No excuse for school district
The two latest North Charleston schools to be added to the stateís list of lowest performing schools should come as no big surprise. Both Stall High School and Greg Mathis Charter High School have struggled for some time.
What is surprising ó even galling ó is that the number of low-performing schools here is growing instead of shrinking.
And what is equally distressing is that the number of Charleston County high school freshmen who read at a fourth grade level or below has grown since last year.
Itís past time for the Charleston County School Board and district leaders to do what is necessary to turn this trend around. Every year they fail to do so means another batch of students receive substandard educations. Thatís not acceptable ó for students, parents or taxpayers.
Indeed, nine of the stateís 35 Palmetto Priority Schools (lowest-performing) are in Charleston County, home to The Citadel, College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina and Trident Technical College. And home to eight public schools, including a charter school, given the federal governmentís highest rating. Surely there are ample resources to stare down this culture of failure where it persists.
Stall and Greg Mathis have been trying to qualify for millions in federal grants. Any improvements they might have made during the 2011-2012 school year would not be reflected in the Palmetto Priority data.
But these schools, as well as Burke, North Charleston and St. Johnís high schools, Edmund A. Burns, Malcolm C. Hursey and Sanders-Clyde elementary schools and Morningside Middle need more than plans and promises. They need the determination of the community, the district and the board. Continued failure must not be tolerated. That was the spirit in which the district decided a few years ago no longer to tolerate students not learning to read at grade level.
And those efforts must be energetic and continuous. Sadly, although literacy rates initially improved in the school district, they have since slipped. At Lincoln High, 46.9 percent of freshmen read at a fourth grade level or lower. At Burke, 32.1 percent do. And at Garrett, 27.6 percent are in that discouraging statistical place.
It is too soon to gauge the benefits from reading efforts being made in primary grades. Improvements canít come too soon.
What is most baffling is that students whose reading skills are so poor are able to master subject matter enough to be promoted to the next grade. How do they learn history without reading well? How do they write papers? How do they work word problems in math?
The fact that they pass eighth grade raises a question about whether general academic requirements are rigorous enough.
Doesnít the district have a policy against social promotion?
Still, the literacy picture is brighter than it was in 2009 when The Post and Courierís Diette Courrege first reported that nearly 20 percent of ninth-graders read at a fourth-grade level or worse. The progress should be incentive for intensifying literacy efforts.
In a guest column last month, Jon Butzon described an initiative in Tennessee to turn around the bottom 5 percent of the stateís schools. The plan involves contracting with charter management organizations to make it happen.
In another column, Lucille Whipper, one-time member of the District 20 constituent school board, recommended making Burke High ó or possibly all District 20 schools ó magnet schools.
Those ideas might or might not work in Charleston County, but they demonstrate that there are dynamic alternatives the Charleston County School District hasnít tried. And when the status quo continues to add schools to the Palmetto Priority Schools list, and when reading progress slips, it is time for more dramatic changes than weíve seen proposed.
There is likely no silver bullet to fix high schools whose students failed to receive adequate elementary school educations. And certainly schools serving children who live in poverty have a more difficult job than those whose children donít face challenges that come with being poor.
But that doesnít mean itís impossible to shrink the number of low-performing schools. It just means deciding that failure is not an option, and taking the necessary steps to deliver all students an adequate education.