Archives for category: Mississippi

Mississippi boasts about its gains on NAEP reading scores, but those “gains” were largely the result of holding back students who didn’t pass the third grade reading tests. It’s a form of “gaming the system,” aka cheating.

This article by Bracey Harris for the Hechinger Report tells a different story, a story of unequal opportunity for black children in the state, a history of racism and segregation, a legacy of underfunding black schools, of crumbling schools and high teacher turnover.

Large proportions of black children live in deep poverty, and their schools are ill-equipped to prepare them for college or career.

State leaders offer nothing but gimmicks that have failed elsewhere: merit pay, A-F grades, bonuses for new teachers, and state takeovers. What they have not offered is the funding necessary to give the schools and students and teachers the resources they need. The conservative white legislature has not been willing to do what is needed.

State leaders have attempted to improve the state’s poor educational outcomes in recent years by requiring third graders to pass the state reading test before they can enter fourth grade, offering $10,000 bonuses for Nationally Board Certified teachers to work in the Delta, assigning schools and districts A-F ratings and, on occasion, taking over failing school districts. Mississippi’s newly elected Gov. Tate Reeves, who took office in January, has also proposed paying new teachers a one-time $10,000 bonus to instruct in struggling areas like Holmes.

Mississippi has also made some positive traction after investing $15 million per year, in part to train and coach the state’s teachers on the science of reading and reading instruction, an investment that some officials said helped boost the state’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Mississippi ranked No. 1 nationally in gains in fourth grade reading and math, and near the top in eighth grade score gains in math.

To some observers, the NAEP scores suggest the state’s focus on these reforms have helped, a lot. But locals say the reforms don’t go far enough, failing to address the deeper issues of racism and poverty that are embedded in the marrow of the Mississippi Delta. Each year, districts in the region hold back dozens of third graders. At one school in Holmes, Durant Elementary, more than 80 percent of third graders failed the reading test on their first try.

Ellen Reddy, an advocate who has pushed to improve education in Holmes County said the state’s solutions haven’t reduced the challenges that dominate the average school day. Reddy, executive director of the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, said the state has to step in to help districts that struggle to raise money. “The reality is we’ll always fail. We’ll always be a step behind until they put in more resources,” she said. “You get what you pay for.”

Strapped for cash and teachers

Strapped for cash and teachers

Children in communities with a high rate of poverty are at a greater risk of poor health and high levels of stress that require more support in the classroom. Years of research have documented that poverty “creates constant wear and tear on the body” and that safe learning environments, coupled with “responsive parenting and high-quality childcare” can help children progress. But it costs money to train teachers on how to support students and to hire support staff like guidance counselors.

Never underestimate the power of poverty and racism.

Many researchers were amazed to see that the state of Mississippi had a sharp growth in its fourth-grade reading scores.

Fortunately, the far-right Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals how this happened.

The surest path to success in fourth-grade reading on NAEP is to hold back third-graders who did not pass the third-grade reading test. It works! It increased Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores. And it worked for Mississippi too! You have to give credit where it is due: Jeb Bush thought up this way to artificially inflate Florida’s NAEP standing. Research has consistently shown that kids who are held back are likelier to drop out of school later, but who cares about them? The scores and ratings are everything! Mississippi holds back a higher percentage of third-graders than any other state. How about those numbers!

One of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary 2019 NAEP report is Mississippi. A long-time cellar dweller in the NAEP rankings, Mississippi students have risen faster than anyone since 2013, particularly for fourth graders. In fourth grade reading results, Mississippi boosted its ranking from forty-ninth in 2013 to twenty-ninth in 2019; in math, they zoomed from fiftieth to twenty-third. Adjusted for demographics, Mississippi now ranks near the top in fourth grade reading and math according to the Urban Institute’s America’s Gradebook report.

So how have they done it? Education commentators have pointed to several possible causes: roll-out of early literacy programs and professional development (Cowen & Forte), faithful implementation of Common Core standards (Petrilli), and focus on the “science of reading” (State Superintendent Carey Wright).

