As K-12 Performance Improves, What about Colleges and Universities?

Education is the pathway to success. It starts early.

More children succeeding in kindergarten means more have a chance to succeed in school.

Children in every school district are doing better in kindergarten, reports the Mississippi Department of Education. “Our schools’ and teachers’ focus on literacy is making significant impact on student learning,” said Kim Benton, chief academic officer.

“Nearly 38,000 kindergarteners took the STAR Early Literacy exam in the fall with an average score of 502, below the benchmark of 530 that would indicate a student has basic literacy skills and is prepared for kindergarten,” reported the Clarion-Ledger. “But when taking the test again in the spring, Mississippi students’ average score rose to 703.”

More children learning to read in elementary school means more have a chance to graduate from high school.

More children passed the 3rd grade reading level test on their first try this year, 87% versus 85% last year. The average score was higher too. “This literacy legislation is transformational because helping a struggling child learn to read will truly change his or her life – the most important thing we can do,” said Gov. Phil Bryant when he signed his literacy initiative into law.

More children graduating from high school means more can go to college.

For the 2015-16 school year, the Mississippi Department of Education reported an 80.8% graduation rate, the highest rate yet. That’s up from 78.4% last year, and closing in on the national average of 82%.

More children graduating from community colleges or universities means more can achieve a decent standard of living. Statistics show that the more education people get, the higher their earning potential.

Uh oh.

For too many, the path through college ends with no degree and lots of debt.

Available data shows graduation rates for Mississippi colleges and universities aren’t terrific and hardly improving: 20% of community college students graduate in two years, 24.2% in three years; 26.4% of university students graduate in four years, 49.8% in six years.

Meanwhile, the cost of attending college keeps rising. Annual cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, books, etc.) at universities already exceeds 50% of median income. Average tuition at Mississippi’s 15 public community colleges will increase an average of 7% next year to $2,748. Average tuition at Mississippi’s eight public universities will rise above $7,000 for the first time this fall (it was $4,741 in 2008).

Mississippi has a high proportion of students with debt and one of the highest default rates in the nation. In 2014, average federal student loan debt was $26,177.

Mississippi community colleges are more affordable than universities; many now provide free tuition to recent high school graduates. Mississippi universities are more affordable than those in most states. But, low graduation rates and mounting student debt expose serious challenges to our education pathway.

As leaders succeed in getting more children through school and into college, they should make it a priority to get more through college with degrees and with minimal debt.

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Without a Creator Can Men Be Created Equal?

Next week we celebrate our founding fathers’ 1776 decision to declare independence from England. In so doing they laid down the principles that would guide the new nation. Their Declaration of Independence began:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

By 1789 our founding fathers had drafted, and the states ratified, a unique Constitution based on the Declaration’s principles, a Constitution embracing government by the people and designed to forever secure their Creator-endowed rights.

In writing the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson drew heavily from John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” wherein the English physician turned political philosopher cited God-made natural law to assert that all men are created equal, the only legitimate governments are those that have the consent of the people, and “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Throughout the start-up of the new nation, our founding fathers sought the favor of their Creator. For example, the Continental Congress in 1782 put on the Great Seal of the United States the inscription Annuit Coeptis, meaning he (God) has favored our undertakings. In 1789, George Washington gave his First Inaugural Address, saying therein, “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”

Reflect on this heritage. Then, consider where we are today.

Many think our government now rejects the notion of a Creator. Why else, they say, are “God” and “Creator” wiped from school textbooks and religious expressions ousted from public places? How else can biblical concepts of marriage and perversion be upended by a government instituted to secure Creator-endowed rights?

Indeed, it has become politically incorrect to side with the Bible, ironically the holy book most federal officials swear on when they take oaths to uphold the Constitution.

If we allow our government to reject the notion of a Creator, what, then, becomes of the principles underlying our Constitution — Creator-endowed rights, that all men are “created” equal?

