Tuesday, September 26, 2006

South Carolina Schools

I am not a native South Carolinian, but thanks to the cost of living in my native Los Angeles, the Air Force, and my girl friend, I have resigned myself to retiring here. Unfortunately, I have five kids that I am going to have to put through South Carolina schools.

Even though South Carolina scores around average on the NAEP assessment in 4th and 8th grade, we lag behind North Carolina when we compare SAT scores. South Carolina has a high SAT participation rate, but even when adjusted for income and demographics, South Carolina fairs poorly. As Swamp Fox points out in two recent posts:

Many of us who are more highly educated and affluent than the average South Carolinian smugly take comfort in the illusion that the problem is not us; average SC scores are low merely because we have lots of poor people. We believe, because we want to believe, that SC is last in SAT scores because there is a larger percentage of students taking the test in SC than in states with higher scores. That simply is not true.
An in a post appropriately tited The elite of South Carolina do the most to drag down the average

- South Carolina students in households with annual incomes above $100,000 scored 68 points below the national average.

- Those from families earning below $10,000 were 63 points below peers nationally, the College Board data show.
He also links to a great report on education from the South Carolina Policy Council by Edward J. Coulson entitled Achievement in Context: How South Carolina Students Fare Against their National and International Competition.

In his report, Coulson states:
Nor can it be said that America’s poor overall performance at the end of high-school is due to a large contingent of low-achieving students. In reality, there is no subject, no test, and indeed no grade, on which America’s best students are the world’s best students. At the 12th grade, America’s top students place dead last when compared to top students in other countries – implying that South Carolina’s highest achieving high-school seniors are, in reality, among the worst of the worst.
Later in the conclusion, there is this dire summary:

Another pattern of note is that South Carolina’s performance relative to the nation at large deteriorates at the high-school level. At the 4th and 8th grades, South Carolina is at or somewhat below the national average. Its average rank across NAEP 4th and 8th grade tests is 13th from last in the nation. By the senior year of high-school, South Carolina falls to last place on the SAT and second from last place on the ACT.

Finally, it should be re-emphasized that South Carolina has one of the highest, or even the highest (depending on the method of calculation), dropout rate in the nation. As a result, the already unflattering performance of its high-school seniors likely exaggerates the actual academic abilities of their age cohort, relative to other states.

An even greater concern in this era of global competition is that, as South Carolina’s students are falling to the bottom of the national heap, so, too, is the United States falling to the bottom of the international heap. In fact, the nation’s academic performance on the world stage mirrors that of South Carolina on the American stage. American students perform at about the average of industrialized nations at the 4th grade, consistently below average at the 8th grade, and at or near the bottom by the 12th grade. Thus, in order for South Carolina’s young people to be truly prepared to compete in the global economy, they would have to far surpass the average achievement of America’s high-school seniors. Regrettably, they do the opposite.

While our Governor and our State Superintendent argue over the budget, our schools continue to flounder without any clear direction. While my adopted state has been praised for his curriculum standards and its achievement tests, it seems to be missing any overall strategy for improving its education system. Despite its stated goal of "By 2010, South Carolina’s student achievement will be ranked in the top half of states nationally. To achieve this goal, we must become one of the five fastest improving systems in the country.". Unless we have some true innovative leadership that does more than pay lip service to education, this state will continue to lag behind nationally.


Catherine Johnson said...

I love this post (have just read the beginning...)

I LOVE the idea that it's the high-end kids dragging down the averages....

Ed and I are now thinking that here in Irvington, where our 8th grade scores have supposedly been dragged down by this huge, massive wave of new special ed kids, the story is much worse.

As many as 26 Irvington kids have left the district, while 18 kids came in.

Who were those 26 kids?

From what we're hearing, some of them are going to be kids who left to go to schools for kids with learning disabilites.

If some of our struggling kids left they would have offset the newcomers.

That question didn't come up at the Board meeting, but it will next time.