Fred Jones // April 26, 2019
The Mississippi Department of Education will assume control of the Humphreys County and Yazoo City Municipal School Districts. These districts will come under the control of a new statewide “Achievement School District,” which is charged with turning around chronically underperforming schools. Humphreys County and Yazoo Municipal School Districts’ local boards of education will be dissolved and replaced by the State Board of Education until they earn a “C” or higher on their state accountability school report card for five consecutive years. According to the 2016 Mississippi law that created the Achievement School District, any school that earns an F for two consecutive years or two out of three years would be eligible to enter the state-run Achievement School District.
It is important to note that an Achievement School District already exists in Tennessee and its effectiveness has been studied for over five years by scholars at the Tennessee Education Research Alliance housed at Vanderbilt University. Research from this group showed that Tennessee’s Achievement School District showed little to no gains in student achievement over a five year period. Also, state takeovers have had overwhelmingly negative effects on the political empowerment of the Black communities that have experienced them. According to Rutgers professor Domingo Morel in his book “Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy,” 33% of takeovers in majority-black districts resulted in the abolishment of the local school board, while only 4% of takeovers in majority-white districts resulted in the abolishment of the local school board. Mississippi is no exception to this rule.
The Southern Education Foundation opposes state takeovers of school districts by state entities that perpetuate inequitable school funding practices or demonstrate no reasonable strategy to help school districts improve chronically underperforming schools. If the Mississippi Department of Education, however, remains committed to operating the Achievement School District, SEF highly encourages the Mississippi Department of Education to implement research-based school turnaround strategies that include meeting the academic and non-academic needs of students. These include providing intensive support for teachers & leaders, and developing a clear theory of action on school improvement. Schools need research-based intensive and equitable support, not a new governance structure that on its own will do little to foster academic success.