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Southern Echo is a leadership development, education and training organization working to develop effective accountable grassroots leadership in the African-American communities in rural Mississippi and the surrounding region through comprehensive training and technical assistance programs. Our work has carried Southern Echo staff into 12 additional states across the south and southwest.

Southern Echo's underlying goal is to empower local communities through effective community organizing work, in order to create a process through which community people can build the broad-based organizations necessary to hold the political, economic, educational, and environmental systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African-American community.

“02/14/2012″ - Ayers Lecture Series – Leroy Johnson continues the MVSU Ayers Distinguished Lecture Series with a lecture on “Public Education Budgets as Public Education Policy.” The lecture will be held at the Supervisors’ Building, 115 Court Street, Historic Courthouse Square, Lexington, MS 39095). All lectures begin at 6:00pm.

“08/01/2010″ to “09/30/2010″ - Redistricting Public Hearings – Legislative Reapportionment Committee will hold public hearings to elicit public input concerning adoption of guidelines to redistrict the Congressional, Legislative and Judicial offices in 2011.

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News Archive

Welcome to Southern Echo. Here we invite you to learn who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We work hard to provide our visitors with the information, data and challenging analyses that bring to life the key public policy issues facing our communities. Learn about the communities and organizations with whom we partner to achieve our goals, stay up-to-date with our work, and find out how you can get involved or support our work whether you live in the Delta or on the other side of the world. Our continued success not only strengthens our own communities, but the larger world community in which we all live.

Let us know how we can improve the site and what additions you might like to see. Visit often, check out the photos and videos from our events, and keep up with the news below. We're looking forward to working with you. As always, we are proud to work for you.

Southern Echo Releases a New Map Showing MAEP underfunding FY 2015, 6-year underfunding FY 2010-2015; 2014-15 District Grades WITHOUT WAIVER

November 6th, 2014

MAEP UNDERFUNDING MAP November 6, 2014, Jackson, MS – Today, Southern Echo released a new MAP which illustrates:

A. the cumulative millions of dollars each district has lost due to systematic underfunding of the MS Adequate Education Program (MAEP) by the legislature in the appropriation budgets of the past 6 fiscal years (FY 2010 through FY 2015); and

B. the extent of such losses in each district imposed by the legislature in the budget for FY 2015 (2014-2015 school year), specifically.

C. the accountability grade rank WITHOUT WAIVER that each local school district received from the MS Dept. of Education for the 2014-2015 school year.

The State Board of Education has changed the accountability standards for district and school grade ranks. This year is the first year of the application of the new standards. FOR THIS YEAR ONLY the MS Dept. of Education has issued two (2) grade ranks to each school district.

GRADE RANK WITHOUT WAIVER: The Grade Rank Without Waiver shows the actual grade rank for the district based on the application of the new standards. This grade is known as the grade rank without waiver.

GRADE RANK WITH WAIVER: The Grade Rank With Waiver provides a waiver of the application of the new standards to those districts that suffered a reduction in grade rank as the result of the application of the new standards. The districts that suffered a reduction in grade rank have been given an alternative grade rank that is the same grade rank the district received in the prior school year before the standards had been changed.

We have chosen in the map to use the grade rank WITHOUT WAIVER to illustrate the impact of the new accountability standards adopted by the State Board of Education.

Some state leaders talk about wanting to operate public education like a business. But we have to question their notion of an effective business plan. It is never a good business plan to operate with far less money than is needed to get the job done effectively.

Yet year in and year out the legislature has been providing far less money than is needed to get the job done effectively. The proof in the pudding is that Mississippi continues to rank very high nationally in accountability standards, but at the bottom in funding, implementation and performance. As a business plan it is wrong-headed to continue to do every year what we know is undercutting the capacity of the school districts to get the job done effectively.

If you find any errors or lack of clarity in the map, please let me know so that we can make appropriate corrections.

Black Groups Fight Against the Myth of Racial Entitlements

November 3rd, 2014

While Congress Works to the Restore the Power of the Voting Rights Act, Local Community Groups Are not Waiting to Act – And They Never Have

There was a collective gasp inside the Supreme Court, when Justice Anthony Scalia endeavored to explain why he believed multiple sessions of Congress overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Just moments later, the Supreme Court voted in favor of a constitutional challenge to the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was this moment, February 27, 2013 when Scalia espoused a deleterious ideology. An ethos, that lead this Justice to believe and actually say that the historic voting rights bill – a law which has aptly been heralded and “christened” as the most the successful piece of legislation the US Congress has ever passed –was merely the result of what he self-righteously labeled the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Justice Scalia pontificated out loud, seemingly extemporaneously, giving the audience an insight into how he would ultimately cast this decision.

