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Mississippi editorial roundup

January 2, 2019

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Dec. 30

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on ranking Mississippi’s schools and districts:

The current of method of ranking Mississippi’s schools and districts has its limitations.

The Mississippi Statewide Accountability System awards letter-grade rankings based on a number of factors, although it is heavily weighted toward student performance on state tests. That means the way we judge our schools is largely based on how well students perform on one test on one day of a 180-day school year.

Certainly there is some value to having state assessments. Educators need data on how well students are performing to be able to determine what skills students have mastered and which ones they haven’t. It helps them better adjust their instruction and assure that individual students are not falling through the cracks.

The problem is when an accountability model overemphasizes those test results. The public largely determines whether a school is good or not - whether it is an “A,” ″B,” C,” ″D” or “F″ - based on how students perform on one test one day of the year. Many other factors of school success - enrichment programs that go beyond the curriculum, teachers who truly care for their students, vibrant extra-curricular programs - are ignored.

Such a model pushes educators to focus more on the tests and less on the factors that don’t get measured. It encourages “teaching to the test” and endless drilling and practice tests to ensure students are going to score highly enough to give the school the highest letter grade.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

As state lawmakers prepare to come together for another legislative session, they once again have the opportunity to change the school ranking system. The best approach would be a collaborative one that engages educators, the business community, community leaders, parents and others on a model that measures what’s truly important. It should begin by answering a fundamental question - what do we want a graduate to look like - and work backward from there. It should find creative ways to holistically measure school performance.

Meanwhile, communities shouldn’t wait on the legislature either. While they’ll continue to be measured by the state accountability system until the law changes, what’s to stop individual communities from coming together to develop their own accountability models that are far more accurate evaluators.

If a wide array of stakeholders could come together and agree on the defined criteria, communities can use their individualized ranking systems that carry more weight than the one that comes from the state.

It’s an opportunity to move away from a top-down education approach. It’s a chance for districts like Tupelo and Lee County to work together with local leaders to become a model for the rest of the state. And it’s a path to escape the trap of teaching to the test.

Online: http://www.djournal.com/

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Dec. 29

The Greenwood Commonwealth on a Mississippi Department of Corrections ban on sending free books directly to inmates:

It was a misguided and probably unconstitutional policy, so it’s wise that the Mississippi Department of Corrections relaxed its ban on sending free books directly to inmates.

It would have been nice, though, if MDOC had widely communicated this change of heart when it occurred apparently months ago.

But in MDOC’s typically uncommunicative ways, it took a recent court filing to get the word out that it had conceded the right of inmates throughout the state’s prison system to have books sent to them by publishers, distributors and retailers, regardless of who is paying for them.

That policy change was prompted by a lawsuit, filed in April, by Big House Books after the Jackson-based nonprofit was stopped from sending anything but religious books to inmates at two of the state’s prisons — South Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

MDOC never explained what it had against secular reading material or why only those two prisons were affected by the ban. But even if there was some justification, whatever it was would not have outweighed the good that could come from getting books that inmates desire to read into their hands, whether they can pay for the books or whether they are donated to them, as most of those provided by Big House Books are.

Reading material such as that sent by Big House Books — works of fiction and nonfiction, puzzle books, GED manuals and religious texts — gives the inmates something productive to do with their time. It also builds their literacy skills, which is a big element in rehabilitation, since a large percentage of inmates never finished high school.

It has been widely recognized by elected officials on both sides of the political aisle that America’s gang-infested corrections system does too little correcting and too much reinforcing of the behavior that landed inmates behind bars in the first place. Gov. Phil Bryant recently announced that he is going to push during his last year in office for criminal justice reforms that include improving what’s done inside prison walls, so as to increase the odds that inmates won’t return once they have done their time.

MDOC should welcome not just Big House Books but anyone else who is trying to help achieve that goal.

Online: http://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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Jan. 2

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Mississippi State’s loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl:

Someday — not today probably — the sting of frustration that accompanied Mississippi State’s 27-22 loss to Iowa in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl will subside and Bulldog fans will be able to consider things in a broader perspective.

Tuesday’s loss — a maddening combination of miscues, mental lapses, untimely penalties and just plain bad luck — certainly took a bit of the sheen off Mississippi State’s 2018 season, Joe Moorhead’s first as the Bulldog coach.

What seemed likely to be a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter instead turned into an interception that led to an Iowa field goal, turning victory into defeat. It is likely the first time ever a team has held its opponent to negative rushing yardage yet lost the game. That’s the sort of thing that sticks in your craw and will leave Bulldog fans muttering under their breath until the 2020 season starts next fall.

Even so, it’s important to recognize just how far Mississippi State’s football program has come over the past decade.

You don’t have to be on social security to remember a time when any bowl appearance, no matter how obscure, was cause for something bordering on delirium. Between 1936 (MSU’s first bowl game) and 2007, the Bulldogs played in 13 bowl games, which comes out to a bowl game about every 5 ½ years. If you were a student, you had to get a master’s to see your team play in a bowl game, statistically-speaking.

Today, it’s a far different story.

Tuesday’s appearance in the Outback Bowl was the Bulldogs’ ninth consecutive bowl appearance. Only 12 teams have longer bowl streaks than that, and there are some notable football powers who cannot claim that consistency, among them Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Florida and Auburn.

Off the field, that kind of success has produced dividends for not only the university — charitable giving is at its highest when football teams are successful — but also for the community. Full stadiums mean full hotels, restaurants and shops as well.

For nine years, Mississippi State has enjoyed three hours of national TV exposure, not to mention the attention that comes its way in the month or two between the end of the season and the bowl game.

The cumulative effect has been to raise MSU’s profile in an unprecedented way. It was once a novelty for MSU to play in a bowl game. Today, it’s almost taken for granted.

It may be hard to appreciate that today, but there is something far worse than losing a bowl game: not playing in one.

That’s the kind of disappointment Bulldog fans haven’t suffered in almost a decade.

Things could be worse.

In fact, as recently as a decade ago, they were.

Online: http://www.cdispatch.com/index.asp

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