Merritt hopeful with new federal education law

Published 7:20 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

So far, nothing in Mississippi schools has changed after President Obama signed into law Every Student Succeeds Act Dec. 10.

This is because the law is still too new, but Superintendent Carl Merritt, who will lead the state’s association of superintendent next year, believes it will be good for Mississippi children.

The federal law, which replaces No Child Left Behind, is touted as an improvement by supportive lawmakers as it returns more education oversight to states and school districts. 

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The Act will return some authority to states because it is supposed to ease strict federal guidance on testing performance. 

“Today we begin a new approach to K-12 education that will help every child in every school receive an excellent education,” said Education and the Workforce Congressional Committee Chairman John Kline in a press release. “Classrooms will no longer be micromanaged by the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders will regain control of their schools, and children will have a better shot at receiving a great education. This important achievement was possible because both sides agreed the status quo had to go and we had to find common ground. With numerous challenges facing the country, it’s time to build on this success. We have more work to do and more opportunities to deliver real results for the American people.”

Patrice Guilfoyle, the communications director for the state’s Department of Education said it’s still unclear what impact that change will have on Mississippi. 

“What I can tell you is, we’re still reviewing that,” she said. “It will depend on guidance from the federal government. …. Once the law has passed, then its up to the Secretary of the Department of Education to comply with the law, and we haven’t gotten that guidance yet.”

However, Guilfoyle said she doesn’t anticipate too much of a shakeup. 

“The standards won’t change and the assessments won’t change,” she said. Guilfoyle added that the state will still test third through eighth grades and high school students once a year. 

Merritt, who is the superintendent of Poplarville School District, said he supports greater states’ rights over education, but with some federal guidance. 

“I am a firm believer in states controlling our curriculum,” he said. “But I can also support mandates. If it’s the law of the land, we’ll do it.”

Merritt is the president-elect of the Mississippi Association of Superintendents and he will be the president of that body next year. He said he looks forward to advising the department of education from that position in the next year.

“I hope the Mississippi Department of Education will build a structured curriculum that fits our culture and our needs in our communities,” he said. “I do believe that there are a lot of untapped resources here.”

He added that he hopes the vocational programs can figure into whatever new requirements might get developed in Jackson.