Three Things to Fix Education in South Carolina

Three Things to Fix Education in South Carolina

Jon Butzon has spent years working to improve and reform education in South Carolina. He believes that not only should we have great schools but we can have great schools for every child in South Carolina. Here is what he thinks we should do.

There is no point in waltzing around it. K-12 public education in South Carolina is not working.

The 2020 Vision for South Carolina states all students will graduate “with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete successfully in the global economy, participate in a democratic society and contribute positively as members of families and communities.” Assuming our education and political leaders were serious about these goals, we are not even close, especially for disadvantaged children and children of color.  It turns out our 2020 Vision is not a vision at all but simply wishful thinking.

Last Spring, our public education system taught fewer than half of all tested students to the minimal state standard in English Language Arts in grades 3 through 8. In Math, our public education system managed to teach 54% of all 3rd graders – but only 54% –  to the state standard and fewer than half of all students in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 to the standard in Math.  When these results are broken down demographically, they are even more shameful. Keep in mind these are not standards formulated someplace else and laid on us, nor is this a test that somebody else wrote and told us to take. These are OUR standards, standards which rank nationally in the bottom 20% in rigor, and they are measured by OUR test, and these sorry results are OUR school systems’ sorry results.

Match the 2020 Vision and these results with the “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate” and it becomes clear that we talk a much better game than we play. So, what do we do?

Let’s focus simultaneously on three fundamental areas: talent, model, and accountability.

Talent.  Of the three focus areas addressed here, this one is sure to prompt the most ire and fire. But it is, by far, the most important factor in improving the education outcomes of our children.

Academic research shows that the greatest determining factor regarding a student’s academic success within a school is teacher effectiveness. Every student deserves the opportunity to learn from a great teacher.  It is the teacher that makes programs, curricula, text books, teaching strategies and school and grade configurations work.  An effective teacher makes them work. An ineffective teacher cannot make them work. The data shows us they are not working for most children in South Carolina.

There is evidence that indicates that a quarter of South Carolina’s teachers actually take children backward in terms of academic achievement.  Half of our teachers don’t make students any worse, but no better either.  Only a quarter of our teachers take kids from wherever they are and improve their level of achievement.  That mix cannot work in a state where more than half of our students do not meet even our low standards, or in spite of an 82% graduation rate, less than a quarter of our graduates are ready for college or careers.

The focus on talent cannot stop at the classroom, it must include a laser focus on leadership. There is no such thing as an effective principal in a bad school or an ineffective principal in a good school. The same is true for Superintendents and school districts, and I would argue, school boards.

Model. The model of public education we employ today has its roots in 1840 in the work of Horace Mann. While the trappings and technology of public education have changed over time, especially in technology, the model by which we organize public education and the process by which we deliver education has changed little if at all in the last 175 years.  And it is not working.  To fuel your thinking on this matter, make yourself a list of the institutions and processes in our country that are essentially the same as they were 175 years ago. Think retail, medicine, transportation.  But the vast majority of schools are still a collection of rooms with one teacher and 20 plus children in desks.

The Law of the Hole applies here. If you find yourself in a hole trying to get out, put down the shovel.  We need to put down the shovel and pick up new models -plural- for the education of our children.  If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.  We don’t need another minute of the educational outcomes we are getting for most children now, especially but not limited to disadvantaged children and children of color.

Accountability. In school year 2015-2016, the school year that produced the results for South Carolina’s children cited above, the South Carolina Department of Education reported revenues for K-12 public education of more than 8.8BILLION dollars.  This does not include money obtained from bonds for construction.  I suggest that with fewer than half of all tested students meeting the state standards in ELA and Math, the 3Rs, somebody needs to account for those results given an expenditure of almost NINE BILLION dollars. Presently, we don’t have that kind of accountability for public education. We don’t have any accountability for public education.

The 2015-2016 Accountability Manual, authored and published by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC), mentions the word “accountability” just seven times in 51 pages. Five times it appears as part of the title of the document, “Accountability Manual.” Once it appears in the title of the Education Accountability Act (Section 59, Chapter 18 of the SC Code of Laws if you are curious). And once the word accountability is use in identifying some work of the EOC. Nowhere does it say how districts and schools will be held accountable for results where fewer than half our students meet even our puny standards (bottom 20%) for academic achievement in the most basic subjects of ELA and Math.

Our system of public education does not meet our standards for educating our children because we, you and I, don’t require it.  And we, you and I, don’t require our elected leaders and policy makers to deliver it. Until that changes, until you and I insist that public education in South Carolina meets the standard implied in the 2020 Vision, we are going to continue to spend BILLIONS for excuses and a fifty-plus percent scrap rate and our children will ultimately pay an even higher price.

Making the necessary improvements in all three of these focus areas will require significant investments. Notice that money is not one of those investments. But key in those investments is courage.  Do we have the courage to make the changes in talent, model, and accountability that we have avoided thus far?  If we don’t we will continue to make lame excuses, wring our hands and fail. We will continue to be cowards for our children.

Showing 5 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

  • commented 2017-07-12 03:33:18 -0400
  • commented 2017-05-28 16:35:44 -0400
    There are three things for the participants of the social education in this state. Visits of the have been empowered for the general application of the goals and objectives for the candidates in life.
  • commented 2017-04-13 12:18:01 -0400
    I will survey a few instructive alternatives for seniors. These are alternatives that are low or no cost. One of the benefits of getting more seasoned is that you will probably look for instructive open doors since you need to find out about the point, not to accomplish some kind of affirmation. On the off chance that this portrays you, then there is a universe of conceivable outcomes that are open. We should investigate a portion of the alternatives.
  • commented 2017-02-15 16:07:28 -0500
    Sadly, Butzon really has lost his credibility/ he still supports the same failed reforms.
  • commented 2017-02-15 13:37:36 -0500
    Go back to feeding the children normal meals. My grandson says they are getting prison food. They need to have physical education and in high school they need to know how to balance a checkbook and change a tire…GET RID OF COMMON CORE MATH….kids come home in tears and it is stupid. Sex education as to how to use dildos, condoms, oral and anal sex needs to be left out until they are in 7th grade at least and they do not need to be indoctrinated that they may not be a boy or they may not be a girl…..wake up you damn idiots! We do NOT need boys in the girls bathroom or vice versa. For centuries we taught our children that America was and is a great country and we honored our flag and our 10 commandment values (even if you do not believe in God, honor thy father and mother and do not kill or lie are some good values.) Cursive is imperative since if you can not read the constitution it can be changed by some sick individual in power to say what they want it to say. Being able to read, write and add 2 plus 2 and get 4 is important. Children that excel in certain areas need to be encouraged by putting them with other students with those same interests. I am thinking Scd bience here and math in particular. If you can not read, can not spell you need to be held back as in the old days and not sent on to be in worse shape. Summer school should be for only those that need it and not used as a way for a teacher or a school to make extra money. When my youngest was in school he was a straight A student and by 8th grade had won a state writing contest yet his teacher wanted him to go to summer school. I did not send him but found out they get money for that. He today teaches legal writing at the College of Charleston despite not getting any scholarships out of high school with a 3.8 and being the first Socastee High student to go to Coastal while still in high school and get a 4.0 from the courses he took with them. This kind of thing should NEVER happen. The children that got the scholarships back then were the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers. What is wrong with that picture? There is so much injustice in our education system that as old as I am I have thought of giving free coaching. I would be very interested in talking to anyone who is of opposite thought on this because if they are then they are NOT really looking out for the students but instead are either promoting themselves or trying to make a political point to be disagreeable.