Some say liberty, alone, is a sufficient principle. But, as Locke asserted and Alexis de Tocqueville affirmed, “liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”  History shows liberty unconstrained by morality decays into indulgence and depravity.

Some say such decay is well underway with our rampant pornography, sex and associated diseases; predatory abuse; epidemic lawlessness and senseless murders; unconstrained greed; and so on.

“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

Lacking a Creator or creed, we have no up to rise to. This July 4th, pray for our nation.

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Father of U.S. Constitution Feared Factionalism

If our founding fathers could watch the malfunction of our state and local governments and the lack of reasoned discourse therein, what might they say?

A good place to look would be the Federalist Papers.

Huh?

Oh that’s right. Besides some judges, scholars, and historians, few Americans today have a clue about the Federalist Papers or what they meant to the founding of our nation. Few care, as modern culture deems much of our founding heritage as politically incorrect.

Too bad. James Madison, our fourth President and acknowledged father of our Constitution, had some relevant things to say.

In Federalist No. 10, published November 23, 1787, Madison writes about “factions” and their ability to thwart good government. By “faction,” Madison meant a cluster of citizens “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

He considered the rise and fall of factions an inescapable problem. “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

Madison also wrote, “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Oh my. Madison thought the role of government was to provide for the “common good,” not to serve the interests of one or more factions. What planet was he from?

Madison was particularly concerned should a faction become the majority in government, writing such occurrence “enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”

Oh no. He cared about the rights of all citizens, too.

Sarcasm aside, Madison and his fellow authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, believed the “representative republic” set forth in our Constitution would disable the means for factions to dominate government.

“A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection,” wrote Hamilton in Federalist No. 9.

Yet, domestic faction has come to dominate federal and state governments as both Republican and Democratic parties devolve from big tents into narrow factions.

“Splintered parties and unrestrained factionalism may do significant damage to the fabric of government,” commented the late Supreme Court Justice Byron White, citing our founding fathers.

As Independence Day approaches, Americans ought to consider what our founding fathers had to say. All 85 essays in the Federalist Papers may be too much, but it’s easy to search the Internet and read summaries. Collectively, these papers represent one of the great examples of reasoned discourse in civilized history. They should not just fade away, nor our founding heritage.

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Reasoned Discourse Becoming Historical Relic in Twitter Age

“In this age of Twitter, is reasoned discourse truly an historical relic, or is there hope for its revival?” Deanna Kuhn, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College Columbia University, examined in Scientific American.

A timely topic. Almost 242 years ago, in September 1774, our founding fathers engaged in reasoned discourse. That was when the First Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia. According to History.com, the congress was structured with emphasis on the equality of participants, and to promote free debate. That first congress disbanded in October 1774, but reconvened in May 1775 as the Second Continental Congress. Reasoned discourse over the next 14 months led to our Declaration of Independence, then, over the next 11 years to our Constitution.

“In this strangest of American election years,” Kuhn wrote, “discourse, long regarded as the lifeblood of democratic societies, appears more endangered than ever before, confined to sound bites and slogans of the moment.”

The limitation of Twitter’s 140 characters for reasoned discourse was highlighted last week by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  He told Bloomberg.com that the rise of Donald Trump could be attributed partly to the “revolutionary phenomenon” of social media, which “creates these waves of sentiment and emotion” and promotes the idea that complex problems have simple solutions.

“Twitter and all these things, if you’re not careful, they create the era of the loudmouth,” said Blair. “You get a sort of dismissive attitude towards people who say these situations are very complex, the problems are very difficult, the solutions take time.”

Our founding fathers were dealing with, so understood complex problems and the need for reasoned discourse to address them. That understanding informed their decisions on how the new U.S. Congress was to be structured to encourage discourse.

Reasoned discourse remains “crucial to the future of society” and must become a learned practice, says Kuhn. That’s vastly different from the “echo chamber of like-minded individuals” provided by Twitter and social media.

