Category Archives: Education

WADE: Perpetuating Problems Plague Public Schools

BY: Jerel Wade

National tragedies have a way of bringing life into perspective.

With the recent shootings of five law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas, many people are asking questions about where we are as a human race. We turn to our governmental leaders for answers. We want to hear from the president, as if he is in the position of righting all that is wrong in America. We want to hear from Congress and our state legislators, as if they should have seen this coming and acted preemptively.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown made an astounding statement that has hit home with me. He said, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

Ironically, that is exactly how I have felt for a long time about public schools. There seems to be a program to solve any problem through the public educational system. Here in Mississippi, nearly every state agency has an office, bureau, program or project that can be implemented as part of the curriculum in public schools. Many state associations also create materials to be used by teachers in the schools to either address a deficiency in the public understanding of their industry or to promote their industry among the students.

Why do so many look to governmental agencies to solve society’s problems? Just as Chief Brown said about policing, schools were never meant to solve all of these problems. Yet, that seems to be the only place that is ever looked to to make an impact on man’s downfalls.

This has been going on for far too long. In the mid-1960s, President Lyndon Johnson launched his “War on Poverty.” His goal was to increase self-sufficiency and enable recipients of welfare benefits to have the opportunity to lift themselves out of their circumstances. Over time, this system has grown into an ever-increasing benefits program that seeks out more and more beneficiaries.

Since its inception, the United States has spent nearly $20 trillion on welfare programs without making an impact on the self-sufficiency of the masses. This is an amount virtually equal to our national debt. The problem is that, although many welfare beneficiaries have material living conditions that far outweigh those from when the programs started, dependency on those programs has grown dramatically. Defining poverty has changed over the years to include many who once would have been excluded because their economic situation was not severe.

In other words, as the conditions of those receiving benefits has gotten better, the dependency on governmental assistance has grown. People are becoming more and more comfortable with their “poverty.” And, that dependency is passed along to the next generation. A 2002 study by the University of California, Davis, found that a woman from a family who receive some type of welfare benefits was three times more likely to receive welfare benefits as an adult. A vicious cycle is started that is either broken during childhood as a student attends school, or society will expect law enforcement to handle should the need arise. Regardless, government is looked upon to solve society’s problems.

This whole process incentivizes dependency, in one form or another, at the expense of taxpayers. Often, the material well-being of families on government assistance is greater than families who refuse a handout and work hard to provide for one another.

In today’s world with today’s rules, sometimes it doesn’t pay to work hard. A recent study by the Heritage Foundation finds that the average poor family has one adult that works 16 hours each week. It would seem logical that working a full time job and increasing household income would help pull a family out of poverty. But, the loss of benefits by working is greater than the gain of the increased income. Government has disincentivized working.

Once work is devalued, the education needed to obtain gainful employment is also devalued, making the task of educating some students from families living in poverty far more difficult. If there is no need to learn reading, writing, and math skills then there is a lack of desire to learn. This concept is not specifically taught to younger generations but is observed for many years by children prior to them being required to attend school. These students often fall behind, are placed in alternative learning environments, or simply quit school all together.

The federal government measures poverty by the number of people living below a certain income threshold. This determination only accounts for the wages and income earned by individuals in the household. It does not account for the more than $800 billion in food, housing, cash, medical, and other benefits. It is entirely possible for a family to have a low earned household income but, with the added benefits from the varying welfare programs, have better material living conditions than a family with parents working full time and receiving no benefits.

Food stamp spending has increase from $19.8 billion in 2000 to $84.6 billion in 2011. In fiscal year 2011, over $900 billion was spent on nearly 80 federal welfare programs reaching more than 100 million people. That is enough to bring the annual income level of a family of four in the poorest one-third of the nation to $44,000. This doesn’t take into account the state-level spending.

These programs are not only detrimental to education, they decimate the family structure. The most effective way to combat childhood poverty is with a strong, two-parent family structure. There is an overwhelming correlation between unwed childbirth and dependence on welfare programs through poverty.

Yet, the introduction of another adult into the household, even working part-time, changes the income level and adversely affects the benefits received. For those below the poverty level, it is financially better to raise a family with a single parent than with two parents, further damaging the social, emotional, and psychological development of children and perpetuating the cycle of governmental dependency.

Chris Kieffer of the Daily Journal wrote that in 1964, slightly more than 14% of babies born in Mississippi were born out of wedlock. This was near the beginning of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” By 1980, that number had risen to 28%, by 2000 it was 46%, and in 2011, more than 54% of all babies born in Mississippi were born to mothers who were not married. The correlation between increased welfare programs over the last 50-plus years and the destruction of the basic family structure is mind blowing.

Rev. Chris Traylor of the Lee County NAACP said, “Family is a major problem in our society. We are thinking we can just go and perform in fornication acts and it is OK, and it is not. When a kid never hears the value of family, they don’t think it is important.”

