Major movement must be made to eradicate deep-seated inequalities in education in the Tri-county Region, according to a community-wide movement dedicated to improving standards for the area's children.
The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC), in its fourth report on the state of education in the region, offered a list of remedies but a bleak assessment of a dysfunctional system, one in which it says little progress has been made. Further, it predicts the politics of public education may continue to stifle progress.
But if politicians, community and business leaders, parents and educators combine to demand changes, they can be made, according to John Read, the collaborative's chief executive. Low-income students, mostly African-American and Hispanic, fare the worst, he said.
"This report is very different from the first three," he told the Palmetto Business Daily. "In the first three, we reported on the progress -- or lack of -- of educational attainment in the region, and highlighted the discrepancies when it comes to race and income.
"In this report, we are saying enough is enough."
Among the key recommendations made by TCCC in its report, entitled "Constructive Disruption" and published Tuesday, is to make changes to Act 388. That mandate limits the ability of local governments to raise money for schools.
"There is an unequal distribution of resources for those who need them the most," Read said, adding changes to 388 could remove the unfairness of school funding. Read believes his organization has built up enough trust among stake holders -- including major employers such as Boeing, Bosch and Volvo -- to press Columbia lawmakers to amend 388.
Those companies have reason to speak directly of their dissatisfaction with the education system in the region, and the state, Read said. They can use their muscle to raise the specter of growth elsewhere in the absence of a deep pool of qualified, educated potential employees.
But any investment -- through a combination of public and private sources -- should be focused earlier in a child's life, because then less needs to be spent later on, Read said.
To that end, quality pre-school for all should be mandated and funded by the state, the report argues.
Other measures recommended by the movement include:
***The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be fully funded.
***Districts should require all high school seniors to complete a math course and the required federal form for receiving college financial aid.
***Professional development programs for teachers and principals should be a top priority.
***Financial incentives should be given to the best teachers to serve in challenging schools.
***Alternative pathways to teacher certification should be developed and implemented.
But Read said, "The risk has always been....that this sort of report is published, then it all dissipates because there is no follow up."
While the organization does not advocate for charter schools, per se, it does believe there is a place for nonprofit, evidence-based, public-private partnerships.
There are bright spots in the mix, Read said, including Charleston RISE, the grassroots parents' organization; the Meeting Street Schools collective, including at Brentwood; and Algebra Nation, which is focused on making sure high school students master Algebra One, a crucial skill, said Read.
"But these are bright spots in the midst of a systems dysfunction," Read argues.
Following the publication of the report, Anita Zucker, chair of the TCCC Board of Directors and chief executive of The InterTech Group, said, "It is clear that every child can learn, and, yet, too many of our students are leaving high school unprepared for either college or a career and less likely to realize their dreams.
"Without local, qualified candidates, our businesses will struggle to fill available, high-paying jobs, and the region’s economic success and quality of life will suffer,” Zucker said.