Opinion Extra

Is graduation enough? The numbers say no

The Fort Mill High School class of 2015 at its commencement. The latest ACT scores suggest that most of South Carolina’s graduating seniors aren’t prepared for college work.
The Fort Mill High School class of 2015 at its commencement. The latest ACT scores suggest that most of South Carolina’s graduating seniors aren’t prepared for college work. Special to The Herald

When the college admissions testing company ACT released data recently showing that only 14 percent of S.C. high school graduates are college ready, the chairman of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee noted that, “We simply cannot stand by and let data of this magnitude go unnoticed.” It was a call to action.

One data point was particularly alarming: just 5 percent of South Carolina’s African-American seniors are college-ready. Five percent.

The same ACT data show that 80 percent of our African-American students want to pursue post-secondary education, but we don’t need ACT to tell us what families know: Our students have dreams. Dreams to be surgeons, computer engineers, artists, attorneys and teachers.

The question for us becomes, in the words of poet Langston Hughes, what happens to a dream deferred? What happens when we only make it possible for 5 percent of African-American students to access their aspirations?

We can argue about whether students really need to go to college. But that would be a waste of time: They have already told us they want to go. And we already know that our state would reap huge economic and social benefits by increasing the number of college and career-ready graduates.

So how do we reach the aspirational vision of an education system where students leave 12th grade equipped for college and on the pathway to high-skilled, high-paying careers, and where our state’s businesses have the workforce they need to drive the economy of the future?

When only 5 percent of our African-American students and 14 percent of all students are prepared for college, we cannot afford to linger in denial or make excuses. So here is what we can do:

▪ Publicly support the EOC and others’ efforts to shine a light on data that reveal how our state is doing overall and for chronically underserved students.

▪ Commit fully to the career- and college-ready “Profile of the S.C. Graduate” and to building an education system that makes this the norm, not the exception.

▪ Build a statewide data and assessment system that can track college readiness from elementary school to 12th grade.

▪ Actively identify and close the opportunity gaps in our schools and in our students’ lives that contribute to persistent inequity in educational outcomes.

▪ Support the review of our state’s education funding formula to ensure that the students with the highest needs receive adequate funding.

▪ Ensure that every student has access to a high quality school. The S.C. Supreme Court’s Abbeville v. South Carolina decision made it clear that thousands of South Carolina’s children are without access to even minimally adequate educational opportunities.

We need to ensure that when we give parents choice, they actually have great options from which to choose. As our legislature and state leaders continue to work on solutions for all communities with underperforming schools, we should invest in the growth of high-quality public schools run by both charter operators and local districts. And we should provide educators the resources and freedom to design or replicate great schools in our highest-need communities.

Certainly, there is more we can and should do for students, especially our African -merican students. We can spend our time debating the perfect next step, or we can heed the EOC’s call and take urgent action. There is a different education system out there, one that would serve each of our students better, but we have to be willing to go after it, to invest in it, to build it and to let go of what’s not working for our students. Otherwise, we will be complicit each year in the deferral of dreams, and the crumbling of our state’s potential.

Ms. Donahue is a former teacher and current doctoral student who works on education policy for the S.C. Public Charter School District; contact her at kdonahue@sccharter.org.