“And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it,” said Justice Scalia, referring to the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”

The History of Voting Rights in United States is an epic story – riddled with endless tales of strenuous struggles by marginalized heroes who fought tooth and nail to claim and then reclaim their constitutional rights to vote. History instructs us that over the centuries, slaves, women, the poor, the landless and African Americans have gone to extreme lengths just to exercise and then protect their enfranchisement, forcing the political elites to rethink who deserved enfranchisement. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and outright violence are just a few components of the arsenal utilized to keep blacks from the voting booths.
Opponents of voting rights protections have always held a veiled racist view that protecting the voting rights of minorities was the consequence of a racial entitlement sentiment, some sort of unearned gift for being born black. For American leadership, their perspectives on the rights of minorities have evolved, devolved, and evolved again, acting and reacting to the forces of community groups creating new strategies and advocating methods to secure and protect constitutional rights.

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was itself a direct result of the historic March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963. On a hot August day, hundreds of thousands of people from hundreds of local, small, civic, labor, and religious organizations made their final plea for human rights, and the March forged the passages of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The latter protected the enfranchisement of the African American Community until the Supreme Court struck down Sections 4 & 5, provisions that anchored the law.

Similarly, this summer marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a movement to open the polls to blacks in Mississippi and combat fierce white supremacy in Mississippi. As Freedom Summer ignited, two young white participants, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and one African-American organizer, James Chaney, disappeared. The three young boys were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan – a terroristic tragedy that successfully horrified the members of Student Nonviolent Coordinated Committee (SNCC) but failed to dampen the resolve of the organizers who pressed forward, expanding the participation of women and minorities in the Democratic Party.

To those who think that with a stroke of a pen, the Supreme Court settled this matter permanently, they may not be too familiar with plight of minority community groups, who have treaded these waters in years past. For these groups, voting rights, or any rights for that matter come at high cost to the stakeholders, whether that is time, money, or even lives. These groups intuitively understand that the fight for freedom as they define it comes with great successes, embarrassing failures, and unplanned setbacks, like the one handed to them by the Supreme Court in Shelby V. Holder.

Today’s Community Organizations Carry the Torch. Southern Echo (SE) is one such organization. Southern Echo is a leadership development, education and training organization working to develop effective accountable grassroots leadership in the African-American communities in rural Mississippi. Southern Echo works with its partners in the Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable, a partnership of ten black-based community organizations working in the Delta with parents, students, educators and public officials to create a quality public education accessible to all children. Southern Echo has been on the forefront on black community causes and has led the fight in utilizing grassroots training methods to combat voter disenfranchisement and promote voter education and empowerment.

The cornerstone of our so-called Democracy, the ability to exercise the right to vote has always been the priority of community organizations who have taken up the mantle. Millions shed blood, thousands lost their lives, and the Civil Rights Movement saw iconic figures murdered for the cause of equality, of which a vital pillar was the right vote. The Voting Rights Act stands as one of the movement’s crowning achievements and there are few today who don’t call the Voting Rights Act and great legislative feat. Yet when Justice Scalia delivered his epitaph on behalf of a branch of government not charged with legislating, and struck down laws which have been reauthorized by numerous presidents countless Members of Congress over last 10 decades, what did the black community do?

They began to work harder.

More Data on Extent of 3rd Graders Reading below Grade Level in All Districts

October 13th, 2014

Comer Workshop October 13, 2014 - Southern Echo has put together in spreadsheets some more available data on the reading literacy dilemma confronting all of Mississippi’s public school districts.

Echo has also revised it’s spreadsheet on “A” ranked districts because it did not include 4 of the “A” ranked districts — Amory, Biloxi, Booneville and Clinton — in the previous spreadsheet that was published.

Here is some of what we learn when we analyze the data for the 140 districts for which we have data. The numbers are not exact due to rounding. [Note: We have not included any data for the current North Bolivar, West Bolivar or Sunflower districts because their consolidations with other districts did not complete until 2014. These 3 consolidations involved 8 prior-existing districts in the Delta.]

