Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey M. Wright told Mississippi State faculty and students Friday [April 25] that research lights the path to improvements in educational systems.
Wright visited with university administrators, faculty and students during the College of Education's 7th Annual Faculty/Student Research Forum.
Wright, who took leadership responsibility for the Mississippi Department of Education in November 2013, said research is a subject near and dear to her heart because it "lets us know what we need to do better in terms of improvements."
Wright said, "When it comes to future possibilities, I really believe that research and data are going to show us the way. Research can be used to inform instructional practices in order for us to help children to reach their full potential."
She said research at its best lights the path toward success and removes the guesswork for decision makers, whether they are making policy, financial, or programmatic decisions.
"It's important to decision makers and educators, but it's most important to students, because it's based on those decisions that we choose to act."
She said she embraces an increased focus on evidence-based practices to improve instruction and student learning.
"By employing these sound practices, there is no need to guess about the teaching and learning that is going to take place, and there is no need to guess about what the student outcomes are going to look like," Wright said.
Decades of research have detailed what works in early childhood education, reading education and improving student academic achievement, she said.
Wright discussed a landmark study by Hart and Risley that she said made her much more thoughtful about the impact of early childhood education. The study which followed 42 families with young children over a decade observed the differences in the number of words per hour spoken to children age 7 month to 3 years. The research project also looked at the achievement level of those same children when they reached the third grade.
Wright explained that the researchers observed that children in lower income households typically were hearing an average of 616 words per hour, while those in middle income households heard 1,251 words per hour, and children in higher income households heard an average of 2,153 words per hour. She said the research showed a correlation between the amount of language spoken to children at an early age and the level of their achievement later in elementary school. Wright said research points to the importance of early childhood education. She added that in addition to primary academic lessons, simply learning the ability to focus is an imperative skill for young children to achieve.
"Imagine what we could do if we put public preschool in early childhood programs across this state," Wright said.
"I want our kindergarten classes to be rich in print, rich in vocabulary, hands-on kinds of experiences, because that's how children grow. Not all of our kids are coming to school with the same set of experiences, through no fault of their own, so it's our job as educators to make sure that we're providing that level of experience that they need to grow," she said.
Other points she emphasized included the importance of parent and community involvement, safe and orderly environments, proven instructional strategies, and classroom management techniques.
"I love the challenge of this job, but to move education forward, this isn't about one person. This is about a collective effort and a collective will across the state. It's everybody working together and keeping students at the center," she said.
MSU Dean of the College of Education Richard Blackbourn and Vice President for Research Drew Hamilton agreed that the university's "healthy research culture" is well-equipped to help MDE address many challenges currently facing the state.
Hamilton said MSU's education college has a highly successful extramural research program and also has built strong interdisciplinary research teams.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.