Editorial: South Carolina Must Overhaul Its Education System

November 21, 2018 - MSS In The News

Editorial Submitted to Post and Courier

Every few years, the state Legislature convenes a special panel or committee to recommend improvements to education but, unsurprisingly, none of these quick fixes have worked.

The state needs to treat its education problems as a crisis and overhaul a system that continues to fail our children.

Despite pouring billions of dollars into education, too many schools continue to produce students unprepared for work or college. There have been vast improvements in some areas, but the fact is that while some students get a solid foundation for life, others are unfairly consigned to something substantially less. In a broad sense, that amounts to public officials choosing which of our children likely will succeed and which of them will not. Government isn’t supposed to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. It certainly should not have that power over its citizens.

The Post and Courier’s five-part series, “Minimally Adequate,” examines many of South Carolina’s chronic problems and the way they still divide the state into rich and poor, black and white. It traces much of the state’s school woes to the lingering effects of racist policies of the past and decades of neglect.

In recent times, the state also has settled into a cycle of applying Band-Aids to the state’s substantial education problems, an insufficient method for making meaningful improvements. Doing this over and over again is a waste of taxpayer money, and it’s hugely unfair to students, parents and even businesses that rely on an educated workforce for their success.

We should acknowledge there have been improvements. But listing them here would be a distraction from the state’s broad failure to provide even the odious “minimally adequate” education that the state Supreme Court says should be available to every child. How can schools succeed when the bar is set so low?

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has shown a willingness to go against the status quo with moves such as consolidating smaller school districts and taking over failing ones. It’s a good start. However, as the newspaper’s series points out, there are many more problems that must be addressed.

For instance, teachers need more freedom in the classroom and should have more support with student discipline. Addressing those problems and more competitive teacher pay would help stop the revolving door of teachers coming and going.

Other struggling states such as Mississippi and Louisiana are getting results after overhauling their curriculums and raising their academic standards. South Carolina, plagued by low standards and expectations, should follow suit.

There are other examples of success here in South Carolina that should be replicated. For example, the state should incorporate the successful blueprint used to educate under-resourced children at Meeting Street Schools. The public-private partnership employs innovative strategies such as two teachers in classrooms.

Editorially, we continue to support allowing parents to pull their children out of failing schools. Choice schools such as charters and magnets will remain a necessary option for parents who want to bolster the chances of educational success for their children. The Charleston Charter School for Math and Science on the peninsula, for instance, has a diverse student body and about a 90 percent college acceptance rate.

And we have implored Gov. Henry McMaster to take a central role in remaking the education system. His focus has been on the ties between education and the needs of business, a pragmatic view that could spur some to action. Businesses, both large and small, must be part of the solution too.

But the power in South Carolina resides in the Legislature, and therein lies much of the problem. While agreeing that the education system is broken, there is no consensus on how to fix it.

So no one person takes the blame and nothing gets done. Lawmakers must make overhauling the education system a priority while also dealing with other issues. It won’t be easy, but lawmakers hold the key to make meaningful changes. That should include adjustments to the state’s antiquated funding formula and to Act 388, which has provided tax breaks for homeowners at the expense of schools.

And, naturally, school board members in every district need to focus on systemic rather than small changes.

Leaders across the state must do a thorough examination of what works, throw out the rest, and bring back best practices from states that have seen success with education reforms.

South Carolina residents from all walks of life also must be involved in encouraging a top-to-bottom rethinking of education. They should demand decisive action from elected leaders at all levels.

The education crisis won’t be overcome with the same old stopgap measures, as the newspaper’s series rightly concludes. It will take an overhaul to ensure that every child finally gets the quality education they deserve. Improvements won’t come without a cost, but the expense is warranted. Indeed, it is necessary.

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