Tuesday, April 03, 2007

South Carolina School Reform: Fact versus Fantasy

School Reform in South Carolina is a mixture of fact and fantasy.

Let’s start with the facts:

  • There are 185 schools in South Carolina which did not meet the federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act in the last report.
  • In the past four years, South Carolina has fallen behind as more and more schools fail to meet the Average Yearly Progress benchmark.
  • Some of this can be attributed to high levels of poverty in the communities served by these schools, and some of it to the demographics of these schools, with higher levels of single parent families, and the added stresses that these families experience.
  • There’s no such thing as a “failing school” under the No Child Left Behind Act. There are only schools which are making adequate yearly progress towards meeting ever higher standards and those which aren’t.
  • South Carolina’s Constitution demands that the State provide a “minimally adequate education” for all children.

Now for the fantasy. Would-be reformers of the public schools assert that funneling tax dollars towards private educational contractors would spur innovation, increase quality and thrust South Carolina from the bottom to the top in education outcomes. Why is it a fantasy?

First of all, the reformers believe that a private school is necessarily a better choice than a public school, even though South Carolina defines a private school solely by whether or not it “has been approved by the State Board of Education or is a member school of the South Carolina Independent School Association or a similar organization.” There’s a lot of "or"s in them waters.

The SCISA’s standards differ from the standards that public schools must meet. They only require “a school administrator with at least a bachelor's degree.” Public school administrators must have:

  • A valid South Carolina Educator's Professional Certificate at the elementary or secondary level
  • 3 years of teaching experience, including at least 1 year at the level of certification sought
  • A minimum qualifying score on the approved area administrator's examination
  • Completed an advanced program approved for the training of elementary or secondary principals and supervisors

Teachers in a SCISA accredited school need a “state certificate and/or bachelor's degree.” South Carolina public school teachers need a degree from “regionally accredited college, or one that has teacher education programs approved by the South Carolina Board of Education.”

Pay attention here, because this is important. A bachelor’s degree may be obtained from any number of places, including unaccredited diploma mills. SCISA does not require that teachers and administrators hold degrees from regionally accredited schools. That’s because many of the member schools of the SCISA are run by fundamentalist religious groups who reject the very concept of accreditation as an unwarranted intrusion into the separation of church and state (even though the regional accrediting associations are not governmental agencies). They may be right. Religious schools have the right to teach their students what the religious groups want their children to learn. Catholic schools get to teach the infallibility of the Pope and Scientologist schools get to teach reincarnation and the evils of psychiatry. The government should butt out.

But the fact is, there are degrees of degrees and not all degrees are worth the parchment they are printed on. For example, you can get a Bachelor’s Degree today, from Affordable Degrees, on online purveyor of degrees ranging from high school diplomas to doctoral degrees. For a mere $599, you can skip all those years of study, dissertations, student loan payments and Hamburger Helper and land a job in one of South Carolina’s private schools.

The simple difference in teacher and principal certification requirements should give our Legislature pause before they agree to throw money down this rat hole. Maybe, if private schools would agree to meet the same teacher standards as are necessary in South Carolina’s “minimally adequate” public schools; maybe if they would agree to take every child who applied, until space was full; maybe if they would accept children with disabilities and special needs; maybe then we could begin to have a conversation about “school choice” that would include private schools.

But as long as anybody with an online degree can start a private school, and as long as private schools don’t have to serve every child, then outsourcing education to private contractors with even lousier standards than the ones we’ve already got is not just fantasy, it’s insanity.

2 comments:

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Dotty said...

Thanks for writing this.