Report: South Carolina has the worst education system in the country


As students return to schools across the state on Tuesday, a nagging question vexes many South Carolina residents:

Does South Carolina have the worst education system in the country?

Yes, said one US News and World Report to study.

Absolutely not, say many educators.

Others suggest that South Carolina has pockets of excellence in education, but also large areas of low achievement.

What is the truth ?

Melanie Barton, executive director of the state Education Oversight Committee, said the US News report should serve as a wake-up call.

“What the Education Watch Committee has tried to do is take the national rankings and say, ‘Where are our challenges? Let’s find where we’re not doing well and try to improve that,” Barton said.

the American News The “Best States for Education” study ranked South Carolina 50th in the nation based also on the state’s elementary and higher education systems.

Of the 11 categories measured, South Carolina ranked poorly in areas such as:

• Pre-school enrollment (43rd in the country).

• Low marks in math and reading (40th nationally).

• College readiness (48th in the nation, according to the ACT, a college readiness exam).

• The rate of obtaining a college diploma in two years (48th in the country).

• High tuition and fees at colleges and universities in South Carolina (43rd in the nation).

One bright spot in the survey: the state is tied for 4th nationally for pre-K quality.

But the study highlights issues that other reports have identified that have plagued the state for years: for example, the state’s high education rate.

South Carolina has the eighth highest education rate in the country, but the second lowest per capita income in the country, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

This combination of high tuition and low income puts higher education out of reach for many South Carolina youth, education advocates said.

Unfair report?

South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, however, strongly criticized the report as unfair.

“Characterizing our state as last is not something we agree with,” Spearman spokesman Ryan Brown said.

Brown noted that other studies have come to different conclusions. A WalletHub report released in July ranked South Carolina 35th in the nation when it comes to education.

A December Education Week study placed the state 37th in the nation.

“As you can see from looking at the different ranking reports, different organizations use different metrics and weightings that produce a variety of results,” Brown said in an email.

“The liability system used in South Carolina is very different from the one used in California, Massachusetts or even some of our neighboring states,” he said. “Different assessments given to different student populations can dramatically change outcomes.”

Spearman lambasted US News’ analysis during a visit to Greenville in March, calling attention to programs that positively reflect the state.

“They didn’t even look at our apprenticeship programs, they didn’t look at the career programs,” Spearman said. “We lead the country in our apprenticeship program, but of course that was not mentioned.”


Barton, however, said that while people may disagree with the findings of the US News study, “All the national data shows that we’re in the bottom 10 (states of the nation) at least.”

The US News analysis, to its credit, looked at education statistics at the K-12 levels and above, Barton said. It is more comprehensive than most other education reports.

“The US News report ranges from childhood to higher education,” Barton said. “It looked at early childhood, K-12 and higher education.”

The study points to real problems in the state, such as a shortage of high-quality preschool programs, Barton said.

“We need better access and better quality programs, and more parent involvement from the start,” Barton said. “In some of our counties, we only have one private daycare. How can you improve if we only have one private daycare? »

The state needs to invest more resources in preschool programs, said Brooke T. Culclasure, research director at Furman University’s Center for Educational Policy and Leadership at the Riley Institute.

“We support the idea of ​​quality preschool opportunities for students, especially for children living in poverty who do not have other preschool opportunities at home or in the private sector,” Culclasure said. “We think it would have an impact if more children were enrolled in pre-K and there was more investment in pre-K in public schools, especially in areas that need these the most. opportunities.”

At the other end of the education spectrum, South Carolina’s high tuition rates lead to huge student debt, Barton said.

“We have the ninth highest student loan debt in the country,” Barton said. “The average level of debt for college graduates is $30,664.”

Abundant Opportunities

The personal experiences of many upstate parents, however, contradict the findings of the US News study, local parent Lawson Wetli said.

Wetli’s son recently graduated from Wade Hampton High School and will be majoring in biochemistry as an honors student at Clemson University.

Her daughter, meanwhile, has just completed 10th grade and is heading to the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

“My own experience with the public school system here has been universally and overwhelmingly positive,” Wetli said. “My son started at Blythe Academy in a French immersion program. He received a bilingual education in a public school. Of the children who were in her kindergarten and first grade class, three are National Merit Scholar finalists.

Greenville County students have an abundance of educational options upstate, though young people in poorer parts of the state may not be so lucky, Wetli said.

“I think there are disparities,” she said. “There are educational opportunities here in upstate that clearly give them (students) a platform for achievement and achievement. My daughter is about to go to a residential arts-oriented public school. These opportunities are amazing but I don’t think they are universal.

Misleading data

One metric that weighed on the state’s overall ranking in US News’ analysis was South Carolina’s two-year college graduation rate.

The report places this rate 48th in the country.

But the study uses data that has been widely denounced by two-year colleges, said Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College.

“It (the two-year college ranking) isn’t even close to reflecting reality — not even close,” Miller said.

At Greenville Tech each year, for example, up to 4,000 students (25% of the student body) take classes for a semester or two and then transfer to a four-year college. These students count toward Greenville Tech’s graduation rate, Miller said, because they don’t actually graduate but instead transfer to a four-year program.

An additional 1,400 high school students taking dual-enrollment courses (credit college classes) may also count toward Greenville Tech’s graduation rate, Miller said.

“The reason they count as a negative is because they’re taking classes, but their intention is not to graduate from Greenville Tech,” Miller said. “It’s just to attend certain classes while they’re in high school, so that counts against us.”

The two-year college rankings are based on full-time, first-time students, Miller said.

At Greenville Tech, however, 60% of students take classes part-time.

“This data doesn’t even account for 60% of our student population,” Miller said.

Educational studies must be viewed critically, Miller added.

“These reports are meant to achieve a certain level of transparency and inform the public about the various colleges and universities across the country,” Miller said. “It’s a laudable goal. That said, what’s sad and so misleading is not only that they don’t tell the whole story, but they tell a misleading story. They do not give an accurate picture.

Useful and harmful

High-poverty states such as South Carolina almost always do poorly in education rankings that use test scores for state-by-state comparisons, said Jacki Martin, deputy director of Furman University’s Riley Institute.

“The problem in South Carolina is that we have such a high poverty rate,” Martin said. “These kids have the lowest scores, so comparing a state that has such a high poverty rate to a state that has a much lower poverty rate is entirely predictable. We know these scores will be low because they correlate with socio-economic circumstances.

State education rankings can be both helpful and detrimental, Martin said.

“I think it’s helpful in that whether we’re actually 50th, 45th or 38th, it’s helpful to get policy makers to focus on those issues – that’s positive,” Martin said. “On the other hand, it can be detrimental to suggest to the people who work so hard in public schools across the state and who are 100% committed to these children – and they are fighting against circumstances beyond their control – to suggest to them that they are failing is inaccurate and prejudicial.

Education officials seem to agree that there is always room for progress in South Carolina and that lawmakers and other education officials should work harder to improve student academic achievement.

“It’s no secret that we have a long way to go to improve the educational outcomes of allstudents in our state, but we have pockets of excellence that people across the country come, see and learn about every day,” said Brown, a spokesperson for Spearman.

Barton, with the state Education Oversight Committee, said initiatives must focus on the entire education system: from kindergarten to higher education.

“There are multiple opportunities to improve our education system for all children,” she said.

This story was originally published August 20, 2017 8:36 p.m.

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