chance at a great prize!

That’s essentially what’s happening to education policy in America, only instead of big, fluffy bears, we’re being asked to gamble for our children’s futures. School choice- a neoliberal education reform being promoted by shadowy organizations like ALEC and the Trump Administration– is the flavor of the decade for improving schools.

But don’t be fooled.  “School choice” is nothing more than a marketing scheme. It’s a way to convince you to take responsibility yourself for government’s failure to fund your child’s education. It’s a carnival trick.

“But isn’t something new needed to fix our schools?”

Sure. But not games and distractions.

Here’s what I mean: Educating people is expensive. And the people footing the bill don’t enjoy that part, generally. We will try everything under the sun to avoid spending more money on schools. Mississippi, for example, has underfunded schools 19 times in the last 21 years, and our state is perennially ranked near 50th in the nation.  Rather than own up to the fact our schools are chronically underfunded, our legislature has proposed every education reform they can get their hands on.

Is money the only problem? Of course not. But it’s hard to blame the curriculum when your superintendent is cutting his own salary to make sure the buses still run.

School choice is this idea that American education would be better off if we would just use our taxes to fund private schools instead of publicly accountable school districts. And until we can fully privatize education, we’ll call it… giving parents the “choice” of where to send their kids.

It’s a trick. It’s like letting you throw a ping pong ball at the fish bowl of your choice instead of guaranteeing you a prize. You might win, you might lose. The lure to play the game is the chance to take home the Big One. But most people don’t.

“But charter schools and vouchers might actually be better for kids!”

Not so. Some schools are better; some are worse, whether public or charter. Widespread results for school choice initiatives have been at best mixed. That’s why the school choice lobby relies almost exclusively on catchy slogans and idealistic philosophies in their persuasion: Shouldn’t parents get to choose the school their children go to? Wouldn’t public schools be better if they had to compete with somebody for their funding?

But do they actually have a proven track record of success? No.

Do they always operate with transparency and accountability for your tax dollars? No.

Even if you somehow win the big, fluffy bear- your kid gets into a great school- your attention is managed to ignore the fact that somebody else had to lose. Otherwise the carnival would go broke. Unless funding is increased overall, some kids will still have to attend underfunded schools.

“But choice and competition will help public schools too!”


School choice is from the ideologue’s dollar bin of “should-work” plans, like Trickle-Down economics and Clear Pepsi.  Somehow in the mind of a choicer, schools with collapsing roofs will magically churn out high performing engineers if you just plop down a charter school nearby.

Unfortunately, this effect has never actually proven successful from school district to school district.

But in the end, they’re giving me a chance to send my kid to a great school!

They’re not giving you anything. They’re taking your tax money and they’re kicking to the curb any responsibility for ensuring your kid gets a quality education.

Spending less of your tax money on education under the guise of “choice” will inevitably strand some Mississippi kids at schools starved for resources, while ideologues wait for the “market” to sort things out. If your kid gets stuck at a bad school, it’s not the government’s fault. They offered you a “choice” somewhere down the line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy the bear? Yes, it would cost more than the $5 it takes to hang your hopes and dreams on a ping pong ball, but it’s a much better strategy to get the prize you want.

We should bypass all this school choice double talk, and recognize the fact that better schools will require better funding.  We should put adequate funding right in our public schools’ hands, and say, “This money is for the Big One. I’m not going home empty handed anymore.”

James Comans is an 8th grade science teacher in Southaven and contributor to MSEdBlog. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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Conerly: We Must Fight for Our Children (Reflections on ECET2) http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/23/conerly-we-must-fight-for-our-children-reflections-on-ecet2/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/23/conerly-we-must-fight-for-our-children-reflections-on-ecet2/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 16:05:26 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16039
On January 27 and 28, Mississippi educators held the very first Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) event in Jackson. You can read more about this event here.


Attendee, Alicia Conerly, reflects on the event below.

After my recent return from the ECET2 conference, I felt refreshed, fired up, and  ready to work.

The conference was so inspiring to the teacher who attended with me.  She has even begun to formulate a plan for submitting a proposal to Donors Choose.

However, the educational system was recently dealt a blow that caused my fire to begin to feel smothered.  Then, on the drive home I felt my fire rekindled due to some inspiring words that came from our Superintendent of Education Dr. Wright during the conference.

We must fight for our children!

Now, we must fight even harder.  We must rally the troops, organize ECET2 and other educational organizations and plant our “BOOTS ON THE GROUND”!

