Other Opinions

Mississippi’s new education plan could set students up for success

Whitney Chapa
Whitney Chapa

For educators and other stakeholders, this new school year represents a coming change to how schools are measured and how student performance is gauged. A new federal law — the Every Student Succeeds Act — promises to bring new metrics and new methods to improve students’ achievement. ESSA, as the law is called, requires states to submit detailed plans about their vision for educating all students, which is critically important to students and their families as well as business leaders and taxpayers regardless of whether they have children or not. When schools succeed, they create pathways for potential employees, which contributes to Mississippi’s businesses, leading to greater prosperity.

ESSA calls for state education agencies to involve a large and diverse group of stakeholders in the development of their plans. Business leaders and organizations as well as civil rights groups joined with education advocates to discuss how to create plans that will give students the best shot at success. Chambers of Commerce have long advocated for rigorous academic expectations so students are prepared for college or to enter the workforce immediately after high school. ESSA gives Mississippi’s education leaders and stakeholders the opportunity to develop a long-term vision for schools complete with goals and steps for getting there.

Earlier this year, I joined an esteemed group of more than 30 peer reviewers representing bipartisan viewpoints who looked at state ESSA plans that were submitted for the April deadline. Mississippi is among states that opted to submit plans this month. As reviewers, we looked at state plans independent of state education agencies and came from diverse backgrounds from the civil rights and disability communities as well as having expertise in state and national education policy. After dividing into small groups, we examined each of the 17 plans sent to the U.S. Department of Education in April looking to highlight best practices and identify weaknesses, which be found at www.CheckStatePlans.org.

Why did we review these plans? So that states like Mississippi could see where other states had been successful, and where they needed more help — and learn from those examples while Mississippi drafted its own plan.

Looking at the different plans, it’s clear that some of the April states clearly took advantage of their opportunity to create innovative accountability systems focused on achieving ambitious long-term goals; others, not so much. Among the former, state leaders assembled a broad group of stakeholders, held numerous public meetings involving parents and others with a devoted interest in bettering schools, and asked for feedback on draft plans for posting their final submission online so everyone could see. Those states took advantage of the process to focus on all students and make sure metrics and goals are achievable. Among the former group of states, their plans more resembled compliance documents rather than clear articulations of an overarching vision for the state.

Mississippi has a real opportunity to submit a plan that details how it will ensure that students are succeeding and that schools are accountable for student achievement. Mississippi’s ESSA plan will guide education for years to come, making it critically important for the state to develop the best plan possible in addition to the necessary focus and resources to implement it. That’s why anyone with a vested interest in the quality of education here should make sure that policymakers invoke the best practices that we laid out in our reviews so that Mississippi’s ESSA plan gives students the best shot at success.

Whitney Chapa is vice president of Education Policy and Budget at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.