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Home arrow Media Center arrow 'Minimally adequate' must receive an upgrade
'Minimally adequate' must receive an upgrade

By Jim Cato, The Beaufort Gazette
July 15, 2008

As the dog days of summer approach, some South Carolinians are assuming more than a lethargic attitude toward the education of the state's younger residents. They want more than a constitutional guarantee of "minimally adequate" education.

Teachers and principals often discuss expectation. They expect students to perform well. They want them to be above average. Parents expect teachers and students to do well. They want both groups to perform above average.

Now a group is pushing a petition drive that should tell state legislators that they expect them to perform well -- above average -- when it comes to funding education to provide resources

But will nearly one-fourth of South Carolina's residents sign a petition seeking to change the wording of the S.C. Constitution from "minimally adequate" to "high quality"? Will legislators listen to 1 million people even if they do sign the petition and put the issue to a vote?

In a landmark 1954 decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all the nation's schools should be integrated -- and equally.

Nearly three dozen rural S.C. school districts, including those in Jasper and Hampton counties, have been in litigation for nearly two decades to prove that South Carolina has treated all schools equal.

But in fact in 1999, the S.C. Supreme Court defined a "minimally adequate education" as including the ability to read, write and speak English, knowledge of math and science, an understanding of history, economics, civics and vocational skills.

Now Bud Ferillo, a petition organizer and director of the "Corridor of Shame" documentary that showed the inadequate support for state schools, points out that changing the constitution would set the highest standard possible for the state's education system. "The issue is raising the bar for schools' performance, and the state constitution is the best way to do it," Ferillo told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

"Minimally adequate is no way to run any public service, especially the most important," Ferillo said. "We've already had 15 years of litigation under minimally adequate. ... Students are going to need an excellent education system to free us from the poverty and lack of success that we have been plagued with for over a century."

It is true that South Carolina's "one-size-fits-all" approach is inadequate in a state that needs to take a quantum leap forward in order to compete with the remainder of the country -- if not the world.

Of course, lawmakers will disagree with Ferillo and others,but one thing is for sure: South Carolina must move beyond "minimally adequate."

As state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex has said on numerous occasions, "minimally adequate" is a message of low expectations and that needs to change.

An investment in education will make a significant change, but several other things need to happen, too. Expectations shouldn't be just from taxpayers to government. Many groups are involved with the education of a child: the students, parents, teachers, administrators and the public at large. The expectation should be that everyone will participate fully, which would mean a change in student attitude and discipline and educator support and teacher dedication to being prepared each day to engage students.

In a letter to the editor a few years ago, a parent added another dimension: "One has only to look at innovative schools that are succeeding (some private, some chartered, some public -- many in environments that statistics say the children are doomed to fail) to know that where elected officials, administrators, teachers and parents are vested in students' success, children succeed. They succeed whether they get free lunch. They succeed whether they have learning disabilities. They succeed whether they're below the poverty line."

So everyone has much to think about this summer and much to do this fall. But "minimally adequate" doesn't cut it.

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