The Mississippi Department of Education released its rankings of the state’s public schools last week. Regardless of one’s opinion of the reports issued each year, there are consequences resulting from the ratings. Importantly, there are often racial and economic patterns that can be gleaned from the data.
With that thought in mind, we focused on two sets of school districts, those in the Mississippi Delta and the one in the city of Jackson. While it has long been known and reported that the Delta districts are poor and predominately Black, many are now learning that Jackson Public Schools are overwhelmingly Black and are often without the economic resources needed. This condition is based upon Jackson’s declining tax base and the negative impact of having to fund five charter schools.
Observers of the state’s public schools can easily notice that the annual ratings reports have frequently brought bad news for schools in both areas. This year, however, employees of Jackson Public Schools, as well as residents of the city, were pleased with what was revealed. This year the Jackson district received an overall rating of C.
While that is by no means a rating to be shouting about, it is up from the D ratings which the district had received for a few years. Furthermore, there may be reasons for a more optimistic future. Of its 30 elementary schools, seven were rated A – Obama, Lester, McWillie, Ida Wells, Johns Hopkins, Casey, and Key and six were rated B – Spann, Shirley, Galloway, Dawson, Pecan Park, and Timberlawn. Only one was rated F. If those elementary school children can be successfully helped to the next levels, the district as a whole can rise. At the middle school level, things were not as rosy. Seven of the ten schools were below average, with only Northwest, Bailey, and Peeples being above average. Among the high schools, Callaway was rated B and of the other six high schools, three were rated C and three were rated D.
There is room for congratulations, but even more room for reform from within the system and support from the community, state leaders, and all concerned. The school district needs more resources for its students and teachers. Its teachers need more freedom to improve themselves and to teach as the professionals that they were trained to be.
As we shift our focus to look at the public schools in the counties and municipalities of the Mississippi Delta and their dismal ratings, it is important to keep in mind the need dire for economic support, especially for classroom equipment and materials and for teacher compensation. These are districts that have weathered through generations of neglect and underfunding, most of it stemming from racism.
It is very telling that of nearly 50 districts across the state that were rated A, only one, Grenada, which is only partially in the Delta, had such a rating. Of the 35 districts across the state that were rated B, only three – Tunica, South Delta, and Sunflower – are Delta counties. Four others – Claiborne, Natchez-Adams, Tate, and Vicksburg-Warren – are partially in the Delta region. At the other end of the rating scale, eight of the thirteen districts rated D are in the Delta region. Only five other districts, including two charter schools, were rated D. Of the six districts that were rated F, three are in the Delta, one is a charter school, and the other two are in the southwestern part of the state.
It ought to be obvious that while all of the districts need help, those that consistently rate below C need special assistance. The idea of placing them under state control has not worked, as many of the districts repeat their performance after such takeovers. There is no state agency that has that capacity. Those districts need additional budget allocations that will help them overcome generations of neglect and underfunding. State leaders and officials need to get over their racial and geographical biases and do the right thing for all of the children of the state rather than blaming and punishing the victims.
For some years, the writer has felt that it would be a great step forward if the state would fund a teacher education program that would help “home grown” scholars to become fully educated and certified to teach in those areas. They would be a more permanent corps of teachers who would also be emotionally attached and committed to the areas. More of these kinds of initiatives need to be implemented.
Meanwhile, the state would do itself a favor if it fully and consistently explained its school rating system. Likewise, it would do well to help interested individuals understand how they can help the schools in their districts improve their ratings.
We congratulate the Jackson Public School District and the other schools that improved their ratings. We would like to see the Mississippi Delta districts and every district rise to the highest level of success. If they can all rise, we will all rise.