Protecting our ideals and values of the educational system is at hand.  Working together with the same end goal in mind is the only thing that will save it.


Alicia Conerly taught Elementary, Middle, and High school science for seven and a half years.  She is the current Science Specialist for Hazlehurst City School District in Hazlehurst, MS.  She is the first Science Specialist in the history of the school district.  Conerly is married with three handsome young men.  “Intelligence Plus Character that is the Goal of True Education” is the famous quote that she lives by for education.

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Koonlaba: My Biggest Takeaway From the First-ever ECET2MS http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/05/16033/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/05/16033/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 15:06:20 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16033 Y’all.

Seriously, the only way that I can think of starting this post is by saying “Y’all.”

Southerners almost always start serious conversations with “Y’all.” I can’t think of a thing much more serious than what I am about to tell you.

Y’all, Mississippi’s teachers have been beat down the past few years. We’ve heard how our schools are “abysmal failures” from Phil Bryant. We’ve been hearing how our schools are so bad that parents need school choice to get their kids away from them. I mean, this post by Sanford Johnson implies that students who attend traditional public schools never grow up to be anything worth recognizing (like soldiers, teachers, pastors, or nurses).

These implications and bold statements alike reflect upon what is thought of our teachers. The people saying these things might not even realize this. I don’t really know if they do. I do know, however, that as a teacher, it is offensive. How can I not take that personally? How can any of Mississippi’s 37,000 public school teachers not take this personally? Essentially, all of that talk is like saying since you think the schools stink, then the teachers must stink. I mean, whether you mean it that way or not, the logic of those arguments implies that someone must be stinking up the schools. So, it must be the teachers.


Mississippi’s schools do not stink. It is bunk. You can read all about how this rhetoric is being used across the country to hurl us toward privatization of the public good we know as public education. Just check out Diane Ravitch’s or Anthony Cody’s blogs. Follow the Badass Teachers Association or the Network for Public Education on social media. There is a movement to privatize our schools. It is strong (think Betsey DeVos), and not going away.

Some Mississippi teachers got together and planned the first ever ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching) event for the state. The ECET2 website lists six key beliefs:

  1. Nurturing trust among teachers
  2. Focusing on each teacher’s potential for growth
  3. Inspiring both the intellect and the passion that drives teachers in their work
  4. Providing time for collaboration and learning
  5. Putting teachers in the lead
  6. Recognizing teachers as talented professionals

It is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been criticized as contributing to the privatization movement. Thus, I was leery of participating at first. However, I really do share those same six key beliefs and understand that there is no possible way such an event could be held in Mississippi without support from this organization. So, I decided that it was a worthwhile thing to do. Since the event, which was January 27-28, I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting. I really wanted to be able to share my biggest takeaway from the event. There were so many incredible sessions and speakers. Let me just list a few of those speakers and sessions:

  • John Stocks, Executive Director of the National Education Association, gave a keynote address and challenged us to be more active in the policy that impacts our field.
  • Shannon Eubanks, of Better Schools Better Jobs, joined Representative Jay Hughes and Kelly Riley from Mississippi Professional Educators on a Legislative Panel that was quite eye-opening.
  • Mississippi Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carey Wright, spoke about teacher leadership.
  • There were sessions on grant writing, Genius Hour, and even cultural competence.

Amazing, right?

Yet, my biggest takeaway didn’t come from any of those. My biggest takeaway was that Mississippi teachers are starved for affirmation and praise.


I had so many teachers tell me how much they needed this event. They said they needed this to recharge their batteries. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be treated as professionals. One teacher told me she’d never been able to attend a conference where she stayed in a hotel and had her food provided.

These are basic things that other professionals enjoy in their fields on a regular basis. I am talking to you about teachers who have multiple degrees and certifications. These are teachers who have won awards for their work.

We should be doing more to lift them up.

Mississippi’s teachers are awesome. We are professional and smart. We work hard. We care about children and the future of our state and nation. We want to see children grow as whole human beings. We care about humanity. We are leaders. We are change-makers. We are nation-builders.


We are going to have to change what we are doing. We have to start telling our side of the story. We have to start sharing the awesome, the marvelous, the strong, the wonderful, and the remarkable things that are happening in our schools. We have to make sure we are lifting Mississippi’s teachers up, not tearing them down. I believe that we can lift our students by lifting our teachers this way. I believe that if we build each other up, our nation will be strong.

This has to be done through our words.

