Mississippi Values & Party Politics: It is Time for Elected Officials Concerned About the Former and Not the Later

You know the values of Northeast Mississippi and the people who live here really haven’t changed much since I was a child. By and large, I believe most of us still believe in working to provide for ourselves and our families. We still believe in the importance of faith in our lives and the social stands having that faith entails. We still support our local schools as the gateway to a better future for our children and are willing to work hard to help them. We still believe in the right for law abiding citizens to bear arms, but look down on those who handle such guns carelessly or foolishly for show. We still believe that wasting government money on foolish spending that benefits no one is a betrayal to all hard working taxpayers. We still believe that this type of spending is not be confused with good government programs that help provide for our health, safety, and to give hard-working people an opportunity to improve themselves. We still believe in backing our law enforcement and our military along with their families for their dedication and sacrifice in the name of protecting and serving. We believe in the value of human life and that it should be protected from harm.

I suppose that is why it is so discouraging at times to see our elected representatives sometimes get so caught up in national party politics. I have voted for many, many good individuals over the years with a clear conscience as being the best person to do the elected job they were seeking and to represent the values I mention above. Many of those individuals had a (D) beside their name, many of them had an (R) beside their name, and at some point I probably have voted for at least one who had an (I) there as well. I voted for men and women who I felt would reflect the traditional values of our area of the country that I hold dear. By and large, the greatest disappointment that I have had in watching how these individuals behaved once in office was how they all too often became absorbed in their party politics and quickly forgot about the values of the average person who elected them.

Little by little, these elected officials became more and more obsessed with only really pushing issues and causes that did not reflect our values, but the values of some large donors or group of donors (often from out of state) whose issues had nothing to do with what the average voter cast their ballot for them to accomplish. For those issues that the donors or the national party pushed, they seemed to work tirelessly. Often these bills and laws pushed by our elected representatives had no resemblance whatsoever to the issues we elected them to push. After a while in office, many of them even lost the ability to give real lip service (except maybe in an election year) to the things which the average Mississippian values and which impact our daily lives. No, their rhetoric and comments increasingly talk about this or that partisan issue that most of us could care less about. Sadly, as they get more involved in the politics of party, these individuals even end up being persuaded by the powers within their party or donors to vote against the very things we put them in office to protect. It is bad enough to ignore and not work for things which help and are important to the average Mississippian, but truly sad when you begin to be so far removed from your starting place that you are actually working against many of the things which we hold dear.

All of that being said, I do not wish to paint a gloomy, “the sky is falling” picture of politics in our state. Nor do I wish to say that all of our present elected officials fall into this category, some have done a fine job. However, I am more convinced now than ever to vote for individuals, no matter what the letter or lack of a letter in parenthesis after their name might be, who I truly believe reflect the values that represent me and my community. Many of our elected officials seem to have gotten consumed by party politics, but my vote is and will be about the individuals I believe will do the best job, irregardless of which party or no party at all they might be affiliated. It just seems that politics needs to return a bit to being about Mississippi and less about some out-of-state agenda. At least for me, this will be the primary factor in my vote and support in the elections to come.

– Clint Stroupe

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Turning 40 – Some Ramblings and Reflections

So I turned 40, which I guess deserves a bit of reflection. All in all, it doesn’t seem so bad and, as they say, certainly better than the alternative. I will say that age has maybe taught me a bit about life and maybe happiness obtained from living it. If blessed with forty more years, I expect to revise and hopefully learn more lessons along the way. But, these are a few brief observations and conclusions I have reached at this point in my journey.

I have learned to be a little more comfortable with my own quirks over the years to be a bit more content to be myself with less worry about how things are perceived by everyone around me. There does seem to be a bit of truth to the saying that “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” We are all works in progress. Hopefully, we are all trying to become the best versions of ourselves possible. With this imperfection being a universal truth, letting how others perceive you take up much of your attention is a poor use of time. It seems more important to be honest, as long as that honesty is not simply an effort to draw attention to yourself or obtain a reaction from others.

I have learned that human nature is such that all too many of the people we interact with on a daily basis are most interested in how any interaction with others can benefit themselves personally. Whether some direct benefit is on their mind or they are simply perceiving you might be able to help them in some way down the road, people who are truly your friends without this return on investment are few in number. However, you cannot let this prevent you from still trying to be kind to other people and to help them as best you can. Happiness in life seems to be being as good to others as you can in spite of the fact many will inevitably not remember it and/or will not readily return the favor. This is just human nature, and it seems to me that age teaches you that you cannot let it bother you in the least or be used as an excuse to quit treating people in general as you want to be treated. True friendships will be few in number, but you have to keep on trying to treat others as you would like to be treated with the understanding those few true friendships will be valuable diamonds discovered along the way and are definitely worth all of the effort.