But one key part of Mississippi’s formula has gotten less coverage: holding back low-performing students. In response to the legislature’s 2013 Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA), Mississippi schools retain a higher percentage of K–3 students than any other state. (Mississippi-based Bracey Harris of The Hechinger Report is one education writer who has reported on this topic.)

The LBPA created a “third grade gate,” making success on the reading exit exam a requirement for fourth grade promotion. This isn’t a new idea of course. Florida is widely credited with starting the trend in 2003, and now sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade.

But Mississippi has taken the concept further than others, with a retention rate higher than any other state. In 2018–19, according to state department of education reports, 8 percent of all Mississippi K–3 students were held back (up from 6.6 percent the prior year). This implies that over the four grades, as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back; a more reasonable estimate is closer to 20 to 25 percent, allowing for some to be held back twice. (Mississippi’s Department of Education does not report how many students are retained more than once.)

Just goes to show: If at first you don’t succeed, fake it.

 

 

On November 26, the New York Times published an article that had this headline: ‘Minority Voters Chafe As Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter Schools.’

The point of the article was that many black and Latino families are very disappointed that all the Democratic candidates have turned their backs on charter schools, excepting Cory Booker, currently polling around 1-2%. The article was especially critical of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have, as the article put it, “vowed to curb charter school growth.”

The article implied that the shift was due to the candidates’ pursuit of the support of the teachers’ unions, and charter schools are mostly non-union. Thus, if you want the union vote, you oppose non-union charters. (In my experience, neither the AFT nor the NEA is anti-charter, since they seek to organize charters to join their unions and have had some modest success; still, about 90% of charters are non-union.)

The article was prompted by an organized disruption of a speech in Atlanta by Elizabeth Warren, who was talking about a washerwomen’s strike in Atlanta in 1881, led by black women. The disruption was led by Howard Fuller, who, as the article notes, has received many millions from rightwing foundations, not only the Waltons but the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, to sell vouchers and charters to black families.

Not until paragraph 25 does the article mention that the national NAACP, the nation’s largest organization representing black families, called for a charter moratorium in 2016. That fact alone should raise the question of how representative the protestors are.

I wrote this post about the article. The gist of my complaint was that the Times’ article gave the impression that black and Latino families are clamoring for more charters, when in reality there are many cities in which black and Hispanic families are protesting the destruction of their public schools and the loss of democratic control of their schools.

I questioned why the article relied on a five-year-old press release from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as evidence for its claim that the “wait list” for charter schools was in the “hundreds of thousands.” Actually, the 2014 press release from the charter advocacy group said the “wait list” topped one million students. My comment was that “wait lists” have never been audited or verified and that a claim by a lobbying group is not evidence.

I added to my post a commentary by Robert Kuttner, the editor of the American Prospect,  who was also critical of the article.

Both Kuttner and I heard from a reporter from the New York Times. In the response posted below, he acknowledges he made an error in citing poll data in the article, without reading the underlying poll.

I heard from one of the writers of the Times article. She said my post had many inaccuracies. I invited her to write a response and promised I would post it in full. I pleaded with her to identify any inaccuracies in my post and said I would issue a correction. She did not send a response that I could post nor a list of my “inaccuracies.”

The Times posted an article last July about the growing backlash against charter schools. But I do not think the Times has exhausted the question of why the charter “movement” is in decline.  It would surely be interesting if the Times wrote a story about why the NAACP took a strong stand against charter expansion, despite the funding behind charters. Or why Black Lives Matter opposes privatization and supports democratic control of schools. Or why black families in Little Rock, Chicago, Houston, and other cities are fighting charter expansion. None of those families are funded by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Charles Koch, or Michael Bloomberg, so they don’t organize buses to take hundreds or thousands of people to demonstrations.

