Opinion Extra

We’ve spent two decades vilifying teachers. We’re surprised we can’t recruit more?

Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers

SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.
Up Next
SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.

It’s no surprise that South Carolina is facing thousand of vacant teaching jobs and fewer and fewer young people are willing to fill them, considering that we have lowest average beginning teacher salary in the Southeast and fifth lowest nationally.

Why enter a profession that might require a second job to make ends meet?

Besides low pay, this generation grew up during two decades of non-stop teacher bashing. As state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman observed, “We’ve had twenty years of ‘blame it on the teacher.’”

Why seek a job that is the constant target of blame?

South Carolina has never considered public education a valuable commodity. The state Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution promises only a minimally adequate education, and the old Sunbelt strategy of “cheap land, cheap labor” is the foundation of economic development.

Huguley,Sally2009V
Sally Huguley

__________

Classrooms in Crisis: Why SC teachers are quitting in record numbers

Better pay isn’t the only way to slow SC teacher drain, but it’s probably the easiest

We can’t recruit ourselves out of our teacher shortage

How Clemson is changing teachers’ first year in the classroom

Imagine if we built a brand-new school system for South Carolina

Key to improving poor schools: a good teacher in every classroom

__________

There have been some progressive years. The 1984 Education Improvement Act increased teacher salaries to the Southeastern average. Since then, however, education funding has remained too low a priority.

The devaluation of public education is all our 20-somethings have known.

For two decades, public schools and teachers have faced legislative cheapness and bullying by politicians, out-of-state ideologues, gambling interests and businessmen. The devaluation of public education is all our 20-somethings have known.

Three years before No Child Left Behind, South Carolina was among the first states to use standardized test scores to judge students, teachers and schools. The1998 Education Accountability Act required yearly testing beginning in third grade, and school report cards based on student scores.

Soon after, researchers at Clemson University pronounced the report-card system “inherently unjust.” Why? It focused solely on student test scores, without factoring in poverty, long considered the foremost predictor of academic performance. Without acknowledging student poverty, the mandated report cards were not only “unjust,” but a foregone conclusion.

That same year,“We be gots de wurstests kools in de United State” billboards appeared along S.C. highways. Sponsored by the mushrooming video gambling industry, they cynically suggested that video poker might be a way to better fund state education.

Eventually, video poker was struck down as illegal, but by then, thousands had seen billboards proclaiming “the wurstest skools.”

About the time today’s high school graduates entered kindergarten, the state began 14 years of libertarian governors, whose preferred approach to education was giving parents tax credits to send their children to private school. Starting with Gov. Mark Sanford, national organizations that support public funding for private schools flocked to South Carolina with the sole purpose of diverting public tax dollars to private schools.

With this history, why would any 20-something consider teaching a promising career?

Eventually, the lobbyists for these deep-pocket out-of-state ideologues scared legislators into enacting a private-school funding law. Although the round-about program handed out generous tax credits that paid for back-door vouchers (they’re called “scholarships”) for special-needs students, the law did not require private schools to use the same standardized testing as public schools, issue report cards or even meet the same standards for teacher credentials as public schools.

Libertarian businessmen were appointed to state education and accountability boards and pushed the “business model” of education with student test scores as the bottom line; they considered education degrees and teacher experience worthless.

The people who could be joining the teaching field today were choosing college majors when then-state Education Superintendent Mick Zais was vigorously promoting a plan to grade teachers based on their students’ test scores and to pay them based on those scores as well.

To attract new prison guards, salaries were raised. To attract beginning teachers, perhaps we should pay them more than prison guards.

Bracketing these two decades was the 1993 Abbeville v. South Carolina lawsuit brought on behalf of 39 poor rural districts, seeking equitable funding.

For 21 years, state attorneys fought the Abbeville suit, until in 2014 the S.C. Supreme Court decided in favor of the plaintiff districts. The victory was short-lived. Last year, a legislatively stacked court overturned Abbeville.

With this history, why would any 20-something consider teaching a promising career?

To attract new prison guards, salaries were raised. To attract beginning teachers, perhaps we should pay them more than prison guards.

Ms. Huguley is a retired teacher and former legislative researcher and gubernatorial speechwriter; contact her at shuguley@sc.rr.com.

  Comments