I have hopefully learned that simply being around and influencing your children, spouse, and other family is much more fulfilling that I ever imagined when I was young. You start out in early adulthood wanting to change the world. But, that drive is thinking of big things or events that you can accomplish and often considers little about how family can fit into this equation. Only with a little age do you begin to realize that the single largest impact any of us can hope to leave to influence the world positively will be in our children and other family members. I am still enough of an idealist that I have not lost my desire to have a positive impact on things through my career path and in other areas. But, you will have struck a poor bargain, if you trade the pursuit of these things for the chance to be an active part of the lives of your own family. As in all of these regards, I am not perfect, but I shudder to think of the joy and fulfillment I would have missed by not taking the time to have a good conversation with my own children and trying to experience them as they are developing. None of the barns, buildings, or other things built by those who came before me are standing for long, but the ideas and lessons they left behind are still influencing the world through me and those other family members who knew those great individuals. This is really the only lasting legacy most of us has any hope of leaving behind that might make the world a better place.

The world we live in can be a tough place. It is even tougher on you, if you try to be different in any way from the status quo. This is something I think one learns too, along the way. No matter how pure your motivations and no matter the positive results, there is always a reason that some things are the way they are, and there will be a push back when that existing order is changed in any way. Being a rebel for the thrill and rush of rebellion is worth little in life. It will only hurt you and increase this type of push back. But, something real and positive that stands to benefit those around you can and is sometimes worth the push back. Age just teaches you that this is natural and inevitable, and, while not something that should be sought out, has to be worth it on its on merits, because the effort may have costs. Doing what you think is for the good and treating others fairly as best you can determine, without regard to how it may affect you, has to be something you can look back upon with fondness and is worth the cost, if you truly believed in what you were doing was good and right. Sometimes your judgements about these things will be faulty, but a mistaken belief like this with a pure motivation is still something you can feel good about. Being able to look at yourself in the morning in the mirror without shying away is worth a lot, but rest assured their will be costs, even when your efforts were not on a grand scale.

So, I guess that is about it. These are my big reflections on turning 40. Why share them? Well, perhaps, they will benefit someone else as they encounter the bumps of life and attempt to find their place in this world. I hope that anyone who reads these descriptions realizes that I am not describing my perfect efforts or my perfect understanding of the lessons of life. No, the point is that my actions more often than not fell quite short of perfection. Some times my motivations were not what they should have been. Yet, it is the mistakes then, the mistakes now, and the mistakes that you and I will inevitably make in the future that hopefully will allow us to continually get better. Getting better, bit by bit, is the best we can hope for and something we can never afford to give up upon, if we are to stay motivated to live the type of life we need to live in whatever time the good Lord decides we have to live it.

– Clint Stroupe

Works for the Public Good Are Not Only a Legitimate Function of Government; They Are the Very Purpose of Government

It strikes me that long ago there was a point where there was no government of any sort. Some may read that first line and think to themselves, “Ah, Yes! If only we could return to those blessed days!” However, it strikes me that for government to form, which it seems to have formed to to some degree in every culture, there must be a need of people that government fulfills. Without delving too deeply into religion, God himself setup government for his people to fulfill this need. It would seem to me that government in and of itself cannot be evil, if it fulfills a need common to all mankind as they became more advanced than individual wanderers. It certainly seems to me that government in and of itself cannot be evil, if forms and structures of government were instituted by divine inspiration from at least as long ago as the Judges during the patriarchal age of God’s people.

No, government itself must not be evil. But, what is the need that government fulfills? I mean what is the denominator that sums up the need government fulfills? Several functions can readily come to mind: enforcing consistent justice without regard to the economic, social, or physical strength of those being protected; providing defense of all its citizens from foreign invasion; protecting property from theft; and the list could go on and on. The common denominator in all of these instances is that government functions to provide for the “common good” of its people. It takes actions that have the potential to benefit every citizen, regardless of the standing of that citizen. Common sense tells me that government was not needed most by the “strong” members among its citizens. Those physically, financially, or socially strong have the ability to protect themselves to varying degrees. Consider a very wealthy landowner in ancient times. Did such a wealthy individual find himself unable to protect himself from those who would seek to rob him of his possessions? It would seem that his wealth would provide the resources needed to buy ample weapons, hire armed guards, and build protections around his property to such an extent that the extremely powerful members of society had little to gain from government in this regard. No, government very much is the greater benefit to the “weak” in society. To those who lack the influence, the economic power, or the clout needed to protect themselves and to potentially seek compensation for wrongs done to them, very much in contrast to the “powerful” who had the resources to accomplish such protections and to obtain compensation, if necessary.

Yes, I do believe government’s function has to be to provide for the common good. This is the only legitimate thing it has to offer. How does the government get the resources it needs to provide such services? Well, those resources must come from its own citizens. Again, another topic that might lead one to recoil at its mention, but if government is a necessity, as it seems to have been worldwide, taxes seem to also be a necessity to fund such a government. Yet, we also must concede that taxes from the ones who stand to benefit the most from governments’ efforts to provide for the common good are not available in sufficient quantities from these same individuals to fund the degree of services they receive. Common sense tells us that a person unable to afford for the armed protection of his own property by security guards would also be unable to pay sufficient taxes to pay for a police force which essentially serves this same role. For example, whose home is more likely to catch fire, the fine, new, brick home with a fire extinguisher on every wall and sprinkler systems throughout or the home built forty years ago, made primarily of wood, and which lacks even modern safer forms of electrical wiring? Thus, the class of people who tend to benefit the most from having their home put out when on fire are also the ones who would tend to not have contributed enough in taxes to pay for the firetrucks and firemen which rushed out to save their home. Yes, the “common good” efforts of government inevitably have to be funded by and large by those who statistically stand to need them the least.

