Zais makes a solid case
Since it was signed into law 10 years ago, the federal No Child Left Behind law has measured and held schools accountable for their students' academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates. But many South Carolina educators agree that it doesn't fairly assess schools' success.
So it makes sense that state Education Superintendent Mick Zais wants to tailor an accountability plan specific to South Carolina. He wants a waiver releasing the state from federal imperatives. In order to do that, his department has scheduled 21 public meetings statewide (three in the Lowcountry) to allow public input.
Dr. Zais' goals include customizing education for each student, making schools in the state accountable for meeting high standards, increasing transparency, fairly evaluating teachers and principals and reducing red tape. He would reward high-performing schools with up to $10,000. Those are reasonable goals as we enter this New Year.
But the public -- professionals and others -- must be convinced that the ideas would be effective and that the balance sheet would work. The state could give up some federal funding if it opts out of No Child Left Behind.
In his first year as superintendent, Dr. Zais has declined to pursue some federal grants, and has been justifiably criticized for it.
However, the superintendent sees those dollars as ultimately costing the state time, money and effort. This is his opportunity to show the state how South Carolina could do better without the federal impediments of NCLB.
Dr. Zais should be prepared to demonstrate how teachers will be paid fairly and schools assessed accurately; how the state will respond when teachers or schools don't perform adequately; how school districts will be empowered to implement policies that will fit their profiles -- not a one-size-fits-all national model.
It is important that the state doesn't opt out of a system that has problems and into a system that is just as bad.
Dr. Zais campaigned for his job on the belief that federal intrusion into education has been detrimental, and that the state and local districts can design a better way of teaching. The growing enthusiasm for charter schools in South Carolina indicates that parents see the benefit of creating schools that meet particular needs, while maintaining high standards.
It's time to rethink the state's education system and make changes that promote academic excellence and realistic fiscal accountability. Dr. Zais should get an earful about what parents, taxpayers and educators want.