These children are at a higher risk of dropping out of school, becoming teen parents, and living in poverty as adults. The normalization of these problems has led to its perpetuation. And, the negative impacts are felt in every area of society.

It is no secret that, generally speaking, the higher the poverty rate in a school district the lower the overall achievement for that district. The converse is true, as well. For example, eight of the ten poorest counties in Mississippi have school-level ratings of D. Yet, nine of the ten least poor districts have either an A or B rating. Poverty has an adverse effect on education, which in turn has an adverse effect on economics and society.

More than one-third of Mississippi’s children are living in poverty. And the problem is being perpetuated by a government that incentivizes its continuation.

There is no doubt that we expect students in poverty to perform lower academically as a group. We anticipate discipline problems and higher rates of failure. The government even incentivizes schools to identify these students and give them a label. Schools then reap the monetary rewards by way of grants to help these students succeed. Yet, far too often the reward is based on documenting that a problem exists and having a plan on paper rather than actually having results that show a solution.

There is a desire and monetary incentives for public schools to correct the problems that aren’t caused by a breakdown of the educational system. There are schools that develop alternate settings for some students, offer after-school tutoring, seek to work with churches and community organizations, provide afternoon activities to keep students engaged for as much of the day as possible. While these are noble efforts by well-meaning educators and community members, they only treat the symptoms and not the problem. The costs of these programs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a district without providing a long term shift in the poverty level of the district.

Ron Nurnberg of Teach for America-Mississippi, stated, “To me it ultimately one way or the other falls to the school’s personnel to solve because it lands on their doorstep.” This statement is problematic. As an educator, I should not be held responsible for fixing a problem that was created outside of my area of influence and expertise, and one that is incentivized to stay as is rather than be solved. It’s like beating my head against a brick wall.

When will this madness stop? We have real problems in America and we keep thinking the solution is to throw more government money and more government programs at them. We cannot separate these issues into small, finite boxes and solve one at the time. They are mutually inclusive, intertwined, and a change in one area affects another. We must build a case for personal responsibility. Sharing one another’s burdens was never intended to be done by force of law or by taking from one unwillingly and giving to another. We cannot continue to take from those who work hard and give to those who are incentivized to live, and live relatively well, off of governmental assistance.

Sure, there are anecdotal cases of individuals lifting themselves out of these situations. I am one of them. I know what it is like to use food stamps, eat government commodities, and struggle with family finances. But, my parents never used that as a crutch. They never sought that as a way of life. My siblings and I never saw that as a means to an end. My parents used the system for assistance, not sustenance.

Policing will be much easier; education will be much more successful when we have a government that values hard work, individual responsibility, the family, and learning. Continually relying on government to solve society’s problems, and incentivizing the perpetuation of societal degradation, will only lead to the continued collapse of our great state and great country.

Jerel Wade is an educator and small business owner from Jones County, MS. He can be reached at

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CALLEN: Research shows school choice works. 


BY: Grant Callen/Empower Mississippi 

School choice programs provide families with life-changing options in where they send their children to school. For a child in a failing school, being able to transfer to a new school can mean the difference between a child succeeding in life, pursuing his or her dreams or dropping out of school, and struggling to find work.

Many philosophical and moral arguments can be made to support school choice. One can argue that every kid has the right to a quality education and that helping kids leave failing schools is morally right. However, one of the best arguments is that is has a proven track record of success. And this argument has recently seen a major boost with the release of a research report by academics from the University of Arkansas that clearly shows the success of school choice programs worldwide.

This report is based on a “meta-analysis” – a study that examines all of the existing research and examines the overall findings – of the research literature on private school choice programs, including vouchers and tax credit scholarships, from around the world.

The report provides the most comprehensive survey of the school choice research literature ever undertaken. According to the authors, there have been at least 9,443 studies conducted on private school choice worldwide. Based on rigorous selection criteria, the authors narrowed the field to the 19 studies – representing 11 voucher programs – that used randomized controlled trial (RCT) methodology – the “gold standard” for research. Based on this worldwide set of studies, the authors find that students in a school choice program show “statistically significant” improvement in reading and mathematics and that these improvements increase over time.

Specifically, the reading scores for students in a school choice program increase by about 0.27 standard deviations and the math scores by about 0.15 standard deviations. This translates to the students in school choice programs enjoying the equivalent of several months of additional learning compared to students not in a school choice program.

The authors highlight that private school choice programs in varied forms have been implemented in countries ranging from the United States to Colombia and Chile and from the Netherlands and France to India. Unlike many current programs in the United States that restrict school choice to only some students, many countries – such as Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Sweden, and The Netherlands – extend school choice options to all children.

Some states in the United States are slowly beginning to implement this policy of providing universal eligibility for private school choice. For example, Nevada enacted universal school choice in 2015, the most expansive school choice program in the country.

