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Raising Bar Critical for Education Reform in S.C.

By Thomas A. Wilson/Superintendent, Anderson School District Five

When Speaker of the House Jay Lucas rolled out his 84-page education reform proposal last week, various Dr. Tom Wilsoneducators, politicians, advocacy groups and other stakeholders latched onto a few key proposals. Raising teacher pay, focusing on reading on grade level by third grade, and offering free post-secondary education to children of teachers in unsatisfactory ranked schools all received publicity in various news outlets across the state. All of these proposed changes, and more, deserve to be touted as movement in the right direction.

South Carolina must increase teacher pay to compete with other states and other sectors of the workforce if we want to recruit and retain highly qualified educators. We also must do everything possible to lower the ridiculous amount of testing we require, and the amount of burdensome paperwork teachers are forced to complete. Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly are making strides in the right direction, and Anderson County is lucky to have a strong legislative delegation fighting for our students and teachers in Columbia.

The item I was thrilled to see highlighted, and that has not gained much traction in the media at this time, is just one small sentence on page 71 of the proposal. Section 46, line 32 reads “Beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 2020-2021 School Year, a local board of trustees may require additional units of credit for a high school diploma.” In essence, this one line of legislation would allow school districts in South Carolina to make a substantial leap forward in academic achievement by letting communities decide to raise the number of courses needed to graduate from high school.

In Anderson Five, this could return a sense of relevancy to the senior year of high school at T.L. Hanna and Westside. Instead of what many consider a “wasted” year, where a large percentage of our students do not take an upper level math or science course or have a course load only filled with electives, we could instead provide a better balanced high school experience for our students.

For example, increasing our required units for graduation from 24 units to 28 units would not only allow for increased academic opportunities, it would also allow for a greater and more in-depth exploration of subjects such as foreign languages, music, and career and technology courses by adding to the number of required electives. 

Twenty years ago when he ran for President, George W. Bush spoke about the bigotry of low expectations, and he stated that no child in America should be segregated by these low expectations. Requiring only 24 units for graduation at our high schools shortchanges our students, and sets a bar that is far too low for their educational capacity. In Anderson Five and numerous other high schools around the state with block scheduling, students can currently take 8 units a year, allowing them the space for 32 units over their time in high school. This essentially means that to graduate high school they only need to pass 75% of their courses.

Our students are capable of much more than the current low expectations set by the state, and I believe that students across South Carolina are ready and eager to show that they can academically compete with their peers from across the country. Raising the bar for graduation is a great step in the right direction, and is something that has the potential to elevate how our education system is viewed by parents, teachers, students and employers. I know that our students can rise up if greater rigor is coupled with greater relevancy, and I applaud Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly for recommending these changes to help increase the value of a South Carolina education.

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