State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham's preference for the state Board of Education to have authority in district consolidation should be given a thorough evaluation among the multiple recommendations expected from a near-handful of committees and commissions studying that and other education issues.

Burnham's voice - and those of several lay trustees on the state board - inarguably should be given the same weight, and maybe more, with recommendations expected from a special gubernatorial commission and a special legislative committee also focusing on the consolidation issue.

The rise of consolidation interest relates, in part, to more demanding school accountability measures instituted this year in the public schools statewide. The first results provided discomfiting measures in many districts - performance and progress lower than expected and lower than historically achieved on previous statewide measures.

Burnham's voice is important because he leads the public schools statewide for the second time in a long, successful career.

We believe Burnham's observation and reservations about restructuring school districts and then turning them back to the same people who led them into failure is a compelling caution. New structures don't necessarily change attitudes or methods.

Burnham raised the consolidation authority issue in the context of the legislative study committee reviewing low-performing schools, almost always one of the issues in considering consolidation and restructuring.

It appears many Mississippi leaders are focused in the same directions on the consolidation and performance issues, perhaps with slight "political" variations, but with an authentic concerns for quality of education and strong outcomes for children at the heart of their studying.

The opportunity to fully compare findings and conclusions among the study groups - and with the public - should not be squandered. Seldom have so many Mississippians of stature and experience been working toward a similar if not identical goal.

Numbers and issues outlined in the commission, task force and in the state board should be used a frame of reference rather than a hard and fast goal until all the best information is laid on the table and notes compared.

One of Burnham's points about consolidation and remedying low school performance cannot be overemphasized: community participation.

Burnham cited the need for more extensive community involvement in revisiting the North Panola School District. The same could be said for every other struggling or troubled district.

School districts with broad community support - beginning with widespread parental commitment - are more likely to succeed. Efforts to assure meeting expectations are active in households with students, the most basic building block of student-school success.

NEMS Daily Journal

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