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Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

November 3rd, 2011

Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale — an education advocate for Mississippi

Education is always the focus of former president and CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale. Wherever he goes these days, he is singing the praises of Mississippi education.
So, it was interesting to hear Barksdale speak last week at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event, which came on the heels of the release of the national eighth grade reading in math scores.
Those scores have Mississippi firmly planted at No. 50 in the state rankings.
Yet, Barksdale says Mississippi children are making strides and that it is only a matter of time before the perception of Mississippi’s educational system is different.
The difference between Barksdale and other people who talk about education in Mississippi is that he has that business background to understand what, apparently, politicians do not.
Tough choices have to be made, Barksdale said, referring to teachers and administrators who aren’t living up to the standard our students deserve.
Barksdale is careful to point out that there are a significant number of teachers and administrators who are doing fantastic jobs, and believes making strides forward can be done.
He points to the Teach for America program, which has more volunteers in Mississippi than any other state.
In fact, Delta State University serves as the training ground for teachers for the entire country.
And that program is producing more good teachers and administrators than anything else Mississippi is doing right now.
Barksdale would like to see $12 million of the education budget devoted to help that program.
That’s not $12 million more dollars for education. Barksdale just wants to make sure that $12 million is allocated for that program and he believes the returns are worth the investment.
He is right.

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The bottom line is that teachers are the key to making the difference in Mississippi’s education.
And Barksdale would like to see a merit-based pay system to reward high-performing teachers.
Tough choices must be made and made now so that we can have better leadership for our future.
Barksdale is against having elected superintendents.
“You couldn’t run a business if you had to have elections for employees,” he said.
Appointing them is the way to go.
All of this won’t be easy and he knows that.
“Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress.” Barksdale noted.
But he believes we can do it, because, in many cases, our public schools are achieving at a high level.
All of this takes money, and Barksdale stated many times he understands that money won’t buy an education for Mississippi’s kids, but, he said, “Money is essential, just not sufficient.”
Current levels of funding must be held firm is the message to the legislature, which should pay very close attention to Barksdale. He knows what he is doing.
It’s not just the future of the children at risk, it’s for all of us.
“Have faith in these little children,” Barksdale stresses.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

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