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S.C. superintendent says education system needs overhaul

Zais calls for increased options, involvement from communities

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AIKEN — The education system needs to be reformed, South Carolina’s school superintendent told local business leaders Friday.

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State Superintendent Mick Zais said community involvement is an important part of improving schools.  NIKASHA DICKS/STAFF
NIKASHA DICKS/STAFF
State Superintendent Mick Zais said community involvement is an important part of improving schools.

Speaking at the Grea­ter Aiken Chamber of Com­merce’s First Friday Means Bus­i­ness breakfast at New­berry Hall, Dr. Mick Zais said people often tell him that poverty must be addressed in order for education to be improved.

“Well, actually, they got it backwards,” he said. “First you fix education, then you fix poverty.”

New solutions are needed, he said.

“Traditional solutions for improving education – more money, better facilities, smaller classes and improved curriculum – will not work,” Zais said. “We’ve tried that for 40 years.”

One solution, he said, is to give parents choices.

“I believe that no student should be forced to attend a failing school and that low-income families deserve the same right that high and upper middle-class families have always enjoyed, which is to choose the school that’s a good fit for their child,” he said.

Parents should have a variety of schools to choose from, including public magnet schools, single-gender programs, year-round schools, Montessori programs, arts schools and those focused on science and technology, Zais said.

He said the traditional system – in which children are put into a classroom and expected to learn the same things in the same way – doesn’t work for all students.

“This is a one-size-fits- all, factorylike assembly line model,” he said. “It’s a system that’s focused on seat time rather than mastering. It’s a system based on mass production and standardization rather than customization and personalization. It’s a system that’s school-centered rather than student-centered. It focuses on input – what’s taught, how it’s taught, how many hours it’s taught – rather than output – what a student knows and can do.”

The community’s role is important, Zais said after the presentation.

“It is imperative that an entire community be involved in and committed to the success of their schools,” he said.

Businesses can form partnerships, be mentors, bring students into their workplaces or work with classes, Zais said.

“I think it’s really, really important that local businesses get involved with a school,” he said. “They can’t do every school and they can’t do every child, but if every business had a school or a classroom and a couple kids, it would be transformative.”


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