Lessons in Education from South Carolina?
This is from Daily Censored, Feb. 8, 2011.
Since I have been a public school teacher (eighteen years) and teacher educator (nine years) in SC for almost three decades, I can attest that the people leading these policies and reforms have overwhelmingly been sincere, and while education reform has often been contentious throughout the past thirty years, many bright and dedicated people have worked tirelessly to improve the schools of SC.
So as SC stood in 2010, what was the result of decades of high accountability? Let me offer a snapshot: A headline from The State (Columbia SC) on 14 September 2010 announced, "SC SAT scores decline."
And as politicians campaigned for SC elections in November 2010, once again, both parties' candidates for governor and superintendent of education highlighted the failure of SC schools and the need for reform.
Lesson one from SC: When current voices for reform call for high standards, better tests, and greater accountability, we can say, "Look at SC." When current voices for reform call for focusing on teacher quality, we can say, "Look at SC." When current voices for reform call for an end to control by teachers unions, we can say, "Look at SC."
In fact, we can say that the political and corporate claims of crisis are misguided and misleading because we have a long history of such claims that were exposed and confronted a decade ago before the most recent cycle of high accountability driven by George W. Bush and perpetuated by Obama.
But this is not the most important lesson--although it is a sweeping rejection of the dominant arguments today--because we should recognize at least two other lessons to guide us as we move forward.
Lesson two from SC: Our public schools, as a generalization, are never the failures we charge, never suffering from the "crisis" label we use so carelessly. Educational quality and failures are far more complex than we ever acknowledge, and educational hurdles will always exist because our schools are microcosms of our society. Teaching and learning do not exist and can never exist in a social vacuum.
Which leads to the most important lesson from SC.
Lesson three from SC: What has been constant over the past three decades of school reform in SC? Let's turn once again to the SAT.
SC students preparing for and taking the SAT are more affluent than the general population of students, they are enrolled in more challenging courses than the general population of students (including courses designed to teach directly taking the SAT), and as a result of those courses, they are being taught by the most experienced and well qualified teachers throughout the state.
With all of these advantages, however, the most powerful correlations with SAT scores in SC (and throughout the nation) are parental income and parental levels of education-- out-of-school factors.[Berliner research]
The third lesson from SC is that despite thirty years of rigorous educational reform, SC has remained about the tenth or eleventh most impoverished state in the country and has suffered from pockets of affluence and poverty throughout the state that correlate directly with school quality and student achievement as designated by the state's school report cards.
SC has a message for the nation and for all leaders and people interested in public school reformĂ˘€”one that isn't as soaring as the discourse from our President or Secretary of Education or as dramatic as educational documentaries or episodes of Oprah:
Education reform must work within a societal acknowledgement and addressing of the influence of poverty on the lives and learning of children in the United States of America as we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century with our heads buried, unwilling to face more than one in five children living in poverty in the wealthiest country in the history of civilization.
Calls for greater accountability, national standards, more rigorous testing, and increased charter school options along with school choice are exposed as political and corporate agendas when examined through the lens of SCĂ˘€”a state marred by not only the plight of historical poverty but also unfair labels and rankings created by our leaders who want to mask their culpability for social inequity by demonizing schools, teachers, and children.
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