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WHERE’S THE REFORM?

April 20, 2007

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We must overcome this insane notion that the public education system will fix itself and somehow offer a quality education to every child.  Our citizenry will continue to fight a losing battle with the vicious cycle perpetuated by high dropout rates, high crime rates, and high poverty levels. 

Look no further than this past week for an example.  State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex did little more than give a baseball type slap on the rear to sixteen schools across the state in Charleston, Florence, Hampton, Lee, Jasper, Richland and Spartanburg counties that continue to fail over 9500 children.  As Post and Courier writer Diette Courrege described it, “the only consequence for the schools’ failure to make state-mandated expected academic progress would be to continue receiving state help.”

Even worse, as The State reports, 92 percent of the students attending those schools are considered low‑income and 91 percent are African-American.  Where’s the reform Mr. Rex?   Certainly his firing of 3 principals at these schools cannot be construed as any kind of real reform.  If anything, it may only make the problem worse.  Mr. Rex can fire principals but parents can’t fire schools.  This is ridiculous! 

But I truly think that Mr. Rex believes the system can be changed for the better.  Where he’s wrong is his refusal to acknowledge that it’s going to take external forces to accomplish that. 

The unfortunate truth is that no matter how badly these schools perform, or how slow the progress, South Carolina’s education establishment has shown it will never give underprivileged students the opportunity to choose a better alternative.  Instead, more tax dollars and time will be thrown at the problems, and five years from now we can expect to see many of these same schools in the same situation.

Many of these schools are not working and have not been working for quite some time.  And while public education officials have tried everything under the government controlled sun to improve the plight of these students, it has not worked.  The schools are still failing; scores are still ridiculously low; and we spend boatloads of tax dollars trying to improve them.

While there is no easy answer, one thing is certain.  The lack of real choice in our education system keeps poor families shackled to failing schools.  Right now, in addition to the children in these schools, there are at least another 140,000 poor students and 110,000 black students stuck in failing schools across South Carolina.  What will it take for them to be given a way out?

While boards and administrators talk about what can be done to improve school ratings, lives are going to waste because children are not receiving the education they need. 

There are many alternatives available in the private sector for families stuck in these sixteen schools, but only if our lawmakers determine to place educational choice in the hands of poor parents. At least forty private schools catering to underprivileged and minority students have been identified across the state. These schools could provide wonderful options for families desperate to get out of failing schools.   

Parents, clergy, teachers, advocates and lawmakers must determine to fight against the educational policies that cripple our state, and create educational opportunities in our communities. Public schools exist to educate children, and if they aren’t working, those children should have the choice to go elsewhere. The sooner we give families the right to choose the best education for their child, the sooner we can see real educational progress.  

Thomas J. Simuel

President/CEO

South Carolina Center for Grassroots

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