The State of JPS

Chloe Bishop
December 8, 2017

A student, Summer Griffin, working diligently in her history class at Murrah High School.

 

There has been a lot of tension among JPS administration, parents and students since August 31st when MDE released the official audit report on JPS. Every day after that, the city, the district and the community have been fighting to keep our schools under Jackson’s control.

The process that the state uses to give each district its rating is similar to the way students are graded academically. The Mississippi Department of Education explains that schools are graded on how well the students perform on their math and english state tests and how much growth students show annually in math and english. Many parents claim that there has not been enough time between the audit and the trial to prove that there has or has not been growth in JPS schools.

Schools are rated using letter grades, just like districts, and a school can get a maximum of 1,000 points. On MDE’s website there is a list of the point ranges for each letter grade which is important to the way district and schools are rated.  MDE details how parents can make the district and schools improve their performance.

In the recent report for the district ratings MDE decided to calculate the scores differently. According to Clarion Ledger writer Bracey Harris, the number of failing districts has decreased 53% since last year.

“For the 2016-17 school year, 15 districts were rated A’s, 43 were rated B’s, 43 were rated C’s, and 36 were rated D’s.” Harris writes, before continuing to say,“Instead, for the 2017 accountability grades, district and schools were awarded the highest grade they were able to achieve under the current threshold or the new baseline for 2017-18. The Mississippi Department of Education published both grades for transparency.”

This is beneficial for many, but can also cause concern for certain districts. Unlike well funded districts like Oxford and Madison, JPS does not have the funds or the resources to immediately fix the problems pointed out in the report.

One of the F districts was, as expected, JPS, but with the new baseline there may be a chance that, eventually, the district will be bumped up to a D.

Currently, there are some deficiencies in the way MDE rates their district and schools. In JPS, for example, the community and parents feel like there wasn’t enough time to improve the discrepancies after the first report was released. According to Clarion Ledger writers Dustin Barnes, Sarah Fowler and Brian Harris, some of those discrepancies are “a number of standards related to safety, instructional practices and ineffective leadership,”  and, as MDE’s counsel Erin Meyer explains, that “MDE contends that JPS students are "being systematically denied a quality education.” The accusation holds some truth, as there has only been a few months between the first declaration that JPS was in a “state of emergency” and the report that came out on October 19th.

If MDE is, at some point, approved to take over, students will be affected greatly. A state take over means that students will have the option of going to neighboring districts. For those who stay in the district, however may lose their extracurricular activities and athletics will only be able to participate 50% of their season. Activities like choir and cheerleading can compete in district competitions but they won’t receive a rating. This is only a risk if JPS loses its accreditation, which, while is not currently a threat, could happen if MDE takes over.     

Overall, the way MDE rates the school districts and their individual schools is considered unfair by many, and there are ways for them to improve their system to make the district run the way they want it to run.

One way they can improve the system is by including parent and student voices from the districts that are having the most issues. As JPS has been underfunded for a very long time, MDE could provide more funding to poorer districts.

The governor denied the takeover request, fortunately, and is now teaming up with the mayor and Kellogg. Kellogg will give funding to hire outside people. This partnership will last a year and until grades are released again. If JPS is still an F, however, it is likely that the takeover will be reconsidered.