A couple of recent posts related to education have produced quite a few comments – not all of them civil, unfortunately. The most recent, “The Ugly Fiefdom” was actually a re-post of excerpts from past articles, but the one that got the most strident reactions was “Lead or Follow?” The reactions – and (for this little blog) the spike in hits – proved a couple of points in the debate about education in the Palmetto State.
People are VERY passionate about the quality of schools in South Carolina. They’re more than passionate, they’re angry. They’re infuriated when they see, hear and read about wasteful spending, poor graduation rates, lousy test scores and at-the-bottom school rankings.
But anger isn’t nearly enough. Parents have been angry for years – maybe even decades – but they haven’t really DONE anything about it. The parents/voters kept electing bureaucrats with high-falutin’ resumes thinking that maybe THIS time there will be change.
Not a chance.
All of the candidates for State Superintendent of Education are smart people with impressive credentials. Among the major office seekers are a political and education bureaucrat, a private college professor, a retired general/private college president and an attorney (and former bureaucrat) – and a very successful high school teacher.
On the surface, the latter – a high school teacher – would seem outmatched by PhD’s and a one-star Army Ranger. But here’s the deal… do the voters – parents – of South Carolina want yet another institutionalist in charge of their children’s education, or do they want someone who LIVES that education and has seen the results of the bureaucracy?
That high school teacher, Kelly Payne, knows – has lived – the consequences of decisions made in Columbia. Those decisions are not just “policy” to her, they’re critical factors in her ability to teach and in her “kids” ability to learn.
I can’t figure out the relevance of private college educators to a fifth-grader in Beaufort or a middle school teacher in Chester. Having “cut budgets and fired people” as part of one’s resume means absolutely nothing to a child in a poorly resourced rural school who desperately wants and needs an education so (s)he can go to college. How does any of that change the culture of tenure and noblesse oblige that is the state’s school hierarchy?
As poorly managed as are the millions of taxpayer dollars budgeted for “education” in the state, the problems aren’t all contained on a spreadsheet. Oh, better shepherding of WHERE that money goes and HOW it’s spent is critical to improving the school system, and Ms. Payne knows better than most the eccentricities of the where and how. But there are many more subjects that need to be addressed “just so” to get the best balance between teachers and families.
Another retired general officer, Major General James E. Livingston (USMC) and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient said this of Kelly Payne:
She advocates a back-to-basics teaching approach, knowing that if a student is poorly equipped to succeed in life without learning to properly read, write, speak and do basic math, he will not be prepared to be successful at the next level. She understands that teaching all students these skills to create a solid foundation for them is good, plain common sense. As a parent and educator, Kelly Payne, sees first hand how parental and community involvement is a critical factor in ensuring successful learning communities.[emphasis added]
Last September, a contributor to this blog wrote a piece about branding and had this to say about Kelly Payne.
Kelly has a legitimate story to tell, and she’s the only one in the field that can tell it. She’s never worked in school administration, but school administration is where most of the problems lie. That’s a good thing. She knows what affects children in the classroom. She knows the obstacles. She’s seen the success. She’s got the “street cred.” She doesn’t talk about what’s good for students, she lives it. She can’t stay out at fundraisers too late because she has to get home and write lesson plans and grade papers. Call this backwards thinking, but I think that’s a good thing! It flies in the face of convention, but looking at South Carolina’s education system, I’m not sure that “convention” is what’s worked.
It’s good – VERY good – that South Carolina parents and taxpayers are angry about the quality of education and the (mis)use of public funds. But it isn’t enough to be angry in order to get real reform. South Carolina can’t afford more of the same and, honestly, as impressive as the credentials of some of the candidates might be, the perspective they have to offer is not what’s needed.
K-12 public education in South Carolina doesn’t take place in the conference room, at private universities, in the General Assembly or at 1429 Senate Street in Columbia. Public education happens in the classroom. Ms. Payne doesn’t see students as numbers – she looks them in the eyes every day. She talks to and with them and their parents, too.
So, decide: Do you want your children’s education to be a social experiment and an exercise in theoretical learning, or do you want it to be training for life? If you choose the former, there are several candidates who can give you that. However, if you prefer the latter, then look at who is already training students – and doing so very successfully – to be prepared for the coming challenges and an educated future.
As someone of prominence in South Carolina once said: “It’s too important to me to sacrifice their education. I get one shot at it. If I don’t pay very close attention to how my boys get educated then I’ve lost an opportunity to make them the best they can be in this world.”
Go ahead, be angry. Just don’t waste it on choices that you’ll regret.