Group to address Miss. underperforming schools

Published 6:18 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A legislative task force has received its first lesson about the status of Mississippi schools: 11 percent have the state’s lowest possible ranking.

About 28 percent are in the top tier, Mississippi Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds told lawmakers, business leaders, educators and others on the task force on Tuesday.

Bounds said the panel’s goal is to find out what’s happening in the best schools and take those practices into the lower-performing ones.

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The task force was created by the 2008 Legislature to report on the status of underperforming schools and make recommendations for improvement. It’s one of several components in Mississippi’s overall plan to lift its education system from the near the bottom of the nation.

Another bill passed during the regular session would hold school superintendents accountable for student performance. Under the legislation, a superintendent could lose his or her job if their district is low-performing for two consecutive years. The law goes into effect once it’s approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

During the meeting Tuesday at the state Capitol, Bounds said poverty is the biggest indicator for student performance, but it’s not the only factor. Although Clay County has many students who qualify for free lunches, it is doing better than many others across the state, Bounds said.

He said teacher placement may also be contributing to low academic performances. Experienced teachers should be in ninth-grade classes because those students need the most help. Bounds said in many cases, new teachers are assigned ninth-grade courses.

House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, co-chairman of the task force, said the business leaders and others outside of the Department of Education were chosen to be on the task force because they could bring a new perspective to solving the problem.

Brown said it was important the panel “set aside preconceived notions about why things are the way they are.”

The task force’s report is due by January 2009.