The goals of reasoned discourse are to first understand, not persuade, then to find common ground and mutual benefit.

Kuhn is “cautiously optimistic” that reasoned discourse can be revived. “With the right setting and little prompting, we have found, young teens are ready to engage deeply in debating complex issues of the day with their peers.”

The good news is that the intellectual skills and values needed for reasoned discourse to flourish as a cultural practice can be taught, says Kuhn.

“Educators today are talking a lot about the need to equip students with 21st century skills. In a democratic society, reasoned discourse should be one of them.”

Thomas Jefferson would agree: “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

Reasoned discourse is an essential of team building skills taught in industry to improve performance. Reckon someone could teach this to our congressmen and legislators?

 

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Republicans Own Malfunction of State Government

Republicans now dominate state government and own its performance.

Since 2004 the governor’s office has been held by a Republican. Governors make most appointments to executive boards and agencies in Mississippi.

Lieutenant governors and speakers of the house make a limited number of appointments to Mississippi agency boards. Since 2002 a Republican has made every lieutenant governor appointment. Since 2012 a Republican has made every speaker of the house appointment.

Consequently, Republicans now control and own the performance of every state agency run by appointees.

For those state agencies run by elected officials, Republicans control all but the Office of Attorney General and the Public Service Commission.

The Legislature provides the money and sets policy for the operation of state government. In January Republicans gained a super majority in the House of Representatives. That followed Republicans gaining a super majority in the Senate four years earlier.

Consequently, Republicans now own the budget and overall performance of the Legislature.

The stated goal of Republicans has been to right size government and make it perform more effectively and efficiently.

With Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn steering the ship and their minions running day to day operations, no doubt the consensus Republican plan to accomplish this goal is on track.

Houston, we have a problem.

There appears to be little trust of confidence between Republican legislators who control money and policy and Republicans agency heads who run day to day operations. Nor is there any clear consensus about the role and function of state government. Bryant appears to be caught in the middle.

This disconnect among Republicans became highly visible during the recent legislative session and the resultant budget fiasco/retooling (pick one).

Republican Buck Clarke, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, tried to explain the disconnect:

“There are many agencies providing valuable services to the citizens of this state, many funded at a level below what we would like. We also believe that each agency is sincere in their requests for funding as they and their advocates fight for their share of the pie. The truth of the matter is though that each agency and each advocate is not so concerned about funding levels at other agencies. However, it is our job in appropriations to be concerned with every agency and the mission with which they are charged.”

Said another way, agency heads are not on board with legislative priorities.

Republican Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney, a former member of both the House and Senate, expressed frustrations shared by a number of agency heads.

“What we have had here is a failure to communicate,” said Chaney. He told the Clarion-Ledger he tried to call Clarke 27 times from March 22 through when lawmakers finished their work April 21 with no answer, “and it was the same with (House Appropriations Chairman) Herb Frierson.”

What we have had this year is malfunctioning government fully owned by Republicans. Voters expected better.

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Authorities Treat Parents Differently in Hot Car Deaths

The black father whose eight month old daughter died after being left for hours in a hot car in Grenada was charged with second-degree murder and thrown in jail.

The white mother whose two year old daughter died after being left for hours in a hot car in Gluckstadt was not charged and kept her freedom.

After charges of racism erupted in the black community, Grenada authorities released the father on his own recognizance. However, despite early reports, the second degree murder charge was not reduced to homicide based on culpable negligence.

Authorities in Gluckstadt said the case would be turned over to the district attorney to determine if any charges should be filed against the mother. Earlier, the sheriff had told the Clarion-Ledger, it was not a crime but a “tragic accident.”

There appeared to be no difference between the two cases. The father was supposed to drop his daughter off with her grandmother but left her in the car instead. The mother was supposed to drop her daughter off at daycare but left her in the car instead.

Why might one be considered murder but the other accidental?