I think through this reasoning it seems evident that government is not inherently evil. It also seems that if government is not inherently evil, then funds must be provided for such a government to exist. These funds must come from taxes as the only means for government to obtain funds. Then, we have also established that the largest share of taxes in any government will almost certainly be paid by those with the most resources, as no matter the type of tax those with the most resources will end up paying the larger portion of its volume. Furthermore, it seems to have been shown that in spite of the fact they pay the greater portion of taxes to fund the government, the need of those with the most resources for any service government provides stands to be on average less than their fellow citizens with less resources and who naturally pay less taxes. Then, I think we can easily see how governments began to offer many of the “common good” services that came about over the years. From hospitals to city parks to social security to rural mail delivery to the paved roads that mark our countryside, government used this same approach to provide for the common good by providing for these public works. They are provided for everyone, but in the end have always been funded via taxes of which those with more resources have always paid a larger share.

While those with the least resources and the least power (economic power, social influence, etc.) tend to need and possibly enjoy these “common good” works by government the most directly, those with resources and the most power enjoy the benefits of such efforts indirectly. These individuals get to indirectly benefit by being surrounded by a society and culture which is a better place because of such benefits and is populated by potentially better people than would almost certainly be possible otherwise. Yet, in the end, the benefits of government’s efforts cannot be looked at individually, but must be looked at collectively. The creation and funding of law enforcement may never directly retrieve a stolen vehicle for me. However, my fellow citizen and a fellow member of my same country may very much benefit when his stolen vehicle is retrieved. In the final summation, government demands that we as citizens be happy to see these resources benefiting those who need them more than us. We are a group and part of one whole as citizens of one country. When government serves to help a member of the group other than ourselves, we should be happy as members of this unified group of people ourselves.

Of course, there must be discussions and debates as to where government should draw the line in providing these “greater good” services. Naturally too, government sometimes must be held accountable to make sure what it is providing is done in an efficient manner. However, one must seriously question the appropriateness of a fellow citizen and member of this brotherhood that we call a country making comments such as, “Well, why should I pay in taxes for something that doesn’t benefit me?” The individual who decides to never have children must look at the good for the group and society as a whole by paying school taxes which his children will never enjoy the benefits from. The citizen in Iowa must look at the greater good provided to our country by the Coast Guard patrolling and protecting the safety of our citizens in Alaska, Florida, or the many other states which have coastlines. The citizen with acres of beautiful land to enjoy for himself and his family must not begrudge the state park his taxes are funding and being enjoyed by those who do not own a home, much less a fraction of an acre of land. Those who are able to read and whose income allows them to pay for educational resources for their children and grandchildren long before reaching the age to start school must look with pride at the educational programming funded partially through tax dollars which allow those without such things to learn the basics of reading and get exposed to concepts which expand their thinking as children via educational television picked up with an antenna in their rural household.

While we can and rightly should demand for efficiency in government and making sure tax dollars are not wasted, we must concede that the things those tax dollars provide which help to elevate and uplift our fellow citizens are good things. It strikes me that perhaps their is a bit too much emphasis today in our political rhetoric and from our politicians on “me” and “mine,” instead of “we” and “our.” Desiring such good public works by government and seeing them enhanced to provide opportunities for those who would otherwise be left out in the proverbial cold, is something which maybe needed a bit of renewed emphasis on our part. No, such efforts at benefiting society are not evil and by themselves are not “socialism” nor “communism.” When done right, they instead reflect the best reasons for government to exist in the first place, to benefit us all as one united group. Perhaps, it is time to encourage good efficient things that government does at the same time as we discourage things that are inefficient and abuses of government. Maybe, it would benefit us all to examine the mindset and the original great intent of those who preceded us as citizens of our states and our nation, who enacted many of these public works. If not, we may once again find out what life was like before they existed and realize that the generations which preceded us may not have been so ill-informed or misled as some on the extremes might want us to believe.

-Clint Stroupe

Public Schools are Public Cooperatives – Divided They Fall

We do not think about it much until we pass a ranger station, forestry tower, or a pickup truck with their department logos on the side, but every day many hard working individuals go to work for our state forestry, federal forestry, state game warden, and federal parks services around our state and country. Often we do not let our minds think about these important individuals as they work hard to provide the services we need and enjoy. Whether protecting the game and fish we all see the need to the preserve or guarding the forests that are reserved for our enjoyment, these individuals are a vital part to maintaining the way of life we have come to enjoy and insuring the country our children inherit is one that has these same natural resources preserved and hopefully even improved.
 
