As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Mississippi Sen. Gray Tollison suggests student achievement in the state is on the rise, but the academic advancement will “not happen overnight.”
The Oxford native stressed education’s importance as he addressed the Columbus Rotary Club at Lion Hills Center Tuesday. He praised the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, which the Legislature passed in 2013, and called for increased investment in early-childhood education and teacher effectiveness.
“Let’s be smart,” Tollison said. “We’re limited in our resources, so let’s be smart in how we spend our money.”
The LBPA aims to improve reading skills for students in kindergarten through third grade. It was inspired by statistics which found high dropout rates corresponded to low third-grade literacy rates. Tollison said the act had resulted in a five-point increase in fourth grade reading scores across the state since its implementation.
He also noted Mississippi was the only state on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress to see gains in both math and reading for fourth graders, compared to 2013 scores. Mississippi’s subsequently received the 2016 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.
“We made [early childhood education] a priority, so K-12 said ‘we need to make it a priority,'” Tollison said, suggesting public policy plays a vital role in shaping local mindsets.
“The more we work on elementary, the payoffs are going to be long term,” he added.
The senator said Mississippi needs to encourage more young people earning education degrees to commit to teaching in the state’s public schools directly after college.
“The bottom line is, if you don’t have an effective teacher in the classroom, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend,” he said.
In addition to more effective teaching, Tollison argued school success hinges on community involvement. He said learning doesn’t take place solely in school.
“That’s where community comes into play,” Tollison said. “It’s as simple as giving kids (who don’t always have them) books at the end of school.”
Tollison touted Mississippi’s progress in education in recent years but suggested efforts by lawmakers, school personnel and community members must continue.
“It’s not insurmountable to move Mississippi up, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Tollison said. “We’ve got to lift all boats.”