I challenge myself to continue to write about the successes I see. I challenge myself to continue to say thank you. Will you join me? Parents, teachers, administrators, students, citizens, will you join me?

Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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Koonlaba: An Eventful, Maddening Year… http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/01/koonlaba-an-eventful-maddening-year/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/02/01/koonlaba-an-eventful-maddening-year/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:45:49 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16028 I am a DreamTeacher Fellow with an organization called DreamWakers. This organization connects classrooms to professionals around the country. Then, the students in the classroom are able to video chat with that professional. My students have been chatting with professionals who use the skills that accompany art and creativity in their careers. This is a great organization. I suggest you check it out. It is easy to sign your classroom up. Check out their YouTube channel to see what the chats look like.

As a DreamTeacher Fellow, I have had the opportunity to network and collaborate with the DreamWaker team and other DreamTeacher Fellows. Someone pointed out Dean James Ryan’s prepared remarks at the 2016 HGSE Presentation of Diplomas and Certificates. This is available on the web. I follow the Harvard Graduate School of Education pretty closely as a regular habit. I’m signed up for all the email updates and follow them on social media. So, it is possible that I would’ve found this anyway. However, without this DeamTeacher network telling me it was worth my time, I might’ve overlooked it. I’m not one to sit down and watch (or even listen to while multitasking) a 25 minute video. So, the recommendation was beneficial to me in deciding to take the time to check it out. I hope you will also check it out with my recommendation. If you aren’t one to listen to such a long speech, the text is below the video.

When I heard Ryan say,

This has been an eventful, maddening, beautiful, tragic, uproarious, joyous, and hilarious year…”

I snapped to attention, mainly because I agree with him, but also because I could add a few more words to that list.

Ryan goes on to talk about some of the things that happened in 2016 that are specific to Harvard. Then, he talks about the “bizarre and unsettling political season” we have been witnessing. He tells the graduates that they are right to be concerned about injustices and authoritarianism, disparities among people and environmental issues.

This speech just started calling my name at this point. I have been feeling very much like there is a movement of denial and unwillingness to acknowledge that a lot of people have these concerns in this country. Talk about division.

It scares me and makes me sad. Yet, I’ve really been trying to maintain my hope. I’ve tried very hard to be intentional with my focus. I don’t want to become too depressed about all of this unrest and uncertainty. I don’t want anyone to do this. If we allow ourselves to become too depressed or overwhelmed, we won’t be emotionally available to be change-makers when we need to make change.

Ryan makes some suggestions to us in this speech. The first suggestion is to “cultivate the art of asking good questions.” We have to embrace the fact that no matter who we are, we don’t have all the answers. Whether you have three degrees and have studied at Harvard matters not. You still don’t have all the answers. We need to be intentional about our willingness to admit this. He says that we need to “resist the temptation to have answers at the ready.” We need to spend our energy on using what information we have to ask the right questions and to solve problems.

Ryan’s second suggestion is that we be good listeners who intentionally turn bad questions into good ones. Yes, he explains his thinking on how there actually are bad questions to address the cliche of “no such thing as bad questions.” He talks about hostile questions. I imagine we are all going to experience some seriously hostile questions over the next few years because of the division over the politics in this country. We may have experienced these already. Ryan suggests that we focus some energy on trying to discern the hostile questions from the clumsy questions. Clumsy questions can sometimes be mistaken for hostile ones when they are actually genuine. Sometimes they are clumsy because they are “motivated by anxiety or ignorance.”

Here is the kicker, and the reason I decided to repost this. Ryan speaks about how the only truly bad questions are the ones that are actually statements meant to be demeaning or trip you up. Often, they are designed to appear as questions.

I’ve been witnessing this quite a bit on social media. I’ve seen some mean spirited posts that at first glance appear to be just a statement of one’s beliefs about an issue. However, deep down these posts are meant to demean others who have different views, and I believe they are designed to try to get others to join in on this. If you really think about it, it is a form of bullying.

I’m willing to admit that I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. I would bet just about everyone has done it. So, we need to do some reflection and be much more mindful of what we post and how we post it when engaging in social media. It is hard to separate emotion from fact when we are doing this. I have been giving this concept a lot of thought, and as Ryan urges us to do, I am embracing the fact that I don’t have the answers. I am looking for answers and am willing to have discussions. Let’s discuss it. I mean it. Discussions develop relationships, and relationships are going to pull us through this turmoil.

