The 2014 Abbeville v. South Carolina court decision identified major problems with the quality of public education in large swaths of our state. I believe that any solution should contain two primary components: a fix for the flawed funding model of our public schools and transparent, school-level accountability.
I applaud state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman for having the courage to urge lawmakers to consider alternative ways to fund poor, rural schools, while also recognizing clear challenges to reform. Teachers who work in struggling schools know how difficult it is for their students to learn when so many face challenges outside of the classroom. School facilities in desperate states of disrepair compound this challenge. We should consider the merits of funding models that have worked in other states, and engage in an honest debate about how best to ensure geography doesn’t determine the quality of a school.
The second component of a comprehensive solution should involve heightening school accountability. The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal replacement to No Child Left Behind, requires better accountability while allowing states to determine the criteria by which school performance is assessed. A strong state accountability system for South Carolina would include school report cards that clearly communicate the quality of pre-K-12 public schools to parents and the community. These school report cards should have an easy-to-understand comprehensive rating, such as an A to F grade just like a student’s academic report card, based on multiple measures, including learning growth, achievement gap closure and school culture. Additionally, college and career readiness should be measured for high schools.
Georgia is among the leaders on the accountability front. That state recently enacted an excellent system that allows residents to easily see a single letter grade assigned to each public school, at schoolgrades.georgia.gov. If they choose to do so, they can also explore more specific data about the school’s performance.
Let’s work together on long-term solutions for education in South Carolina. Our kids are counting on us.
Executive director, StudentsFirstSC