LLOYD GRAY: Back to schools: The next chapter

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

If there’s been one consistent theme to the Daily Journal’s news coverage and editorial emphasis for the better part of a century, it’s that education underpins everything else.

Without a sound education system at all levels, no individual, community, region or state will achieve its potential. That’s especially true in Mississippi, with its history of educational inequities and neglect.

No other element in a community is more important to its economic progress, its social cohesiveness and its attractiveness as a place to live than a strong public school system with high expectations and broad-based community support. That’s not an opinion; it’s clearly reflected in the data closely correlating the highest performing public school systems with the most successful communities.

It’s against this backdrop that Daily Journal education reporter Chris Kieffer and others on the Journal staff, beginning in December 2012, launched an ongoing, in-depth examination of Mississippi’s K-12 public schools. We’ve called the series “The State of Our Schools.”

Thirteen months ago, we took a look back at the history of education reform efforts in our state and explored the issues the Legislature was about to tackle in the 2013 session. A month later we examined the “Florida model,” which many reform proponents were touting as the way Mississippi should go.

In February we explored for five days the state of literacy education in Mississippi schools, where nearly half the state’s third graders were scoring below grade level in reading.

In April, we took an extensive look at the most important factor for student performance – teacher quality – and what’s being done to attract higher performing students into the profession and keep them in the classroom.

Our most ambitious and complex undertaking was in late September when we published a week-long series on the direct impact Mississippi’s high rates of poverty, teen pregnancy and single-parent households have on school performance. We showed the remarkably consistent statistical correlation of Mississippi’s school rankings, for good and ill, with these factors.

Today we continue our examination of “The State of Our Schools” with an explanation of the Common Core state standards, a hot topic in recent months in both education and political circles. Those standards are already in place to some degree in Mississippi schools, and are scheduled to be in full effect in the fall of 2014.

We’ve tried to take an objective look at the origin, the nature and the selling points of Common Core, while also hearing the concerns of its opponents. Like most issues, this one isn’t quite as simple as the strongest proponents or the most strident opponents would contend.

One thing is certain: Common Core will affect every child of every age in every public school classroom in Mississippi. That alone makes it worthy of the space we’ll devote to it the next couple of days, and in the months to come.

The push for Common Core is based on the compelling need for Mississippi – and other states as well – to raise academic standards, to expect more from students and to make learning more relevant to the lives they will lead. On this need, surely everyone who recognizes the vital importance of improving education can agree.

“The State of Our Schools” installments have painted a sometimes daunting picture of the challenges we face in improving education in Mississippi. Our purpose has not been to discourage, but to do the opposite – to identify the problems and to help spur discussion on the best ways to solve them.

Progress is possible, provided Mississippians and their educational and political leadership have the vision, the patience and the persistence to make it happen.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com