January 16, 2013 10:24:07 AM
On a visit to the Dispatch about a month ago, Terry Brown, the Mississippi Senate pro tempore from Columbus, was asked why he so vigorously supports charter school legislation.
Brown sighed audibly. "We have to do something,'' he said, adding that if the charter school experiment doesn't work, the Legislature could always put an end to the program and "try something else." He did not elaborate on what that "something else" might be.
That Mississippi "has to do something" about education is a sentiment everyone can agree on, regardless of political persuasion. The statistics are certainly depressing. Our state is 46th in per-pupil spending (If we are "throwing money" at the problem as some insist, we are throwing less of it than most states.) and 50th in teacher pay (We may be actually getting more than we pay for.). Mississippi is 43rd in fourth-grade reading levels, which is, sadly, one of its better showing. The state is 49th in eighth-grade reading and 50th in fourth-grade and eighth-grade math.
Brown is right, of course. When it comes to education, we "have to do something."
While Brown and legislators have to power to do something, most Mississippians are limited to two options: worry and complain.
Yet there is a third option that goes much further than that, one that offers legitimate ideas for how to improve education.
It's called The Parents' Campaign, a grassroots education advocacy group founded in 2006 that focuses exclusively on statewide legislation and policy in a singular effort to improve the quality of education in Mississippi. With 62,000 members, the Parents' Campaign is a strong and growing voice in Mississippi education. Despite a modest $300,000 budget and just three employees, the non-partisan Parents Campaign is emerging as a real force for good in Mississippi education, not because of its political clout but because of the power of its ideas and the impressive grass-roots support it has been able to muster.
Parents' Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome, a parent to three children who attend public schools, visited The Dispatch Tuesday. Although charter schools was the main topic, she used the opportunity to highlight a wide range of ideas her organization promotes.
Some of those ideas -- accountability (merit pay to reward the best teachers) and reform (ensuring education majors at our universities receive more training in the subjects they will teach; transition to appointed superintendents in all districts) -- are ideas easy to like. Others -- full funding for education, for example -- have a more moderate appeal.
But what the Parents Campaign has most of all is ideas, well-reasoned, well-researched ideas. Those ideas, too numerous to mention in this space, are available on the organization's website.
And when it comes to education in Mississippi, the power of ideas and good people making known their support of them is likely to be our only salvation.
Also of great importance is that the Parents Campaign offers regular Mississippians a chance to do something about education beyond worrying and complaining.
To contact Parents' Campaign:
Mail: 222 N. President St., Suite 102, Jackson, MS. 39201
Phone: 601-961-4551; Fax: 601-961-4552