OUR OPINION: Education gains don't come easy

By NEMS Daily Journal

We live in an age that expects instant results. Patience and persistence aren’t the virtues most evident in our time. But some things take time, as the CEO of the state’s leading business organization reminded a Tupelo audience last week.
Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson, in town to talk about the Blueprint Mississippi process the MEC is spearheading, put this in context as it relates to economic progress. Our state isn’t where it needs to be, he acknowledged, but we’re making significant advances.
That goes for education, the seedbed of economic gains. Wilson continued to emphasize the urgency of educational improvements – including more emphasis on pre-K programs for Mississippi children.
He also underscored the importance of maintaining and enhancing funding for all levels of education, including K-12, community colleges and universities. Those who complain that, because additional funding for public schools hasn’t yet produced dramatic results it hasn’t worked and should be curbed, ignore a basic reality. Problems that festered for nearly two centuries – in Mississippi’s case an undervaluing of education and historic racial and geographic disparities in what little was allocated – aren’t solved overnight, Wilson suggested.
And if we haven’t yet made quantum leaps, there are encouraging signs of progress. Wilson specifically pointed to a steady rise in 4th grade reading scores as an improvement with enormous implications, given the centrality of reading to all learning.
Twenty-five years ago, Mississippi had one of the worst highway systems in the nation, Wilson noted. Now it ranks in the South’s top tier, thanks to the huge investment in the 1987 highway program that changed the face of Northeast Mississippi. That took years of patience and persistence to come to fruition, but it is paying off in a big way.
Similary, we aren’t much more than a decade into systematic funding of all Mississippi school districts through the Adequate Education Program, and less than that into a new accountability system with higher standards and expectations. We must aim high, but we must also exercise the patience and persistence required for long-term systemic transformation.
If there were any further evidence required to demonstrate Mississippi’s need to shore up educational opportunities for everyone, it’s in recently released Census data that show the percentage of Mississippi school children living in povery increased by 3 percentage points between 2007 and 2010 and by nearly 6 percentage points, to 29.5 percent, in Northeast Mississippi.
Our historical legacy of poverty is not yet behind us. Patience and persistence in building a strengthened educational system are essential to overcoming it.