Essays in Education


In an era when federal, state, and private influence on education policy is on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important for educators to become involved in policy work. During the 2003-2004 school year, the author interacted with the Mississippi Department of Education, the State Board of Education, literacy faculty, and the Barksdale Reading Institute around the issue of phonics requirements for certification in elementary education. In 2004 the Barksdale Reading Institute, a private, philanthropic foundation funded by a $100-million endowment from former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, encouraged the State Board of Education to require a 3-hour standalone phonics course for elementary teacher certification. This paper describes how the author, together with other Mississippi education faculty, responded to that proposal, and the ultimate compromise which was forged. It draws conclusions for working with policy makers including: the importance of becoming involved in policy, even when it may not be rewarded at the home university; the importance of understanding policy makers’ concerns and discourse; and the importance of proposing workable alternatives rather than simply reacting defensively to offensive policy initiatives.

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