The Times should take note of the fact that white Southern Republicans have made the charter issue their own, and they are using it to recreate segregated schools. Indeed, the Republican party has made charter schools and vouchers the centerpiece of their education agenda, and Democrats in most state legislatures have resisted that agenda and support public schools. There is also the fact that DeVos and Trump are pushing charters and school choice even as they dismantle civil rights protections.

I wish the Times had noticed a court decision in Mississippi a few months ago that upheld the right of the state to take tax money away from the predominantly black public schools of Jackson, Mississippi (which are 96-97% black), and give it to charter schools authorized by the state, not the district. They might note that the sole black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Justice Leslie King, dissented from that decision. The district, under black leadership, fought that decision and lost. The black parents of Jackson, Mississippi, are fighting for adequate funding of their public schools, while the white Republicans in state government are imposing charter schools.

In Justice Leslie King’s dissenting opinion, which Justice James Kitchens joined, he wrote “This Court should not be a rubber stamp for Legislative policies it agrees with when those policies are unconstitutional.”

Public school districts in Mississippi receive local funding from ad valorem tax receipts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, which is a free public school, money that would have gone to the district follows the student to the charter school instead.

My view is that we need a great public school in every neighborhood, with experienced teachers, a full curriculum, a vibrant arts program, a nurse, and all the resources they need for the students they enroll. I think that charter schools should be authorized by districts to meet their needs and supervised by district officials to be sure that there is full transparency and accountability for the academic program, the discipline policies, and the finances. Charter schools should complement public schools, not compete with them or supplant them.

Here is Robert Kuttner’s second commentary on the article:

americanprospect

 

DECEMBER 2, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

Charter Schools and the Times: a Correction and Further Reflections. I made an error in my On Tap post last week on the New York Times feature piece on black public opinion and charter schools.

My post criticized the Times for publishing a page-one story with an exaggerated headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.”

The Times piece cited a poll showing black support for charter schools at 47 percent. My mistake was to infer from this figure that black support and opposition were about equally divided. As one of the story’s authors pointed out in an email, the actual poll showed support at 47 percent, opposition at 29 percent, and no opinion or similar for the rest.

That 29 percent opposed figure was not mentioned in the Times piece. Nonetheless, I should have pursued the underlying poll and reported it, and not just made assumptions. I regret the error.

That said, polling results vary widely depending on the wording and framing of the question, the sponsor of the poll, and the context. For instance, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, in a state that has more charters than any other, reverses the finding of the Education Next poll cited by the Times. In California, blacks, with just 36 percent support, were far less likely to support charters than whites.

One of the two polls that the Times linked to used the phrase “public charter schools.” Most charter schools are public only in their taxpayer funding; their actual accountability to public systems varies widely. Many are for-profit, or nominally nonprofit but managed by for-profit management companies.

Another poll, which my post cited, by Peter Hart Associates (for the American Federation of Teachers), finds that black parents are strongly opposed to the idea of reducing funds for public schools and redirecting them to charters, which is often the practical impact of increased spending on charters. As this study shows, the practical effect of charters, in a climate of fiscal scarcity, is often precisely to divert funds from public schools.

I owe our readers a much deeper look at the charter school controversy, as well as error-free reading of polls. Both will be forthcoming. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Robert Kuttners new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Follow Robert Kuttner on Twitter

Jim Hood lost the race for governor in Mississippi but he gave it all he has.

He gives hope that Mississippi might one day not be a taken-for-granted good-ole-white-boy state.

He gives hope that people will one day vote for their own best interest, for the common good, not just thoughtlessly vote for those who don’t care about them or anyone else.

This is the letter he sent to supporters (I made a small contribution):

Diane,

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. To the people of Mississippi who voted for me, the thousands of volunteers and contributors who supported and worked so hard for this campaign, my campaign staff, and most of all, my wife Debbie and our three children.

The last year on the campaign trail has meant the world to our family — traveling across Mississippi talking to working folks about the issues that matter most and building a campaign that reflects the rich diversity of our state. I am so grateful.

