Shaking The Image | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Shaking The Image

photo

Jackson Public Schools may have decaying buildings, overcrowding and infrastructure concerns, but architecture and aesthetics are nothing compared to the mental image the system has to battle daily.

Some popular rumors perpetuated by commuters (possibly to soothe that $80-a-week gasoline bill) include falling test scores, unsafe classrooms and faltering attendance, as well as nasty talk of abnormally easy tests that a slab of concrete could pass.

Though a negative perception of city schools does wonders for real-estate developers outside the city limits, it does little for the city itself. Susan Womack, executive director of Parents for Public Schools, says pessimistic public opinion virtually cuts the community off from the schools with a dirty sword slash of indifference.

"Negative perception impacts the level of support a community puts behind its public school," Womack said. "That ties in directly with the passing of the ($150 million) bond issue (to be taken up by Jackson voters later this year on their November ballots). It's the same principal as economic development and crime in cities: People simply don't put their resources and their energies where they think things are not going to succeed."

JPS mother Nancy Stevens said JPS' negative image is unwarranted.

"Jackson Public Schools have been getting a bad rap from the rest of the metro area for years, and I can tell you that the label doesn't fit," said Stevens, who boasts of children either on their way, or presently enrolled, in Ivy League schools thanks to a public education from JPS. "My children have attended public schools and have done wonderful."

Information from the JPS board of education says the local school system has been rising in effectiveness since the 1990s with the graduation rate growing by 11 percent in just three years. Truancy has also reduced dramatically, and the dropout rate fell by almost 80 percent in half a decade.

The truancy rate, however, remains a difficult image to shake despite progress. Even the city's mayor saw fit to declare an all-out attack on absenteeism last December, claiming there were 32,000 students in the school system, and that "10,000 are not going to school." Ignoring arguments that his (false) assessment meant about one-third of students avoided school, the mayor set about rounding up the phantom truants on Jatran buses and forcing them back into school. Most buses remained empty during the venture.

JPS Deputy Superintendent Ron Sellers said the district already surpasses the attendance rate of many urban districts across the country, including many affluent northern cities.

Besides keeping more kids in school the city system has also increased its enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, with more than 1,200 JPS students now taking AP classes, according to the JPS board—an increase of almost 400 percent in two years.

Murrah High School, for example, excelled in the task by stopping just short of outright shanghaiing students into AP courses.

"Most schools screen students through tests before they can go into AP classes, but we want every kid that desires to experience AP to have it. There are no prerequisites to taking it other than the student signing up to take it," says Murrah principal Roy Brookshire. "Any child willing to put the time, effort and rigor into it can take it."

Open enrollment for AP courses has paid off for the school and its students in a very big way. Thirty-eight students from Murrah scored high enough on college-level courses to earn the designation of Advanced Placement Scholar during 2005-2006. The designation means the students scored 3, 4 or 5 on three or more end-of-year AP course exams.

Since most colleges give credit for the high scores, the designation also means some students can shimmy past a few freshman courses without paying tuition.

JPS got some national attention when Newsweek magazine placed Murrah at No. 503 on a list of 1,000 U.S. schools doing a superior job of preparing students for college.

Murrah doesn't hog the field in achievement, however. The most recent State Department of Education rankings rated more than 80 percent of JPS schools Level 3 or better. Four schools rated Level 5, the highest ranking available, and no schools came in at a low performance rate of Level 1.

Critics could challenge that the good numbers are artificial. Federal mandates connected to the No Child Left Behind Act demand that Mississippi make its school tests more challenging or risk losing federal money for education. More than 30 states, according to the U.S. Department of Education, are handing out cream-puff tests and will have to submit a plan to harden the questions in 2007 if they hope to keep the money.

Many states, like Utah, are outraged at the demands that NCLB poses while shortchanging states of money needed to reach the law's goals, and are working on their own legislation to tell the feds to keep their money.

State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said Mississippi is planning to work inside the demands of NCLB, though he would prefer that alternate assessments be made for special-education students with severe mental disabilities.

(NCLB draws criticism because its aggregates testing into categories for special education, race, etc., and then applies the same punitive measures to schools that score poorly in those categories, while not providing adequate funding to help the groups aggregated.)

