Sound solutions, focus needed to raise state's education standards


South Carolina's education system is not rated dead last in one recent survey, but it still stands close to the bottom.

The state was given a C- rating, a marking of just over 70, leaving it 37th in a table compiled by Education Week, which rated each by three criteria: chances for success, K-12 achievement, and school financing.

This report card follows the most recent US News and World Report survey, which did list South Carolina last in education in the country.

In the Education Week report, compiled by its own research center, South Carolina received high marks for laying early foundations and equity on spending, but badly on the actual amount spent and K-12 achievement.

Neil Robinson, chairman of the South Carolina  Education Oversight Committee, believes it is vital that solutions be found to the already-identified problems with the system.

Robinson, one of an 18-person, independent, nonpartisan panel comprising educators and business people that was appointed by the legislature, is confident large businesses are finally paying attention to the state's education system, including its shortfalls.

"If we do not improve education, we will not find workers that we need," Robinson told the Palmetto Business Daily. "That is why people are moving to South Carolina, because we are not able to fill the jobs with our own people."

Robinson has noted that awakening among businesses and legislators over the last number of years, but he added, "Identifying problems is much easier than finding solutions."

Those problems that leave many children struggling in South Carolina are varied, but include the lack of adequate broadband technology among the state's significant rural population, said Robinson, who has been an attorney since 1974 and was first named one of two business representatives on the oversight committee in 2005. He also cites wider societal problems, including parental involvement and the historic disparity in resources available to African-Americans and low-income whites in rural areas.

His belief is that the gap between the more affluent, largely urban students and others is either "rather stagnant or even growing."

Robinson also offers some choice thoughts on, and to, political leaders, whom he argues often use education as "a good platform" when on the stump but when elected find "it simply too hard an issue to deal with and focus on other things."

Substantial, long-term fixes to the education system are sent to the back of the class as politicians wrangle over other issues such as a nuclear power plant or corporate infrastructure.

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