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Mississippi Public Schools Failing—Again

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Last week, Education Week released its ratings for U.S. public schools by state in its annual Quality Counts report. It was the first year that states did not receive an overall rating, but were scored in more specific areas instead. My home state of Mississippi did not fare well, earning an "F" in student achievement and a "D" in chance for student success. Neither is very surprising, given Mississippi's track record in this particular report, but both are a reminder that educators must find a way to more effectively teach there.

Mississippi had a few other low points in the report, including that the fact that even though the state spends 3.6 percent of its taxable resources (near the national average) on education, the spending is significantly less than average because of the low-income status of the state. The Quality Counts report points out that the state is dragged down by its low income and existing education levels, calling both a "handicap for students and evidence of poor outcomes for adults."

It breaks my heart to see the public education system of my home state repeatedly ranked so low. As an educator, it makes me disheartened to know that as a whole, public schools are not winning the battle against low-incomes and poverty and their negative impact on learning.

So what can be done about this? There is obviously a problem that exists but observation alone will not get us very far. After all, Mississippi has received "Ds" or "Fs" in a few categories on this report for a decade, and scores low on similar ones commissioned by other organizations. This is by no means a wake-up call. It is simply more of the same.

So then the question shifts to whether anyone even cares. Realistically, the parents of most Mississippi public school students cannot be relied upon to change this near-failing trend. Many of these parents were students in the same seats in their own K-12 generation so they do not know anything different. The children certainly cannot change the course of their educations. Even if they understood that the learning process around them needed to improve, they have no power to change it.

The responsibility then lies on the shoulders of educators - from the public school classroom teacher to the state superintendent of education, Dr. Carey Wright. One of the suggestions made in the Edweek report to improve the achievement of Mississippi public schools is to consolidate high and low-poverty districts to increase equity in school funding and reduce racial or socioeconomic segregation. I'd say that is a start - but simple consolidation will not solve the underlying problems. With low incomes and poverty come students with more baggage than their mid- to high-income peers and if those accompanying issues are not accounted for and addressed, the learning process will always be fruitless.

Along with receiving a foundation in teaching methods, educators in Mississippi need to have social work training, of sorts, to accomplish their goals of reaching children academically and emotionally. Without public school programs that reach beyond the constraints of academics alone, Mississippi will continue to suffer low scores on Edweek's annual reports. The bigger problem, of course, is that these numbers reflect public school student underachievement and that is an issue that impacts every citizen in my home state.

I hope to be writing a very different column in the near future about Mississippi's public school ratings but that can only happen when better management of the poverty-classroom relationship takes place.

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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