New Models Could Improve S.C. High Schools

June 13, 2012

Investigative Reports

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8001a33460d13ee012be8a3daa7000a0The S. C. Education Oversight Committee heard Monday from representatives of two high schools on methods to improve graduation rates.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais told the committee that 28 percent of South Carolina students fail to complete high school. Zais also said that 38 percent of the state’s fourth-graders are functionally illiterate.

Zais discussed offering more flexibility in school courses. He emphasized replacing a one-size-fits-all structure with a customized and personalized program depending on a student’s individual ability and interest.

The Education Oversight Committee (EOC) regularly evaluates the standards that South Carolina schools must meet under state and federal law.

The objective is to “identify, evaluate, and spread innovation in South Carolina K-12 public schools,” said EOC Chairman Neil Robinson Jr.

Gerrita Postlewait, a State Board of Education member, began the meeting with an update on an “Innovation Initiative.” The project was created to examine different models to improve the education system.

Jacki Martin of the Riley Institute at Furman University gave a presentation on “New Tech” high schools. The New Tech Network is a nonprofit organization based in Napa, Calif., that aims to help school districts and communities by using learning methods that are “standard-driven, team-taught, and rooted in project-based learning,” Martin explained.

Principal Chris Stinson from Anson High School in Wadesboro, N.C., explained to the committee how the New Tech model helped his school. Stinson said he and his teachers realized that their school district was failing and decided to reach out to the New Tech Network.

“We had to create a student that could think outside the box,” said Stinson, adding that he and his team wanted to create an “innovative, creative, and not stereotypical, traditional classroom setting.”

Stinson said he tweaked the model to best fit his school’s demographics. Ultimately, he said that he decided to focus on eight learning outcomes:  to be able to write well, speak well, collaborate well, work hard, compete globally, be technologically literate, think critically and understand content.

The 86 schools nationwide that have employed the New Tech Network’s method achieved a graduation rate of 96 percent in the 2010-11 school year, Martin said.

Joan Grimmett, principal of Horry County Early College High School, explained another learning model. The Early College High School Initiative seeks to help minorities, English language learners and low-income students earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or up to two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree at no cost.

Grimmett said her school concentrates on building readers and writers through project-based learning. She spoke about classes designed to prepare students for four-year college eligibility.

Grimmett said her school has a 100 percent pass rate on end-of-the-year state exams.

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org.