On the more local level, JPS Superintendent Dr. Earl Watkins said JPS has no qualms with the recommendations and are following up nicely. (See Dish with Watkins, page 17.)

JPS adviser John Lawrence said JPS has even used the No Child Left Behind legislation as a workable catalyst.

"Instead of fighting it, they've embraced it," said Lawrence, the president of Downtown Jackson Partners. "What I think people need to understand is that testing has not been made easier. The school district has committed to increasing rigor amongst their academic programs. Every child is getting challenged at a much higher level than past years."

JPS board attorney David Watkins said the system of 59 schools with 32,000 students has been pushing out marvelous achievements, despite being hobbled by crumbling buildings.
"Look, you got a school district with 10 percent of our kids not doing too well. That's 3,000 kids who would probably not do well in any system, but you've also got 10 percent of the kids who could be scholars in any school you drop them in and you have to say, 'my God, that's 3,000 kids who are straight-A type students.' That's straight-A students—3,000 of them. The average school district doesn't have near as many straight-A' on their records," Watkins said.

Previous Comments

ID
80360
Comment

Even the city’s mayor saw fit to declare an all-out attack on absenteeism last December, claiming there were 32,000 students in the school system, and that “10,000 are not going to school.” Dang. Melton just isn't a numbers guy, is he? Maybe he should have a researched script instead of making up numbers on the fly...

Author
Lady Havoc
Date
2006-08-09T18:00:48-06:00
ID
80361
Comment

*snerk* They made gread strides when the abolished CBOK. Rot in someplace very unpleasant, Dr Fortenberry. Ironghost JPS Survivor

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-08-09T22:36:21-06:00
ID
80362
Comment

Yeah, I remember CBOK. Glad I had the desire to learn outside of the classroom while that sorry excuse for a curriculum was in place. I was such a geek. :-)

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-08-10T00:36:37-06:00
ID
80363
Comment

There is no telling how many kids CBOK ruined and how many teachers it ran out of hte profession.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-08-10T00:44:16-06:00
ID
80364
Comment

I think I was in junior high when they got rid of CBOK. Teachers smiling, kids shaking in their boots...

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-08-10T00:59:57-06:00
ID
80365
Comment

CBOK???????

Author
guy_in_jackson
Date
2006-08-11T11:57:10-06:00
ID
80366
Comment

CBOK Common Body Of Knowledge

Author
Cliff Cargill
Date
2006-08-11T12:19:27-06:00
ID
80367
Comment

I thought I would share with you guys part of an email I received from a friend who want to JPS dureing this time. He was explaining to me what CBOK was like. I hope you enjoy... "CBOK was this fantastic testing system that was scored by computer. OH MY GOD WHERE THE HELL IS MY NUMBER 2 PENCIL AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! The tests were written by a committee of teachers that weren't smart enough to get out of writing the tests thus the tests were virtually incomprehensible. The tests were written during the summer so by May the "current events" were jokes, e.g., "O.J. Simpson is ... A. an All-Star B. a role model C. a commercial actor D. all of the above" The good teachers I had would simply teach additional material and give us additional tests. The CBOK tests were just awful. I'll see if I can give you an example of how they were worded. "In American history, how many of the following were major French and Indian Wars? The War of the Grand Alliance (1689-97) The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13) The War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48) The Seven Years' War (1754-63) A. 4 B. 3 C. 2 D. 1 E. 0 scroll down for answer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Although ALL of these wars were major wars in the French and Indian Wars, the answer is "E," because these are the European names for the battles and the question asks "In AMERICAN history..." And thus, once marked wrong, the arguments that defended my answer would flood my brain, but in CBOKland there was no partial credits... there was no negotiation. Here's what CBOK taught me... "you're screwed." The teacher would have to read all the tests to make certain he was teaching the out-of -left field perspectives these committee members always seem to have. I heard that some teachers would just read the answers to the class and then the class would do well and then the teachers would get raises over and over. :sigh:"

Author
GLB
Date
2006-08-11T14:45:32-06:00

Thanks to all our new JFP VIPs!

COVID-19 has closed down the main sources of the JFP's revenue -- concerts, festivals, fundraisers, restaurants and bars. If everyone reading this article gives $5 or more, we should be able to continue publishing through the crisis. Please pay what you can to keep us reporting and publishing.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus