Fast Facts About Education in Mississippi

A recent Mississippi Economic Council survey revealed that the number one concern of Mississippi business leaders and community stakeholders is education. The survey report states, “Far and away the most significant input, shared by everyone in the state, regards education. Through the stakeholder input forms, every city reported Education as the number one concern for their community and the state.”

Education and Jobs/Economic Development

Mississippi is considered very “business friendly” in almost every regard – except for our education system, and that is a significant disadvantage in creating jobs and boosting economic development. Beacon Hill Institute’s tenth annual State Competitiveness Report ranks Mississippi 17th of 50 states in governmental and fiscal policy (corporate taxes & business climate) but 50th in human resources (educated workforce). Despite our having one of the most “business friendly” tax and regulation structures, the report cites Mississippi as an example of a “highly uncompetitive state” due to our failure to produce a well-educated workforce.

Student Achievement

Mississippi is 50th in national student achievement rankings. In 2009, the most recent available data, 22% of Mississippi students scored proficient or above in reading and 22% scored proficient or above in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card)


Good news:

Following two years of adequate funding (full funding of the MAEP in Fiscal Year 2008 and near full funding in 2009), Mississippi’s national test scores improved significantly. In 2009, Mississippi:

  • Achieved the largest percentage-point increase in the nation in reading at the Basic Level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) among 4th graders from 2007 to 2009
  • Narrowed the achievement gap for African Americans in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math on NAEP
  • Increased the composite ACT score and the number of students taking the ACT from 1999 to 2009
  • Enrolled high school graduates in our state’s colleges and universities at a higher rate than other states

An important consideration in national student achievement rankings is the percent of students who are proficient in reading and math. The most recent national scores put only 22% of Mississippi students at the proficient level in those subjects.

Mississippi is ranked 49th of 51 in educational attainment (percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree). (National Center for Education Statistics)

Achievement: What Works in Other Countries

According to eSchool News, Finland, Ontario and Singapore have attained the highest and most equitable performance on international assessments. Five traits that contribute to their success are:

  • A systemic, comprehensive approach to education.
  • Entry into teacher education programs is extremely selective. Finland selects just 1 of every 10 teacher education applicants; Singapore traditionally selects future teachers from the top third of high school classes; and the teaching profession is highly competitive in Ontario where graduate level preparation is the norm.
  • They make teaching an attractive position – educators stay in the profession instead of leaving for higher paying jobs in other sectors.
  • Investment in continuous learning – all three jurisdictions provide considerable time for teachers to work collaboratively and learn together during the regular school schedule – as much as 5 times what U.S. teachers receive.
  • Proactive recruitment and development of high quality leadership – school leaders are expected to be instructional leaders. They are expected to know curriculum and teaching intimately and be able to provide guidance and support to teachers.

Click here to read Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, which focuses on these countries’ successes in attracting and retaining extraordinary teachers and school leaders who consistently move their students to the top of international achievement rankings.


State funding for Mississippi schools is determined by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), passed into law in 1997. Click here to learn more about the MAEP.

Mississippi ranks 49th among 51 (all states and D.C.) in per student funding.

The percent of Mississippi’s state budget allocated to public schools has shrunk significantly since 2008. See graph.

From Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2011, of 17 major state budget categories, 10 were cut at a lower percent than was K-12 education. See chart.

For Fiscal Year 2011, the overall state budget was cut by 9.36% while K-12 education suffered an 11.94% cut.

Mississippi ranks 50th in the nation in per capita income (Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book). Over 230,000 Mississippi children live in poverty, and over 100,000 Mississippi children live in extreme poverty. Research has shown consistently that as much as 40% more in resources is required to bring children in poverty to the same level of achievement as children in non-poverty homes.

Mississippi Teachers

Mississippi has the lowest minimum/passing PRAXIS score requirements for licensure of any state (PRAXIS is a national teacher certification examination).

Mississippi teachers, on average, have the lowest scores in the nation on the PRAXIS, the national teachers’ exam.

Teacher candidates studying in Mississippi’s schools of education within our institutions of higher learning have among the lowest average ACT scores of students in any of the schools (i.e., School Education, School of Business, School of Engineering, School of Nursing, etc.).

