Closing gaps critical, says ex-N.C. ed chief

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The former leader of North Carolina’s public school system on Friday stressed the importance of closing academic achievement gaps.
In doing so, public education consultant Mike Ward said, the focus should not merely be on improving low-performing students but on raising the performance of all students.
“Closing gaps benefits low-achieving kids, but it benefits all kids, and it benefits the community,” he said.
Ward spoke at the Community Development Foundation’s monthly First Friday gathering. He said closing performance gaps between socioeconomic groups is an ethical imperative and also makes communities more economically competitive.
Ward moved to Mississippi in 2004 when his wife, Hope, was appointed the United Methodist bishop for the state. He currently works as an educational consultant and is also a part-time member of the graduate faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi. He’s in the Department of Educational Leadership and School Counseling.
His presentation focused on global, national and state education trends and the implications they have in Tupelo and the region.
“Our competitiveness in the world marketplace depends a lot on how we educate all kids,” he said.
On the achievement gap, Ward said that school districts must make difficult decisions about how best to allocate resources as they commit themselves to boosting both low- and high-performing students. However, Tupelo’s resources and its community support makes it much easier for the district to do both, he said.
“You can have it all in a place like this, but you need to make some hard decisions,” he said.
Ward spoke of the new Common Core State Standards, which are being adopted by most states to ensure students are learning the same things in different parts of the country. The effort will make it much easier to compare performance in different states, he said.
Ward also spoke about charter schools, something he said is supported by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Phil Bryant.
As Mississippi’s Legislature works to craft a new state charter school law, Ward said the key questions in analyzing prospective charter schools are whether they have a sound business plan, what their purpose is and whether they are inclusive or exclusive.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com