In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama brought up the topic of universal Pre-Kindergarten learning and praised the programs already in place in states like Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey. He connected Pre-K initiatives to his Race to the Top program that has the lofty goal of making the U.S. the worldwide leader in college attendees and graduates. His administration contends that the academic skill sets needed to reach that goal must have their foundation before Kindergarten and that the responsibility for that lies in public funding.

Academic dishonesty is nothing new. As long as there have been homework assignments and tests, there have been cheaters. The way that cheating looks has changed over time though, particularly now that technology has made it easier than ever. Perhaps the most interesting caveat of modern-day cheating in U.S. classrooms is that students often do not think that what they are doing is wrong.

If the goal of P-12 education is to prepare students for success in the adult world that follows, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect when a high school diploma is handed over. Students are sent off to college as adults and there is a sharp separation between the support and guidance in all the classrooms they've ever visited and the new ones on the horizon. We seem to assume that our well-educated youth will know exactly how to act on their own when it comes to secondary education. That's a problem.

So are public charter schools a solution to the K-12 crisis in Mississippi? I think it is certainly a topic that deserves some serious discussion and not just in the form of ineffective laws that are not actionable. Allowing the establishment of charter schools in Mississippi could be the answer to the academic underachievement that plagues Mississippi. It certainly couldn't make it any worse.

I wonder what an expanded voucher program would look like in my home state. If parents were not limited by income, a larger obstacle in Mississippi than other states, when choosing the right schools for their kids, what choices would they make?

While a hit against herd mentality, shouldn't individual students have the option of a better school if it exists and is close enough for them to attend? Therein lies one of the major debates in school choice - who knows what is best? Trained educators/administrators - or individual parents?

Instead of being a learning complexity, I believe innovative math learning initiatives are the key to overall K-12 academic improvement. Math is a universal language and one that needs practical applications to really have an impact. That starts with the teachers but needs support from the decision-makers to truly make a difference.

Bottom line: Even without the cash in hand, teachers can and should seek out arts integration initiatives in their classrooms.

Last week, Education Week released its ratings for U.S. public schools by state in its annual Quality Counts report. It was the first year that states did not receive an overall rating, but were scored in more specific areas instead. My home state of Mississippi did not fare well, earning an "F" in student achievement and a "D" in chance for student success.

One of the education issues that President Obama has been the most vocal in reforming is America's need to lead the world in number of college graduates. His administration's Race to the Top initiative has already earmarked $4 billion for 19 states (serving 22 million K-12 students) to reform public education programs to improve technology, raise teacher accountability and heighten learning standards.


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