The Truth About Student Achievement And What Top-performing Countries Do that We Don’t

Mississippi Achievement Improving Faster than U.S. Average

There is a misconception that schools in the United States, and particularly in Mississippi, have not improved in recent years. In fact, schools in the U.S. have made steady improvement, and Mississippi’s improvement in student achievement has outpaced the national average.

A recent Harvard study ranked Mississippi 13th in the nation in improvement in student achievement. The study found that Mississippi’s national test scores improved over the last 20 years at an annual rate of 2.54% compared to the U.S. average of 1.6%.

Our international ranking has dropped because a number of other countries have improved their achievement levels at a much faster pace. The top-performing countries raised their achievement levels exponentially by investing in serious education reform for all of their public school students. If Mississippi’s leaders are serious about ensuring that our citizens are globally competitive, they will follow suit.

Here’s what the top-performers do that we don’t…

Investing in superb teaching

  • All teachers are truly experts in the subjects that they teach
  • In top-performing countries, getting into a teacher education program is like getting into medical school – these countries accept only 10% or less of applicants into teacher education programs – their most brilliant citizens are teaching their children
  • Teacher education programs in top-performing countries are extremely rigorous; teacher candidates major in the subjects they will teach and have additional coursework in pedagogy (learning how to teach)
  • Existing teachers are provided ongoing, high quality professional development to ensure that they remain up-to-date on developments in best practices and utilize the most effective methodologies for teaching children
  • Teachers are valued and compensated as high-priority professionals – their salaries are on par with physicians, engineers, and attorneys
  • In contrast, Mississippi has slashed funding for professional development and has been willing to lower standards for teacher certification in order to avoid paying teachers a competitive salary; consequently, we are failing to attract enough of our best and brightest into the field of education, and schools of education often have the lowest average ACT scores on a university campus; current legislation intended to improve reading instruction has been stripped of the reading coaches and teacher training that would have made it effective

Investing in high quality early childhood education – children who are “school ready”

  • Most of the top-performing countries invest early in their children’s education to ensure that students are school-ready from the outset
    • While Finland, one of the top performers, doesn’t provide pre-k as part of the primary and secondary school system, the country does provide publicly-funded, high quality early childhood education and care for all children; “formal” primary schooling begins at age seven
  • In contrast, Mississippi provides no state funding for early childhood education, and a very high percent of our students arrive in kindergarten at a 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old developmental level

Providing a rigorous curriculum

  • The top-performing countries teach fewer concepts but teach them much more deeply
  • Mississippi is moving to the Common Core State Standards which is based on international benchmarks; this is good news for Mississippi children, but thorough, high quality professional development for teachers will be required to ensure that they have the capacity to implement the curriculum successfully

Ensuring enough time on task to master skills

  • Most top-performing countries have a school year that exceeds 200 days, and the school day in many countries begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m.
  • In contrast, Mississippi has a 180-day school year – students in top-performing countries get at least an extra month of schooling per year in which to master competencies

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