Mississippi currently has three private school choice programs, all designed for students with special needs and all enacted in the past five years. This includes the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program, which is an education scholarship account for students with special needs, and vouchers for students with dyslexia and speech language therapy needs.

Throughout the world, private school choice programs vary in the amount of funding that they provide to parents for schooling and in the extent to which they are available to all families. However, despite the various forms that these programs take, this recent report clearly indicates that the policy of letting parents choose the best and most appropriate educational setting for their children has proven to be an international success and warrants greater consideration in Mississippi.

Grant Callen is the founder and President of Empower Mississippi. Previously, Grant served for seven years as Director of Development for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

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DALLAS: Public education is about more than racial balance. 

BY: David Dallas

Even before integration, there was a big push for public school consolidation. During the Cold War years, the Soviets were doing it and the nation feared falling behind in the “education race.” There was also an economy of scales argument which is still being used today. But when it comes to public school expenditures, recent studies have shown that per pupil costs begin to rise when districts begin to exceed certain numbers. Even adjusting for inflation, it cost nearly 10 times more to educate a public school student today than it did in the 1940’s. And that’s not all teachers’ salaries.

Overwhelming evidence also suggests students in small schools achieve higher levels of academic success than their peers at larger schools. This is especially true for disadvantaged students and in Mississippi many of our public school students suffer from a host of disadvantages.

Our public education problem is about more than racial equality now. It is about educational and economic opportunity for all of our citizens. The real strength of our nation can only be measured by our weakest link. If even one child falls through the cracks, ending up neglected, their very spirit destroyed by a poor public education system, it is our nationally shared failure.

It might have been better if we had attempted to integrate our public schools gradually starting with the first grade and moving up each year with a group of students and their families growing to know and care for one another. A group of leaders from the Delta pleaded for such an arrangement with the Justice Department before 1970. They were denied and as a result many whites fled the pubic school system and the Delta entirely.

The Justice Department’s intentions for swift and immediate integration may have been good, but we all know how you pave the road to hell.


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PULLMAN: National test scores dip yet again. 


BY: Joy Pullman

The latest Nation’s Report Card (formally the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) results find just 37 percent of U.S. twelfth graders performed well enough in math and reading to indicate they would do well in college, a slight dip from the last round of scores in 2013. As always, everyone has a theory as to why. Some say it’s because percentages of black and Hispanic students are increasing, and these minorities perform dramatically worse on NAEP tests than their white and Asian peers.

“The students at the top of the distribution are going up and the students at the bottom of the distribution are going down,” Peggy Carr, one of the test’s commissioners, told The Wall Street Journal. “There is a widening of the gap between higher and lower-ability students.”

Education Secretary John King says it’s because, six years after governments mandated Common Core, teachers are still “retooling their classroom practices to adapt.” That’s what former Education Secretary Arne Duncan said upon similar results two full years ago. It must take a long time to phase in Common Core – which is another argument against it, given that American children have now spent nearly half their school careers being Common Core’s guinea pigs.

Former U.S. Education Department official Ze’ev Wurman has another explanation for the NAEP score decline, telling Breitbart: “The only plausible explanation for such an unprecedented broad national decline is the Common Core.” Cato Institute education scholar Neal McCluskey is more measured, but his conclusion points in the same direction:

“lots of things affect test scores – federal policies, state policies, local policies, economics, demographic changes, etc. – and we can’t ignore all those things and just declare whatever policy we happen to dislike the undisputed villain. But one thing is clear, no matter how you feel about Common Core or anything else: NAEP tests continue to produce awful results for the students who are about to finish K–12 education … despite huge increases in spending over the decades, as well as heavily centralized control.”

It is now painfully obvious that continually socializing our education system is not going to benefit American children or society. Neither are pitifully sized school choice programs that allow the state to co-opt private schools by measuring them using Common Core tests. The United States is spending down the future through massive debt lawmakers are using to fund ineffective schools.

The time to address this failure of public education – through serious decentralization measures, such as universal school choice programs that require public schools to compete on a level playing field with charters, private schools, and more specialized private providers – was 50 years ago. The second-best time is now. America doesn’t have money and children to waste.

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute.

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Report: Title 1 money being misallocated to more affluent states.


[Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University] has just written a report, digging into what she considers some of Title I’s biggest inefficiencies and offering a few timely fixes.

The average Title 1 allotment for a student in Mississippi? $1,100.

Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming all have far fewer poor students but receive more than twice as much federal funding for each of them. Why?

Gordon points to several reasons. Among them, a small-state minimum guarantees a base level of funding to states with small populations. Also, hold harmless provisions ensure that states don’t experience big drops in funding from year-to-year, even if their school enrollments decline.

