S.C. Statehouse Report
July 18, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0718.education.htm


COMMENTARY
South Carolina's high schools need attention
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JULY 18, 2004 - - Politicians talk all of the time about helping young kids to learn by giving them a better start with better teachers and smaller classrooms.

But a new report suggests leaders throughout the South are failing another group that is key to the region's future economic success: high school students.

It's as if students from an early age get attention and generate the kind of excitement that a football team has as it drives toward the goal line. But when those students get to high school, the team fumbles and just can't score.

"High schools don't fail only minority and low-income students - - they fail to engage and inspire many middle-class and affluent students as well," according to the recently-issued State of the South 2004 report by a Chapel Hill, N.C., think tank. "The South needs its high schools to provide more vibrant options for teenagers, and it needs high schools that are better aligned with the demands of a rapidly changing economy."

Consider that about nine out of 10 students attend public schools. In South Carolina, only 57 percent of ninth graders end up graduating from high school - - one of the lowest ratings in the South, according to the Manhattan Institute.

The reason this is such a big deal is that the South and its economy are changing dynamically, as explained by MDC Inc.'s David Dodson, president of the think tank that developed the 80-page report:

"Demographic analysis tells us that the South will draw on black and Latino workers in ever higher numbers as our region grows and our native-born workforce ages. Yet the people we will call on more than ever to run our factories, deliver our health care, and manage our government are the students that the South educates most poorly today.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Taking the temperature

FEEDBACK: On education, Kerry

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

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"Economic necessity compels the South to stretch for universal excellence in public education."

A lot of what South Carolina has been doing lately is right in schools, said noted South Carolina-born education reform consultant David Condon of Alexandria, Va. Schools are offering a better curriculum in general - - some 94 percent of S.C. high schools offer at least one advanced placement course, which is the highest rate among Southern states.

Also, South Carolina has good standards for all students who are on academic, or career and technical tracks. The more that standards can be tied to classroom teaching and help students think critically, the better, Condon said.

One of the biggest areas with which the state can help high school students is to provide more guidance counselors, experts say. They need incentives to help all students, not just top-performing students. And they need to work with students from the beginning of high school to develop an educational plan based on goals during the time they're studying.

"Adolescents need stronger connections with adults," said report co-author Ferrel Guillory of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Guidance counselors can serve as powerful connectors - and the South should adopt a new model for guidance of students."

Other strategies that can be employed to strengthen high schools:

  • Provide students with more options in what to study and where the study. For example, Southern communities should test alternative models for high schools, the report says.

  • Strive for better accountability and measurement that goes beyond single standardized tests. Ensure high school coursework and standards are linked as much as possible. Similarly, use contextual training techniques to allow students to use skills learned across courses. For example, if students are studying about animals and plants in lakes, teachers also might want to have them figure out the volume of the lake by using skills from math class.

  • Get rid of high-poverty schools to end ethnic and social isolation. "Achievement suffers in schools packed with students from low-income families," Guillory said. "Their achievement rises when they go to school with middle-class peers."

  • Provide better-trained teachers, particularly at the most vulnerable schools.

For state lawmakers, it's time to put more focus on high school students and to provide more tools and strategies to allow them to achieve better. To fail to do so will hurt the state in the long run.

McLEMORE'S WORLD
7/18: Campaign roller-coaster

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
7/13: Education column was a joke

To the editor:

I've just read your article (Commentary, 6/20) and have this to say: When are the pro-government education types, (apparently like yourself) are going to get it through your heads money is not the problem? I have spoken with educators in Charleston County and the great great majority are simply fed-up with the screwed system.

How much money Mr. Brack do you think the taxpayers should dish out for public education? Ex. A 1st grade 30 pupil class with $8,000 per year per pupil; that's $240,000 per year. Do you think that's enough? How much do you think an 8 month a year working teacher should make? Now personally, your article is a joke like many in The Post and Courier, always more money with no reasonable accounting of where or how this money should or could be spent. Just take more money.

-- Jeff Sechrest, Charleston, SC


7/11: Need a new president

Enjoyed your comments on the presidential race. (Commentary, 7/11). As for this South Carolinian, Bush is the worst president in my lifetime (I have working memory back to Eisenhower!) and I will work to defeat him. The code words, the incessant lying, the pandering and the tendency to cloak proposals in the vestments of God are awfully tiresome for me. I agree that Edwards will make the race competitive in many states where it might not have been close.

We need a president who will take on the problems and dangers of the world in a way other than the ideological and strictly political approach of this crowd.

-- Dean Schuyler

7/11: Predicts Kerry will win

Good analysis. What is interesting in a poll out today is the undecided vote overall is less than 15%! That means that about 85%-90% of voters have already made up their minds, regardless. And, it's only July. So, all the rhetoric will be aimed at
keeping ones base, making sure they vote and then going after only 10%-15% of people on the fence. Bush will have to attack. Kerry will be better not to respond in kind. Talk about a polarized country.

Since Kerry has a 4%-6% lead look for that to remain reasonably constant, barring any national calamity. Also, we may have a terrorist attack before the election but non-conventional wisdom says no. An attack now can only be viewed as helping Bush. He can then say "I told you so". Of course, many believe he played into the terrorist hands by giving them a cause to advertise the United States as the evil imperialists. So, I'm sure the terrorists are actively debating who
they would rather see as President. I believe they will hold off and deal with a new administration, despite the gift Bush gave them.

Projection, Kerry wins by about 30-40 electoral votes. He wins Florida and North Carolina, plus one or two other southern states.

-- Jim Brooks, Greenville, SC


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Tobacco farmers. A federal quota buyout will pump about $1 billion into pockets of SC farmers, which could help save family farms.

Tenenbaum, Sanford. Both have $2 million in their campaign coffers for different elections.

Thumbs down

Kuhn. Sanford spokesman Will Folks (below) is right -- Sen. John Kuhn's whining about why he lost his primary election is sour grapes.

State leaders. Now state employees face higher health insurance premiums -- as if they haven't been feeling threatened enough lately.


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