The Education Mill

October 3, 2013

Inside Insight

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ariail the education mill
What Exactly Are We Transforming?

By Ashley Landess

Business leaders recently announced a new education program called “TransformSC,” the mission of which is to “design new learning models that significantly increase the number of South Carolina graduates who are career, college, and citizenship ready.” The program is apparently under the umbrella of New Carolina, the state-funded entity that is “working to increase South Carolina’s economic competitiveness through a cluster development strategy.”

TransformSC supporters talk vaguely about modernizing the classroom, implementing “project-based” collaboration and re-vamping the current assessment model. And there is plenty of the usual discussion of innovation and the global economy.

So far, none of it makes much sense, but several schools have already been chosen to participate in the program. Supporters of TransformSC are quick to point out that this program is funded by South Carolina companies and not taxpayers. Actually, that isn’t entirely clear. New Carolina receives state money, and TransformSC has received at least $100,000. And the Education Oversight Committee was directed in a proviso to “participate in public-private partnerships to promote innovative ways to transform the assessment of public education.”

What is nowhere specifically outlined is exactly how this program will work and what resources it will require in the future. That’s cause for concern. It’s one thing for businesses to help local schools by donating directly to local schools, or funding optional programs. But it’s quite another for corporate executives to design an education curriculum for public schools without fully presenting it for vetting by the public – and without understanding the TransformSC model, it’s hard not to conclude that’s exactly what happened.

Proponents of TransformSC claim their movement came from the grassroots, but don’t elaborate on what they mean by the word. Supporters of TransformSC include the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, the S.C. Association of School Administrators, the S.C. School Boards Association, the S.C. Education Oversight Committee, the S.C. Teachers Association, and the Palmetto Teachers Association. There doesn’t seem to be much real “grassroots” parental involvement, nor is there a presence of alternative learning advocates (proponents of charter schools, for example, or digital learning, or homeschoolers).

TransformSC supporters do cite figures from a poll of parents with children in public schools in which half of the respondents said struggling students don’t get the help they need and that 78 percent believe teachers “teach to the test.” The majority of parents want to empower teachers to be creative while holding them accountable for results, and 74 percent believe it’s time to “rethink how public education works.”

Those poll numbers are interesting, and validate what should be obvious: parents are not happy with the education their children are getting in South Carolina public schools, and they want results. What is notclear at all from the poll is that parents want business leaders to create programs that make their children better employees for their companies.

The role of education seems to have been lost in all the talk of competitive workforce development and global businesses. Education is supposed to provide a foundation upon which students can build a lifetime of learning and pursue excellence. Children at all learning levels should be challenged in areas in which they can grow, and helped in areas in which they struggle. And ultimately they should have the basic skills they need to continue their learning, whether through higher education or in the workforce.

Our education system is indeed outdated. It has long taught to the “middle,” leaving lower-achieving students struggling and gifted/talented students under-challenged.  That “one-size-fits-all approach” is not a new subject for concern or complaint. The solution is to provide an environment in which parents have choice as limitless as their children’s potential – and while that could include programs designed to train students to function better in the workforce, that shouldn’t be the goal of our schools.

At the very least, the TransformSC program should be more fleshed out and explained. Public education is ultimately funded by the public – and as long as that’s the case, the public should have a clear understanding of the goals and the results.