Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi

Mississippi's dropout rate down

In Mississippi’s high school class of 2007, 73.8 percent graduated and 15.9
percent dropped out.

The Mississippi Department of Education announced the rates, which the
department says are the most accurate rates state has ever had, this morning.

The department also released what it said were more accurate numbers for the
state’s class of 2006. That year the graduation rate was 70.8 percent, while
the dropout rate was 17.6 percent.

The rates released today are more accurate because Mississippi can for the
first time differentiate between first time and repeat ninth-graders. The state
tracks individual students and whether they graduate, dropout, complete a GED or
earn a high school special education completion certificate to come up with the
graduation and dropout rates.

State Education Superintendent Hank Bounds would like the state’s dropout
rate to be cut in half by 2013 from the 26.6 percent dropout rate reported in
2005.

Various non-profit organizations have expressed interest in using the
facilities.


Local schools show mixed results on dropout, graduation rates

By John Mott Coffey

JACKSON — Fewer students are dropping out and more are graduating from high schools statewide and in the Golden Triangle.

Mississippi’s graduation rate for the class of 2007 is 73.8 percent. The
dropout rate is 15.9 percent, according to the state Department of Education.  That’s better than the Class of 2006’s 70.8 percent and 17.6 percent rates.

Most Golden Triangle school districts have similar trends of improvements, with the exception of Columbus’ slight dropout increase and Starkville’s worse dropout and graduation rates.

“This is not a victory party,” state Education Superintendent Hank Bounds
said Wednesday in announcing the graduation and dropout rates. “We’re
excited that we have more students graduating, but we’re a long way from
where we need to be.”   “There’s lots of work to be done.”

The Department of Education has set a goal to reduce by half the state’s
dropout rate before 2013. It also wants Mississippi students by then to reach the national average on assessment test scores.

The education rates for black males is the worst, with 23.5 percent dropping out and only 59.7 percent graduating from high school, according to the 2007 data compiled by the Department of Education.

With a charge given to educators by the state Legislature in 2006, they’re
taking aggressive, novel approaches to keep more of Mississippi’s 500,000
elementary-secondary students in school to graduate.

Efforts are under way to convince students and their parents that getting an
education means getting a good job. Schools are also trying to make learning more relevant to what students could be doing in the workplace as adults. High school courses are being implemented that provide “career pathways” into the various fields people work in, such as health care, business, engineering and agriculture.

The Legislature in 2006 created the state Office of Dropout Prevention and also called on schools to increase their graduation rate to 85 percent by 2019. It required each school district to implement a dropout program this year.

“Our dropout-prevention initiatives that began in 2008 have us on track to
meet our goal of reducing the dropout rate by 50 percent in the next five to
seven years,” Bounds said. “The slight uptick in graduation rates …
before we even began our dropout-prevention focus gives us a good starting place.”

Mississippi is one of only 17 states already using the National Governors
Association method to calculate graduation and dropout rates, according to the state Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education will use the NGA method as a guide for establishing a national graduation rate that shows how many incoming freshmen in a given high school graduate within four years.

While Mississippi’s graduation-dropout rates are more accurate than ever with new standards in place, they do have flaws. The data is based on what school districts report, Bounds said, and some are abnormal. The Department of Education will be doing more to monitor and help local school staffers compile the data “to ensure accurate reporting,” he said.

The new rates for the class of 2007 are based on tracking students since the ninth grade. However, Bounds noted about 2,000 students dropped out before entering high school and aren’t counted in the rates.

“They don’t have a good home environment. They failed early in school. They don’t arrive in school with the skills to be successful,” he said.

Businesses are helping the state address the dropout problem. For example,
Mississippi’s “On the Bus” campaign of television ads, radio spots,
billboards and a Web site is funded by a $1.5 million grant from State Farm
Insurance Companies. A $100,000 grant from Nissan North America is helping 10 central Mississippi school districts do their dropout-prevention plans.

Business and community leaders must take an “off-seat, on-feet mentality”
to help encourage more students to stay in school and get an education, said
Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson.

“This is a crisis. This is not something that is affecting someone else. It
is affecting us,” said Wilson, noting a more-educated workforce will make the state better and wealthier overall.

“It’s money in the bank for Mississippi,” he said.