This brings me to Ryan’s final suggestion which is that there are five essential questions that we should be asking regularly. Here they are:

  1. Wait, what? (Ask for clarification.)
  2. I wonder why? I wonder if?
  3. Couldn’t we at least…?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What truly matters?

I urge you to read the actual text of the speech to get the meat of why these are essential. I do believe, and this is what I want to impress upon you as I end this post, that we have to open ourselves to better understanding other human beings. We have to be mindful and intentional about it. I feel that the suggestions and nuggets of wisdom in this speech are timely and can be put to immediate use by all of us.

I noted earlier in the post that I was trying to maintain my hope. However, it really goes beyond that. Hope is a good thing, but we need to be thinking beyond just having hope to being actively hopeful. That is really what this country needs. We all will feel better about ourselves and our situations if we are actively hopeful. We need the hope and we need the action: being actively hopeful. Ryan’s suggestions make it possible to do this.

I also urge you to read, reflect, and share your thoughts with me. Like I said, our relationships are going to pull us through this. DreamWakers has a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King as a banner on their site. The quote really resonates here:

In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”

Take care each other, my friends.



Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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Stop DeVos: A MUST WATCH VIDEO http://www.msedblog.net/2017/01/16/stop-devos-a-must-watch-video/ http://www.msedblog.net/2017/01/16/stop-devos-a-must-watch-video/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 13:15:35 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=16025 This video is a MUST WATCH.


This is serious, y’all.


This nominee for Secretary of Education is opposed to public education. Every single educator and parent should be upset about this.


This is not a dig at Trump. If you like him, support him, and voted, you should still be upset about this nominee. If you like him, support him, and voted for him, you should be holding his feet to the fire to do what is best for the country. No one, not even him, should be elected and then forgotten. It is our job to continue to set elected officials on the right path. Our government was not set up so that we just elect people and that’s it. We are supposed to be electing them and continuing to stay in communication with them. That is how they can best represent us.


So, start calling your senators and making noise about this nominee. She cannot do this job. She will destroy your public schools.

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Koonlaba: What do you think about visual art and poetry (aka arts integration)? http://www.msedblog.net/2016/09/01/koonlaba-what-do-you-think-about-visual-art-and-poetry-aka-arts-integration/ http://www.msedblog.net/2016/09/01/koonlaba-what-do-you-think-about-visual-art-and-poetry-aka-arts-integration/#respond Thu, 01 Sep 2016 16:15:13 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=15872 11164757_10206497932583916_3464456028614437679_nI just read a blog post by Alycia Zimmerman titled, Ekphrasis: Poetry About Art, and I really learned something new. I had no idea what ekphrasis meant before reading. The post defines this word as “writing about any art form, but in its modern usage, ekphrasis generally refers to poetry that reflects on visual art, and most often painting.”

So, the definition of this new word was a major hook for me. Those that know me know my passion for arts education and arts integration. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.” Writing about a work of visual art is a great way to engage students with arts integration. This post is full of resources on how to make this work in a classroom. Mentor poems, artist studies, and examples of student work are all included in the post.

I think using visual art as a prompt for writing is a very good way to have students construct and demonstrate their understanding. There is as much of a creative process to writing as the creation of visual art. One way this concept could be taken up a notch is if students created their own work of visual art and then wrote about it. However, having them use the work of others as a prompt for writing is a great starting place if you are interested in integrating the arts in your classroom.

I highly recommend reading this to see if you get any ideas for using ekphrasis in your classroom. If you have questions or would like to brainstorm a lesson around this concept, get in touch with me. That is right up my alley!

What do you think about using arts integration in your classroom? What do you think about the concept of ekphrasis? How can you make this work for your students? What benefits does it offer? What might hold you back from using this with students? Let’s talk about it!

Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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Darein C. Spann: We are the ones we have been waiting for!!! http://www.msedblog.net/2016/08/08/darein-c-spann-we-are-the-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for/ http://www.msedblog.net/2016/08/08/darein-c-spann-we-are-the-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 06:33:24 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=15967 11154956_863548567036681_532325828405772485_oThe following is the text of a speech given by Darein C. Spann at the It All Starts with Education Forum , which was held in July in Jackson, MS. The event was organized by MS Representative Jay Hughes. Several teachers were invited to give TedX-style power speeches to the audience of several hundred educators and public education supporters. These are Darein’s words.



When I say we, I am referring to you and me—teachers here this afternoon.

We are the teachers who get up early every morning with one goal in mind: Making the lives of students better.

