The largely poor and rural state of Mississippi suffers from the highest rate of childhood poverty in the country, along with some of the lowest scores on standardized tests. A legacy of racism and segregation are among the roadblocks that keep the children of Mississippi from reaching their full potential. The Hechinger Report is examining why the children of Mississippi start behind — and stay behind. In the coming months, we’ll report on some of the obstacles, consequences and potential solutions to the state’s woeful education performance, beginning in the critical early years.



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Pipeline to Prison: Special education too often leads to jail for thousands of American children

By Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz

GRENADA, Miss.— Cody Beck was 12 years old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to […]

Shirlinda Robinson, an English teacher at Oakley Youth Development Center, walks through new standards with her second period class. (Photo by Jackie Mader)

Pipeline to Prison: How the juvenile justice system fails special education students

By Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader

Caledonia Miss. — Toney Jennings was illiterate when he was arrested at age 16. In the six months he spent at the Lowndes County Jail in Eastern Mississippi, he says he played basketball, watched TV and “basically just stayed to myself.” A special education student, Jennings qualified for extra help in school. Those services should […]

Photo: Jackie Mader

Opportunity gap narrows in Mississippi

By Jackie Mader

The latest national survey that looks at the ability of young people to better their lives through economic opportunity and education comes with some good news for Mississippi: More students are graduating from high school and more people are going to college. But even with these positive measures of upward mobility, the state lags behind […]

Mississippi kindergartners start the year behind, new test finds

By Kayleigh Skinner

JACKSON, Miss. – Two-thirds of Mississippi’s youngest learners are starting the year unprepared, according to results from a new test examining the reading skills of kindergarten students. Kindergartners took the STAR Early Literacy exam during the first month of the current school year to gauge their reading abilities. Over 40,000 students from 144 school districts […]

Kindergarten teacher Haley Stewart teachers reads to her students at Parkway Elementary in Tupelo, Miss. (Adam Robison, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal)

Mississippi’s youngest students pile on the absences, lose learning time

By Kayleigh Skinner and Chris Kieffer

PHILADELPHIA, MISS. – A half hour before school ends each day, a frustrated Tiffany Plott finds herself up against a line of impatient parents who want to pick their kindergarteners up early. As principal of Neshoba Central Elementary School in this rural town, Plott worries about what the littlest learners are missing at a time […]

Fourth grade math teacher Adelia Weatherspoon teaches her class Common Core math at Higgins Middle School in McComb.

Cramming for Common Core: one Mississippi school district has to make big changes in limited time

By Kayleigh Skinner

McComb, Miss. – Before school began in this small Mississippi town, teachers at McComb High School and Higgins Middle School received a massive binder full of instructional strategies outlining how to pace their classes. “All of that information seems so overwhelming at first,” recalls Tokie Young-Butler, whose job is to provide resources to teachers. McComb’s […]

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Teach For America’s soft-power education reform strategy

By Jackie Mader

CLEVELAND, Miss. — Babak Mostaghimi never expected to settle down in the rural Mississippi Delta. A native of Virginia, he graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2006 with a high-paying job offer as a defense contractor at a consulting firm. On a whim, Mostaghimi also applied to Teach For America (TFA), a 24-year-old program that […]

The banks of the Mississippi River, as seen from Great River Road State Park in the Mississippi Delta, where there is a dearth of structured activities for children in the summer. (Photo: Nick Chiles)

Are the lazy days of summer killing our nation’s academic progress?

By Nick Chiles

DREW, Miss. ––Drive down a dusty road in the Mississippi Delta in July and you will quickly come across a familiar scene: Kids, walking. Out of the house, no particular destination in mind. Ambling along. But the walking may be better than the alternative: Stopping. It’s the stopping that gets you in trouble. “In the […]

Lynn Gilmore reads to Freedom School students in McComb.

Fifty years later, revamped ‘Freedom Schools,’ still help struggling students

By Kayleigh Skinner

McComb, Miss – When Alana Johnson starts fifth grade at Higgins Middle School on Monday, she may have a leg-up on 10-year-olds who had the summer off. That’s because she spent her days in a modern-day version of Freedom School, an academic enrichment program originally created in the civil rights era to teach history and […]

Student work in the hallway of a Mississippi elementary school shows the “partial product” method of solving a multiplication problem. The new Common Core standards emphasize multiple ways of solving problems. (Photo: Jackie Mader)

Huge confusion in Mississippi over Common Core

By Jackie Mader

It’s been called a federal curriculum, the end of literature lessons, and even, here in Mississippi, a “Muslim takeover of schools.” The Common Core, a set of math and English language arts standards that spells out what skills students are expected to master in kindergarten through twelfth grade, will be rolled out in every Mississippi […]

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