- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

July 29

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on teacher discipline:

Two years’ loss of a teaching license is not a stiff enough punishment for a teacher caught cheating on Mississippi’s state tests.

Permanent loss of the privilege would be more appropriate.

Let’s hope the Mississippi Department of Education has much bigger fish to catch to justify the settlement it negotiated Tuesday with Frances SmithKemp, the first educator implicated in the 2013 cheating scandal at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale.

In exchange for SmithKemp’s cooperation in the continuing investigation, MDE has agreed to recommend that she be allowed to teach again after two years.

The settlement was brokered after MDE began to produce its case against SmithKemp: namely, that she and another fifthgrade instructo … conferred by text and phone about the correct answers while the state tests were being given to their students? and that SmithKemp coached the students as they took the tests.

The cheating produced suspiciously large improvements in test results … Those fraudulent gains were exposed the next year when the students moved onto another school.

SmithKemp’s hearing … exposed the weaknesses within MDE’s own investigatory methods. The state could tell from a statistical analysis that … test results were too good to be true, but rather than conduct an independent investigation, it asked Clarksdale’s superintendent, Dennis Dupree, to look into the matter. When he reported that everything was on the up and up, MDE did nothing further for eight months, until The ClarionLedger did its own investigation and exposed the cheating …

Asking school districts to conduct internal investigations into alleged cheating is asking for the problem to be covered up. Even if an administration does not orchestrate or encourage the cheating, it has little incentive to blow the whistle on illgotten results that make the district and its schools look better than they are.

To ensure integrity in testing, suspicious scores have to be taken seriously by MDE and investigated independently of the district. That’s expensive, yes. But giving tests whose results can’t be trusted is not even worth doing.




July 25

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on Uber:

Uber is just the sort of booming startup needed in a tourist destination that’s growing and diversifying.

Clearly the customer is on Uber’s side. People love using their smart phones and the Uber app uses phones to efficiently connect riders and drivers.

Drivers like being their own bosses and working when they want to, not when a boss tells them to.

So what’s not to like? Plenty if you are a regulator or a competitor.

Regulators complain that Uber basically operates under the “don’t ask permission, apologize later” business model.

Nick Grossman of Union Square Ventures, who blogs on The Slow Hunch, argues that such startups would never get off the ground if they asked permission. And, he says, the successful startup self-regulates by using real-time data. That, he says, is a better model than government regulation, a model developed decades before the internet and the real-time data collection the high-tech world has made possible

“Just ask any Uber driver what their chief complaint is,” he writes, “you’ll likely hear that they can get booted off the platform for poor performance, very quickly.”

He suggests regulators and new ventures work together, not at odds.

We agree.

Uber and the Harrison County Motor Vehicle For Hire Authority can get this done but not under the regulations adopted specifically for Uber. Those regulations ran the company right out of town.

That’s not a desirable outcome.

We don’t expect taxis and Uber and limousine drivers to run wild, but we don’t want an environment so harsh new ideas can’t flourish either.

Grossman suggests that companies share their real-time data with regulators in exchange for more freedom to operate and “accept that that data may result in forms of accountability.”

Trying to force emerging technologies to conform to the ways of the past is futile … And every time an industry learns that lesson, the customer wins. We want customers to have the chance to choose Uber once again on the Coast.




July 28

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on highway funding:

Mississippi’s congressional delegation, influential beyond its numbers, still can be persuasive in support of our state’s long-term needs with their negotiations to keep live highway construction nationwide despite a legislative barrier that was erected Monday afternoon.

The Senate had worked hard to perfect its version of a six-year highways bill, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the House won’t take up the Senate highway bill before the August recess.

McCarthy was emphatic that the House would not consider the legislation before hitting the exits on Thursday for a five-week break …

Congress faces the Friday deadline to pass some sort of highway bill before transportation funding expires - whether it’s the six-year bill on the Senate floor, a House-passed five-month extension or a compromise. McConnell, along with bill authors Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, have said the Senate’s long-term bill is the preferable option, even as members from both parties continue to raise questions.

The highway bill unfortunately became caught up and sowed in a nasty intra-partisan dispute among Republicans about Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s allegedly inappropriate comments about Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in a Friday speech. Cruz allegedly called McConnell a liar, which brought senior members of the Republican caucus to the microphone to denounce the statement ..

Congress is playing with public infrastructure fire if it does not agree this year on a long-term construction bill providing stability and continuity for states like Mississippi.

The Transportation Department has said it would have to cut off funding for state agencies at the height of construction season without action to extend by Friday.

Neither Mississippi nor any other state can afford such a reckless stoppage.



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