Mississippi students have gone from 49th in reading to first, according to the latest national assessments data.
Those same assessments have Mississippi ranked second in math.
In an interview with Fox News, Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant spoke about the reforms taken by his administration a decade ago leading to the results. Simply put, he says, the state focused on science-based solutions to literacy problems that were keeping back students.
“Now, we see the results of basically teaching science of reading, the basic phonics, the science of reading to children, making sure we’ve got experts and specialists who are dealing with reading problems,” Bryant told Fox.
Bryant said that the problems became clear when President Reagan issued the report in 1983 called A Nation At Risk, demanding “imperative educational reform,” or face a divided citizenry without the capacity for independent judgment.
Instead, Democrats in Mississippi tried to take over public education in the 1990s, dismissing conservative concerns, said Bryant.
“All they wanted to use public education for is a political wedge. And we said that’s just not fair. We conservative, Republicans have better ideas and it starts with reading,” added Bryant.
So first, as lieutenant governor and then as governor, Bryant undertook reforms that were decades in the working, which some are now calling the “Mississippi Miracle.”
“There is this ‘Mississippi miracle’ phrase,” said Kristen Wynn, Mississippi State Literacy Director, about the dramatic turnaround in reading. “It’s not for us a miracle that we took the time to stop and say there is a problem. And we need to fix this problem. But instead, it was a lot of hard work, nine to ten years of hard work.”
One of the solutions was to demand accountability, said Bryant.
The cornerstone of his reforms was to only promote students from the third grade who could read at grade level, an idea that Democrats lambasted as destroying “self-esteem,” in a preview of today’s social and emotional learning that critics say helped lead to decline in test scores.
The Mississippi “miracle” comes amid a backdrop of what some say amounts to a national disaster in education nationwide.
Test scores have plunged to levels in reading not seen since the 1970s and in math not seen since the 1990s, according to national assessments.
While the pandemic has had an influence on test scores, they have been declining since the mid-2010’s under Obama.
“The score slide is more than just a number,” said an editorial by the New York Daily News Editorial Board. “It means far fewer of our youngest teenagers can multiply two-digit numbers by three-digit numbers or identify a character’s feelings in a short reading passage.”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the scores amount to a national crisis.
“I actually think it’s a national humiliation that we need to really address this and address it quickly. Give parents, particularly poor parents, better options and so school choice ought to be a question for every presidential candidate,” Rice told Fox News.
Bryant agreed, saying that the education system, which the Reagan report correctly identified as one of the great strengths of America in the past, has subsequently become “abysmal.”
That’s because the Democrat administrations are “not worried about how third graders can read but [in] bringing in transgender entertainers to the third grade,” he said.
At the same time, the Biden administration is worried about getting parents out of education, rather than including them more, said Bryant.
“America was the beacon of public education across the world and now, it again, is becoming abysmal,” added Bryant. “[It’s] not the children’s fault, not the parents fault.”
But there is good news from the Southern states, concluded Bryant.
“Now Republican governors are taking up that banner [to reform education] in Arkansas and Tennessee and Georgia and Florida, and I’m very proud of that,” he said.
“We can say now ‘Thank God for Mississippi,’” he added emphatically.