In November 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court made a historic ruling. The Court said what most people have known for years: many of our schools are not providing an adequate education for South Carolina children. While the causes are many, the rural plaintiff districts face transportation challenges, sky high teacher turnover, and low salaries—all challenges that that can be addressed.
Students in these districts had to wait 21 years for the state to even acknowledge there was a serious problem. Our students cannot afford to wait any longer. It’s time for our state to implement policies that will transform our state’s lowest performing schools.
Sadly, South Carolina is not the first state to face this type of challenge. Fortunately, best practices from other states can provide the solution. One such evidence-based reform would be to create a South Carolina Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD would target a state’s chronically low performing schools and lead them in powerful school turnaround, with the goal of creating significant, sustainable and measurable student growth in five years.
ASDs have seen success in other states such as Tennessee and Louisiana. In Tennessee, the ASD developed a goal to take the bottom five percent of lowest performing schools and move them to the top 25 percent in five years. Within the first year, students in the ASD outpaced the state’s overall growth in both reading and math. Adding to the success, Tennessee’s high school ASD students were achieving the fastest growth in the state, averaging double-digit gains in Algebra, English, and Biology. In only two years, 5 out of the 12 lowest performing schools moved out of the bottom five percent.
Similarly, in Louisiana, their Recovery School District (RSD) led the state in performance growth showing the largest growth in the past six years. Between 2008 and 2013, the percent of students performing basic or above on the iLEAP and LEAP tests in RSD New Orleans schools, both charter and direct-RSD run, increased by 29 percentage points which is the highest among Louisiana’s school districts. These successes in Tennessee and Louisiana are impressive, particularly given the fact that all of these schools have been low achieving for years.
What would be the next steps to bring an ASD to South Carolina and what would change within these schools? ASDs are created legislatively and the governor or state superintendent would choose the ASD’s leader. That individual, a person who is required to hold significant qualifications and be held to a very high standard, would decide which eligible schools South Carolina would serve.
The benefits of an ASD range from the administration at each school being given more flexibility to increasing the authority at the school level and increasing local control for parents, teachers and principals. This benefits the students and their school communities that may have different needs than other schools within their original district.
Curriculum, testing, student services, teaching practices, and professional development would be determined at the school level. This gives administrators and educators at the school flexibility to use researched based instruction that works for their individual students. An Achievement School District will provide South Carolina’s lowest performing schools the chance to dramatically improve to benefit the kids they serve. Our current system has been hindering students for years and our state cannot wait any longer. With change always comes hesitation and doubts, but given proper time and resources, we can change the educational trajectory of our state and the students we serve.