Parents and community members throughout Charleston were shocked this week to learn that illiteracy and under-literacy run rampant in the Charleston County public school system.
From the P&C‘s recent article by Diette Courrégé:
“Test scores show 20 percent of rising 9th-graders read at or below 4th-grade level.”
Among the disturbing data points:
–More than 20 percent of the Charleston’s rising ninth-graders read on a fourth-grade level or worse.
–Nearly half of the incoming freshmen at North Charleston High School read at a fourth-grade level or worse.
–Eleven percent of the incoming freshmen at Wando High School read at a fourth-grade level or worse.
The reporter further notes that one-in-seven adults in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties is functionally illiterate, defined as reading below an eighth-grade level. Up to 20,000 tri-county adults have less than a ninth-grade education, which is an alarming level, but makes sense in light of the South Carolina’s shoddy 55% on-time public high school graduation rate.
Functionally illiterate adults can’t understand a newspaper article, complete a job application, follow the directions on a prescription label or fill out a bank deposit slip.
Skeptics might argue the problem is localized to certain parts of the Lowcountry. They will remind us how 11 of the nations 25 absolute worst public schools are located in or around Charleston. They will also point to systemic test-cheating, high dollar bonuses for failing school principals and stockpiling of public money distinguish the Charleston District as among South Carolina’s worst.
The problem is certainly not limited to the Charleston area.
A comparison with literacy in third world countries puts the statewide problem in context.
Last April, The Voice reported that according to the Budget and Control Board, South Carolina will spend $3.2 billion in state money on K-12 education in 2009 (and over $7 billion when local and federal money are added in). This makes state spending on South Carolina’s public school system equivalent to the entire economy of Eritrea, a country in northeastern Africa with a GDP of $3.2 billion.
While students in Eritrean schools receive an average of five years of classroom instruction, the adult literacy rate is 58.6 percent – or roughly the same as the adult literacy in Allendale, McCormick, Williamsburg, Clarendon and Lee Counties.
Imagine if an automobile factory (say, the BMW plant in the Upstate) had one out of every five cars they produce seriously defective. Even the promise of huge federal bailouts couldn’t keep them open for very long.
Or if one out of every five Big Macs McDonalds sold were rotten or not cooked, how long would it be before folks would look for alternatives?
Thankfully there is some good news.
Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston) and others in Senate are sponsoring the SC Education Opportunity Act. This bill will allow parents a real choice. It will reward engaged parents who make responsible choices for their children by providing them with modest tax credits. It will similarly reward corporations that donate money to charities that provide low-income children with scholarships. This also means more money for public schools and smaller class sizes.
More importantly, School Choice will help ensure all students have a better chance of being seated in a classroom with the curriculum, teacher, and instructional style that best fits their unique learning needs.