How METP is Changing Mississippi’s Public Education

Ask anyone in the United States which state has the worst education. More often than not, the answer will probably be Mississippi. And they’re not wrong. The Magnolia State is usually found at or near the bottom of every list ranking public education. However, a joint effort by two Mississippi universities is working to combat this.

The Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program is a collaboration between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University to attract high-performing students and turn them into the state’s top educators. They accomplish this by offering students a full scholarship and professional incentives in exchange for agreeing to teach in Mississippi public schools for at least five years.

In 2013, the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation awarded the universities an initial five-year grant of $12.9 million to be divided equally between the schools. Since then, an additional $28 million has been given by the Hearin Foundation to continue the program’s success.

METP is now in its fifth year and graduated its first cohort in May. The program uses a cohort system where students enter the program freshman year and graduate with the same classmates at the end of the four years. The cohorts create a sense of community between the fellows and give them a support system in their professional careers.

The program started with English and math routes because, historically, these are areas where Mississippi needs the most improvement. Now the program offers tracks in elementary education, special education, and science. Each fellow picks an emphasis their freshman year.

Mary Kathryn Barry, a senior at the University of Mississippi and member of the second cohort, declared her emphasis in secondary English education when she joined the program her freshman year. Unlike other education majors who won’t enter the classroom until junior year, Barry was given classroom exposure her freshman year as part of METP.

“One of the big components of the program is that we teach for five years… Their hope is that we close the revolving door of teachers,” says Barry.

“[My uncle] never had a teacher who stayed more than two years in all of his 12 years of school. That just messes with students’ psyche… You never have any culture.”

The goal of METP is to provide Mississippi public schools with the best our country has to offer, and eventually end the cycle of poor education in Mississippi.

METP is highly competitive as well and only extends offers to the best and the brightest. At the University of Mississippi, for example, the current cohort boasts an average ACT score of 29.7 and has students from Mississippi, Alabama, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas.

Blake Adams, the program’s coordinator at the University of Mississippi School of Education, recognizes the importance of METP in changing the Mississippi public education narrative.

“There’s a perception problem, a pay problem, and a peer-pressure problem with getting people who are really high-performing to go into the education profession,” says Adams.

“A lot of students that are really high-performing in math, for instance, their parents will say, ‘You are great at math; you should be an accountant,’ and they may really want to teach deep-down inside… We want to give that student an avenue to be the best teacher they can be.”

For more information about METP, visit metp.org

UPDATE: A previous edition of this article had Blake Adams listed as the Program Director, when his title is actually Coordinator.