While last night’s outcome was not what we wanted, our effort to build a better Mississippi will continue. Together, we built a campaign to put the interests of Mississippi families first. The effort to expand pre-K, raise teacher pay, keep rural hospitals open, make healthcare more affordable, fix our roads and bridges, and provide tax relief to working families does not end with this campaign.

As your attorney general for 16 years, it has been my privilege and honor to serve the people of Mississippi. During my entire time as a public servant, I have been guided by the teachings of the Bible to help the least among us. I’m proud to have built a campaign for governor on those values, and I thank you for believing in our vision for Mississippi.

Sometimes progress does not happen as quickly as we like, but if history teaches us anything, change can happen if we keep at it and don’t give up. Please keep voting, keep caring, keep fighting for what you believe in, and keep fighting for a better Mississippi. I know I will.

Sincerely,

Jim

 

Reverend Dawn Douglas Flowers of Madison, Mississippi, speaks out on behalf of public schools and the newly formed Pastors for MS Children.

Writing in the Mississippi Business Journal, Rev. Flowers makes the moral case for funding public schools and supporting their teachers. She writes that it is time to invest in our children, our families, and our teachers.

She writes:

I am the product of the Mississippi public school system.  Both of my parents were public school teachers in Mississippi, and my husband currently works within the public school system in Mississippi.  My three children are receiving their education within our public schools, and my oldest has been in 3 different public school districts since she began kindergarten. 

This is what I know.  My children are loved and supported by wonderful teachers, and are being shaped in a positive way by their experience within our community public schools.      

This is what I know.  90% of all school age Mississippi children are educated within our public schools.  Supporting public schools is a faithful response to my call as a person of faith to love my neighbor.  Every child has the right to an education and the best way for this to be fulfilled is for us to support public policies that ensure access for all children to free public school.

This is what I know.  Mississippi is not currently providing adequate funding to meet the needs of every child because Mississippi is not adequately funding our public schools. 

This is what I know.  In the last seven years, Mississippi public schools have suffered their worst underfunding ever.  By underfunding MAEP, our Legislature is fostering inequity, and every child in every community deserves equitable, fully funded public education.      

This is what I know.  Mississippi pays our teachers less than any of our neighboring states. 

This is what I know.  Funding matters.  I am always amazed at what our teachers and our schools do for our children with the limited resources available.  Just imagine what fully funded public schools and supported teachers could do.

Pastors for Texas Children has organized clergy across the south to advocate for children and public schools. The other bpnew organization is Pastors for North Carolina Children. These pastors are dynamic. They are motivated by love of God and people, and they can’t be stopped. They bear witness and demand justice. It is exciting to see them supporting the important American tradition of separation of church and state.

 

 

Bracey Harris writes in The Hechinger Report that teacher activism is making the governors’ races in red states competitive. 

This is great news.

Paula Howard teaches in a Republican stronghold in north Mississippi, along the Tennessee border. She usually votes Republican and is closely following the campaign of Jerry Darnell, a Republican educator running to represent Howard’s home district in the state Legislature.

But — while energized about the possibility of sending a conservative colleague to the state Capital — for governor she’s backing the Democrat, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. She likes his calls to dramatically increase funding for education, including raising teacher pay, directing an additional $300 million to school districts, and expanding the state’s public pre-K program.

And, like other teachers around the state, she hasn’t forgiven the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, for opposing a 2015 school funding initiative that would have increased money for education.

“It’s not about a ticket,” Howard said. “It’s about what they can do for our children…”

Spending on education is a wedge issue in the other two governor’s races this year, in Louisiana and Kentucky. A teacher sickout roiled the Bluegrass State in February, and the two candidates there have clashed on issues like teacher pensions and charter schools. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said part of the playbook for Democratic candidates is to stay focused on local and state issues.

Republican candidates have made low taxes their highest priority. But voters seem to recognize that low taxes hurt schools and children.

If Southerners started voting for the best interests of their communities and their state, not for the wily promises of the 1%, it would be a new day for the South.

