Mississippi is racing to the top

Published 2:08 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Mississippi is racing to the top


In this economic downturn, states do not have the resources to implement bold, innovative and transformative initiatives in education. In 2009, President Obama announced Race to the Top (RTTT), an unprecedented $4.35 billion federal investment in education reform, to provide the resources necessary for dramatic changes to our education systems. This highly competitive grant program is seeking to transform educational systems that will prepare students for global competition. The program includes $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million to support states working together to improve the quality of their assessments.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The RTTT competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas:

— Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace;

— Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction;

— Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and

— Turning around their lowest-performing schools.

 Mississippi has officially entered into the RTTT competition. We have a great opportunity to receive up to $175 million to significantly transform and advance our public education system.  We have put together a comprehensive and competitive application. There were 40 states that applied in January for RTTT grants and only two states were funded, Tennessee and Delaware. Our team collaborated with Tennessee and Louisiana to gain valuable insight and knowledge to help make our application as strong as possible. 

 The goal for Mississippi is to have graduates ready for the 21st Century – competent, creative and innovative. The State Board of Education had already developed its vision, mission and goals, which correlate with the goals of the RTTT program. The Board‚Äôs vision is “to create a world-class education system that gives students the knowledge and skills that will allow them to be successful in college and the workforce and flourish as parents and citizens.” The mission of the Board is “to provide leadership through the development of policy and accountability systems so that all students are prepared to compete in the global economy.” 

 With help from the Mississippi Legislature, various Commissions, the business sector, administrators, teachers and students, laws have been passed and policies have been developed to help make the Board‚Äôs vision a reality.

 The legislature passed the Children‚Äôs First Act of 2009 – noted as the most comprehensive education reform bill in more than a decade. The legislation allows for school districts who have failed their students for two consecutive years to be abolished by removing local superintendents and boards of education.

 Students are now being challenged with a more rigorous curriculum and assessments that are aligned with national standards. Quality Counts, a well-respected education report published by Education Week magazine, recently graded Mississippi a B-plus in its Chance for Success: Standards, Assessments and Accountability report. In the past, Mississippi has been graded a D-minus. The new accountability model will measure the academic achievements of schools from highest to lowest: Star, High Performing, Successful, Academic Watch, Low Performing, At-Risk of Failing and Failing. The RTTT application also includes a strong comprehensive school turnaround model for decreasing the achievement gap.

 Not only did we submit a highly competitive application building on our strengths, we also included measures to show the capacity to create dramatic change through creative and innovative programs funded by the grant. RTTT will look at how well states demonstrate the sustainability to carry out aggressive reforms for years to come. 

 K-12 education in Mississippi is racing to the top. Our application was submitted with supporting letters from Governor Haley Barbour, Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, United States Senator Thad Cochran, United States Congressman Bennie Thompson, House and Senate Education Chairs Cecil Brown and Videt Carmichael, Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds, Executive Director State Board For Community and Junior Colleges Dr. Eric Clark and various education officials. Members from private and non-profit businesses also provided support letters.

 Once the application has been reviewed, states proceeding to the next round of the process will be invited to Washington, D.C., to make a presentation to United States Department of Education officials. The RTTT winners will be announced in late September. 

 With the many policies, legislation and reforms already in place, and the capacity to implement and sustain innovative reforms, Mississippi is in a good position to receive RTTT funds.  RTTT will help us transcend the past and transform the future for students in Mississippi.