Of course, some of us do not use these services directly at all. The person growing up and living in an apartment in downtown Jackson may never even meet one of these workers in his entire life. The catfish farmer in the delta, although he raises, catches, and comes in contact with more fish than even the most avid tournament fisherman, may never contact someone from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, as the farmer maintains his operation and provides for his fish and ponds. The large landowner with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of acres in pine and hardwood may never meet his local forestry commission as his investment in timberland grows awaiting eventual harvest. Yet, a portion of all of these individuals’ taxes goes directly to pay for these departments, their buildings, and their employee salaries. Yes, regardless of whether or not we take advantage of our beautiful state and federal parks for a vacation or outing, our taxes are used to support and maintain these public resources.
 
There are many other similar government resources, like these, that we all pay for in taxes, yet maybe never take direct benefit from or take much less benefit than some other of our fellow citizens. Social security, the departments of agriculture, our local law enforcement, and the list can go on and on. We pay into these, yet never may receive the direct benefit many other citizens do from their existence. Our taxes flow into them, yet the person who hunts once a year on state land and the person who visits state waterways daily both get vastly different levels of benefits, although both may be paying the exact same share of the taxes to operate the state’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. We all realize that this is the only way these public services could possibly be run. We justify our tax payment into them, despite the vast difference in the direct benefits from their existence we may receive, as a necessity since they benefit the overall public good.
 
Imagine the ridiculousness that would be greeted to the delta catfish farmer who suggested he receive “his share” of the taxes going to the Department of WFP back to him in the form of a tax deduction or refund, since he does not use the services himself directly. The same could easily be said for the large landowner who operates his enclosed “fox pen” of hundreds of acres which he maintains; who then suggests he receive back his “share” of the tax money that normally goes to game wardens’ management of wildlife beyond his hundreds of acres of fenced in hunting land. Why? I mean, why is this suggestion ridiculous? Why would it be beyond silly for the person living in a gated community with its own security guards to demand back his or her portion of tax money that would go to support the local police force? What would be the huge downside to allowing such a person to have his or her “share” of the taxes pulled back out of the public service which they do not themselves choose to use?
 
The first answer that comes to mind is that we all know these are government services for the public good. The public obtains the benefits, sometimes very directly and sometimes totally indirectly, but we all benefit in some way. Beyond this fact that we all are receiving “something,” whether direct or indirect, from these public services, we also all know what would happen to these departments and these public resources, should those who have the means to not use them directly or do not have the need to use the services themselves be able to “pull out” their tax money. Would the Natchez Trace, Pickwick Lake, Holly Springs National Forest, or the many resources we enjoy be able to operate, if such funds were suddenly pulled from their budgets to operate? If only those using them directly were the only ones paying taxes for their operation, we know that these departments and the services they provide would probably cease to exist or exist on such a small scale that we would no longer recognize them. After all, these are public works and as taxpayers, we all are needed to pay into this “cooperative” that pools our funds together to provide public services which could not exist without this cooperation. Without all of our membership, such resources would soon be nonexistent for the regular citizen to enjoy and only exist for the most rich among us to pay to enjoy privately on privately operated land. Perhaps, we could still visit the overgrown state park with impassible roads and thorns clogging the trails that the meager budget they were left to operate with allowed, while the few rich and their families were able to visit their plush private parks and hunting reserves, maintained with some of the money they were able to “pull out” of the public departments they did not themselves benefit from.  But, we all know this is not the type of country we have chosen to live within, we made this choice long ago and continue to maintain it today by continuing these cooperative public works that we all are able to enjoy equally.
 
The above situation is the reason so-called “vouchers” for use in private schools do not work. It is the same situation and has the same effect for the government resource of a free, public education for all children that we all enjoy the benefits from, either directly or indirectly.  If there is waste in our public system, address the waste and enforce the laws against such waste already on the books.  If money is being spent in unwise ways, then simply pass laws listing those as unallowable expenditures by local boards.  But, vouchers do nothing to address such issues; they only use the issues as an excuse to effectively doom the entire system for everyone.  One could go into much more detail about the reasoning behind how such an ability to pull out of our public education “cooperative” would doom the system to fade into a slum version of what we currently enjoy with quality, safe education only being available to the richest in our communities, many of whom had always used private schools anyway, regardless of the introduction of vouchers allowing them to siphon off their share of tax dollars from our cooperatively funded public schools.  Yes, it could be discussed at much greater length, but I do not think it needs to be. The heart of why such a system of pulling out of the cooperative public services is outlined above, and it does not really need further explanation for the average person to see the common sense of its inevitable effects.
 
Further discussion with the same concepts can be read in these two prior blog posts:
– Clint Stroupe

School Funding in Mississippi House Bill 957, Good or Bad?

Okay, so I have had a couple of requests to summarize the changes proposed in HB 957 and the proposed effect for the future of public education in Mississippi.  While there are many others with a better ability to explain the changes and their implications, I will try to do the best I can with my current understanding.  The bill would effectively replace the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).  It is a significant bill and does drastically change the way Mississippi “should” fund public education each year in our state.  While there are many changes to the current funding law for our schools by this bill, I will look briefly at the most obvious one and that is the change to “base student cost.”

