Thursday, January 30, 2014  SUBSCRIBE   
Study: 4 of 5 fourth graders are not proficient readers
A recently released Kids Count study shows 4 out of 5 Mississippi school children are not proficient readers by the time they enter the fourth grade. The data, released by the organization housed at Mississippi State University, shows a slight improvement from a 2003 study, but the proficiency gap between low-income and high-income children in the state increased by 8 percent over the same time period. Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure say they're hopeful a strong pre-kindergarten partnership between MSU and the upcoming unified school district will not only help improve young children's reading capabilities locally, but also on a statewide basis. "What we see with this new partnership with the city and consolidated school district is the opportunity not only to partner with K-12 efforts, but to also broaden infant and toddler and pre-k efforts for all of Mississippi. We need to set the standard and raise the bar as high as we can for the children in our district and across the state," said David Shaw, MSU vice president for research and economic development.
Local economist, farmer react to new farm bill
It's taken over two years for Congress to pass a new farm bill, but it appears the legislation is finally moving forward. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a five-year, bipartisan farm bill, and the Senate is expected to vote next week. "It got taken over by bigger picture issues," said Mississippi State University assistant Extension professor John Michael Riley. One of the biggest changes is ending the subsidy known as direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. "I think that's going to be the most direct impact, in terms of how it affects producers or landowners," Riley said.
New transit system in Starkville on the right track
Starkville and Mississippi State University have launched a new transit system with the help of an MDOT grant. "It offers a unique opportunity for Starkville and citizens of Starkville to be able to move around our community and on and off campus," said Scott Maynard, Ward 5 alderman. MSU and the city are already making plans to add additional routes and cut down on the wait time at the transit stops. "We're actually in the grant writing process now. So, our next proposal is due to MDOT by March 1 so that we get money to add additional routes," said Jeremiah Dumas, interim director of transit and parking at MSU.
Mississippi State students becoming mentors
In 2013, the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America program at Mississippi State University's Maroon Volunteer Center launched the Bulldog Mentors program. Forty MSU students became tutors and mentors at community locations like Sally Kate Winters Family Services, Oktibbeha County schools and the Boys and Girls Club, logging a total of 212 mentoring and tutoring sessions. This year, 45 students are slated to become Bulldog Mentors. (Subscriber-only content.)
Mississippi State student awarded in USDA program
A Mississippi State University graduate student will be recognized at the USDA's 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum in February. The Agricultural Outlook Forum was designed to introduce students to contemporary agribusiness, future trends, scientific research and agricultural policy in today's environment. MSU's Sherry Blackmon was one of 10 graduate students in the nation selected for their essay responses to "The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years."
House panel considers shortening school year
The House Education Committee considered but did not pass legislation to reduce the required number of days in the public school year from 180 to 175. House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, delayed a vote on the measure Wednesday after numerous committee members expressed concerns. Moore asked them to go home to their districts to get input from teachers. State Superintendent Carey Wright, who attended the meeting, said she could not support the proposal. She said the trend nationwide is to increase the amount of time students spend in school. The debate occurred against the backdrop that later this week (perhaps today) the Education Committee will consider proposals to provide a pay raise to teachers.
Lawmaker wants shorter school year, restructuring of state Education Department
Separate state House bills would cut the number of public school days from 180 a year to 175 and remove protection of Department of Education employees to allow a "restructuring" of the central office. House Education Chairman John Moore says most teachers in Mississippi public schools don't teach students anything for the last three weeks or so of the school year anyway, or the week before Christmas. He authored House Bill 75. It would not change the amount teachers are paid. State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said she's not in favor of reducing school days. But Wright does support House Bill 454, which would remove central office Education Department employees from State Personnel Board protection for two years to allow restructuring.
Retired employees eye Senate bill; Parker says bill doesn't have much of a chance
Public employees who have paid into Mississippi's state public employee retirement system are keenly watching a Senate bill which aims to delay cost-of-living increases for retired state employees, teachers and city employees until they have reached age 65. The bill could affect emergency first responders, teachers and other public servants. Many state employees retire before that milestone, some with 30 years or more of service. Retired educator Wendell Davis, who has more than 42 years in the DeSoto County School system, said while he applauds the effort to save taxpayer dollars, he thinks that the legislation is misdirected.
