SPLC Launches Campaign to Reduce Mississippi’s School Dropout Rate


The Southern Poverty Law Center today released a briefing book with innovative recommendations for reducing Mississippi's alarming student and teacher dropout rates, the first step in a statewide campaign that will bring together parents, educators, legislators.

"Our public schools should be citadels of learning, but they are instead becoming dropout factories," said Bear Atwood, director of the SPLC's Mississippi Youth Justice Project. "If we don't reverse this trend soon, it will take a devastating toll on our state."

The new book, Effective Discipline for Student Success: Reducing Student and Teacher Dropout Rates in Mississippi (PDF), promotes a research-based approach to discipline that also improves academic performance and school safety. Its principles can be applied to schools everywhere.

The publication also launches a campaign that includes a series of community meetings across Mississippi focused on curbing student and teacher dropout. MYJP will partner with concerned parents, educators, and grassroots organizations within these communities.

Mississippi's high school graduation rate is 62 percent, one of the lowest in the nation. That translates to 14,000 students a year who drop out of Mississippi schools. That's 40 students a day – more than a classroom – who give up on school.

Research has shown that school discipline practices are a major factor in pushing vulnerable children out of school and, often, into the juvenile justice system, a path known as the "school-to-prison pipeline."

Dissatisfaction with school discipline also is cited as the reason many new teachers in Mississippi leave the profession. Currently, the state loses one-third of its new teachers every three years, a problem Gov. Haley Barbour noted in his 2008 State of the State Address.

The MYJP guide recommends that a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) be implemented in every Mississippi public school. PBIS, which rewards students for the good behavior taught and modeled throughout the school, has been proven to reduce suspensions, expulsions and dropout rates. Used to some extent by more than 4,000 schools across the country, PBIS has also improved safety and academic achievement.

"A good learning environment begins with well-behaved students, and research shows that this method helps to create an environment that is conducive to learning," said Mississippi Superintendent of Education Hank M. Bounds. "A number of schools in Mississippi have already implemented PBIS."

Currently, the Mississippi Department of Education encourages school districts to seek training for PBIS, but the proven success of this program spurred MYJP and its partners to launch a statewide campaign to encourage policymakers to bring the program into all of the state's schools.

"We must turn around this dropout crisis," Atwood said. "That is why we have joined with community partners in a campaign dedicated to raising awareness across Mississippi and building support for a program that can literally transform our schools and the state. Our children and our state deserve no less."