The Magnolia state has had its fair share of woes. Coming in near the bottom of the barrel in education standings, the highest poverty rate in the United States, the lowest labor participation rate (56% to be exact), and one of the lowest median incomes, coming in at $23,121. This is just to name a few.
Yet there is hope.
My visit to the capitol of Mississippi this past week leads me to believe that in education, we may be on the cusp of a new era of meaningful reform.
For example, we have seen a recent uptick in fourth grade reading scores, where Mississippi improved its position from forty-ninth in 2013 to twenty-ninth in 2019 based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.
This is a significant improvement. But more importantly, many in the state seem aware of the educational shortcomings and are open to change.
Our conversations mainly focused on three items: The expansion of education choices, pursuing policy changes to the Districts of Innovation Law (passed in 2015), and the establishment of an educational leadership institute. The Districts of Innovation law is a key component to achieving an educational leadership institute, as it allows the superintendent of a district to apply for “innovation status” to the Mississippi Department of Education. If accepted, the district is then given freedom to innovate under the guidance of the superintendent.
A particularly notable example of educational innovation (though not with some controversy) is that of Corinth, Mississippi. Lee Childress, superintendent of Corinth school district has been a transformative leader. The district now uses the more challenging Cambridge model of curriculum instead of the state’s model, they have changed the school calendar to year-round, created seven different diplomas, are fourth in the state in graduation rates at 94.8%, and increased ACT test scores to one point higher than the state average. This is a testament to the positive changes that can take place with an education leader who is a change agent.
As we continue to work with play makers in Mississippi, efforts will focus on shifting the policy surrounding Districts of Innovation and laying the groundwork for a new kind of leadership institute for education.
Starting small and recognizing this effort will take time are keys to success. Only a well-developed plan will begin to “move the mountain.” We believe we have that plan.