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ALAN TURNER: Education in Mississippi – good and bad news

Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright

Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright

At a recent lunch meeting sponsored by the Madison County Business League & Foundation, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright delivered an assessment of public education in Mississippi.

To her credit, Dr. Wright didn’t sugarcoat the problems facing Mississippi’s schools, acknowledging that Mississippi continues to sit at the bottom of state rankings in education.  Among other problems, our state has a very low percentage of 4th and 8th graders who are proficient in reading and math (based on testing done at those levels).  In many other respects, Mississippi standards fall far below national averages.  Even the best school districts in the state still are at or slightly below national averages. So, in a real sense, Mississippi students are often ill-prepared for college level work, and Wright pointed out that “it costs a lot less to fix the problem early, versus the cost of remedial education at the college level.”

From that candid overview, she then went on to discuss how she intends to create measurable positive results.

Among other things, she believes early intervention is the key to solving the problems, and this is particularly true in developing good reading skills, which she sees as vital to improving the whole educational picture.

“We’ve trained 10,400 teachers in the essentials of reading,” she said.  “We’ve hired 77 literacy coaches, whose goal is to improve reading skills and comprehension.”

She also pointed out that we’ve seen an improvement in the ACT scores, for the first time in 20 years.

Among her ongoing goals: that all students show ongoing growth, however modest; to work hard at the early childhood level (pointing out that 2 of 3 kids are not prepared for school); to identify and work with kids through an early college program, where some can finish high school with both a diploma and an associate’s degree; and to provide better counseling about opportunities for career development and what will be necessary to take advantages of those opportunities.

She pointed to certain programs and procedures adopted by the state of Kentucky as proof that progress is possible, but she said it is important that we “stick to the things that will produce results in the long term”.

She sees the importance of education as paramount to Mississippi’s economic future, suggesting that “a quality, well-educated workforce is what companies look for when they consider locating to a particular state or region.”  She also sees trade and technical education as very important to the development of that workforce.

Asked whether she sees our state getting out of last place within the next five years, she answered emphatically “Yes!  I’m a 100 percent optimist who believes that we can and will make a difference in our children’s lives.”

Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

About Alan Turner

2 comments

  1. All of a sudden MS realizes that having an illiterate populaton is not a “plus” in the modern world. (http://hechingerreport.org/in-mississippi-generations-still-fighting-illiteracy/)

    HELLO???

    Discounting that I am a recent visitor of, and amazed at, Cuba, let’s just tell what they did in 1961. Batista and the U.S. and the mafia did not care about 90% illiterate. But the revolution rounded up a whole bunch of volunteers and in one year the whole country was literate. Now secondary school is mandatory, which puts a strain on the family farms since teenagers must be sent to boarding schools (11 million people in a place bigger than FL–can’t have local secondary schools) and…once they’ve seen the lights of the “bigger” town….well, you know the story.

    The state of MS is regarded by the rest of the world as somewhat worse than Sudan.

  2. I am proud of our Quitman School District for their Early Education Program. For a School District with almost 70% of the students coming from a single parent environment the School came in at the 7th position for the entire state as recorded on the State Website. Dr. Wright is correct in the early education efforts paying off. Funding is very challenging and Schools like ours are coming up with ideas to help defray Excel by 5 costs and the Imagination Library. Our School has a “Flip Flop Friday” giving students permission to not follow dress codes, but it cost $1.00. Kids love it, it works, and helps.

    I am amazed that we have not done more consolidation of Administrative Offices in our State to free up additional funds for our schools. North Carolina has 100 Counties and 112 School Districts; Mississippi has 82 Counties and 152 School Districts.

    When are we as a State going to adopt standards for high speed internet, wireless ability in all classrooms, and a one to one computer to student ratio. Without a standard for all schools, how would anyone know how much money is really needed. School Districts don’t project additional foreign languages as part of the curriculum, because they know it will not be funded. What is it going to take to make us competitive with private schools or countries that fund education as a priority.

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