The change in base student cost, which is the amount of money given to districts per child for the expense of their education, can and will likely have an impact on local school district funding and local taxes in the future.  MAEP used a formula to determine this cost which looked at districts that were doing an “average” job, according to accountability measures, of educating their students and using the spending needed by those districts to accomplish this goal to determine the base student cost to reimburse each year.  You may be asking several questions at this point.  Why would this amount be different for each district across the state?  Shouldn’t it be the same?  Why would this average spent per student from these average performing districts change the amount the state gives?

The answer lies in where districts mainly get their money to pay for educating their students.  The majority of it typically comes from the state (which is the topic we are discussing), but individual districts use their share of local property taxes (land, houses, etc.) to supplement the money from the state.  This amount can vary HUGELY from district to district.  The value of property in each district can vary to large degrees (think DeSoto County vs. Kemper County) and the percent used of the available property tax rate for schools may also vary.  So let’s say you live in the very poor “County X” with little or no industry and little value in property, their school district can make a request each year to increase their share of local property taxes in “County X” to attempt to get the funds needed to provide for students to be well-educated to the maximum percentage set by state law.  So very economically poor “County X” has now maxed out its share of property taxes for all of its property (which is mainly all of low value), but “County X” still has very little money from this source to add to the money coming from the state for education, despite its maxed out rate, due to the fact property is simply not highly valued in that area.  Now, “County Y” is on the other end of the state and has huge industry with vibrant economic development.  In “County Y” the businesses are many, the houses are large, and the property values are high.  “County Y” does not request each year to increase its percent of available property tax money.  This is because the smaller percentage is so large an amount of money (bigger pie equals bigger pieces), it does not need to max the rate out to get plenty of local funds.  Thus, “County Y” has much, much more local money to spend per student, despite its lower rate of education property tax, than “County X” has, despite its maxed out rate.  As you can see, if more local education money is needed, “County Y” can raise their rate, because it is not reached the maximum allowed by state law.  But, poorer “County X” can only sit back and decide what will go unpaid and unsupplied in the district.

Now in the above example, who knows who is doing better academically at the end of the year.  Maybe, it is “County X,” but it is probably going to be “County Y.”  Regardless, MAEP is like a honey badger in the sense that “it don’t care” who is spending more or less at the beginning.  All MAEP is concerned about is listing performance for students and doing the math to determine the amount of total average money spent to get this average performance result.  Once this amount of money is determined (which is done every four years), the base student cost is updated and the state uses this to “recommend” to the legislature the amount to allocate per pupil for each district.  This is base student cost.  Now, I am leaving out some other MAEP details, such as the fact the cost goes up a little per year due to inflation and some other details.  But, the main point is that MAEP looks at what it takes to educate an average performing student and updates it every four years to determine the base amount to give all districts per student, with the idea this is the minimal, adequate amount needed for a student achieve average performance.

Now, the big change with HB 957 is that it gets rid of this formula and says the amount is now $4,800 per student.  This move is being criticized because the whole point of the above formula was to make a logical and somewhat scientific determination of how much minimum spending it takes per student to achieve average results and replaces this objectively determined number with a number made up on the spot.  Again, so what?  I mean what is the big deal if the number is made up out of thin air, as long as it works out well for your district to get its funding?

Well, here is the rub.  While the breakdown of increase or decrease of funding for each district may seem higher as listed in local newspapers under the new law, this amount is an increase based only upon the amount funded last year for that district, which was less than what MAEP says each district needs to adequately educate its students.  Right now MAEP is figured using some of the calculations mentioned above and is standing there waiting every year and figuratively staring the legislature and governor in the face.  It is basically saying with real, hard data, this is the number that needs to be funded per student, objectively.  With the formula and hard data gone to be replaced with a made-up number, there is nothing holding them accountable to fund at a certain amount based on data.  If ten years from now, the legislature comes in and changes that number to $3,800, there is no real data to say this number is not just as valid.  Another issue is that this number does not adjust automatically, once fully implemented.  With MAEP figuring that average cost for average performance base student cost, the amount typically will go up over time as costs increase.  Without this type of recalculation, the new bill’s $4,800 per student will have less and less buying power over time.  Like your father’s salary when you were a child, what was a large number then in buying power becomes a smaller number in buying power every year, until decades later it almost seems a funny joke unless it is raised over time (i.e. Cokes were a nickel back in my day).  There is no mechanism for inflation or other adjustments to raise this base $4,800 amount from year to year as it more than likely is capable of buying less and less.