Mississippi ranks 48th of 51 (all states and the District of Columbia) in average teacher salary.

Countries with high student achievement ratings typically have very selective teacher education programs. Finland selects just 1 of every 10 teacher applicants, and Singapore traditionally selects those from the top third of high school classes, making entry into the profession highly competitive. Click here to read Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, which focuses on these countries’ successes in attracting and retaining extraordinary teachers who consistently move their students to the top of international achievement rankings.

Mississippi has for years had a significant teacher shortage. In Fiscal Year 2011, the number of teachers with alternative route certification exceeded the number of practicing teachers with a bachelor’s degree in education. Studies of Mississippi teachers have shown that alternative route teachers, on average, with the exception of Teach for America certified teachers, yield poorer student achievement than do traditional route certified teachers.

Nationally, Teach for America (TFA) teachers yield better student achievement than the average results of other teachers. The only school of education in the United States that produced better teachers than TFA was the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University.

50% of Mississippi teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of teaching.

School Leadership

School leadership (principals, superintendents, school boards) is among the most important factors in student achievement. Excellent schools have excellent leaders, and excellent leaders yield excellent schools. (Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning by Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom and Stephen E. Anderson)

Great superintendents hire great principals who hire and retain great teachers – the key to improving student achievement.

Effective principals are instructional leaders. They ensure that teachers are well placed to optimize their strengths, and they help teachers identify weaknesses and address them through appropriate, targeted, professional development.

Great school leaders create excellent learning environments, ensure alignment of the curriculum throughout the entire school system, and provide teachers sufficient planning and collaboration time.

Mississippi has a significant shortage of school administrators.

Click here to read Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, which focuses on these countries’ successes in attracting and retaining extraordinary school leaders and teachers who consistently move their students to the top of international achievement rankings.

Early Childhood Education

Mississippi is one of only 10 states that have no state funded early childhood education program – and the only southern state without state funded pre-k.

Many Mississippi 5-year-olds enter kindergarten with the vocabulary of a 2-year-old child, largely because parents/guardians work and the children’s days have been spent in crowded childcare situations with untrained caregivers.

In a recent random sampling of 100 childcare centers – which included all types of centers, from large, more expensive church-based programs to those serving low-income children – all of the 100 centers scored below a 3 on the 1-7 scale commonly used in the childcare industry to rate centers. A score of under 3 indicates “unsafe” care.

Research has shown that when children are provided high quality early childhood experiences…

  • They have higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21
  • Their academic achievement in both reading and math is higher from the primary grades through young adulthood
  • They complete more years of education and are more likely to attend a four-year college
  • They are older, on average, when their first child is born

Source: The Abecedarian Project; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

For every dollar spent on participants in the Chicago Child Parent Centers, researchers claim that $10 is returned by age 25 either in benefits to society – such as savings on remediation in school and on the criminal-justice system – or directly to the participant in the form of higher earnings. The Chicago Child Parent Centers, started in 1985, were created in the public schools of Chicago for low-income African American and Hispanic families with children from ages 3 to 9 years old. Source: Education Week

In Mississippi, three times as many children are retained in kindergarten and first grade as in later grades. In the 2007-2008 school year, the cost of kindergarten and first grade retention was over $28-million.

Children who are retained in school are exponentially more likely to drop out. A child who is retained twice has only a 10% chance of graduating from high school.

Of all states, Mississippi has the highest percent of working moms with children under 5 years of age (more than 61%).

Current licensure for preschools is under the Department of Health.

Many early childhood programs are purely custodial rather than educational.

The new common core curriculum being implemented across the nation in the coming school year calls for reading fluency by the end of the kindergarten year.

A recent MEC survey found that 4 in 5 Mississippi respondents reported that early childhood education is a “very important issue” compared to other issues; 77% of respondents rate early childhood education as “very important” to the future success of a child, and another 20% rate it “important.”

