Lackey, Brenan: It’s time to transform SC education

Guest ColumnistsSeptember 22, 2013 

— Many public school students are learning the way their grandparents did.

Time is allotted for each subject. Students hear the same lecture, work at the same pace and take tests on the same material. Teachers have neither the time nor flexibility to tailor individual curricula to meet students where they are, and often are forced to teach to the test instead of helping students master subjects.

It is possible for students to get a high school diploma by making straight D’s just for showing up and not getting into trouble.

Today’s model for education, developed generations ago, has served its purpose to a point, but will not prepare students to compete in a global economy.

Consider: A quarter of our students drop out without a high school diploma. The cost of a lost generation is incalculable.

Moreover, of the high school graduates enrolling in technical colleges in South Carolina, 41 percent require remediation before beginning college-level courses — at a cost of $21 million to taxpayers.

Here’s the kicker: By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some kind of post-high school education and training.

In South Carolina, where our per capita income is below the national average, maintaining the status quo is guaranteed failure. We cannot do the same things the same way and expect different results.

We either transform education to prepare our kids to become good citizens and continue post-high school education that leads to careers, or we condemn them and our state to mediocrity.

Here’s the good news: South Carolinians say it’s time to transform education.

TransformSC is an education initiative of New Carolina, a collaboration of business leaders, policy makers, educators, parents and students who want to transform South Carolina’s public schools. The goal is to create a new system of learning that will produce graduates ready to compete in a global economy.

This isn’t another do-good movement. It came from the grassroots.

We polled parents with children in public schools. Half said struggling students don’t get the help they need; 78 percent think teachers “teach to the test.” Nearly three out of four parents support empowering teachers to teach creatively while holding them accountable for results.

And 74 percent say it’s time to rethink how public education works.

Follow-up focus groups of employers, teachers, school board members and school superintendents resonated parents’ concerns.

This is an historic moment for South Carolina, with citizens across the state from different perspectives agreeing that fundamental change in education is essential.

So what does the classroom of the future look like? One size will not fit all; school districts must have flexibility to build their models based upon student needs.

But there are commonalities:

 Much of the learning will be students working together on projects as teams and solving problems, exactly the way business operates.

•  Technology will be of transcendent importance.

•  Teachers will have flexibility and time to work with individual students, and students will move on to more complex assignments only after they master their current subject matter.

•  There will be accountability and comprehensive assessment, and students will be more engaged in their learning.

• Good citizenship habits will be emphasized, character traits that employers say is mandatory.

We’re not starting from scratch. There already are pockets of innovation in some schools. Others are eager to innovate, but need local parental and political support.

We have yet to talk to a superintendent or school board member who does not recognize the need for innovation.

This isn’t about money; it’s about communities rallying around their schools to encourage the creation of a new system with the flexibility to adapt to student needs.

On Wednesday, TransformSC will host the Fall Education Summit in Columbia, where we will be showcasing the schools partnering with us on innovation.

If you’d like to attend, please visit newcarolina.org and click on “Events.”

You’ll see the future of learning unfold.

Ms. Lackey, president of AT&T in South Carolina, and Mr. Brenan, president of BB&T in South Carolina, co-chair TransformSC. Contact them at pl4151@att.com or mbrenan@bbandt.com.

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