But the real difference-maker is in the Title I math itself. A state’s allotment comes from multiplying the number of eligible children by a factor of the state’s average per-pupil spending.

Translation: “It rewards places that spend more,” Gordon says. And Mississippi, in addition to being one of the poorest states in the nation, also has one of the lowest per-pupil spending rates.

In this way, Title I, an anti-poverty program, privileges more affluent, high-spending states.

“Right now, Title I is spreading funds too thinly, too broadly,” says Gordon. “It’s not progressive enough. It’s not concentrating funds enough to the places that really need it and giving them bigger allocations.”


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CRAWFORD: Legislators should focus on more programs to develop career skills in high school. 

  BY: Bill Crawford

Legislators seemed pretty happy with the status quo for students, as evidenced by what they passed and funded. New things they did pass – more charter schools and requiring all school superintendents to be appointed – were more periphery than centered on getting Mississippi children college and career ready.

Mississippi has focused effort and resources on high school drop-outs. Unfortunately, getting these kids high school diplomas may not help them that much. The diploma may make them technically eligible for college or employment, but not ready and able to succeed in either.

College and career readiness for students is a national priority. Mississippi has been operating under waivers relevant to this priority under No Child Left Behind. The new Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more control over their standards and priorities.

If getting students college and career ready is to be a state priority, and it should be, then adequate and better focused resources, more and better trained teachers, and more programs that develop career skills in high school must be provided.


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KITTREDGE: School choice and education reform a big winner in 2016 session. 


BY: Brett Kittredge

After an intense four months, the 2016 legislative session came to an end last week. With multiple school choice and education reform bills already signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant, we can report that this was a great session for the children of Mississippi!

This marks the fifth consecutive year that the state legislature has adopted student-centered education reforms designed to provide accountability, transparency, and most importantly new education options for families. Contrary to what you have likely heard from the media, there is no doubt that the current political leadership is moving Mississippi in the right direction on education issues.

At Empower, we believe that every parent in Mississippi should have a range of high-quality education options and the ability to choose an education that they determine is right for their child, whether at a traditional public school, public charter school, or private school. And we can proudly announce that more parents than ever now have the opportunity to choose the educational setting for their child because of the actions of this legislature. In fact, no single legislative session has ever provided parents with more options. We still have a long way to go to ensure EVERY child in Mississippi has access to a high quality education, but this was a big session.

Here are the highlights from the 2016 legislative session:

Charter Schools: New legislation will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside. Before this law, students who lived in the Hinds County School District could not attend Reimagine Prep Charter School in South Jackson because it was a different school district. This law will also help many high-need areas of the state where the small size of many of the school districts, such as in the Delta, has made the creation of a charter school virtually impossible.

For families in failing school districts, charter schools can provide an opportunity to receive a high quality education. Children in Jackson are already benefiting from charters and we look forward to these same options being made available in other locations where they are needed.

Appointed Superintendents: After years of trying, the legislature finally passed a bill to make the switch to all appointed school superintendents. Mississippi was one of the last three states in the nation to elect any local school superintendents. Currently, 55 of the 140 superintendents are elected even though more than 99 percent of all superintendents nationwide are appointed. This new law will bring accountability and transparency to the process of choosing a school superintendent, while removing much of the politics from the process, and will give smaller school districts a much larger pool of candidates to choose from.

But what was most remarkable about the debate this year was how little debate there actually was in the House, where past legislation has traditionally died. There had been emotional floor speeches against the bill and organized opposition from interests groups, and we always came up short. This year there was very little fanfare to be found and just a few minutes after the bill was brought to the floor it passed with strong bi-partisan support. It passed the House 79-37 and the Senate 40-9.

This common sense change was long overdue and we are glad the legislature finally made this move.

Education Scholarship Accounts: The eligibility for the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program has been expanded to any student who has received an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in the past five years. Currently, a student must have received an IEP in the past 18 months to be eligible. This program provides scholarships in the amount of $6,500 and these funds can be used by the parents on a variety of educational expenses.

This innovative program, which was authorized last year and is currently serving more than 330 students, allows parents to customize their child’s education by selecting the educational setting that best fits their needs. After being one of the most contentious battles of 2015, the expansion passed 32-16 in the Senate and 102-10 in the House.

Dyslexia Scholarship: First enacted in 2012 with a five-year sunset provision, the legislature renewed the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship and removed the repealer. Under this program, students who are in first through sixth grade and have been screened properly and diagnosed with dyslexia are eligible for a voucher in an amount equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, which is around $5,000.
Public policy is a team sport and none of these reforms would have been possible without the leadership of Gov. Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, and House Education Committee Chairman John Moore. I am profoundly grateful for their steadfast support of school choice and education reform. We look forward to working alongside these leaders to enact student-centered education reforms in the years ahead.

Brett Kittredge is Director of Communications for Empower Mississippi. 

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