This school year 185 public schools across South Carolina were ranked as “failing.”
These types of under-performing schools were once called “F-schools” but they were later renamed “unsatisfactory.” Now, in the new politically correct edu-speak of Jim Rex, they are merely called “at-risk” by the State Department of Education.
No matter what you call them, these schools are primarily attended by low-income and minority children. In fact, 92% of the 73,722 students at failing schools come from low-income families and 77% are African-American.
Not only are these groups of students the most under-served in the public schools system, they are also the least likely to be able to make a real choice to attend a school other than their local public school. Their parents simply lack the money to move to a different attendance zone or enroll their children in private school. These kids are trapped (and the problem is not lack of government resources).
Thankfully, some lawmakers have introduced legislation that will offer their parents substantive choices. The Education Opportunity Act, sponsored by Senator Robert Ford and others, will give tax credits to individual and corporate donors who finance tuition scholarships. It also offers modest credits to middle-income parents who pay out-of-pocket for private or homeschooling. The bill, 520 in the Senate and 3802 in the House, will be taken up by a Senate subcommittee on Thursday, April 23rd.
This type of program served over 48,000 low-income children in Pennsylvania last year alone.
In the interim, provisions of the contentious federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) offer some minor options for parents whose children are stuck in the most persistently failing public schools. The federal government requires South Carolina to offer public school transfer options and supplementary instruction to children trapped in school ranked as failing for two or more consecutive years.
While shuffling low-income students around from one failing public school to another is hardly the type of substantive school choice that Senator Ford is advocating, the fact that South Carolina is forced to offered so many parents some type of “alternative” highlights that fact public schools in Palmetto State are failing further and further behind goals set by the State’s mythically “high standards.”
This year the number of children whose parents will receive notice about their rights to public transfer and supplementary services will exceed 50,000.
Diane Knich of the Charleston Post and Courier reports on the impact in one lowcountry county:
Students at 15 Berkeley County schools have the option to transfer to higher-performing schools next year under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The school district will send letters to more than 7,200 eligible students in the next 10 days, said Sheldon Etheridge, the district’s director of federal programs. The letter will tell parents that their child’s school didn’t meet all of the law’s “adequate yearly progress” goals, and it will let them know in which schools their children can enroll next year. The district has limited transfer options for next year, in many cases to just two choices, the minimum number required by law.
Charleston County School District has not yet released its list of schools that will offer transfers next year, but officials said they hope that information will be available by next week. Dorchester School District 2 officials said they expect to release t heir list in June and Dorchester School District 4 staffers said their list will be complete in July.
Bussing a student from an “at-risk” (F) public school in their own neighborhood to a “below-average” (D) across town is not a meaningful solution to state-wide systemic failures in South Carolina’s public schools. The only way to break the cycle of failure is to break the low-expectation government school monopoly. That requires giving all parents the resources to engage in their children’s education by making real choices about the type of classroom they attend. Only then will persistently failing schools have the incentive to employ their vast resources in a manner that successfully translates into student achievement.