Meridian Star


February 16, 2014

State controlled schools not the answer

MERIDIAN — On Wednesday, Mississippi House members rejected a plan for a separate statewide school district to take over individual failing schools, according to an Associated Press article.

    "The bill was prompted by the need to modify a different state law that requires the state Department of Education to take over any school that gets an 'F'' rating three years in a row," the article states. "The department determined that legally, it could not take single schools from districts, only taking over whole districts. State officials said they didn't have the capacity to take over what could be a large number of the state's 151 districts."

    In a 60-55 vote House Bill 502 was sent back to the Education Committee, effectively killing the measure.

    Had it passed, the bill would have created an "Achievement School District" to take over schools that score and "F" on the state's rating system two years in a row, according to the AP article.

    "The proposal would've created a separate school board consisting of three appointees by the governor, three by the lieutenant governor and one by the state superintendent of education," the article states.

    The "Achievement School District" to run the failing schools would have its own school board, with the governor and lieutenant governor appointing three members each and the state superintendent appointing one member.

    The school's buildings and funding would be diverted to the Achievement School District, which critics said could hire charter school operators to run the school.

    And while the measure failed the House, a similar bill is making its way through the Senate. We hope that measure fails as well.

    First of all, there is an assumption by proponents of the measure that the state can do a better job of turning around a failing school than can local officials grounded in the community. There is no proof that this is the case.

    A better approach would be to determine the underlying root problems that resulted in the school's grades and work with local officials to address those problems. Schools with high poverty rates are most likely to earn failing grades and implementing programs that address challenges those schools face would be a step in the right direction.

    Some states, for example, have had success with programs that offer incentives to experienced, high-performing educators to entice them to teach at low-performing urban schools.

    Often, tenured teachers migrate to high-performing schools where there is less stress in meeting student achievement requirements, leaving low-performing schools with less experienced teachers just starting out in their careers.

    There is no substitute for good teachers and failing schools are where our best teachers are needed most.

    Many times, bringing in new leadership can turn a failing school around. We have to look no further than Meridian High School and the positive results experienced there since school Principal Victor Hubbard took the helm.

    Granting the state oversight of a failing school is one thing, but creating a separate school district with no connection to the local community seems a bit drastic.   

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