House panel OKs movie studio bill; incentives program still has to make it though Senate
A House panel on Tuesday passed a bill that could help land a major motion picture company in Mississippi, and its passage in the full House is expected. But its prospects in the Senate aren't so certain. "If this bill would have been in effect when they filmed 'The Help' here, the state would have made a whole lot of money," House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said Tuesday before his committee unanimously passed House Bill 733. Proponents say the state would have made $18 million on "The Help" under the proposed program, instead of paying out $4 million, which it did under current film incentives. The bill would create a new incentive program for motion picture companies that set up studios in Mississippi.
Holland undergoes second medical procedure
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, had a medical shunt installed Wednesday to help with drainage from the gallbladder surgery he underwent last week. Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, who is the Democratic leader of the House, said Holland was resting comfortably and improving at the University of Mississippi Medical Center after first undergoing the gallbladder surgery, which lasted about three hours, followed by Wednesday's procedure. Holland was taken to UMC where he underwent the surgery after he reported on the House floor Thursday he was not feeling well.
Mississippi House panel passes insurance disclosure bill
Lawmakers could require insurers to disclose how much they collect in premiums and how much they pay in claims in each ZIP code. House Bill 753 could spark more debate over how much coastal homeowners are charged to cover against hurricanes, as well as make it clearer what areas private wind insurers are avoiding. The House Insurance Committee has passed that bill Tuesday, as well as House Bill 756, which would regulate when insurers can charge homeowners a hurricane deductible. Both go to the full House for more debate. The disclosure measure, called the "Clarity Act" by its supporters, is modeled after a similar law that was passed in Alabama. There, an initial round of disclosure has shown coastal homeowners have paid far more in premiums than they got back in claims in recent years.
Teaching to the test: Secret video confirms what many suspect
Secret recordings of a Delta teacher telling her protege to scrap creative learning in favor of Mississippi Curriculum Test preparation confirm suspicions that some schools just teach to the test, but other educators say that's not the norm. The recordings were posted Saturday to an anonymous blog called "Teaching in a Mississippi Delta Classroom" that since has been removed from the Internet. The Clarion-Ledger obtained copies of the videos and the blog text and is making both available on its website. Neither the teachers nor the school district are evident in the recordings or the blog, but The Clarion-Ledger has been able to verify the source and accuracy of the clips.
Mississippi lawmakers vote yes on five-year farm bill
Mississippi lawmakers voted for a long-awaited, five-year farm bill Wednesday that would end direct payments and expand popular crop insurance programs while cutting federal food assistance used by millions of Americans. House passage of the legislation, on a 251-166 vote, marked a major step forward in the arduous process of writing the legislation. All of Mississippi's House members voted for the bill. "Agriculture is Mississippi's No. 1 industry and the backbone of America's economy," said Rep. Gregg Harper, R-3rd District. "This agreement gives our farmers, ranchers and consumers the stability they need and deserve."
Ole Miss remembers Larry Speakes
Friends of Larry Speakes shared memories spanning his college days through his latter years Wednesday at the University of Mississippi's Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. "Remembering Larry Speakes" honored the memory of the Ole Miss graduate whose career in journalism and public relations included being the spokesman for two U.S. presidents. Speakes died at age 74 earlier this month at his home in Cleveland. "If Larry can do it, any one of you can do it," said Charles Overby, the center's chairman and namesake, to an audience that included dozens of students. "He came from nothing and went to the top." Speakes, a 1961 Ole Miss graduate, was a Mississippi newspaperman before becoming press secretary to Sen. James O. Eastland.
Ole Miss official says man convicted in abortion pill case never a student
An official with the University of Mississippi says a man convicted of tricking his girlfriend into taking an abortion pill so she would miscarry their baby was never a student at the college, despite the man's claim he was. Tom Eppes, chief communications officer for the university, said their records show John Andrew Welden never attended Ole Miss. Eppes said the student did apply, but he was never enrolled. Welden, who was sentenced Monday to 13.8 years in jail, claimed he was a student at Ole Miss and the University of Mississippi before moving on to the University of South Florida, where he said he graduated. He made these claims in a bio published on the website for his father's Florida medical practice, where Welden worked at the time he was arrested.