Some might say, “Hey, the legislature almost never funds the current MAEP amount anyway, so who cares about the rewrite.  I mean they give schools what they feel like giving, despite the formula they adopted themselves and various governors have voiced approval for, including current Gov. Bryant.  What’s the difference now?”  In response to this, there really is not a huge difference other than the issue of how easily schools can be starved for funding without an automatic means of accountability or political consequences due to MAEP being an existing law.  Currently, MAEP is like a divorce settlement document that spells out how much child support the mother (school districts) is due from the father (state government) each month to provide for the father’s share of the children’s needs based upon that year’s cost for insurance, baby sitting, etc.  Now, in this analogy, the father has been defying the divorce settlement for years and years.  Month after month, he says in effect, “I’m sorry baby, but times are tough.  I’ll send what I can.”  The mother just keeps making up the difference out of her income (local taxes).  Then, every year or two, good old dad sends a check with the amount that was legally due for the first time in ages, and wants mom to praise him and be tickled for him simply doing one month what he was supposed to do every month for years.  Now, the mother does not make a big deal of this and just keeps the peace, despite being shorted.  However, what would you think would be her reaction if and when the father calls her up and says, “Hey babe, guess what?  I think it’s time we rewrote our divorce settlement.  I mean, we both know it’s not realistic, and I say we just lower it and set a number without all this yearly increase mumbo-jumbo.  The kids are almost school age, so just figure how much it costs you right now and let’s set that number.  I mean it’s not like food, insurance, or other stuff goes up every year.  Besides, you know me, I’ll treat ya right, if you need more cash in the future.  Daddy is good for it!”  Would this be something advisable, in your opinion, for the mother to agree upon?  My opinion would be, if you think the mother should gladly agree to a new settlement, then you will certainly have no concerns with HB 957 in relation to local schools.  But, if you think the mother would be unwise to revise the current formula for Dad’s new plan, even though Dad has almost never kept his end of the current agreement anyway, then you probably would have issues with making this drastic a change to the current MAEP funding formula for schools.  Personally, while I do think a divorce settlement (state education funding law) that is constantly being violated (underfunding by the legislature almost every year) is a problem that needs addressing, I think the only way a fair settlement will be created is if mother (the local school districts) and father (the state government) both sit down at the same table and come up with a real plan that address real-world funding that is needed and will be needed from year to year with an understanding of how accountability measures will be in place to make sure both mother and father actually follow-through.  I can say without reservation that this current bill, HB 957, is definitely not this type of realistic agreement where both sides’ needs are addressed in a way that both sides actually understand.

– Clint Stroupe

 

*If anything in the above article seems factually incorrect, please let me know.  Also, the view expressed, as always, are my own personal views and in no way affiliated with anyone else or any other entity.

2016-17 Mississippi U.S. History Rankings by School & by District

In previous blog postings, I have bemoaned the fact that the Mississippi Department of Education does not or at least has not consistently released any data detailing the various components of the Mississippi public school accountability model by grade and school for the majority of items schools and districts earn points for in the current state accountability model.  Specifically, we currently have no available data available to view by school for the 2016-2017 school year on 5th Grade Science, 8th Grade Science, Biology I, Reading Growth by grade/subject, and Mathematics Growth by grade/subject.  This is in spite of the fact we are consistently given results by district and school with grade by grade breakdowns for overall achievement level (1-5) scores for 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA), 3-8 Mathematics, Algebra I, and English II in a well-publicized fashion.  As we can see below, none of the above mentioned categories we lack released itemized data for are available as of October 23, 2017.  This information is needed just as much, if not possibly more, than what is traditionally made available, and hopefully, it will be made available at some point.  This is discussed in greater detail in a previous blog post:  https://thinkingconservativeblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/mississippi-accountability-wheres-the-growth-or-science-or-history/

 

Oct 23 2017

However, with the complete listing of school and district accountability grades last week, we can easily figure at least one of the categories that has still not been released as an individual assessment result item:  U. S. History proficiency.  Since U. S. History proficiency’s category in the accountability model only comes from one assessment, as opposed to Science (5th Science, 8th Science, and/or Biology I), we can break it down accurately and fairly easily from the data released by the state on a school and district specific way.  The following two files show the rankings of Mississippi’s individual schools and school districts for the U. S. History SATP2 assessment for the 2016-17 school year.  As always, this information is merely put out for informative purposes with the goal that greater distribution and understanding of results will help to improve instruction.  If you make use of the data in this format, an acknowledgement of where the data came from would be greatly appreciated.

2016-17 U.S. History Proficiency Rankings by School

2016-17 U.S. History Proficiency Rankings by District

 

-Clint Stroupe

PDF Files of 2016-2017 Mississippi Accountability Results

The following are the district, elementary & middle schools (700 point schools), and attendance centers & high schools (1,000 point schools) breakdowns from the media file released by the Mississippi Department of Education today after being approved by the Mississippi Board of Education.  I thought it might be beneficial to have them in an easy to view PDF, especially for viewing on tablets and other devices.

2016-2017 School District Accountability Results

2016-2017 Elementary & Middle School Accountability Results

2016-2017 Schools with a 12th grade (Attendance Center & High School) Accountability Results

 

Clint Stroupe

2016 to 2017 Average Mississippi ACT Composite Score Growth by District & School

In the absence of assessment results for the same group of students over a period of time designed to measure growth in academic achievement, the best data to look at in regards to the assessment of all Mississippi 11th graders using the ACT is the change in composite scores.  However, we must also understand looking at the growth (or lack thereof) in one group of 11th grade individuals at a school or school district in one year in comparison to another totally different class of 11th grade students another year has several limitations.

