It’s time to reform the culture of public education in Mississippi. In 2012, the state marked the 30th anniversary of the Education Reform Act of 1982, a watershed moment for public education in the state. Under the leadership of former Gov. William Winter, the state’s leaders pushed to the forefront the importance of public education in improving the lives of our citizens and ultimately the future of our state.
It was time.
And now, the leaders of our state will again consider sweeping reforms that will have a lasting impact on educators, students and parents. As interim state superintendent of education, I welcome the conversations that are taking place among our elected leaders. It is my desire to work collaboratively with them so that we make decisions that are rooted in the common belief that every child should receive the public education he or she deserves, although we may not always agree on how to accomplish that goal.
Still, everyone who cares about moving our state forward should focus on what’s in the best interest of students. The Mississippi Department of Education has worked diligently over the last five years to raise accountability standards for school districts, to increase the rigor of our curriculum standards to improve student achievement, and to increase accountability of our teachers and principals through new evaluation systems.
While we work to provide better educational opportunities for our students and to hold our teachers and school leaders more accountable, we must also ensure that school districts receive the resources they need to carry out this aggressive plan of achievement. The Mississippi Board of Education supports full funding of MAEP, the state’s funding formula for public education, but we are mindful of the current economic times and the difficult decisions our lawmakers face in funding all state services.
I want to commend district leaders for the outstanding jobs they have done in managing the resources they have been given. However, just as costs have risen in the budgets of households around the state, so have the operating costs for school districts. It is my hope that our political leadership finds a way to adequately and equitably fund districts so that they can meet the needs of our students.
The Board envisions a public education system that provides students with the knowledge and skills that will allow them to be successful in college and the workforce. That’s why the Board has been working on three strategic goals: to increase student reading levels, to reduce the state’s dropout rate and to meet proficiency under the Common Core State Standards.
Like our elected leaders, the Board wants students in the 3rd grade to read on grade level, but interventions and remediation from kindergarten through 2nd grade must be included in that discussion. In addition, we are exploring K-2 assessments to track children’s reading skills before they reach the third grade.
The Board’s legislative budget request includes $2.5 million for early childhood pilot programs in communities with high poverty rates to find out what strategies work best in preparing students for kindergarten. We also know that we need better data on children’s skills and abilities when they enter kindergarten, and so we are proposing a statewide tool to determine kindergarten readiness.
A primary Board goal centers on reducing the dropout rate in Mississippi. We all understand the importance of students completing high school so that they can be successful in college and the workforce and ultimately become productive citizens. However, one size does not fit all.
That’s why we have proposed an expansion of the Excellence for All pilots at a cost of $1 million. The money would be divided into $50,000 grants for pilot programs that focus on increased rigor and flexibility as well as multiple exit points from high school to the workforce.
The Board’s budget request also includes $1.5 million to increase efforts at the local and state levels to intensify the focus on saving students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The funds would be used to provide grant opportunities for districts to address local issues that contribute to students dropping out of school.
Finally, the Board wants to make sure that every student is prepared to compete in the global community. As the state transitions to full implementation of Common Core State Standards, we believe the students of Mississippi will be on a level playing field when it comes to national assessments. Through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), work is underway to develop a common set of assessments.
Mississippi is one of 44 states to join this national initiative to prepare students for college and career with defined standards for math and English-language arts. The standards establish what students need to learn, but do not tell teachers how to teach. Teachers will continue to create lesson plans and tailor instruction to the unique needs of the students in their classrooms.
As the 2013 legislative session approaches, I encourage you to stay in contact with your local legislators to voice your concerns and your support for a public education system that will give all children the opportunity to succeed.
Finally, I want to stress that this is an exciting and historic time to be in public education. We cannot afford to settle for the status quo any longer. Our children deserve better, and the reforms that we are making will catapult the state to another level where our students will be competitive both nationally and internationally. Let’s strive to work together on innovative ideas that will reframe public education in Mississippi.
It is time.