Palmetto State's low education ranking must lead to decisive action, state official says

A new report ranking South Carolina's education system the worst in the country should be a huge wake up call, according to the chair of the state's education oversight committee.

The US News and World Report ranked South Carolina at 48 for higher education and 44th for pre-k to 12th grade schooling.   File photo

A new report ranking South Carolina's education system among the worst in the country should be a huge wake up call, according to the chair of the state's education oversight committee.

The terrible state of education generally compares unfavorably to how fervently athletic prowess  is celebrated, according to Neil Robinson, chair of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee and a member at the Nexsen Pruet law firm.

Robinson, who also serves on the Trident CEO Council, launched a stinging attack on the state's education system following the publication of a US News and World Report that ranked the state last in the nation.

In an op-ed article for the Post and Courier, he noted how commentators, when celebrating the University of South Carolina's NCAA women's basketball tournament win, described the state as No. 1 in the country for sports. Yet, it is last in the education rankings.  

"The thrust of what I am saying is that we have our priorities in the wrong place," Robinson told Palmetto Business Daily. "We celebrate athletics, but are failing in our ability to education in children."

The leadership in the state "pay a lot of lip service" to what is happening with education and what should be done, but "the numbers do not lie."

Robinson said that the only response from some quarters was to "deflect the focus" and argue that the report focused too much on the ACT scores.

The US News and World Report ranked South Carolina at 48 for higher education and 44th for pre-k to 12th grade schooling. It found that only 44 percent of students are college-ready based on ACT benchmarks.  

Although the state has a high graduation rate from four year colleges, and received good grades for its state-run pre-K programs, it ranked low in reading and math assessment scores, and suffered a setback due to high tuition and fees at public colleges.

Some districts have zero percent college ready, and at the very best it is 50 percent, Robinson noted.

"We are good at identifying problems," Robinson said, "but not so good at solving them." He added there are pockets of excellence but that the state as a whole is not doing well.

"Studies have concluded that by 2025, two-thirds of all working age adults should have a post-secondary education" because of the more highly skilled nature of the work that will need to be done," Robinson said.

He said the state has done a great job attracting major companies, including Boeing, but that jobs are going in many cases to the thousands of people moving to the state because "we do not have the workers." This will only get worse if nothing is done, Robinson said.

Robinson said there is a racial disparity, with minorities faring particularly badly because some districts have difficulty attracting good teachers. There are also issues in rural areas, where some schools have only three or four computers and no access to broadband.

In addition, Robinson said there must be increased accountability for administrators of failing schools at all levels.

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