The following excerpt was originally published in The Reading League Journal – May 2020 Edition and is shared with permission.
A perfect storm is a “combination of events or circumstances creating an unusually bad situation” (“Perfect Storm,” 2020). High poverty, inequitable access to a high-quality education for poor families and students of color, and a well-known history of low student achievement all made for an unusually bad situation in Mississippi for a very long time. So, what do you do when you have been at the bottom of every educational achievement list for decades? Go big or go home.
Mississippi was once in the middle of a literacy crisis. In 2011, 78% of 4th graders scored below proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). One thing was certain. Combating this literacy crisis would require “political courage, creativity, and commitment on the part of educators, a deep belief that all children are capable of achievement, and an understanding of the science on how youngsters learn to read” (Cowen & Forte, 2019). In 2013, Mississippi’s governor, state lawmakers, state education department officials, literacy advocates, and other stakeholders decided it was time to “Go Big.” This meant introducing and passing legislation that would have a major impact on students, families, educators, pre-service teachers, and colleges of education at public and private institutions.
Literacy was held firmly at the center of the plan–plain and simple. The reform efforts included a state-funded commitment to a pre-kindergarten pilot program, a comprehensive reading policy featuring a promotion/retention component at third grade, and a required assessment of the knowledge and skills needed to teach the science of reading for aspiring elementary teachers. In addition to this legislation reform, the Common Core State Standards had been adopted as the Mississippi College and Career Readiness Standards in 2010. These were being phased in by grade with the expectation of statewide implementation during the 2015-2016 school year. Passing this legislation was the first step, but implementing the standards simultaneously statewide required an unprecedented coordination of efforts among many groups.
There was finally a sense of urgency surrounding education, and our students’ lives and livelihoods depended on it.
Additional Early Literacy in Mississippi Resources
About the author
Kymyona Burk, Ed.D @kymyona_burk
In her role as Policy Director for Early Literacy, Kymyona Burk supports states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy by assisting state leaders in building new or improving existing K-3 reading policies, with a heavy focus on supporting successful policy implementation. Kymyona most recently served in Mississippi as the Executive Director for the Jackson Public School District’s Office of Teaching and Learning and led all aspects of the district’s instructional programming. Prior to this role, Kymyona was the State Literacy Director at the Mississippi Department of Education where she led the implementation of Mississippi’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act. She began her career as an elementary reading teacher and has also taught middle and high school English. At Jackson State University, Kymyona earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Master of Arts in Teaching English, Master of Science in Education Administration and Supervision, and a Doctor of Education in Early Child Education.