Originally created 09/08/01

Homework assignment

It's all fine and good to pass laws to bring failing public schools up to snuff, but a recent experience in South Carolina also shows how hard it is to make them workable.

The state's 1998 Education Accountability Act, as its name suggests, rightfully calls for accountability in education. Each school is assessed based on its performance and the ones that chronically fail to meet minimum academic standards are to receive extra assistance from "teacher specialists" who will help develop and implement solutions to turn the schools around.

When the Palmetto State issues its first "report cards" on public schools in November, 50 to 100 of them are expected to fail, i.e., ranked "unsatisfactory," lowest of the five possible categories.

But where are these failing schools? Many of them are in inner-city, sometimes dangerous neighborhoods and the others are in rural, isolated communities. The kids from both areas are often too undisciplined and ill-prepared to learn anything of substance.

The question is, who wants to teach them? The answer is, not the "teacher specialists." Teachers with that esteemed designation were offered nearly $20,000 more than their regular salaries to give the troubled schools a shot, and 22 of them turned the offer down.

Obviously the state can't improve schools' performance if top educators with the experience and expertise to get the job done won't go there. It shows just how intractable a "Catch 22" problem the bad schools can be.

Before developing programs to upgrade failing schools the state must first develop a program to find good teachers willing to do it. That's proving to be a tough homework assignment.

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