JACKSON — Four months after she started work, Carey Wright’s position as Mississippi’s state superintendent of education is official.
State senators voted 46-6 to confirm Wright yesterday after a brief debate that focused on whether her values are right for Mississippi and whether senators should support her advocacy of Common Core state standards and publicly funded prekindergarten.
“I do not take for granted the confidence placed in me to fulfill the duties of this position, and I look forward to working with the state Board of Education, legislators, school district superintendents, teachers and parents across the state on ways to raise student achievement,” Wright said in a statement.
Wright, the first woman to serve permanently as state superintendent in Mississippi, is making $300,000 a year.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, an Oxford Republican, supported Wright, saying she brings experience in high-performing school districts and a “no nonsense” approach to improving student achievement.
“One of the things she brings is she is not from Mississippi,” he told senators. “She doesn’t have any baggage. She comes in with a fresh set of eyes.”
A former school administrator in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, Wright was named to lead the Mississippi Department of Education in November. The state Board of Education voted to hire Wright after interviewing her and four other candidates.
The debate was relatively subdued after opponents of funding Common Core lost following a longer Senate debate last week. Sens. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, and Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, were Wright’s leading detractors. Both members of the Senate Conservative Coalition, they sometimes oppose the priorities of other members of the majority Republicans.
“I don’t know that her philosophy of education fits in with what most people in Mississippi believe,” Hill said.
She questioned whether Wright had done enough to close a test-score gap between high and low scorers in Washington, D.C., and also questioned whether Wright bore responsibility for a test-score cheating scandal in the District of Columbia schools.
Hill, the Legislature’s top opponent of Common Core, also rapped Wright for her outspoken advocacy of those academic standards, which are pushing a change in teaching methods and testing in Mississippi schools. Hill says the standards and accompanying testing represent a federal takeover of education and that they will result in a dumbing-down of math instruction. Proponents say that when fully implemented, students will learn to think more analytically and learn less by memorization. They say math will be different, but that students will still be able to take advanced math classes.
Hill also attacked Wright’s advocacy of state-funded prekindergarten, saying it amounted to a government takeover of parental responsibility.
“I can’t find a lot of people who believe their children should be in school at three years old,” she said.
Most Mississippi 3-year-olds are already attending some kind of preschool, studies have found.