- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

May 11

Natchez (Mississippi) Democrat on Vidalia port:

While Mississippi lawmakers have ended their three-month legislative session, across the river in Louisiana, all eyes are on Baton Rouge.

Louisiana’s Legislature remains in session until early next month and as is usually the case, many important issues will come down to the wire, including all the funding/spending issues.

One of the bills still alive is House Bill 2, an appropriations bill that includes nearly $10 million of state funding for the Vidalia Port project.

Some of that money has already been awarded to the project through earlier legislation, but passage of House Bill 2 will make the cash available to spend.

The port project has been planned for decades, but only in the last few years has it begun to gain traction and the critical state funding to make the port dream possible.

Despite what some Adams County Port Commission leaders have said to the contrary, the creation of a port in Vidalia makes good sense.

Adams County fears what it might lose - a good, long-time agricultural customer.

But having a port facility nearer to the majority of agricultural interests in Concordia Parish makes a whole lot of sense - for all involved.

Reducing the time required to get agricultural goods loaded and headed to market should save the companies and producers involved a good bit of money.

Further, rather than focusing on what they might lose in the process, Adams County would be wise to see the potential neighboring port as an opportunity. If they haven’t done so, the ports should be working now - ahead of the completion of the Vidalia Port - to figure out how to work together for the good of all residents in the area, regardless of which side of the river they reside.




May 12

Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on charter school process:

The Mississippi charter school debate will get a lot more interesting in the next few weeks.

The state’s new Charter School Authorizer Board has set public hearings this month for three applications. They are May 20 in Columbus, May 21 in Jackson and May 22 in Natchez.

The challenge of starting a school from scratch, even with state assistance, is made plain by the three proposals. None of them seeks students for all 13 grades from kindergarten through high school.

The Columbus and Jackson groups want charter schools serving elementary-age children, while the Natchez group seeks an “early college” school serving high school students.

The three charter school applications are online at www.charterschoolboard.ms.gov. The chairman of the authorizer board said each group will give a presentation about its plans, and then the board will receive an hour of public comment. People who want to speak during the public hearings will have five minutes or less to do so, and will not be able “to vent on whether charter schools are going to exist or not.”

That question has already been settled by the Legislature.

After years of paying lip service to charter schools with legislation that never gave the schools a chance of actually being created, the Legislature finally adopted in 2013 a true charter school law.

Chances are the first charter schools will open their doors about a year or so from now. Charter schools are not going to solve all of Mississippi’s education problems, but they are worth a try in those areas where traditional public schools are failing and where poor and minority students have few other options than the substandard public schools to which they are zoned.

Charter schools will offer an alternative. Where they are better than the traditional public schools, they should thrive. Where they’re not, they should fail.

But the mere injection of competition for students, where it hasn’t existed before, should compel all schools, existing and new, to improve.




May 13

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on school accountability:

Mississippi’s public schools face unintended, unfair and unhelpful outcomes in state accountability rankings if the U.S. Department of Education does not approve the state’s plan to freeze those rankings during the transition to the greater rigor of the Common Core standards.

Public schools don’t know what they must do to achieve an A, B or other ranking on state tests in process statewide this week, making efforts a shot-in-the-dark because the state has not received approval from the federal government for its new accountability model. The Mississippi Legislature required that federal approval in a law it passed in 2013.

In addition, Mississippi’s plan to freeze rankings at current levels until in-school preparation for the tougher Common Core State Standards is completed is in limbo. The state Department of Education had told local school districts that this year’s state tests would not be used to determine a district’s grade unless they improved it; now there is some doubt as to whether federal education officials will go along with that.

This creates an unfair situation for those districts which, acting in good faith based on what they had been told, focused all their attention on Common Core and not on the current state curriculum frameworks. Not having given full attention to what students will be tested on this week, schools and districts can realistically expect to see a decline in rankings if the federal government refuses to allow those rankings to be frozen.

The state doesn’t seek anything like a free ride or even a weakening of standards, just consistency and adequate time to meet the demands of change and heightened expectation.

The constant movement and reshaping of education standards and requirements is powered by good intentions, but inconsistencies and confusion won’t help in reaching long-term goals.

The U.S. Department of Education should allow the rankings earned in 2013 after that year’s testing to be held in place until school systems statewide all have had adequate time to transition to the new Common Core standards.

Complex missions demand precision, and that’s what the accountability process during the transition to Common Core lacks.

The premise is simple: Schools should know going into a school year how they will be evaluated. Schools may not find out until after this school year is over how and whether they’ll be measured. That’s not good process or policy, nor does it even make sense.

Nothing’s to be gained in requiring the use of test scores based on assumptions that changed in mid-stream.



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