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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.

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!

Reading Literacy: A Fundamental Right Too Long Denied in Mississippi

October 6th, 2014

Comer Workshop Southern Echo releases a new Brown Paper on the 2013 Mississippi Literacy-Based Promotion Act. The paper contains both a brief historical analysis of where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go, and a detailed provision-by-provision analysis of the 2013 Mississippi Literacy-Based Promotion Act.

At Southern Echo and the MS Delta Catalyst Roundtable we are deeply concerned about the success of the statewide effort to create universal literacy by the 3rd grade pursuant to the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, 37-177-1, et seq. All education stakeholders ought to be on the same side in the fight to generate universal literacy by the 3rd grade. We need to understand what it is going to take and want to work together to make it happen.

We want to build a community-based process to address these concerns in order to get the legislature to fully fund the universal literacy program and enable MDE and local districts to get the job done. This is long overdue in Mississippi and elsewhere.

You may access the Brown Paper and a Summary of 2013 Mississippi Literacy Based Promotion Act by CLICKING HERE!

Joint Statement from Southern Echo, Inc. and NOBEL Women on Voter Education and Empowerment

October 6th, 2014

by: State Rep. Laura Hall (AL), NOBEL Women National President and Leroy Johnson, Executive Director, Southern Echo, Inc.

Dear Friends,

The cornerstone of our Nation’s democracy is under attack. In States throughout this country countless Americans are being denied their constitutional right to have their voices heard through the electoral process by way of extreme Voter ID law measures, gerrymandered districts, and polarization. We have reason to believe that the ugly plight of racism is largely responsible for these marginal tactical antics to silence millions of Americans. Low wealth and communities of color are fighting to restore justice where there seems to be very little to none.

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark case, Shelby County v. Holder, regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5 and Section 4(b). Section 5 required certain states and local governments to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing any changes to voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), provided the formula that determined which jurisdictions were subjected to pre-clearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.

Prior to the gut wrenching Supreme Court decision, to dilute Section 5 and eliminate Section 4(b), the burden of proof lied with states to show that proposed voting policy changes did not undermine voting rights privileges. Without the pre-clearance process that burden has shifted to many of our less affluent communities who cannot bare the expense of pricey litigation costs to fight such unjust laws, poll closings, and obscured discrimination and fear practices.

Protecting the voting rights of the Nation’s most venerable is of the upmost importance to us. Though difficult, we are not dissuaded. We are insistent on increasing voter education by encouraging minorities and youth to know the rules-get a Voter ID, if that is what’s required; don’t become disenchanted with the process register to vote; become knowledgeable on the issues and hold your elected officials accountable.

Together we stand empowered. That’s why the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) and Southern Echo, Inc., have partnered together to issue a joint statement and launch a nationwide voter education campaign to help underscore these principles and promote civic engagement among communities of color.

NOBEL Women is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, committed to increasing and promoting the presence of Black women in leadership and takes an active interest in protecting the public welfare of women and girls by supporting public policy initiatives that contribute to the betterment and sustainability of the Black community. Southern Echo is a grassroots community organizing organization working regionally in the South and Southwest to build organizations with leadership that is accountable to communities and the substantive issues that are important to them.

Join us as we amplify the voice and concerns of the Black community and issue a nationwide call to action in educating, empowering, energizing and mobilizing minority communities throughout this Nation.

Remember, your choice is your voice…Vote Responsibly.

Sincerely,

Rep. Laura Hall (AL), National President, NOBEL Women

Rep. Laura Hall (AL), National President, NOBEL Women

Leroy Johnson, Executive Director, Southern Echo, Inc.

Leroy Johnson, Executive Director, Southern Echo, Inc.