CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Thursday, Nov. 12, 1998

Early childhood intervention gets an undeserved bad rap from people who equate it with a government takeover of child-rearing.

The truth about early intervention showed itself in testing results released this week by the Tupelo Public Schools for at-risk pre-kindergarten kindergarten and first grade children whose first testing indicated significant lack of intellectual nourishment and development.

Tupelo schools' Early Childhood Education Center on the Lawhon School campus works intensely in small classes with pre-school students. Goals are simple even while methods demand exceptional teaching skills and dedication: Correct weaknesses in learning, social development and physical coordination skills.

Students (beginning at age 4, the usual pre-kindergarten year) voluntarily enrolled in the Lawhon program score below the 50th percentile on tests for their age group. That means half or more of all students score higher. Some of the students score in the 25th percentile range.

Teachers, using a program called Early Prevention of School Failure, have led dozens of students to dramatically increased intellectual and emotional skills. During two of the three years since its inception, a convincing majority of the students enrolled have ended the program scoring above the 50th percentile for their age category. The significant three-year improvement indicates big strides in the children's ability to learn and compete in the same classroom setting with students who didn't start in the lower percentiles.

The program doesn't replace in-home parenting and the unique nurture of family life. It augments what's possible in some families. It prepares children for the crucial first three grades by making them mentally sharper and more receptive to teaching and learning. It gives them increased self-confidence as they encounter the inevitable challenges of mind-expanding concepts and facts.

Tupelo's program parallels a state goal of moving students to achieve at grade-level by grade three - that is, keeping students on a learning pace measured against accepted standards for all students, not just those in Mississippi.

Tupelo's good results don't mean a goal has been achieved but that the goal is achievable using good methods, applying heard work, and relying on dedicated teachers. The balanced combination of those elements is preparing the system's youngest, most at-risk students for a more successful entry into the classroom.

Editorial 2

Secretary of State Eric Clark struck at the heart of voting fraud in Mississippi Tuesday in the unveiling of his proposal to clean up and tighten absentee balloting.

Clark and many legislators have said for years that efforts to require positive voter identification at the polls don't address the most prevalent source of election cheating: absentee voting.

The secretary of state's proposal, which has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate and House lined up for the 1999 session, would take the slack out of rules controlling absentee balloting.

For example, a new law would prohibit campaign workers from being paid for absentee ballots passed out and returned for counting. It would restrict help with absentee ballots to physical disability and illiteracy. It would stop the witnessing of absentee ballots by candidates. It would limit distribution of absentee ballots to people requesting one.

All the proposed new rules illuminate the possibilities under existing law for fraud in the absentee process - and they make good sense.

Any absentee ballot, as one circuit clerk noted, leaves the control of election officials once it leaves the clerk's office. The best hope for getting an honest ballot is to restrict the ways it gets to voters and the way it is marked and witnessed.

Absentee voting in Mississippi once was too restrictive. There's no need to return to severe strictures on absentee voting because increasingly mobile voters and an aging electorate need the option more than ever. There's equally no reason to make the process so imprecise that it invites fraud and makes hiding it an easy exercise.

Clark and his co-sponsors are on target with the proposed legislation. The Legislature should pass it early in the session - by veto-proof margins - to give circuit clerks and other election officials plenty of time to implement the rules before the 1999 statewide primary season begins.

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