Most obviously, the limitation is that the students as a group arrived at differing levels at the beginning of their junior years or before.  For example, had the group that made up the 2016 11th grade at one school taken the ACT in the 9th grade their average composite score may have been a 17.  At the same school, had the group that made up the 2017 11th grade taken the ACT in the 9th grade their average composite score may have been a 14.  When these two different cohorts of students finally took the ACT in their 11th grade years, we might find the 2016 group now had an average ACT score of 19.  We also might find that the 2017 group of 11th graders now had an average ACT score of 18.  However, the 2016 group grew by only 2 points on average over two years, and the 2017 group grew by a whopping 4 points on average.  Thus, the argument could be made with a great deal of weight that the school was able to improve the academic achievement of the 2017 group to a larger degree than they were able to improve the 2016 group.  However, just tracking the 11th grade scores of the two groups and comparing them together (as I am about to do) would seem to show a decrease in the growth (-2 points) among the 11th graders at this school on the ACT, despite what might have been a tremendous job growing the second group of students from the level they arrived.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world where such data would be available for our Mississippi students.  What we do have is two separate years of ACT average composite scores for all 11th graders at each particular school and school district.  We can assess whether growth occurred in results of the two totally different years 11th graders, but it is admittedly of limited value compared to growth of the same students over time.  This begs the question:  Why is this information of any value?

This growth of non-cohort 11th graders, though imperfect, is of more value than what we would have otherwise.  Without looking at such trends in the scores (even among different cohorts), all we would have is the final achievement results each year, if we did not look at this type of growth.  Such results without further analysis would offer us no glimpse as to whether the arrow, in regards to student achievement, might be improving or digressing.  However, even as imperfect as these attempts at assessing growth are, they can begin to show us trends about our schools and districts which can be very valuable.  As an example, if we notice that a particular school’s average ACT composite score went down 1 point over the previous year, this might cause us some concern, but could be nothing at all to worry about.  But, if the next year, we again notice the average ACT composite score of 11th graders at the same school went down another point, this might give us more cause for concern with a bit more legitimacy.  After still another year, if the score continues to drop, we might be wise to become very concerned as the trend line seems to be going down, instead of the desired upward trend.

Another positive for examining growth, even from different cohorts of 11th graders, is that schools with lower overall scores need attainable, measurable goals to gauge their progress.  A school with an average ACT composite score of 15 is definitely not at the top of the rankings of overall scores for the state.  Even if they improve to a 16 the following year, they are still not anywhere close to the top or where they eventually want to be as a school.  However, they did improve.  The next year, if they moved up to a 16.5, we are noticing a positive trend in their average scores that gives them feedback and hope in regards to their efforts at improvement.  Since the only way to reach the top of the mountain is to take steps up the slope, this type of growth measure is the only way to assess whether this is happening as a trend over multiple years.  Growth should be the goal of every district, whether at the top or at the bottom in overall achievement.  Thus, it is also valuable for those toward the top every year.

There are many other things to consider though which do make this type of simplistic growth on ACT composite score averages problematic.  The measure of growth does not take into account that as average scores enter the upper range, it becomes harder and harder to make point improvements.  I could go into great detail on this, but it is likely that improving one year’s average score of 24 to 25 the next year, would be less likely to happen than improving another school’s group from a 16 to a 17 the next.  Using what data we have, we simply do not have the information to determine how much harder or likely it is to move up how many points or fraction of points based upon the score from the previous year.  But, it is worth remembering that generally speaking it is much less likely you will be able to raise a baseball team’s batting average from .385 to .400 from one year to the next, statistically speaking.  In comparison, a team with a .250 one year might stand a very good chance of moving to a .265 the next.  The closer to perfect; the harder it is to achieve the same level of raw score improvements and much smaller incremental improvements may take tremendous levels of effort to produce.

All of that being said, the average growth in composite ACT scores among Mississippi Juniors from 2016 to 2017 is available by clicking on the following links:

2016-2017 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Growth by School

2016-2017 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Growth by District

***The original file for growth by district had at least one school district out of order.  The incorrect version was online from the time of publication (about 1:00 am) to 3:15 pm on the same day (Sept. 18th), when I noticed the error.  The amount of growth was correct, but the ranking order failed to number correctly.  The error seemed to only affect #31 and below in the rankings.  It has since been corrected and updated.  But, if you were to spot anything inconsistent, please let me know.***

I hope the data is of some value to you as we all work to improve student achievement!

-Clint Stroupe

2016 & 2017 Mississippi ACT Composite Score Rankings by District and School

As part of our present Mississippi public school accountability model, the ACT assessment is given for free to all Mississippi 11th graders.  Most of us are very familiar with the ACT and know it to be a nationally recognized assessment of college readiness made up of English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning sections.  These sections are scored individually and then used to form the overall ACT composite score.  The individual section scores are often used for decisions regarding whether or not students will require remediation classes when entering post-secondary institutions and whether students might be able to bypass certain normally required courses, based upon student performance.  The overall composite score is typically used for post-secondary acceptance decisions and scholarship awards.  All of that being said, I personally like looking at ACT scores due to the independence of ACT as a nationwide, non-profit company in comparison to traditional state contracted assessment providers.  ACT result averages of our Mississippi 11th graders in a given year can be extremely valuable when comparing them to other states who also assess all of their 11th grade students.

