July 31, 2012 § 6 Comments

This is not a political post, I swear. You who have read this blog for any length of time should be aware that I eschew politics here.

But this is a post about a subject that has reverberated in Mississippi politics for quite some time.

The issue is education, and, specifically, early childhood education, as in pre-k.

TIME magazine on July 27, 2012, published an article online entitled “Mississipi Learning: Why the State’s Students Start Behind — and Stay Behind.” I encourage you to read it.

Some of the article’s major points:

  • Mississippi has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the country and test scores that are consistently among the nation’s worst.
  • Neighboring states have made great strides in early education, but Mississippi remains the only state in the South — and just one of 11 in the country — that doesn’t fund any pre-k programs.
  • Researchers have found that high-quality pre-k programs can improve long-term outcomes for low-income children and help close an achievement gap for minorities that tends to worsen over time. Being able to stand in line, listen to directions or make eye contact with the teacher play in an important role when it comes time to try to teach kids how to read and write.
  • Failure to prepare children for kindergarten or first grade costs the state a lot of money. One of every 14 kindergarteners and one of every 15 first-graders in Mississippi repeated the school year in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available. From 1999 to 2008, the state spent $383 million on children who had to repeat kindergarten or first grade, according to the Southern Education Foundation. who repeat one or more grades are much more likely than their classmates to drop out of school, decades of research have shown.
  • The state’s academic results, which trail other states’ significantly, don’t improve as the children grow older. In 2011, the state’s fourth-graders were outperformed on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress by their peers in 44 states. In math, they finished second to last in the nation, ahead only of fourth-graders in the District of Columbia.
  • Just 61 percent of Mississippi’s students graduate from high school on time — more than 10 percentage points below the national average.
  • More than 75 percent of young Mississippi residents are ineligible to join the military because, among other reasons, they failed to graduate from high school on time.

Whether to fund early-childhood education in Mississippi is an issue wrapped up in budgetary, educational, political, and socio-economic considerations. Some legislators believe the state can not bear the cost. Some are not persuaded by the data that it would be beneficial. Some are motivated negatively by the political repercussions they believe they would feel back home. A few are motivated by lack of interest in any further funding for public education.

As a chancellor, with Youth Court responsibilities in Clarke County, I see the crippling cycle of poverty and poor education that keeps an underclass trapped in a perpetual dead end. We who are more fortunate tend to look down our noses and sniff that “those people” can lift themselves up by their bootstraps if they will only try. But a child who shows up for the first day of kindergarten not knowing her colors, or his street address, or his letters, or how to interact in a disciplined fashion with other children, has miles to go before ever reaching the starting line. And quite often those children come from homes in which there is a heritage of generation after generation in the same circumstances.

The results I see in my court include chronic unemployment and underemployment, malnourished and neglected children, reliance on costly government programs that often have dubious success, inability to pay child support, rampant teen pregnancy and the resulting reliance on the dole, school dropouts, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, shattered family structure, subhuman living conditions, and on and on in a panoply of human misery. As chancellor charged with the responsibility as superior guardian of children and incompetents, I can not overlook what I see.

I am not saying that throwing more money at this problem would fix it. I am saying that the overwhelming evidence from other states is that early childhood education pays dividends. Until we get moving, we will fall further and further behind.

A society is only as strong as its weakest members. When we reach out and give a hand up, we all benefit.

Tagged: , ,


  • […] posted before about Mississippi’s refusal too play catch-up with the rest of the South (and the rest of the US, too) in proividing pre-k education for our […]

  • Bob says:

    Isn’t this what kindergarten was supposed to do, prepare children for school? In support of state-funded pre-k, I see two arguments: poor kids and Mississippi’s poor performance nationally. But neither stands up to scrutiny.

    Note that the article (after many paragraphs) finally points out that a very large number of Mississippi kids attend the federal head start program. It’s for poor kids; a state program would be just another middle class entitlement that would disproportionately benefit whites like head start already disproportionally benefits blacks. The insinuation in the Time article that we won’t pass a state program because we’re racists is absurd.

    And that leads into the second point. Let’s be honest here: the reason Mississippi has poor education outcomes is our high percentage of black kids. But black kids in Mississippi do just as well as in other southern states, same with Mississippi’s white kids. In fact, follow the link on math scores– Black kids’ scores in Mississippi are comparable to other states — in fact, they’re equal to DC which has the most pre-K and the highest per-capita education spending in the world.

    Anyway, I don’t know how to close the black-white gap or fix our education system. But I don’t think anyone else does, either, so I don’t want to give them my money.

    • Larry says:

      I missed the insinuation of racism in the article, but, ironically, race is the foundation for your position: ” … the reason Mississippi has poor education outcomes is our high percentage of black kids.” I reject that. The problem is not race; the problem is a bedrock-solid culture of poverty.

      Headstart is, in fact, a pre-k program, and its successes are well-documented. In order to succeed in kindergarten, the child has to come in equipped with some basic skills. That is what Headstart imparts. Headstart children enter kindergarten ready to do kindergarten. There just is not enough Headstart to go around.

    • Larry says:

      “Bob” … your email address is a fake. No more comments for you. As for the second comment you sent, I attempted to send you an email that I require that I know the identity and email address of the commenter. I have allowed identities to be unpublished as long as I know the identity and genuine email address of the commenter. That’s simple common sense for a blog. It protects all of us from irresponsible comments. And, if you honestly have an opinion, why hide behind anonymity?

  • R. E. Mongue says:

    Well said. Very well said.

  • Stewart Parrish says:

    Amen! You can’t be rich if your neighbor is poor. It’s not socialism, it is loving your neighbor as yourself! I didn’t say it, Jesus did.

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