According to a report published in “Education Week” magazine, South Carolina is tops in the nation in its efforts to improve teaching. The report by Quality Counts 2010 released Thursday indicates that the state earned “A’s” in the categories of academic standards, school accountability and teacher support in the national report card. Overall the state scored a B-minus grade with a score of 80, which is higher than the national average score of 76, a “C.” Critics of the the state’s public school system’s effectiveness point out that the report also shows that the state received a “D” for student achievement. State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex says the state has made tremendous strides in education, but he understands that their is still a lot of work to be done in various areas.
“When it comes to rigor and supporting teachers will do very well. The areas we don’t do as well in has to do with the way we fund schools. Some of the inequities that we have, the ‘Corridor of Shame’ and some of the other things most South Carolinians know about, also our high poverty rates and our high unemployment rate. All those things in the study that categorize as ‘chance for success’ score relatively low,” Rex says.
The state ranked 11th in school policy and performance and seventh in school policy and performance.
The state’s highest in the nation score of 95.8 in the area of programs aimed at boosting the teaching profession was more than 22 points above the national average, but Rex is afraid that with the recent rash of state budget cuts and another likely cut on the way, support for teachers will continue to take a significant downturn as the recession continues.
“I think people know a lot goes into a quality education, but if you had to pick just one. it would be the classroom teacher. South Carolina has done a good job, unfortunately were losing teachers, they’re being furloughed, were freezing salaries,” says Rex. ” I’m fearful that even though overall we’re doing a good job with our teaching workforce, the impacts of the last few years are going to start to have an impact on morale and performance.”
The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee has recommended cutting out the $7500 stipend program for teachers who earn National Board Certification. South Carolina’s total of 7,297 National Board Certified teachers is third highest in the country behind North Carolina and Florida. Rex hopes that the report grades will serve as evidence for the program to be maintained, However, Rex fears that with another rash of state budget cuts likely on the horizon, the state legislature is likely to follow the committee’s recommendation to cut the program at a time when more should be done to retain talented, dedicated teachers.
“For example, we need to have salary incentives to that get our best teachers in our most challenged schools. We also need to have salary incentives who can help students perform at an exceptional level. So other things need to be done also, but the goal of the National Board Certified program”s goal of keeping some out best teachers in the class room has undoubtedly worked.”
Some state educators say the program is failing to increase student achievement. The program cost the state $62 million annually.
Rex says with education budgets continuing to shrink, he will ask legislators to suspend mandates to help schools. “We’ve lost about $750 million in 18 months out of the K through 12 budget, and unfortunately we’re looking at another 10 or even 15 percent cut for next year on top of that. WE have about a thousand fewer teachers in the public school system this year than we did last year and that”s with the stimulus money. It would have been 1500 less probably without it. Most disturbingly perhaps is the fact that of the 700,000 kids that are in our public school system, 58 percent of them last month were on free or reduce lunch.”
Rex says one way schools can save money is by suspending testing that is not required by federal law.