The following link will allow you to view how individual public schools in Mississippi compared to one another and the state average in regards to their average ACT composite scores for all Mississippi 11th graders in 2017:

2017 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Rankings by School

The above ACT rankings by school for the 2016-2017 school year can be compared to the results from the previous 2015-2016 class of 11th graders by clicking the following link:

2016 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Rankings by School

The same rankings can also be viewed by district below:

2017 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Rankings by District

2016 Mississippi 11th Grade ACT Comp Score Rankings by District

As always, I try to mention that these results give us a snapshot as to how only one cohort of Juniors at each school did one year and then another cohort did the next.  It is valuable, but not nearly as valuable as growth data from the same cohort tracked over time to assess growth.  However, the current system of assessing 11th graders using the ACT is not designed to assess such growth.  These important facts should be taken into account as we examine these results.

-Clint Stroupe

 

Mississippi Accountability: Where’s the Growth? Or Science? Or History?

As anyone who has ever had more than a five second conversation with me regarding the purpose of assessment in our schools knows, it is my whole-hearted belief that it should be growth-oriented and used for formative purposes.  For all of the somewhat scattered nature of our accountability model in Mississippi, one of its strengths is the weight it puts upon growth in student achievement.  Without getting too deep into a different topic, I would also say that one of the primary faults of the accountability model is that the growth it focuses upon is too heavily weighted on the “bottom quartile” (the bottom 25% of test-takers in the current school year based upon their scores from the previous year in language arts or mathematics) and leaves science, as well as U.S. History, standing alone without a needed means to determine growth.  But, I will save that topic for another day.  Today, I am simply referencing that growth in performance of individual students from year to year, whether the bottom quartile or the whole, is an extremely large element of the accountability model which determines the school and school district’s accountability level and letter grade (A-F).  Yes, growth in language arts and mathematics is extremely significant and vitally important.  As mentioned earlier, performance on science (5th, 8th, and Biology I) and U.S. History assessments are also key factors in determining how well our districts and individual schools are performing.  This begs the question then, why does the Mississippi Department of Education not make any of this information (English/language arts growth, mathematics growth, Biology I scores, or U.S. History scores) available to the public at all from the data for the previous year?  With all of the fanfare and publicity that is given when MAAP language arts and mathematics achievement scores come out for the state and with the subsequent very public publishing of those results for each school and district, what happened to the growth and scores in these other subjects which make up a much larger portion of the grade designation with which each school and district will be labeled?

If my first paragraph was a little too wordy, I will attempt to simplify the point I am trying to make.  Mississippi looks at many factors to determine the points a school or district has earned in order to rise to a higher letter grade level (A-F).  The heaviest factor is growth of students in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics scores from the previous year.  Another factor is 5th/8th grade science and Biology I assessment performance levels.  Yet another factor are U.S. History assessment performance levels.  However, last year the state did not make readily available to the public the growth data by grade and subject for each school or district for public view.  Likewise, there was never posted any data as to the performance level results for the end of year assessments in Biology or U.S. History.  The performance level results were posted last year for 5th/8th grade science, albeit in November (while the performance level data for language arts and math was posted in August).

Now, through much work and digging one was able to determine how much total growth was obtained in each broad category (bottom quartile ELA, bottom quartile math, overall ELA, overall math) by getting the information from the media file released at the same time as school letter grades.  The same method could be used to determine the overall (combined 5th/8th science & Biology I) Level 3 or 4 percentages for the school or district.  But, this could only be obtained by careful, patient digging through the file by someone with odd hobbies (like myself).  Even through such intensive digging, as near as I can tell, there was no data ever released to determine how students did on the Fall end-of-year performance levels on the Biology I or U.S. History assessments.  Why not?

In closing, if we truly desire public involvement and understanding in our school accountability, the public must have the information available in a detailed understandable manner.  Mississippi does this for ELA and mathematics MAAP performance level data already.  For last year and up until this point in our present year, the state has not produced this type of detailed data for ELA growth, math growth, Biology I end of year performance levels, or U.S. History end of year performance levels for all schools.  Last year, we were given the results eventually for Biology I (only from the 1st semester), U.S. History (only from the 1st semester), and 5th/8th science.  The public should be able to view ELA and math growth data in detail by subject and grade level, just as they are able to view ELA and math achievement level results.  The public should be able to view the complete results for the year for Biology I and U.S. History assessment performance levels, as they are able to view ELA and math.  Without consistently providing this type of data to the public, how can we really expect them to understand the letter grades we are assigning to our districts and schools?  How too, can we expect the public to know where performance was in need of praise within our schools or where there might be room for improvement without this type of complete data?  If the purpose of our accountability model is truly to encourage improvements in the instruction of our students and growth of student achievement, how can these goals be reached without this type of complete data?  I hope this year, we will be able to view the information needed to provide this type of complete picture.

-Clint Stroupe