As a native of Mississippi, the economically poorest state in America, and a resident of Georgia, the South's tower of financial stability, I am often given to myriad comparisons between these provinces.
To say that Georgia has the upperhand over Mississippi in most statistical barometers is a grand understatement.
Georgia has an 11,000-square-mile lead over Mississippi in land area -- 59,425 to 48,430. Population is a huge mismatch: Georgia has an estimated 9.8 million people and Mississippi just south of 3 million. Georgia has mammoth, glitzy Atlanta; Mississippi has little but dignified Jackson as its capital city.
Georgia was the fourth of the original 13 states to join the union. Mississippi was No. 20.
The nation knows Georgia. Mississippi was labeled as "that land mass between New Orleans and Mobile" by The Weather Channel during recent Isaac coverage. Oh, yeah, they caught much deserved heck over the ridiculous remark.
Georgia's state general fund budget for FY 2013 is worth $19.2 billion while Mississippi's for the same year is $5.5 billion.
Let me get to the chase.
Both spend gargantuan amounts for public education -- for K-12, Georgia spends $7.1 billion, Mississippi $2.1 billion.
There is ongoing debate in both states about ensuring that the best available teacher occupies each classroom. Merit pay sounds good, although establishing objective criteria fair to all seems difficult. Many experts argue that student test scores are not the be-all, end-all element for that issue.
However, there is a national teacher evaluation program called National Board Certification that arguably ranks as the best method to decide a state's best teachers. It is for K-12 teachers who must complete a year-long voluntary assessment program designed to recognize accomplished teachers. The program involves 10 assessment projects that are reviewed and graded by national education experts in the teachers' subject areas. Applicants must excel in teaching four portfolios and six exercises that reveal content knowledge. They must pass several rigid written tests.
This is one area where Mississippi breaks ahead of Georgia. Despite budget hardships, about 2,500 best-of-the-best Mississippi teachers still receive a $6,000 annual stipend (above their regular salary) from the state for being "national board certified." Georgia yanked a similar bonus from its estimated 5,000-plus certified teachers several years ago. The action devastated those teachers, some of whom saw a bonus approaching $10,000 annually disappear into thin air.
A teacher friend of mine in Mississippi who recently died spent 30-plus years in the classroom, including 10 with NBC designation. Betsy F. Randall taught U.S. history, law-related courses and humanities; sponsored student council, tennis and most homecoming events; obtained a commercial driver's license to transport students without inconveniencing other school personnel; her mock trial team won a national championship, and she developed a humanities curriculum featuring art and architecture that highlighted her town's storefronts and houses in a unique "walk through history." Her U.S. history students annually earned the best subject area test scores in the state.
Dedicated teachers like her can make a huge difference in the classroom. I hope Georgia reconsiders its parsimonious decision to drop the NBC program. As in Mississippi, do it for the kids.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org