Golden Triangle graduation and dropout rates compared to 2006

Columbus: Graduation — 67.1 percent, up from 66.7; Dropout — 20.9
percent, up from 20.2 

Lowndes County: Graduation — 78.4 percent, up from 76.8; Dropout — 14.4
percent, down from 15.9

Starkville: Graduation — 70 percent, down from 74.7; Dropout — 21.3
percent, up from 20.1

Oktibbeha County: Graduation — 66.2 percent, up from 48.8; Dropout — 18.2
percent, down from 32.5

West Point: Graduation — 58.2 percent, up from 55.8; Dropout — 24.5
percent, down from 26.1 percent

States move toward uniform graduation rate reporting   

SEATTLE (AP) — Comparing graduation rates from one state to the next or even one school to another can be as difficult as trying to help your children with their math homework: everyone has their own way of coming up with an answer.

That challenge is expected to go away within the next five years, but not without more pain, aggravation and money.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced in April proposed new rules that would require states to assign each student a unique ID number to facilitate tracking from the time a student enters 9th grade until he graduates or drops out of school.

Spellings' call — which mirrors an agreement from the National Governors Association — will force every district to face up to the reality of a more scientific graduation rate, and quit hiding behind more positive estimates.

Washington state assigned a unique ID to every student four years ago, so this year's senior class will be the first with four years of data, so the 2008 graduation rate will be based on the method Spellings wants to mandate for all states.

State officials don't know if the new method will help or hurt Washington's steady 70 percent on-time graduation rate, said Joe Willhoft, director of assessment for the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But, Willhoft adds, the point of the effort is to come up with a number that tells the truth.

One of the facts covered up by graduation rate estimates is that only about one half of minorities graduate from high school, while those without a diploma face a bleak future. No Child Left Behind was supposed to focus on the inequalities in the nation's public schools, but has done little to improve graduation rates.

The federal government has offered grants to improve state education departments' data systems, which may be used to pay for a system to track students by unique IDs, said U.S. Education Department spokesman Chad Colby. The federal government gave a total of $62.2 million to 13 states in 2007 for data systems, which can cost millions.

New York is also in the process of adopting the new approach, and state officials expect the more accurate numbers will be significantly lower in some cases because many schools used an index that didn't account for students who dropped out in ninth and tenth grades.

This "accountability cohort" method is based on the success of students still in the class in October of 11th grade. New Mexico takes it one step further by only counting how many registered 12th graders get their diploma.

New York's old method found the graduation for Rochester, N.Y., city schools was 51 percent for the class that began high school in 2002. The new method provides a 30 percent graduation rate, according to state Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn, who said the new approach is similar to Spellings proposal.

Under No Child Left Behind, states may use their own methods of calculating graduation rates and set their own goals for improving them. Spellings proposal would tighten up what many feel is one of the biggest loopholes of the federal law.

Education officials in most states say they've been working for years to move their own accounting from educated guesses to real math.

Robert Beecham of the Nebraska Department of Education says his state was the first in the nation to adopt a transitional approach last year. He expects the statewide number won't change, but the interim formula could have more of an impact at the district level.

"It's going to get really wacky," Beecham said.

According to the Data Quality Campaign, a national organization working to encourage state policy makers to collect and share high quality education data, only a handful of states have yet to begin making the switch to a more accountable graduation rate system.

In 2005, all 50 states signed the National Governors Association's "graduation rate compact," pledging to adopt accurate and consistent graduation measurement.

Idaho will likely be one of the last states to make good on that promise. Lawmakers in Idaho just approved the dollars to pay for the new system, which will take up to four years to put into place, said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education.

Until then, Idaho will continue to based graduation rates on a formula that focuses on dropout statistics, which McGrath says is "as accurate as it can be."

This is one of the most commonly used formulas for estimating graduation rates, but it does not account for transfers and may be skewed because some schools automatically count kids as transfers if they don't come in and announce their intentions to drop out.

Spellings' proposal mandates calculating graduation rates by following each 9th grader for four years in every state by the 2013-14 school year.

"Her approach allows one year to prepare and four years to implement, which is a reasonable approach," said Willhoft of Washington state.

In California, work has begun to create a new system to more closely track the state's 6.3 million students, but the largest school bureaucracy in the nation is going to need some time to get the project done, said Keric Ashley, director of data management for the California Department of Education.

California and other states also would like the federal government recognize the students who take longer to complete their diploma.

"If they graduate, does it really matter if it's four years or five years?" Ashley said. "If they're taking longer, there's probably a reason. Districts ought to get credit for getting the hardest ones through school."

The proposed regulations recognize extended graduation rates for students in special education, but not for English language learners or anyone else.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals would like to see the new rules change the goal to graduation within five years, give equal weight to a General Education Diploma or GED, and allow special-needs students until age 21 to graduate on time.