We are the teachers who work tirelessly throughout the day constantly in and out of ourselves because no one day is ever the same.

We are the teachers who stay late after school tutoring, attending programs, coaching, supervising dances, only to realize on Friday how tired our bodies are.




We have to be those same teachers to stand up and use our voices for our profession.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I know some are afraid of the repercussions from having a voice. But, the truth of the matter is if we don’t, then who will?

Who will speak for the student who has anxiety every time a test is put before him or her and you know he or she knows the material?

Who will speak for the student who has a desire to play a sport or become an artist or musician but the fine arts and extracurricular activities are cut?



We work day in and day out with each of them. We spend countless hours with them. We learn their mannerisms. We learn what they love. We learn how much they can handle. And truth be told, they love us back.

I want to tell you a quick story about why I do what I do daily.

About 30 years ago, there was a little boy who was awakened by his aunt after Santa Claus had come. This little boy also had his brother and cousin there as well. When the three of them walked into the living room of their grandparent’s home, wiping sleep out of their eyes, their aunt pointed out gifts that Santa Claus had left for both his brother and his cousin.

She then turned to that little boy and told him that Santa didn’t leave him anything. Can you imagine how heartbroken that little boy must have been? He went back to bed crying only to wake up again still with nothing. Well, that little boy was me!

I reflect on that story every time my students enter my classroom. Unlike what happened to me, I make sure my students DO NOT EVER come into my classroom and feel like they can’t complete an assignment or do their best because someone failed to make sure they had what was due to them.

“Teaching is not what I do, but who I am.” (Dr. Jill Biden)




I want every child to have a sense that despite situations, things can change.

Lastly, I don’t want to tell you to use your voice without giving you a strategy to help you get started. I attended a workshop with the National Education Association, where they taught us to tell the story of self. Quoting from some of the information:

“Every one of us has a compelling story of self to tell. We all have people in our lives (Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues, or Characters we love) who’s stories influence our own values. The key focus is on our choices. Those moments in our lives when our values moved us to act in the face of challenges. The power in your story of self is to reveal something of those moments that were deeply meaningful to you in shaping your life- Not your deepest, most private secrets, but the events that shaped your public life. Learning to tell a good story of self demands the courage of introspection and of sharing some of what you find.

I challenge each of you to find your voice. When you find your voice, find others who share the same sentiments and collectively begin using your voices to help those who depend on you daily!






This is the ONLY way, and I mean THE ONLY WAY, people will listen to us, and we can get things changed.

Remember Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Go forth teachers and speak up for all of us, so our students can be the best they can be!


DAREIN C. SPANN is an educator. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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Amanda Koonlaba: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for! http://www.msedblog.net/2016/08/06/15977/ http://www.msedblog.net/2016/08/06/15977/#respond Sat, 06 Aug 2016 18:11:32 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=15977 11164757_10206497932583916_3464456028614437679_nThe following is the text of a speech given by Amanda Koonlaba at the It All Starts with Education Forum , which was held in July in Jackson, MS. The event was organized by MS Representative Jay Hughes. Several teachers were invited to give TedX-style power speeches to the audience of several hundred educators and public education supporters. These are Amanda’s words.


A few weeks ago, I attended a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was the Save Our Schools Rally, and we marched from the memorial to the White House. Many education activists made speeches at the rally that were incredibly inspiring. The week before that, I was able to attend the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly where I heard the NEA president give an opening speech. I am not a dynamic speaker like those great activists. I do have a similar passion, though, and am willing to stand here and make an attempt at inspiring you with that passion the way they each inspired me.

You see, I am not magically smart and tough and brave to be here speaking today. In fact, standing here makes me uncomfortable. But, I’ve come to the realization that this is what it is going to take to fix the problems we are all complaining about behind closed doors.

We are going to have to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

We may fear attention, and conflict, and even reprisal when we make our voices heard. But, we must remember that some of America’s greatest leaders were also reluctant. Just think about the people throughout history who mustered up the strength to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Where would we be without them?

It is in that spirit that I speak to you today.

Teachers, we cannot keep waiting for positive change. We are witnessing an attack on public education in this country and in this state. This means to me that we are witnessing an attack on our values, our integrity, our livelihoods, our students, our communities, and even our democracy. For instance, just in case you haven’t been following the news, school choice encourages re-segregation and funnels valuable resources from students in traditional public schools. Harsh accountability measures erode the public’s faith in our ability to teach our youth and narrows the curriculum to the point where our students become professional test takers rather than thinkers and artists and poets and scientists.

