Madison County Executive Leadership Application

Education in Mississippi – good and bad news

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.

Originally published by the Mississippi Business Journal on April 24, 2015