UM Writing Center introduces new director
Brad Campbell is the new director of The University of Mississippi's Writing Center. Campbell, originally from Como, graduated from the university in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and English. He later obtained his master's in English with an emphasis in Renaissance literature and rhetoric and composition from Mississippi State University in 2008. Post-graduation, Campbell worked at Mississippi State University as a lecturer and an instructor in the English department. He also became a coordinator of the Mississippi State online writing center before becoming the interim director of the Mississippi State writing center. "I was interested in the writing center work as a graduate student," Campbell said. "I loved working in the writing center so much that I continued working as a full-time faculty member."
Listening sessions scheduled as board looks for new ASU president
Members of the Board Search Committee appointed by College Board president Aubrey Patterson to lead the search for the next president of Alcorn State University will hear from constituency groups in Campus Listening Sessions Feb. 19. The discussions will center on the qualities and qualifications stakeholders believe the next institutional executive officer should possess. The Campus Listening Sessions will be held in the Clinton Bristow Jr. Dining Hall on the Alcorn State University campus in Lorman. While all sessions are open to the public, each session focuses on the needs of a specific constituency group. Chaired by trustee C.D. Smith, the Board Search Committee includes trustees Ed Blakeslee, Bob Owens and Robin Robinson.
ClusterFlunk offers relief for those in large U. of Florida classes
University of Florida students feeling the pain of large classes and busy professors have a new resource to turn to. Launched at UF on the first week of spring classes, Iowa-based clusterFlunk has introduced a social media approach to education. The website was designed to allow students to sign up under their classes and connect with other students enrolled in those classes. Students can then share documents, initiate meetings, chat with others and use their university's board to post general comments, such as listing textbooks or apartments for sale.
Florida scholar blazing trail in veterinary forensic studies
When Dr. Nanny Wenzlow was a first-year veterinary student in Belgium, she told people that she wanted to be a veterinary forensic pathologist. They looked at her strangely because that job didn't exist. But from an early age, Wenzlow knew that she wanted to be a medical examiner for animals. Now, as the first recipient of the University of Florida's veterinary forensic pathology fellowship, Wenzlow is closing in on her dream job. "It's the intellectual challenge that I love," said Wenzlow, who is also a doctoral student at UF in molecular forensic pathology. She is investigating if RNA decay can be used to determine the post-mortem interval, or time since death.
U. of Tennessee's Early Learning Center to hold open houses for kindergarten program
The University of Tennessee's Early Learning Center will begin holding open houses in the coming days for families interested in enrolling a child or children in the center's kindergarten program. The center is an on-campus laboratory school that serves as an arm of the Department of Child and Family Studies within the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. It offers full-day early education programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and, most recently, kindergartners. As part of its mission with UT, the Early Learning Center works with the college on research topics such as how children learn, how they use space and how they use different levels of thinking during play.
Vanderbilt to offer master's in private school leadership
Vanderbilt University is launching a master's degree in education for private school leadership. Vanderbilt says the new program addresses a shortage in advanced and specialized study for educators interested in managing private schools. According to the university, the country's more than 33,000 private schools make up about a quarter of all schools and the children who attend them make up 10 percent of all U.S. students.
Study shows A&M System had $4.4 billion impact on Bryan-College Station in 2013
Texas A&M University not only placed College Station on the map, but it also played a $4.42 billion role in its economy in 2013, according to a new in-house study. The university's Division of Finance and Administration conducted the annual study pegging the A&M System's economic impact on Bryan, College Station and the surrounding areas at almost twice as much as its impact a decade ago. The study looked at the effects of money spent locally by employees, students and visitors to campus. "We are proud to contribute to the economic vitality of the area, and we think the institutions based here have highly positive impacts in a host of other manners too," A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said.
