South Carolina Ranks 17th in National Report Card Designed to Track Educational Innovation

November 11, 2009

WASHINGTON – November 11, 2009 – South Carolina ranks 17th in a new national report card measuring key indicators of educational innovation.

The “Leaders and Laggards” report – released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – is based on state scores in eight categories, including school management, finance, technology and staffing.  A similar study two years ago placed South Carolina 34th for school performance.

“Our goal for the past two years has been to accelerate innovation and reform in our public schools, and this report shows that we’re making progress,” said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.  “We had good grades on four key indicators and average marks on three others.  We still face challenges, though, in bridging the innovation gap that exists between districts and schools – not only in our state, but across the country.”

Chamber officials called the study the first attempt to evaluate educational innovation nationwide.  No state earned top grades in more than one or two areas.  South Carolina was ranked near two neighbors – Florida at 13 and Georgia at 15 – while North Carolina was 26th nationally.

South Carolina’s grades were:

• Finance (B) – The state earned a good grade overall but low marks for the complexity of its education funding mechanism.  Online accessibility of financial data rated above average.  South Carolina also is piloting a performance pay program for teachers.
• School management (C) – The report said the state does an average job of managing schools in a way that encourages “thoughtful innovation.”  The state has solid academic standards and sanctions low-performing schools, but 92 percent of teachers find that routine duties and paperwork interfere with teaching.  (Paperwork was reduced when the state’s accountability law was revised in 2008.) 
• Staff hiring and evaluation (B) – The report gave South Carolina an above-average mark for teacher hiring and evaluation.  Thirteen percent of teachers enter the profession through an alternative certification program, the same as the national average.  South Carolina also requires incoming teachers to pass basic skills and subject-knowledge tests.
• Removing ineffective teachers (B) – The state got an above-average score on its ability to remove poor-performing teachers from the classroom.  Few principals say that teacher associations are a barrier to removing ineffective teachers, but 55 percent think that teacher longevity can be a barrier to removal.
• Data (B) – South Carolina got an above-average grade for its data system, which provides educators with access to an interactive school-level database for analysis.
• Pipeline to postsecondary education (C) – The state received an average grade for efforts to improve college and career readiness.  Eighty percent of schools report dual-enrollment programs that allow students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously (15 percentage points above the national average).  The state requires 24 credits for a diploma but does not mandate a college- and career-ready diploma.
• Technology (C) – While a statewide virtual school has been established, computer-based assessment are not yet offered.  The study said the state needs to significantly improve evaluation of its return on investments in technology.
• State Reform Environment (C) – The report did not assign a grade in this category for any of the states, citing a lack of “reliable state-by-state data on local education advocacy and research efforts.”  But it noted that South Carolina includes a reliable graduation rate in its accountability system; the state is one of only 15 that can already perform the new federally mandated calculation, which will be required of all states by 2011.  South Carolina also is participating in the Common Core State Standards Project co-sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers.

Rex created an Office of Public School Choice and Innovation within the Education Department.  Innovations pushed by Rex have included charter schools, single-gender and Montessori classrooms, natural resource-focused curricula, and grant programs aimed at getting seed money for new approaches to learning.

Rex also helped to create and introduce legislation earlier this year that would fundamentally restructure public school financing to make it adequate, equitable and easier to understand.

The national chamber’s partners in the state-by-state project included the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.