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Reflecting on Five Years of Education Reform in Mississippi

Reflecting on Five Years of Education Reform in Mississippi

For years, Mississippi students have scored below the national average on assessments and tests, its public school system repeatedly criticized for not providing students the tools to be successful.

To give some background, in 2013 The Hechinger Report said the state was in the middle of a “literary crisis” as it struggled to ensure all of its students could read.

The Hechinger Report began the Mississippi Reading Series, a series of articles determined to investigate why so many of the state’s students lag behind their national peers. The series has covered a wide range of issues in the state, including a widespread lack of quality early education services, poor training of teachers, funding problems stemming from the state’s capitol and more.

Today, advocacy organization Empower Mississippi is asking the public to take a look at how the state has been able to improve through targeted school reform policy these past five years.

"Few states accomplish in a decade what Mississippi has been able to accomplish in just the past five years thanks largely to strong leadership of Gov. Bryant, Lt. Gov. Reeves, and Speaker Gunn and members of the legislature who are willing to take these often difficult votes,” the organization says.

Though Empower Mississippi operates under the goal of bringing charter schools to the state, its documentation of school reform in the state covers much more than just expanding school choice.

 

Third Grade Reading Gate

When it comes to solving Mississippi’s “reading crisis,” the group highlights the Literacy Based Promotion Act or “The Third Grade Reading Gate” that was implemented in 2013.

Under this law, third grade students cannot move onto fourth grade if they cannot pass reading tests until intervention helps them to succeed. 

The state hired 75 literacy to assist teachers in 67 target schools, and Empower Mississippi says reading scores improved statewide in just two years.

 

Appointed vs. Elected Superintendents

Empower Mississippi also highlights the state’s switch to appointing versus electing its districts’ superintendents.

"After a battle that lasted several years, legislation was adopted this session that will make the move to appointed superintendents by 2019. Prior to this legislation, Mississippi was one of just three state’s that elected any school superintendents,” Empower Mississippi said.

 

A Move to School Choice

As is its priority, Empower Mississippi also discussed how Mississippi is moving towards embracing school choice options for students across the state.

Related reforms include legislation like the Dyslexia Scholarship, which Empower Mississippi says is the state’s first school choice program.

"Under this program, students who are in first through sixth grade and have been screened properly and diagnosed with dyslexia are eligible for a voucher in an amount equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, which is around $5,000.”

When looking at charter school reform, Empower Mississippi documents the first legislation passed to support charter schools in 2013 and how the movement has evolved since.

”Charter school legislation was first passed in 2013 to offer new education options for children living in poorly performing school districts and it was expanded this session. Based on model legislation developed out of best practices from around the country, this law creates a rigorous and accountable process to ensure that only the highest quality charter schools will be authorized.”

To read more about major school reform legislation passed in Mississippi over the past five years, see here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

6/21/2016

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