In this new bi-weekly feature, MS Ed Blogger James Comans provides a quick discussion and analysis of the latest Mississippi education news.
Tate Reeves Tries to Bury the Hatchet with 42ers
In a post-election interview, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves described supporters of Initiative 42 as “supporters of education”- Mississippians who fought with “passion.” He went on to assure election victors, “[Supporters of 42] are not our enemies. In fact they are our friends.”
This moment comes as a stark contrast to the heated campaign, in which Initiative 42 opponents called supporters “out of state liberals” connected to Obama, or “emotional” “supporters of Planned Parenthood.” Reeves offered none of these corrections until after the votes had been cast. His sudden change of heart seems largely political. The true measure of his friendship with supporters of Initiative 42 will come next year, when he has a chance to back up his October 28 promise to fully fund public schools.
The Legislature Gears Up for 2016 Session
House Speaker Philip Gunn (Clinton) secured his second term as Speaker. Meanwhile, Representative Jody Steverson (Ripley) announced a switch to the Republican Party just two days after being elected as a Democrat. This political maneuvering gives the House Republicans a “supermajority” in which they can pass virtually any legislation they please.
It’s hard to conceive of any way this is good news for public education in Mississippi. Gunn sits on the board of ALEC, a national organization dedicated to the privatization of public schools through defunding and dismantling. Now he has virtual full control over Mississippi education legislation. Gunn may have ideas on how to improve education in Mississippi, but they are unlikely to include significant help for public schools. We will watch his actions with great interest.
Reeves and Gunn Coordinate “MAEP Rewrite” Plans
Lt. Governor Reeves and House Speaker Gunn both made similar post-election comments alluding to the need for making changes to the MAEP formula. They want to “get the schools systems what they need” and put less into administrative expenses. To achieve this, Reeves and Gunn both said in separate interviews they plan to restructure MAEP to reward “efficient school systems that demonstrate strong academic performance.”
The specific details of their plan have yet to be explained, but it raises a couple of concerns immediately:
- The link between school performance on standardized tests and quality of instruction has yet to be established. Indeed, studies have shown more of a correlation between testing data and economic factors outside of schools’ control. Therefore “strong academic performance” is a misleading term to begin with.
- Our strongest performing schools are by rule the ones in areas with strong tax bases. Allotting funds based on the state funding requirements of these already-well off communities seems counter-intuitive at best, and needs further explanation from the architects of this plan.
MDE Releases Initial PARCC Test Results
This week, the Mississippi Department of Education released testing data from the first round of “Common Core” testing. The media’s descriptions of the data varied wildly. Some, such as The Clarion Ledger, viewed the data positively, touting how favorably Mississippi compared with other states. Others such as WREG in Memphis, focused on how Mississippi stacked up against the tested objectives themselves, which painted not so glowing a picture.
When formulating an opinion of Mississippi school performance based on this round of standardized testing, readers should keep a couple of things in mind. First, this is data from a brand new test. There will always be an “implementation dip” with any new assessment, and first year scores should be considered baselines anyway. Second, elected officials and the media have various reasons to manipulate perceptions of testing data. Is it good news or bad news? The truth is somewhere in the middle. Mississippi’s educators should be congratulated for their hard work, with the understanding there is still much work to do.