STATEWIDE

TOTAL # 3rd GRADE STUDENTS TESTED 2012-2013 MCT2 LANGUAGE ARTS:             36,905
TOTAL # 3rd GRADE STUDENTS SCORED BASIC + MINIMUM [BELOW PROFICIENT]:      15,227
PERCENT of 3rd GRADE STUDENTS READING BELOW GRADE LEVEL 2012-2013:              41%

IF we can expect that STATEWIDE:

  • In the 1st and 2nd grades there are a comparable number of students to the number of students in the 3rd grade, AND
  • The percent of students with reading deficiencies in the 1st and 2nd grades is approximately the same as the students in the 3rd grade, AND
  • Students with reading deficiencies in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades must all receive the intervention and supports mandated by the Literacy-Based Promotion Act,

THEN it is reasonable to project that STATEWIDE:

  • Currently, the total number of students combined in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades in need of reading literacy intervention and supports is three (3) times as large as the number of students in need in the 3rd grade, to wit: 45,681.

The data can be broken out further:

NUMBER OF 3rd GRADE STUDENTS READING BELOW GRADE LEVEL
(i.e. Basic + Minimum) BY DISTRICT GRADE RANKS “A” to “F”:

19 “A” Districts: 2,425 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 7,275)

42 “B” Districts: 4,629 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 13,887)

35 “C” Districts: 3,031 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 9,093)

36 “D” Districts: 4,237 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 12,711)

8 “F” Districts: 842 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 2,526)

COMPARE HIGHER PERFORMING AND LOWER PERFORMING DISTRICTS
RE: NUMBER OF 3rd Grade STUDENTS READING BELOW GRADE LEVEL:

“A” and “B” Districts combined = 7,054 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 21,162)

“A”, “B” and “C” Districts combined = 10,085 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 30,255)

“D” and”F” Districts combined = 5,079 ( x 3 for Grades 1 thru 3 = 15,237)

THE LITERACY PROGRAM MANDATES SHOULD INTEGRATE WITH MDE RESPONSE TO INTERVENTION REGULATIONS

The 2013 Literacy-Based Promotion Act requires that as soon as a student is assessed as having a reading deficiency, whether in K, 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade, the district and school are duty-bound to immediately provide that student with various forms of assistance to remove the deficiency in reading.

The MS Dept. of Education Response to Intervention (RTI) regulations and guidelines require that as soon as a student is identified as having an academic or behavioral problem the district and school are duty-bound to immediately institute procedures to address the problem. Reading deficiency is the kind of academic problem that comes within the purview of RTI. It might also have a complementary behavioral component that needs to be addressed.

The new MDE Literacy Program Implementation Guide, posted on the MDE website, is explicit that the Reading Literacy programs and RTI shall (must) integrate their processes to support students, parents and teachers to work together to alleviate and eliminate a student’s reading deficiencies.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO BE RIGHTEOUS, NOR SUFFICIENT TO LEGISLATE MANDATES. THE READING LITERACY DILEMMA WE FACE REQUIRES MAJOR NEW RESOURCES TO PROVIDE THE TRAINING, INTERVENTION AND SUPPORTS TO EDUCATORS, STUDENTS AND PARENTS NECESSARY TO IMPLEMENT THE LITERACY MANDATES EFFECTIVELY!

The MS Legislature must change course to properly fund the Literacy Program. Among other things, this will require a demonstration that there is a public will among education stakeholders across the state that the moral center of our public policy ought to prioritize reading literacy for our children, which opens the gate to their opportunity and well-being, rather than maintain and increase tax reductions for successful corporations and businesses to swell their profit margins.

MDE Data Shows Extent of Reading Literacy Crisis in Mississippi

October 7th, 2014

And Why We Need Full Statewide Funding of Literacy Efforts

Reading Literacy Pilot Program Target Districts & Schools

Reading Literacy Pilot Program Target Districts & Schools

"A" District 3rd Grade 2012-2013 Reading Literacy Preparedness

"A" District 3rd Grade 2012-2013 Reading Literacy Preparedness

All Mississippians have a real stake in the fight to provide sufficient funding to fully implement the goal of the 2013 Literacy-Based Promotion Act to generate universal on-grade reading literacy by the 3rd grade.

The data shows that whether schools are higher performing or lower-performing, urban or rural, larger or smaller, majority white or majority black, higher wealth or lower wealth, and regardless of the geographic region in the state, there is a reading literacy crisis as revealed by 3rd grade Language Arts scores on Mississippi’s standardized tests.

