State law defines education accountability as the “acceptance of the responsibility for improving student performance and taking actions to improve classroom practice and school performance, by the Governor, the General Assembly, the State Department of Education, colleges and universities, local school boards, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and the community.”
No one likes to be held accountable. But when taxpayers invest $9.5 billion per year in state, local and federal revenues just to operate our 1,200 schools — there are additional revenues for construction and renovations — we would be neglectful not to hold the system accountable for how well our children are being prepared for the 21st century.
The Education Accountability Act established a performance-based accountability system for public education that focuses on improving teaching and learning, so students are equipped with a strong academic foundation. Schools got a hiatus from this system for the past three years, while the Education Oversight Committee revamped the tests and ratings. But now that schools will again be held accountable for student outcomes, criticism has resurfaced much like the resistance to accountability in 1998, when the General Assembly created the Education Oversight Committee in the Education Accountability Act.
As a former school board member in Greenville County, a legislative member on the EOC, a parent and a grandparent of children attending public schools, I take issue with many of Kershaw Schools Superintendent Frank Morgan’s most recent attacks on the committee and its mission (“Why is this state agency pushing students into bubble-tests they can’t pass?”)
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The EOC worked for nearly three years on a new accountability plan that, first and foremost, met the needs of students. South Carolina has set a goal that 90 percent of students will graduate from high school “college, career, and citizenship ready” by 2035. That plan, which meets both federal and state accountability requirements, incorporated feedback from Gov. Henry McMaster, state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and some 6,000 stakeholders, including educators.
I am proud of the fact that the EOC wisely listened to all the feedback — not just from educators but also from parents, business people and community members. We found that South Carolinians want high expectations for students. They want us to rate the schools, to allow them to dig deeper and ask informed questions. In the end, the EOC made decisions that we thought were best for our students — not school district superintendents, school board members, legislators or teacher advocacy groups.
The Legislature — not the EOC — set the end-of-year testing requirements for students. These tests actually reduce the number of state assessments and adhere to South Carolina’s values. We value the importance of ensuring that our students learn economics, history, political science, civics and geography and become productive citizens.
Dr. Morgan has been highly critical of the EOC for some time, at one point telling his school board that our mandates are written by folks “who, generally, have never worked in a classroom or school.”
In fact, a full third of the 18 members are full-time educators: one a current district school superintendent, one a social studies specialist in a school district, one a career and technology center director, one a retired teacher, one a former S.C. Teacher of the Year, who still teaches daily, and one the state superintendent of education, a former teacher.
We may not always agree on the issues, but when problems in education are identified, they are addressed with the sincere intent of finding resolutions that are in the best interest of our students. I have no doubt that every person on the EOC wants every child in a S.C. public school to have the opportunity to succeed.
We know that students in South Carolina can meet high expectations when we expect more of them. And we must, because only then will we succeed as a state.
Contact Rep. Loftis at email@example.com.