Two years ago NBC News looked into the inconsistency of charges in such charges. The beginning of the report is eerily similar:

“Two days before a Georgia dad allegedly left his 22-month-old son in an SUV for seven sweltering hours, a father in Florida was accused of forgetting his 9-month-old daughter in the backseat of his pickup.” Georgia police charged the father with murder. Florida investigators were unsure if they would bring any charges when the story was reported.

“There isn’t any rhyme or reason to why it varies from state to state,” Amber Rollins, a director with  KidsandCars. Org, told NBC. “Even case by case, you never know what’s going to happen.”

The news report said about 60% of those involved in such cases get arrested and charged, and a majority of those charged get convicted of child abuse, child neglect, or negligent homicide. About 30% never get charged.

Parents’ claiming they simply forgot about their toddlers is a common defense. “That car seat looks the same whether the baby is in there or not,” explained Rollins.

The report also noted that cars can quickly become death traps for children during the summer. Research shows temperatures inside a car can rise to 138 degrees in 90 minutes.

To combat such accidents, Georgia and other states created public awareness campaigns.

As for the two pending Mississippi cases, neither looked to be murder but resulted from negligence by the parents. The legal question should be was their negligence criminal culpable negligence — “that degree of negligence or carelessness which is denominated as gross negligence and which constitutes such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily careful and prudent man under same circumstances as to furnish evidence of indifference to consequences.”

Both parents should be treated equally under the law.

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Research Nuggets on Closing Learning Gaps

Statistical research studies make for dull reading. But they can provide useful info nuggets for policy makers.

Dr. Roland Fryer is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory. In March he published a working paper through the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “The Production of Human Capital in Developed Countries: Evidence from 196 Randomized Field Experiments.”

For anyone interested in closing learning gaps for low-income and minority children – that should include all in leadership positions, this review of statistically valid studies provides 78 pages of dull but intriguing reading (plus 142 pages of footnotes, charts, and appendices).

Here are some notable nuggets:

  • Interventions that attempt to lower poverty, change neighborhoods, or otherwise alter the home environment in which children are reared have produced surprisingly consistent and precisely estimated “zero” results.
  • Charter schools can be effective avenues of achievement-increasing reform, though the evidence on other market-based approaches such as vouchers or school choice have less demonstrated success.
  • Early childhood investments, on average, significantly increase achievement.
  • The critical period for language development occurs early in life, while the critical period for developing higher cognitive functions extends into adolescence.
  • Early in life, many reforms increase reading performance. Later in life, very few treatments have any effect on reading, save “high dosage” tutoring.
  • One-on-one high dosage tutoring with research-proven instruction can increase the growth rates of low-ability students.
  • (For low dose tutoring) the differences between control and treatment groups on achievement scores, school grades, educational attainment, and school behavior are all statistically indistinguishable.
  • In math, the treatment effect is not strongly related to the age of the student at the time of intervention.
  • Students in Ypsilanti, Michigan, who attended the Perry Preschool (landmark disadvantaged early childhood) program… had higher test scores between the ages of 5 and 27, 21 percent less grade retention or special services required, 21 percent higher graduation rates, and half the number of lifetime arrests in comparison to children in the control group.
  • Head Start is a preschool program funded by federal matching grants that is designed to serve 3- to 5-year-old children living at or below the federal poverty level…. By the time the children who received Head Start services had completed first grade, almost all of the positive impact on initial school readiness had faded.
  • In a long-term evaluation of the (Nurse-Family Partnership) program, Olds et al. (1998) found that children born to women who received (registered) nurse home visits between 1978 and 1980 had fewer juvenile arrests, convictions, and violations of probation by age fifteen than those whose mothers had not received treatment.
  • Evidence from … studies suggest that it may be difficult to increase students’ academic outcomes using parental interventions.

If any of these nuggets catch your attention, you should go read them in context at http://www.nber.org/papers/w22130. The paper is free to journalists but $5 for most others.

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