The Mississippi Center for Education Innovation’s benchmark survey measured Mississippians’ perceptions of early childhood education and development by interviewing 1,000 registered voters across the state and revealed that:

  • 82% think early learning (from birth to age 5) has a significant impact on future success through adulthood.
  • 71% believe Mississippi needs to improve early learning opportunities.
  • 95% said it is important/very important for candidates to share their view on early learning.
  • 59% said they would pay a higher tax to go toward early learning.
  • 63% said state government should bear at least some responsibility for funding improvements to early learning.

In 2009, Mississippi business leaders provided funding to launch Mississippi Building Blocks”, a pilot ealry learning and development program that works with existing childcare centers to improve the school readiness of Mississippi children. The program is intended to provide the model for the statewide early learning plan. Click here to learn about other efforts to improve early learning in Mississippi.

School District Consolidation

Mississippi has an average of 3,257 students per school district, which ranks our state 24th of 51 in the number of school districts per enrolled student.

According to the Center for Policy Research (Does School Consolidation Cut Costs?, 2001), consolidation of very small school districts is likely to yield a cost savings, while combining large districts will likely increase costs. The optimal size for a school district in terms of efficiency is around 2,000 students. Combining school districts typically yields the following cost savings:

  • Combining 2 300-student districts saves 20%
  • Combining 2 900-student districts saves 7-9%
  • Combining 2 1,500-student districts yields no cost savings
  • A combined 3,000+ student school district yields increased costs

Consolidation of small school districts can cut costs at the local level; however it will not significantly reduce state funding requirements. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is based on per pupil funding, and the base student cost will follow the student, regardless of the number of school districts.

Consolidation of very small school districts can yield an increase in course offerings and additional opportunities for students.

Charter Schools

Though some charter schools have had great success turning around struggling students, on average, they are less successful than their traditional public school counterparts. The Stanford University CREDO study found that:

  • 46% of charter schools performed the same as their traditional public school counterparts
  • 17% of charters performed better than their traditional public school counterparts
  • 37% performed worse than their traditional public school counterparts

A number of chartering organizations have very good track records and have been successful in moving low-achieving students who had been in low-achieving schools to higher levels of achievement. As with traditional public schools, the success of these organizations is typically due to excellent leadership.

Charter schools typically have not done well when attempting to compete with successful traditional public schools. Test scores of students moving from successful traditional schools into charter schools have, on average, remained equal to or dropped below those of their traditional public school peers.

Successful charter schools have, on average, significantly higher administrative costs than do their traditional public school counterparts. A study by Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel of Western Michigan University (Equal or Fair? A Study of Revenues and Expenditures in American Charter Schools) confirmed what other studies have found. When compared with traditional public schools, charter schools spend proportionally more on administration – in the percentage of overall spending that goes to administrative costs, as well as in the salaries they pay administrative personnel. Though their administrative expenditures are higher, charter schools, on average, spend less overall than traditional public schools: less on instruction, less on student support services and less on teacher salaries and benefits.

Some successful charter schools attribute their success, in part, to the fact that they use non-instructional staff to take care of all non-teaching, or administrative, functions, allowing teachers to spend almost all of their time teaching and planning for instruction. Such administrative functions include student discipline, family outreach (parent instruction), data analysis, reporting, etc.

Another study out of Western Michigan (What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance, Miron, Urschel & Saxton) found that, on average, KIPP schools spend $6,500 more per pupil than their local traditional public school district counterparts, though they typically spent less per pupil on instruction. The study found further that KIPP schools’ achievement results benefit from a high attrition rate among their lowest performing students who leave the schools in high numbers mid-year and between school years.

See The Parents’ Campaign’s position on charter schools”.

Length of School Year – Other Countries

One of the most important factors in moving students toward higher achievement is time on task with a great teacher. Students need time to master new concepts and material, and low-achieving students need a great deal of time on task. Mississippi has one of the greatest proportions of low-achieving students of any state in the nation, and the U.S. has a greater proportion of low-achieving students than many other developed countries. Yet, Mississippi’s school year – the time students spend on task – is shorter than those of higher achieving countries. In recent years, there have been efforts made in the Mississippi Legislature to reduce the school year even further. (The minimum number of days required is determined by states.)

See below the average number of days in the school year in other countries.


Days of School



South Korea






The Netherlands






Hong Kong










New Zealand






United States/Mississippi


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