By Gov. Phil Bryant
Just like economic development dominated this year’s legislative session, I aim for education to take the stage prominently during next year’s session. The Legislature worked tirelessly to pass bills that improve the business climate and create jobs. Now, it’s time we make bold changes to our education system to make sure it stays up to pace with our evolving economy.
My Education Works agenda was created in collaboration with education leaders, teachers and researchers and sets a clear path to success. With a focus on key areas like literacy, teacher effectiveness, early childhood preparation, college and career readiness, and school choice, this agenda will invigorate our public education system so our children graduate high school ready to make the most of the opportunities that follow.
A primary component of my agenda directs attention to Mississippi’s literacy crisis and the serious negative consequences of passing children on to the next grade when they are not prepared. Data show that 46 percent of third-graders and 78 percent of fourth-graders in Mississippi are not proficient in reading. When passed on to the next grade without adequate literacy skills, students have difficulty mastering subsequent material and fall even further behind. By the eighth grade, a student who lacks proper literacy skills is four times more likely to drop out than students who were reading proficiently in third grade. Further, those struggling students who do go on to college are often not prepared. In fact, Mississippi institutions of higher learning spend about $10 million annually on remediation courses for such students. At our community and junior colleges, the cost of remediation is more than $25 million each year.
Our children deserve better, and my Education Works agenda includes a “third-grade gate” to end social promotion of students who are not reading on grade level. Instead of passing to fourth grade without being prepared, these students will receive intense literacy assistance from highly-trained reading interventionists.
Florida implemented a similar policy, and children made substantial improvements in both math and reading achievements over a six-year period, and numbers show a “third-grade gate” substantially reduces the probability a student will be retained in later grades. The Mississippi Department of Education already has begun developing a plan to help train teachers on best reading practices, and my fiscal year 2013 Executive Budget Recommendation provided $15 million to establish literacy interventionists throughout the state and aid our classroom teachers with ongoing, research-based reading instruction guidance.
Because we know that a high-quality teacher is vital to student success, my Education Works agenda also includes a performance-based compensation model that rewards our most effective teachers. Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit worked with my team to develop a system that will compensate our top-performing teachers in a way that is fair, measurable and reliable. I am pleased that four districts will pilot this concept next year, and what we learn will be used to shape future policy.
Equally vital to a child’s success is the involvement and empowerment of parents. So many children in this state are trapped in schools that are not meeting their needs. Parents deserve the right to seek better opportunities for their children, and my Education Works agenda puts value on school choice. Not only should we endeavor to pass a workable public charter school bill to give our children one more opportunity to succeed, we must also give parents the option to request their child be transferred to another school through the implementation of statewide open enrollment policies. My agenda further empowers parents by designating privately-funded opportunity scholarships for low-income families in D and F schools. Parents can use these programs to send their child to a school that better meets their needs.
The consequences of educational failure are too great to ignore. Mississippi has the opportunity to do better, and my Education Works agenda provides a clear path to success. Our teachers, our school leaders, our parents and – most importantly – our children deserve our support. I hope you will join me in framing a better future for Mississippi.
Contact Gov. Phil Bryant through his press spokesman, Mick Bullock (Mick.Bullock@governor.ms.gov).