Originally created 01/09/98

Magazine criticizes teaching standards, money allocation



AIKEN -- South Carolina is among several states receiving heavy criticism of its education system from a trade magazine that posts grades on areas such as adequate resources and teacher preparation.

In a report card with an annual report compiled by Education Week, South Carolina scored a "D plus" for teaching standards and a "D" for allocation of money for instruction. The state posted better grades for adequate resources and ability to raise student achievement.

"The report shows we rank in the middle of the pack," said Jim Foster, state Department of Education spokesman. He said the report was "unfair and failed to mention positives."

Although she had not read the report, Aiken County schools Superintendent Linda Eldridge said Thursday there are many things in which South Carolina leads the nation but rarely gets credit for.

The report comes on the coattails of Teacher Talk 1997, a publication released in September after 300 teachers came together to voice opinions on educational issues and ways the state Department of Education could work with educators to improve teaching and learning.

During conferences last year in Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Spartanburg, teachers said as the curriculum becomes more demanding, they need increased support in training and supplies. They want to teach basic skills and beyond within a consistent curriculum guide. But before changes are made, teachers said they wanted a plan backed by research, a variety of assessment tools and smaller classes.

In Aiken County, the school district places the bulk of its money in classroom instruction but spends about $800 less per student than the state average, according to the state Education Department, which tracked how money was spent in fiscal 1995-96.

Aiken County spends $4,631 per student, $802 less than the state average. Neighboring Edgefield County spends $5,568 yearly per student, while Barnwell County spends $5,350 per pupil. Those costs are based on teaching, classroom materials and other areas.

Statewide, costs for instruction and instructional support increased by $127 per student in the latest report, from $3,426 in 1994-95 to $3,553 in 1995-96. These categories continued to account for two-thirds of total education spending in local school systems.

"My fear in South Carolina is that (when) lawmakers increase state spending, they increase teacher salaries," said Craig Jerald, Quality Counts project director.

"There have been some important and incremental improvements the Legislature has tried to make," he said. "But the Legislature failed to return to the issue of education accountability."

State Education Superintendent Barbara Nielsen pushed lawmakers to approve a school accountability bill two years ago, but that effort died in a House subcommittee after education groups criticized the bill's punitive measures.

The issue was dropped in 1997 but is coming back this year on the coattails of a report from Gov. David Beasley's Performance and Accountability Standards for Schools Commission. Bills have been filed in the state House and Senate, and leaders in both bodies expect some form of the legislation to pass this year.

In 1996, Aiken County became one of the state's first districts to adopt its own accountability plan to set higher academic standards. The district has given itself until 2001 to reach those goals.

Not making the gradeThe state of South Carolina is fending off heavy criticism after its education system scored a "D-plus" for teaching standards and a "D" for allocation of money for instruction in a report compiled by Education Week magazine.

The school system, however, did post better grades for adequate resources and ability to raise student achievement, according to the educational trade magazine.

Grades given to South Carolina's education system by Education Week include:"B" for equity in spending per student among school districts."C-plus" for ability to raise student achievement."C" for adequate resources."D-plus" for conduciveness to teaching and learning."D" for allocation of money for instruction.

"The report shows we rank in the middle of the pack," said Jim Foster, state Department of Education spokesman. He said the report was "unfair and failed to mention positives."