We cannot keep waiting for things to get better on their own. Things are not going to get better on their own. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It is up to us!


The toughest part of teaching for me has been filtering away from my students the negativity in the culture surrounding the public educational system in this country and state. I am talking about the negativity you hear from certain policymakers and in the media.

Sometimes it feels like all you ever hear about public schools in the media is how lazy the teachers are, how much money it costs to educate students, how low the test scores are, etc.

It is hurtful on a personal level. I am a teacher deep down to my very marrow. I teach from the very deepest part of who I am as a human being.

However, this personal hurt is nothing compared to how I feel about what I see it do to students. Our students are internalizing this negativity. I know it, and you know it.

On the one hand, they get the message that they shouldn’t respect their schools or teachers because the people in power don’t respect them. On the other hand, the message is that their teachers and schools are abysmal failures. So, they must be abysmal failures themselves. How do you think they feel when they’ve tried their hardest to learn and perform on a test and their school gets a low accountability rating? I can’t imagine that they feel much better than we do when that happens.

I am a teacher, and I have to look into the faces of students every single day, just like you do. The people putting this negativity out into the culture do not. So, for me, trying to remain positive while working with my students in the midst of such negativity is tough.

I deal with this by being an activist. At some point, I just started seeking out opportunities to make my voice heard. I guess I just got fed up. So, I started showing up. I started writing, and I started speaking out.

I started allowing my reluctant self to be uncomfortable.

Now, I do not think I know everything, but I want to be part of the discussions taking place. I want to model for my students what it looks like to stand up for others and what it looks like to participate in a democracy.

Before I began using my voice, which is my right as a citizen of this country, I felt very much like it was hopeless to try to change the narrative surrounding public education. However, now, I feel like I am doing something worthwhile. It feels really good to know that I am modeling what I expect out of my students. I expect good citizenship from them. I expect them to stand up for themselves and others. So, by being an activist, I am able to have hope for the future of our schools. This is how I deal with what I’ve described as the toughest part of teaching, and it gives me great strength to move forward in this profession.

So, today, I stand here with my own frustrations and fear, and in a completely uncomfortable state. I’m standing here with my own internal reluctance to being outspoken, to being an activist.

But, I stand here with great hope because of what I want for my students and the future of the human beings living in this country and state.

I stand here in hopes of inspiring you all to get involved. To be active. To participate in this democracy. You don’t have to see yourself as a leader or think you are particularly brave and courageous. You just have to participate.

We can have a large-scale positive impact if we do it together. We cannot, however, continue to wait. We are the greatest force of good in this world.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.


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Koonlaba: What do you think about the kindergarten controversy? http://www.msedblog.net/2016/07/28/koonlaba-what-do-you-think-about-the-kindergarten-controversy/ http://www.msedblog.net/2016/07/28/koonlaba-what-do-you-think-about-the-kindergarten-controversy/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 15:04:23 +0000 http://www.msedblog.net/?p=15854 11164757_10206497932583916_3464456028614437679_nIn “The Kindergarten Dilemma,” Judy Smizik reflects on her thirty-five years as a Kindergarten teacher. She asserts,

“Kindergarten exposed children to the world around them through creative experiences that incorporated the arts, rich literature, and meaningful learning. It addressed the needs of the “whole” child.  Kindergarten programs were developed to allow for the differences that naturally occur in kindergarten-age children. The curriculum and program were flexible enough to accommodate the educational learning needs of all children.  Play was a vital component of all kindergarten classrooms.”

She goes on to compare what Kindergarten once was to what it is today claiming,

“Today,  children are sitting for long periods of time, learning curricula that were once considered first grade skills. Instruction is focused on teaching kindergarten children to read, write, and perform mathematical skills involving adding, subtracting, and advanced problem solving.  While some children may be developmentally ready to read and perform advanced mathematical thinking skills,  many are not.

The most interesting part of this post is her presentation of a district-mandated writing assessment prompt. She asked retired (career) teachers what grade level they thought the prompt was for. They replied “second grade.”

She ends her post with a question,

“Is this what we want for our children?”

As I was reading this post, I became curious to know what other educators think about the controversy surrounding today’s Kindergarten classrooms.

Do you feel the level of work is appropriate? If you are unfamiliar with Kindergarten, do you feel what Smizik has described is appropriate? Do you find what Smizik has described to be accurate?

I’d love to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment to share.

Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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