The preliminary results of a public engagement project conducted by Clemson University for the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee to gauge the perceptions of various sectors of state citizens’ on the effectiveness of public schools were released Monday revealing several interesting viewpoints. The report entitled “South Carolinians Speak Out on Education” is a compilation of data collected over a seven month period from a statewide random telephone survey, a volunteer online survey, with data analysis from focus groups made up of parents, educators, business persons, and taxpayers.
Clemson Education professor Dr. Jane Clark Lindle led the public opinion research project. Lindle says over 90 percent of each group surveyed indicated that reading and the skills to succeed in the workplace were the top two skills important for young people as they leave school in the 21st century. Lindle says in focus groups, there were concerns that the traditional classroom emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic would not be good enough to prepare youngsters for a highly competitive future.
“Many of them expressed in comments on the surveys as well as in transcripts of discussion of the focus groups concerns that maybe a traditional school approach would not be the best way to insure productive citizens, that there might need to be something a bit more than the three Rs(reading, writing and arithmetic) in order for students to be successful in the 21st century.”
In the skills portion of the survey, math placed third, followed by writing, and science.
Lindle says it is interesting to note that while business leaders acknowledged overwhelmingly the importance of reading, writing and math skills, they also expressed that motivation and the ability of communicate seems to be lacking in young job applicants today. “They also in the focused groups, expanded what they thought workplace skills were in talking about not just motivation, but a work ethic. The work ethic in the business discussion focus group was very much a theme that ran through most of their discussion about what would be skill sets that they don’t see in new employees that they would really like to see.”
Lindle says there were slight differences among groups to the negatively presented question, “Parents and families do not provide support at home for academic achievement.” 66 percent of parents disagreed, 47 percent of educators disagreed, and 53 percent of taxpayers disagreed. Lindle says educators, more than any other group, were more confident of their knowledge of what the academic achievement gaps were including the racial gaps, poverty, and disabilities. Lindle says in the various focus groups, the majority indicated that poverty is now creating the biggest gap to achievement.
‘All the groups expressed a belief that racial gaps in achievement don’t exist anymore, that instead the gap of greatest concern is poverty. That is between students who receive free or reduce priced lunch and those who do not. There is also a strong sentiment among many that poverty is something that schools just can’t overcome by themselves.”
Lindle says various local, state and federal social programs must help with the closing of the achievement gap created by poverty.
57 percent of parents and 47 percent of taxpayers responded that the system of increased rigor is fair. However, only 28 percent of educators agreed. Lindle says across the board all respondents linked achievement with motivation,good behavior, parent participation and the feeling of safety in schools.
“There’s this level of safety that is expressed either as teachers who are trying to deal with disruptive children that is actually to the detriment of the other children’s education or teachers themselves being a little worried about the children or being worried about the community members that may be disruptive to education.”
Lindle says in the focus groups many persons expressed their belief that laws and lawsuits prevent teachers from suppressing classroom disruption, a fear that parents or community members who might be disruptive to schools or a threat to school personnel, and a perception that unmotivated teachers “just their for the paycheck” may trigger disruptions.