Texas A&M University partnering with IBM in supercomputer deal
The Texas A&M University System has partnered with computing giant IBM for use of supercomputers that will significantly boost research processing power across the state. Through the partnership, the system will gain access to IBM's Blue Gene/Q technology housed in New York. The 11 universities and nine state agencies in the system will have access to the technology. Supercomputing at A&M is primarily used by engineering, agriculture and the sciences. The machines will tackle problems too complex, or that take too long, for regular computers. System Chancellor John Sharp said the push for better computers began in 2004 after an IT audit found the system was "woefully short of computing power." The partnership will boost A&M's international standing and will make it more competitive with the University of Texas, which boasts some of the most powerful supercomputers in the state.
U. of Missouri board votes to hire outside counsel to investigate handling of Menu Courey case
The University of Missouri Board of Curators voted Wednesday night to hire outside, independent legal counsel to investigate how the university addressed the alleged rape of MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey. The board will next select and hire a firm to conduct the inquiry, according to a news release distributed following a Wednesday night closed-session meeting. The counsel will report findings no later than April 11 at the curators' next meeting in Rolla. The vote comes after a recommendation by University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe, who said in a news conference earlier Wednesday that the counsel would report to curators in part because the counsel might want to interview him about the case.
Missouri curators approve flat tuition for in-state undergraduates
The University of Missouri Board of Curators voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to approve a freeze in tuition for undergraduate Missouri residents for the 2014-15 academic year. The vote comes on the heels of recommendations from UM System President Tim Wolfe, who vouched for the tuition freeze to take advantage of a 5 percent state appropriation increase proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon two weeks ago during his State of the State speech. The appropriation increase, if approved by the General Assembly, would mean a $20.7 million jump in UM core funding.
Report Proposes Another Way to Raise State Spending on Higher Education
With state spending on public colleges recovering slowly and tuition rates still rising, a policy-advocacy group has proposed creating a competitive federal grant program to give states incentives to increase spending on and reduce the cost of higher education. The group, the Center for American Progress, on Tuesday released a report exploring the effects of what it called state disinvestment in public colleges and universities. In the report, the group proposed a program through which the federal government would match state funding for higher education if states agreed to carry out reforms that ensured students would have access to an affordable and high-quality education.
Grades Still Matter Most in Admissions
A majority of colleges attribute little or no importance to students' race and ethnicity or first-generation status when reviewing applications, according to survey findings released on Thursday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The findings, which appear in the group's "State of College Admission 2013″ report, shed light on how various student characteristics influenced evaluations of grades, strength of curriculum, and standardized-test scores---the most important factors in admissions decisions (in order)---during the fall 2012 enrollment cycle. Roughly a quarter of colleges ascribed at least moderate importance to applicants' race and ethnicity and first-generation status as "contextual factors." The rest of the institutions surveyed said those characteristics were either of "limited" or no importance.
Teacher Colleges Seek to Shift to Digital Age
At Clemson University, aspiring teachers are working together to develop and review digital lessons. They're learning how to use social media to find classroom resources. And they're being encouraged to partner on projects that emphasize technology with students from other majors. Those strategies reflect a shift underway at some teacher colleges that are working to revamp their programs to improve the technology literacy of future educators---and address what many see as a major shortcoming in the profession. Technology is swiftly assuming a dominant role in classrooms, and in students' lives. Many observers have raised doubts about whether schools of education are providing future teachers with the skills they need to address blended learning, and whether they're using digital tools to improve instruction.
BOBBY HARRISON (OPINION): More GOP-led states might expand Medicaid
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Bobby Harrison writes: "Roughly half the states have opted to expand Medicaid as is allowed by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That equates to about $15,000 for an individual and about $32,000 per year for a family of four. According to information compiled by USA Today, nine more states -- most led by Republican governors and Republican legislators -- may expand Medicaid during the current calendar year. Mississippi, led by the Republican triumvirate of Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, is not in that group."

Bulldogs' resolve at home to be tested
Mississippi State has not lost back-to-back games all year but has not defeated a ranked opponent since the 2011-12 season. Something will have to give tonight as the Bulldogs host No. 3 Florida at 6 p.m. on ESPN 2. MSU is 3-0 in Southeastern Conference games at home. A win tonight would mark the 400th by the men's basketball team inside Humphrey Coliseum, which opened in 1975. A victory would also be State's fourth conference win.
