MEC blazes a trail to better education

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, September 14, 2006

Drop out rates in Mississippi are high, so a plan to redesign the education system and provide a stronger workforce was outlined by the Mississippi Economic Council.

The meeting Wednesday morning had a main goal of increasing the quality of education and lowering the dropout rate in Mississippi, which is currently 35 percent, said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds. That figure is based on students who enter the ninth grade and do not complete high school within four years, Bounds said.

One idea to remedy that problem involved using more updated technology based courses that cater to the students’ already growing knowledge base, Bounds said.

“I think we’ve probably discovered that middle school students don’t need to discover technology, they have already discovered it,” Bounds said.

More rigorous classes would also help keep challenged students interested in school and help them go on to college, said Gloria Johnson. Online classes are an integral part of implementing this since most higher learning classes are not taught in schools with only one or two interested students, Bounds said. To counteract this aspect Bounds said that students in the eighth grade will learn how to take an online course, and students in the ninth grade will be required to take the online course called STEM for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Bounds said.

The focus of the class will be to teach several work force skills and test students in the various areas of the course, and through that testing students will be placed in proper places and possibly be granted credit for the course if they test out, Bounds said. Then those students who test out could take other online courses, Bounds said.

The availability of those and other online courses will help small communities offer more rigorous courses larger schools offer in house and offset teacher shortages, Bounds said.

“Students in the Lumberton’s of the world will have the same opportunities as the students of the Tupelos, Madison counties and the Pascagoula’s of the world,” Bounds said.

District Attorney Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald said he has noticed that most criminals are drop outs. For the same price it costs to house one prisoner in a Mississippi prison two people can attend a university in Mississippi, said Commissioner of Higher Education Tom Meredith. He suggests that most of society’s problems such as drug abuse, poverty and crime could be solved with education.

“No nation is so rich that it can afford to squander these opportunities,” Meredith said.

After graduation there is always the Workforce Investment Network located in Picayune to help those newly graduated students find jobs. Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Employment Security Tommye Dale Farve said last year 56,000 people statewide were placed in jobs in spite of Hurricane Katrina. Their goal for the next year is to place about 100,000 through the WIN job center, she said. Farve said that the current unemployment rate in Pearl River County is 7.5.