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State wins national education award

Mississippi is known for being at or near the bottom in most educational statistics, but the Magnolia State appears to finally be getting recognized for positive efforts aimed at improving public education.

Education Commission of the States announced this week Mississippi is the 2016 recipient of the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation for a transformational education reform package that prioritized early learning reading skills, expanded charter schools opportunities and created a clear A through F rating system for schools, among other accomplishments.

Signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2013, the Education Works legislation also gave incentives to Mississippi students who pledge to teach in state, increased teacher pay and channeled more funds toward education than at any time in state history.

“It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our teachers and educators across the state to improve student achievement,” said State Sen. Gray Tollison, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “I hope this award will convey to the rest of the country that Mississippi is seeing a significant and positive impact on student learning, particularly with efforts to improve literacy with policies implemented through the Literacy Promotion Act.”

Since the implementation of the Literacy Based Promotion Act of 2013, 92 percent of third-graders passed the state reading exam. Also, scores from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation’s report card, showed historic jumps. Additionally, Mississippi was one of only two states to see increases in NAEP scores at both fourth- and eighth-grade levels.

“Reforming and modernizing our public education system to give parents and students more choice and the opportunity for better outcomes has been a priority of my administration since I first took office,” Bryant said. “Parents know their children best. Options — good options — should be available when it comes time to pick a school. I’m proud to say our education measures will provide those options. I thank the Education Commission of the States for recognizing Mississippi’s work to make our public education system the most innovative in America.”

A different take

Oxford School Superintendent Brian Harvey said the success lies squarely with dedicated parents, faculty and students despite Mississippi’s shift in policy.

“The increase in test scores on the NAEP assessment was due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, students and parents,” Harvey said. “This increase in achievement is attributed to the increase in standards, expectations and instruction. It is hard for me to say that our state has done anything innovative except copy what other states are now moving away from: vouchers and charter schools. Funding per pupil remains one of the lowest in the nation and many of our schools are struggling to get to the end of the year.

“We are proud of the achievement of our students, but let’s honor those who have the most impact, our teachers.”

Education Commission of the States Chair and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will present the award on June 30, at the National Forum on Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

“The dedication we are seeing in Mississippi to improve outcomes for students of all ages is quite impressive and is absolutely paying off,” said Education Commission of the States President Jeremy Anderson. “We are honored to present them with the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.”