 

 

Three students at the University of Mississippi posed with rifles at a memorial to Emmett Till, a Black boy who was murdered by vigilantes in 1955. 

For a long period of time, open racism was underground. Now, thanks to our president, racism is okay again.

The students were suspended by their fraternity. But not by the university. Not yet.

 

One of my friend’s in Mississippi sent this column by Bill Crawford in Meridian.

Crawford says the Governor and Legislature regularly complain about federal mandates, and he agrees with them.

But unlike them, he asks why the Governor and Legislator passed a law for charter schools that takes tax money away local districts without their consent. Isn’t this what they complain about when Washington does it?

He writes:

Let’s take a look at the lawsuit against charter schools now pending in the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The state established charter schools outside the normal public school domain. They do not answer to local elected school boards and have their own state agency, not the Mississippi Department of Education. In setting them up, the state mandated that local schools transfer funds to charter schools, so much per local student attending the charter school. This includes a share of local tax revenue as well as state revenue.

Now, remember that local elected school boards set property tax millage rates based on what the regular public schools need to operate. Maximum millage and annual increases are also limited by state mandates.

Parents of students in Jackson public schools have sued the state for taking their local tax money and giving it to charter schools in the city.

The state contends school money, state and local, should follow the students.

Local school advocates contend, since neither local voters nor local school boards had a say in the establishment or operation of these charter schools, just the state, tax money local school boards authorized should stick with the schools for which the money was intended.

Hmmm.

Sure looks like state government overreach to me. Local school boards are a lot closer to the majority of their people than state government.
I have often said that corporate reform is neither conservative nor liberal. It is anti-democratic.  It’s advocates believe in squashing local control and vesting power in a mayor or governor, who can be controlled by the money interests.
The privatizers are fundamentally anarchists. They don’t believe in self-government.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the state of Mississippi because it’s charter law takes money away from the impoverished district of Jackson, without the consent of the people. That’s just plain wrong.

!

It is illegal for teachers to strike in Mississippi but they are considering a strike anyway. 

Legislators offered them a paltry $1,500 raise while setting aside $2 million for vouchers.

The eyes of the nation are on Mississippi.

Strike!

The legislators won’t pay you any mind unless you put on your red T-shirt, make a sign, and gather at the State Capitol.

Don’t agonize, organize!

Strike!

 

Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina reminds us that “the crisis in reading”  is a staple of American educational history. Every generation complains that young kids are not learning to read.it began long before Rudolf Flesch’s best seller “Why Johnny Can’t Read” in the 1950s.

Jeanne  Chall, Reading specialist at Harvard and experienced kindergarten teacher, explored the mystery of reading in her book “Learning to Read: The Great Debate,” 1967, where she recommended early use of phonics, them a transition to engaging reading.

The National Reading Panel (1997) popularized the idea of a “science of reading,” and the myth refuses to die.NCLB codified it into law, but the “crisis” persisted.

Thomas exposes The Big Lie.

Mississippi is the latest example of a state falsely claiming that it has used the “science of reading” to raise scores.

Mississippi hasn’t broken the code. Neither has Florida.

Thomas writes:

“The “science of reading” mantra is a Big Lie, but it is also a huge and costly distraction from some real problems.

“Relatively affluent states still tend to score above average or average on reading tests; relatively poor states tend to score below average on reading tests.

“Some states that historically scored low, under the weight of poverty and the consequences of conservative political ideology that refuses to address that poverty, have begun to implement harmful policies to raise test scores (see the magenta highlighting) in the short-term for political points.

“It is 2019. There is no reading crisis in the way the “science of reading” advocates are claiming.

“It is 2019. Balanced literacy is the science of reading, but it is not the most common way teachers are teaching reading because schools are almost exclusively trying to raise scores, not students who are eager, joyful, and critical readers.

“It is 2019. Political and public efforts to do anything—often the wrong thing—so no one addresses poverty remain the American Way.

“It is 2019. It is still mostly about poverty when people insist it is about reading and reading policy.”