3rd grade is the year students are supposed to make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”, which requires students be sufficiently proficient to read at grade level. Common Core standards have increased the necessity and heightened the urgency to effectively address the dilemma that Mississippi students score at or near the bottom when compared to other states and the District of Columbia. When students can’t read at grade level it also means they will have difficulty in coping with the grade level reading and writing necessary in their math, science and history classes.

Compounding the dilemma, the lack of literacy skills affects the willingness of students to stay in school and dropping out is a major step along the path from schoolhouse to jailhouse.

At the end of the 2014-2015 school year the reading literacy crisis will become most highly visible across the state when for the first time, as required by the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, elementary schools close the “3rd grade gate” to retain large numbers of students in the 3rd grade who are not Proficient in reading.

With this in mind, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act mandated that the MS Dept. of Education initiate a Literacy Pilot Program using literacy coaches and mentors to provide training, intervention and supports to administrators, teachers, students and parents to begin to address the goal of generating universal on-grade reading literacy. Unfortunately, the MS Dept. of Education reports that they have been able to hire only about 40 of the 72 literacy coaches and mentors the Dept. sought to employ for this program. In addition, the Pilot Program only involves approximately 15% of the state’s elementary schools.

To help visualize how extensive the problem, Southern Echo has provided two spreadsheets developed by the organization using data collected from the Mississippi Department of Education. One spreadsheet identifies each of the 37 school districts and 68 schools targeted in the MS Dept. of Education Literacy Pilot Program. This document shows how well or poorly the students in each district as a whole, and in each targeted school, have performed on the 2012-2013 MCT2 Language Arts exams. The spreadsheet also shows how many students were tested, the total enrollment in the district and each target school, black student percentage in the district and each target school, and the percentage of students in the district eligible for free or reduced lunch (as a measure of student poverty).

The other spreadsheet focuses on data for the 15 school districts that were ranked “A” districts by MDE for the 2013-2014 school year. This spreadsheet has the same kinds of data. None of these districts have schools that are among the targets in the MDE Literacy Pilot Program.

Taken together, the data in the two spreadsheets show the universality and depth of the reading literacy problem in the state.

What do we learn from the data?

· The target districts range from grade ranks of “B” to “F”.

· The target schools range from grade ranks of “B” to “F”.

· Whether the districts rank “A”, “B” or “C”, whether the schools rank “B” or “C”, there are high percentages and large numbers of students who in the 3rd grade cannot read at grade level. In short, the problem is not just based in underperforming “D” and “F” districts and schools.

· Do the “A” districts have better scores than lower-performing districts? Yes. But it is all relative and no cause for complacency. For example, consider this:

DeSoto County, an “A” district (the largest district in the state) tested 2,459 students in the 3rd grade in 2012-2013. The district, which is not a target district, had a relatively high score of 71% Proficient or above when compared to the target districts in the MDE Pilot Program. But that meant that 28.6% of the 3rd grade students … i.e. 703 students … read below grade level on the test. One quarter of the students in the 3rd grade read below grade level. That is a lot of students who need assistance with reading literacy! In an “A” district!

Jackson Municipal, a “D” district (the 2nd largest district in the state), a target district with 10 target schools in the Pilot Program, tested 2,300 students in the 3rd grade in 2012-2013. Jackson had a relatively high score of 49.6% Proficient or above when compared to the other target districts, but it was a lower score than any of the “A” districts in the state. This means that 50.5% of the 3rd grade students … i.e. 1,161 students … read below grade level on the test. Half of the students in the 3rd grade read below grade level. That’s daunting!

So – in these two districts alone, one an “A” district and the other a “D” district, one majority-white and higher wealth, one majority-black and lower-wealth, one in the northwest corner and one in the central part of the state, a combined total of 1,864 students did not read on grade level and, presumably, would need the intervention and supports now mandated by the Literacy Act.

That example involves only two of Mississippi’s 148 school districts. The state has over 400 elementary schools. We haven’t yet calculated the number of students reading below grade level in the 3rd grade statewide. But according to MDE officials as reported in the press, it is more than 40% of all 3rd graders.

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act targets every child in the state who is not reading on grade level by the end of the 3rd grade … and mandates that every such child receive sufficient intervention and supports beginning in K or 1st grade to enable the child to read on grade level.

A primary obstacle to success in this process will be insufficient appropriation of funds by the legislature and a consequent lack of implementation at the school level.

It is going to take a huge investment in resources to effectively train administrators and teachers, and provide meaningful intervention and supports to students and parents from K to grade 4 to enable students to progress to “reading to learn” on grade level.

It will be worth it. We need to fight for it!