School Choice:  Families living within the boundaries of Columbus Air Force Base have school choice for another year. Columbus Municipal School District’s board of trustees Monday approved the interlocal agreement allowing CAFB families to choose between city schools and Caledonia schools for another year. Lowndes County School District’s board of education signed off on the agreement at a meeting last month. The option was first signed off on after CMSD achieved unitary status.

Summer Camps available at Mississippi State University: There are several summer camps being offered at the nearby Starkville campus of MSU.  Please refer to the below WWW site for details:

http://www.admissions.msstate.edu/events/summercamps/camplistings.php

International Baccalaureate Diploma: What has pep rallies and a global take on life skills? It's widely hailed as one of the best educational programs in the world.
It draws students who've left public schools back to them.  It's offered by 2,322 schools in 128 countries.  And it's coming to Columbus High School - the International Baccalaureate diploma.


The program focuses on engaging students with real-life applications of knowledge and developing critical thinking skills.  "Where are we going to be in 10 years?" Jill Savely, assistant principal at CHS asked the room at Monday's school board meeting.  China soon will become the No. 1 English-speaking country, and they have more high-performing students than the U.S. has students in its entire education system, she continued.


The IB program will help local students compete on a global scale.
"It's a worldwide curriculum," Savely said this morning. "We know that this is the most respected and most rigorous college preparatory program that we can offer in high school," she added. "And we feel this is the very best way to prepare our students for success at a university level. There are more than 1,268 schools in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean offering one or more of the IB's three academic programs - the primary years program for students ages 3 to 12, the middle years program for students ages 11 to 16 and the diploma program for students ages 16 to 19.


The IB works with 2,322 schools in 128 counties and 617,000 students.
"We in the city schools are trying to bring the most rigorous world-class education to our system," said Dr. Del Phillips, superintendent of Columbus schools, noting students from Columbus will be in "direct competition with students all across nation, across the world."  And it's the intensity of the courses which makes the IB program among the most touted in the world.  "It's the rigor, the difficulty of the courses," said Phillips. "That's why it's the most recognized diploma program in the world."


"I'm excited about it because it is a chance for our students to excel at an even higher level than they're able to excel at this point," said Savely. "Our students are going to be challenged at a level they've never been challenged at before."
CHS already is considered an IB candidate school and is on track to offer the IB curriculum to juniors in the fall of 2009. Freshman and sophomore years are used to prepare students for the coming two years of IB curriculum.
The first graduates of CHS with an IB diploma will be the class of 2011.


Attorney General Announces Agreement: Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and the attorneys general of 48 other states and the District of Columbia today announced that Facebook has agreed to changes to better protect children from predators and inappropriate content, and to participate in a task force on implementation of age and identity verification software.

The agreement was hammered out by a Multistate Executive Working Group of 11 Attorneys General from Mississippi, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The agreement is similar to one that MySpace reached in January with 49 states, including Mississippi, and the District of Columbia. MySpace agreed to head a task force, which Facebook has joined, to explore and develop age and identity identification tools for social networking sites. Changes agreed to by Facebook include providing automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of giving personal information to an unknown adult; restricting the ability of users to change their listed ages; acting more aggressively to remove inappropriate content and groups from the site and requiring third party vendors to adhere to Facebook’s safety and privacy guidelines. “These changes are necessary to protect our children from internet predators while they are using this social networking site,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “It isn’t a perfect plan but it is a pro-active plan that will help protect children and give parents some peace of mind.” Under the changes, the first time a Facebook user wants to change his or her age, website staff will review their profile to determine whether the change is appropriate. In addition, companies offering Facebook users servicescalled “widgets”will now have to implement and enforce Facebook’s safety and privacy guidelines.

Facebook also has agreed to maintain a list of pornographic websites and regularly sever any links to such sites. It will remove groups for incest, pedophilia, cyberbullying and other violations of the site’s terms of services, as well as expel from the site individual violators of those terms.