Gators hit road against improved Bulldogs
Florida has plenty of reasons to feel good heading into tonight's matchup at Mississippi State. The No. 3 Gators (17-2, 6-0 SEC) are riding an 11-game winning streak, their longest in-season winning streak since reeling off 17 in a row to start the 2005-06 season. And on Wednesday, Florida received news that freshman McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker was cleared by the NCAA, adding depth to a veteran frontcourt. Walker won't make his debut until Feb. 4 at the O'Connell Center against Missouri. The rest of the Gators are prepping for a Mississippi State team that's improved under coach Rick Ray.
Ray: Win and Mississippi State fans will come to Humphrey Coliseum
The noise is returning to Humphrey Coliseum. A dedicated group of Mississippi State students are trying to resurrect "Rick's Rowdies." The moniker once represented the student section under Rick Stansbury. They now hope it can translate to his successor Rick Ray. Last time out against Auburn, "Rick's Rowdies" filled more seats and created more noise than any game this season. During MSU's last three home games, attendance eclipsed 7,000 each, the best run of any three-game stretch under Ray. "Sometimes, our guys have mentioned ...being disappointed sometimes about the crowd," Ray said. "I said 'You guys are in total control of that. You win ball games and you play well, people come.'" There may not be a bigger opportunity for that than tonight.
No. 3 Florida presents major challenge for Mississippi State
The two things Mississippi State never wants to see consistently in a opponent's defense is constant pressure that backs into a zone look. Guess what two things Florida coach Billy Donovan has gotten his team to excel at during their current 11-game winning streak? MSU coach Rick Ray knows his Bulldogs (13-6, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) will have to take care of the basketball and make timely jump shots to force Florida to guard them man-to-man in the half court. "They're doing the same thing as always with their 94 feet of run and jump pressure but what they've changed up a little this year is being able to fall back into a solid 2-3 zone," Ray said Monday. "That's really hard for a team to go from fast and aggressive to lulling you into jump shots."
Ole Miss, MSU women on road
The Mississippi State and Ole Miss women's basketball teams each hit the road to face a top 15 team today. Mississippi State visits LSU tonight. The Bulldogs (15-6, 2-5) won 69-62 over Missouri at home on Sunday behind a 21 points from freshman Dominique Dillingham. Junior center Martha Alwal paces the Bulldogs with 15.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while Theresa Plaisance leads LSU with 14.6 points.
Bratton, Bulldogs ready to get softball season started
Tyler Bratton worked as part of a fast-paced, high-energy college baseball coaching staff a season ago. This made Bratton more than able to adapt to a similar coaching staff for an entirely different sport. In his first season as an assistant softball coach at Mississippi State, Bratton is as eager as the Bulldogs to make his 2014 season debut. This debut comes a week from Friday when MSU plays the first of five games in the Bulldog Kickoff Classic. The season opener is at 3 p.m. Feb. 7, against Mississippi Valley State at the MSU Softball Field. "We can't wait to get cranked up," Bratton said.
Former MSU safety named to Super Bowl officiating crew
Steve Freeman, a former defensive back at Mississippi State, will be the back judge for Sunday's Super Bowl between Denver and Seattle. Freeman, 60, played safety for 12 NFL seasons (1975-86), all but the last with the Buffalo Bills. He joined the NFL as an official in 2001 after having previously worked SEC football games and in NFL Europe. Freeman lives in Oxford.
Now, Even Campus Buildings Will Revolve Around Notre Dame Football
Football has long been the symbolic center of the University of Notre Dame. Now it has moved a step closer to becoming the physical center as well, as the university announced on Wednesday a plan to attach 750,000 square feet of new building space to the south, east, and west sides of Notre Dame Stadium. The $400-million Campus Crossroads Project will include research and classroom space, academic offices, premium sports seating, and the obligatory climbing wall. It will be the university's largest construction project ever. Plans call for three eight-story buildings to be constructed simultaneously, with groundbreaking in two years and completion within 33 months after that.

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