Patricia Levesque is the Chief Executive Officer for ExcelinEd.
The secret is out that Mississippi is a shining example of rising student achievement. In fact, the Southern Regional Education Board praised Mississippi in its 2020 report on the progress of education in the South. The findings highlighted how the effective implementation of a broad package of education policies – and the hard work and dedication of educators, state leaders and students – has improved student achievement statewide.
One of those policies is transparent A-F school grades that measure how well schools are doing helping students meet standards and make progress, and ensuring a focus on serving their students who need the most support. Successful systems set high expectations and instill in our young people, and their parents and educators, the belief that all children can learn, as well as create incentives for schools, teachers and administrators to help all students achieve long-term success.
Schools that improve a letter grade or maintain an A or B earn school recognition awards. The School Recognition Program is a proven performance-based incentive program for teachers in public schools – based in part on the Florida model – that has appropriated approximately $70 million since 2014.
This year, as part of tough budget discussions, $28 million in funding for the School Recognition Program was in jeopardy. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Tate Reeves and his strong commitment to protecting Mississippi’s accountability system, the funding remained intact, and more than 20,000 dedicated teachers will be rewarded for their hard work and commitment to student achievement.
Florida was in a similar position as Mississippi 20 years ago; Florida reversed its lowest-in-the-nation academic ratings with bold education reforms like those adopted in Mississippi. However, that journey had its fair share of difficult and unpopular decisions. State leaders had to remain guided by the growing success of students and the North Star that every child can achieve, instead of returning to antiquated policies that held students back for so many years.
Students in the Magnolia State have made dramatic learning gains, but there is still more work to be done to ensure that every student can achieve success in career and in life. Now is the time for Mississippi leaders to stay the course: Continue to build on the strong foundation of the 2013 Education Works program instead of backsliding on school accountability and the other student-centered policies that have contributed to the state’s success.