Facebook has made the following commitments to better protect children who use its network:
Provide free parental monitoring software
Provide “Safety Tips for Parents “ that will have suggestions of computer-based blocking software
Parents will be able to remove an underage child’s profile
Complaints of abuse will be acknowledged by Facebook within 24 hours
Facebook will establish a 24 hour hotline for law enforcement and a liaison with attorneys general
Under 18 users will be “age-locked”. If a user originally registers on Facebook as under 18, any request for a change to the user’s profile will be reviewed by Facebook by looking at the profile and that of the user’s friends to verify that the user is indeed affiliated with a high school network Facebook page
Under 18 users will have to affirm that they have read and reviewed the “Safety Tips” prior to registration
In addition Facebook has promised that they will work with the attorneys general in the investigation and prosecution of internet crimes

Steps to View Privacy Policy on Facebook.com - NO REGISTRATION NEEDED
1. Go to Facebook.com 2. Inside the “Sign up for Facebook” box click on Privacy Policy. This should pull up the “Facebook Principles” page. 3. Under the second heading “Safe use of Facebook” click on the click here option that is highlighted in blue. This will re-direct you to the “Facebook Safety” page. 4. Scroll down to the “For Parents” section to get tips on keeping your children safe online. Further down the page there is a Frequently Asked Questions section for parents. Clicking on any of these links will bring up answers to the questions.

If you believe that FACEBOOK might have any information from or about a child under 13 you can contact them at info@facebook.com.

NFL Players Tackle SAT & ACT Test Prep: In cooperation with the Department of Defense (DoD), eKnowledge Corporation, a leading supplier of interactive test preparation products for college entrance exams, along with a group of NFL players, have donated more than $16 million worth of multimedia SAT/ACT Test preparation products to service members and their families worldwide.

Now in its fourth year, the eKnowledge/NFL player sponsorship effort has shipped more the 90,000 free SAT/ACT test preparation programs, valued at $200, to military service members and their families.

Those military families interested in receiving free eKnowledge products under this sponsorship can complete an online request form at http://eknowledge.com/military or visit http://militaryhomefront.dod.mil/ for more details. Copies can also be requested by phone at 951-256-4076, or via email at support@eknowledge.com.

Lowndes County Schools Lunch Program:  The County Board increased  the cost of regular school lunch  for Lowndes County students paying regular price for their lunch - the slight price increase will be effective for the 2008-2009 School Year.

The county’s Board of Education Friday voted to increase the price of student lunches from $1.50 to $2.00.  The new price does not include reduced-price lunches. Those prices will remain the same, at 40 cents. “This does not include the cost for low-income children,” Betty Clinton, director of child nutrition for Lowndes County School District explained to the school board. “This will not affect that, just the full cost for a meal.”

Board member John Clark asked if the increase will compensate for the district’s increased food and beverage costs, including increases in the cost of cereal and pasta because of the lessened production of wheat.  “It will not be enough to cover because we just found out that the milk is going up like 40 percent, and they’re telling us they can go up on us every week if they want to,” Clinton responded.

In the past, state regulations kept those costs from increasing frequently.
The district will make 1 cent for every lunch sold at regular price. The district spends $2.25 for each student plate served. Its revenue, after state supplements is $2.26.   Adult lunches also went up, from $3 to $3.25.

Lowndes County School Security:  The board voted to keep North Atlantic Security to provide the district’s campus security, despite objection from Board member Jacqueline Gray.  “I know you’re well aware, I’ve had several complaints from New Hope, Caledonia and West Lowndes,” Gray noted, citing incidents where police had to be called to campus.  The board approved the move with a vote of 3-1 with Gray voting against. Board president Jane Kilgore was absent from the meeting.   In light of Kilgore’s absence, board members chose to table an agenda item requesting the board set a date for a community meeting. Kilgore had requested the discussion be on the board agenda at the last board meeting, when board members voted to have the meeting inviting parents and community members to meet with them in an open discussion.

Kansas and Kentucky Deliver Great News for Military Families! Last week, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear both signed into law the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. NMFA applauds Kansas and Kentucky for being the first states to sign this important compact which will help ease the transition military children face when moving. This year, twenty-one states are considering the compact and 14 of those state legislatures have bills in one or both chambers.

Note:  The state of Mississippi allowed a similiar compact expire in committee, during 2008 without any action taken.

As a member of both the Advisory Committee and Drafting Team, NMFA has been actively supporting the adoption of this compact from its beginning. Military families have long needed the support of individual states during the transition process; whether transferring within a state, from state to state, or from an overseas location. NMFA firmly believes that in order for families to have smoother transitions, each state must become a better “receiving” state as well as “sending” state. By adopting this compact, each state can do its part to alleviate some of the many challenges our military children face when moving.

For further information on the compact, NMFA has provided a link to the Council of State Governments website under our Military Children’s Education section: http://www.nmfa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=childrens_education