Tour focuses on education

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 25, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; If Mississippi ever wants to move out of the educational cellar, the state has to change the way it educates, State Superintendent Hank Bounds said Wednesday.

Bounds was part of the Mississippi Economic Council&8217;s Trailblazer Tour that stopped at the Natchez Convention Center to speak to citizens, local leaders and local educators. The tour includes educational leaders and employment experts interested in developing tomorrow&8217;s business leaders.

Traditionally, Mississippi ranks at the bottom nationally in education, Bounds said. Thirty-five percent of students who start high school don&8217;t finish.

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Bounds said education must focus on career training, not just academics.

&8220;We should think of (high schools) as workforce development centers,&8221; Bounds said. &8220;We should teach students how to use technology to solve problems.&8221;

Technology classes in most schools aren&8217;t getting the job done, he said. Today&8217;s students don&8217;t need to know how to use the computer &8212; they&8217;ve been doing it all their lives, he said. Instead, they should be taking online classes.

And online classes are the answer to one of the five obstacles the state has to overcome to improve education, Bounds said.

Districts struggle to find enough quality teachers, but an online course eliminates the need for a highly qualified educator right there in the room.

&8220;We can move beyond state boundaries of Mississippi to deal with the teacher shortage,&8221; he said.

And online classes also mean students in rural, small towns have the chance to take electives or higher level courses that couldn&8217;t normally be offered.

&8220;The type of education a student receives shouldn&8217;t be predicated on geography,&8221; Bounds said.

The state must also tackle the obstacle of finding more quality administrators, and implementing a more rigorous curriculum. Some changes have already been made to the curriculum and more are under way, he said.

To succeed, Mississippi must also change the way education is viewed culturally, he said.

&8220;We don&8217;t value education like we must,&8221; Bounds said. &8220;Parents don&8217;t know what a good education could look like for their children.&8221;

Finally, middle school and high schools should be teaching for the 21st century, Bounds said. Students should fall into career pathways, health care, agriculture or natural resources, construction or manufacturing, transportation, business management or marketing, science, technology, engineering, math or human services. They should be taught career readiness instead of just vocational skills or academic knowledge.

And when they leave high school, students should be ready to go to work or to go to college.

Which is where Tommye Dale Favre, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, comes in. Favre is part of the Trailblazer tour too, to share what her department does to get Mississippians working.

&8220;We are really where education comes to its final test,&8221; she said. &8220;We are the end of the line. We can educate, we can test, but the bottom line is we need to be able to provide the citizens of Mississippi with jobs.&8221;

The tour also includes video clips from community college and university leaders. The group is making stops throughout the state.