Mississippi editorial roundup

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Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

May 22

Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on cheating scandal:

Maybe Mississippi's relatively new superintendent of education, Carey Wright, has more backbone than some of her predecessors.

Maybe she was left with no choice after The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson exposed what appears to be significant cheating on state tests at an elementary school in Clarksdale.

Whatever the reason, we're glad to see that the Department of Education has hired Utah-based Caveon Test Security to investigate what happened at Heidelberg Elementary School on the assessments the state uses to evaluate schools and school districts.

Caveon has a lot of experience in these types of investigations, including high-profile probes into the Washington, D.C., and Atlanta public schools. The Atlanta investigation, spurred also by a newspaper's bold work, exposed a broad and systemic pattern there of cheating by teachers and administrators. In fact, it was that scandal that led that same newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to later conduct a nationwide statistical analysis of test scores in 2012 that fingered the Clarksdale district as one where the results were highly suspicious.

Mississippi's Department of Education should have conducted an investigation then, or one when Heidelberg jumped in two years from an entrenched "F'' rating to an "A'' — a highly improbable leap over that short of a time frame. Instead, MDE told Clarksdale's superintendent to look into the matter and — surprise, surprise — the report came back that nothing improper had been done.

What The Clarion-Ledger discovered, and what the state could have learned had it devoted some resources, is that students who aced the tests as fifth-graders at Heidelberg could barely read and write a few months later when tested at their new school. The Jackson newspaper also talked to students and their parents who told tales — and named names — of teachers at Heidelberg who called out answers or filled in answer sheets.

Was all this implicating information fabricated or embellished? That's doubtful. Furthermore, the position the Clarksdale school officials initially took after the story broke — threatening to find and fire teachers who cooperated with The Clarion-Ledger's reporter — showed a district that was circling the wagons rather than trying to get at the truth.

But let's see what Caveon finds out. Wright emphasized that she was making no rush to judgment, that she would wait until a thorough, impartial investigation had been completed.

That's as it should be.

We're just glad there's going to be a real investigation rather than a pretend one.

Online:

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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May 24

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on affording an antique high school:

If Gulfport High School were an automobile, it would have qualified for an antique license plate nearly 25 years ago. That's because Mississippi considers any vehicle more than 25 years old to be an antique, and GHS was built in 1965.

On Tuesday, voters in the Gulfport School District can propel GHS into the 21st century by approving a $40 million-plus school bond issue.

In addition to enhancing the high school, the bond money will pay for additional classroom space to five overcrowded schools in the district.

The necessity for such a large investment in education is convincing.

There are safety concerns. The GHS campus is so porous as to offer few safeguards for controlling and monitoring access to classrooms and facilities.

There is a considerable sense of being left behind. First, in terms of technology and facilities that prepare students for life and work in an increasingly changing world. Second, as surrounding school districts have built bigger and better high schools, the status of GHS has become a liability in attracting new residents and businesses to the city.

This is not a matter of civic vanity. The largest city on the Coast should have the public education infrastructure to meet its responsibilities to its students and to match the city's ambitions.

We encourage the passage of this bond issue Tuesday.

Online:

http://www.sunherald.com

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May 27

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on mental health matters:

A month-long emphasis on mental health and wellness draws to a close this week - the 65th annual national observance of a month focusing on mental illness, its diagnosis, treatment, healing and outreach to the families and friends touched by it.

Mental Health America is the national sponsor, but its professional and/or organizational affiliates in every state participate, bringing a message of honesty, optimism and candor to the issue and its consequences.

Perceptions about mental illness, thankfully, have changed dramatically through the decades, thanks to mental health departments, not-for-profit advocacy organizations and the successful treatment stories shared by patients.

Most people understand there is no shame in mental illness, but there is a challenge to seek treatment to get well.

The facts of mental illness in the United States are startling and need to be fully known:

— Nearly one in every five Americans age 18 and older will have a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year, and 46.4 percent will experience a mental health disorder in the course of a lifetime.

— Stress, heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages and common health risks like obesity all contribute to mental disorders, as does a general lack of regular exercise.

Mississippi fortunately has a relatively low rate of mental illness compared to other states, but rates for some kinds of substance abuse have risen dramatically, including illicit drug use among the population 26 and older, federal reports have shown.

Despite the low reported federal statistics, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health reported in 2013: "Ask your friend or neighbor if they have been touched by substance abuse or mental illness in any way and the answer is almost always - 'yes.'" Substance abuse and mental health issues are serious public health problems in Mississippi. In 2012, an estimated 199,000 Mississippians needed treatment services for alcohol and drug use and more than 165,000 people for a mental health issue."

The issue can best be measured in the stark human toll, and the needs created.

Online:

http://djournal.com

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