Better education? Prove it

  • Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 12:01 a.m.
When the Charleston County School District closed five schools in 2009 and moved 1,057 students to other schools, the idea was to save money and enhance efficiency. Buy this photo

Making promises is one thing. Delivering on them is another. The Charleston County School District seems to be better at making them.

When the district closed five schools in 2009 and moved 1,057 students to other schools, the idea was to save money and enhance efficiency. But what spoke most to parents at the time was the assurance that their children would be better off academically.

Four years later, they don’t know if they were sold a bill of goods. Indeed, Charleston County School Board member Chris Fraser, who voted for the closings, said, “The jury is out on whether we made the right decision for educational purposes.”

It’s time for the jury to return with some data. Parents and students deserve to know. And educators and administrators also need to know as they continue to re-evaluate schools and their student body makeup.

You’d think that given those students’ discouraging test results in 2011 (math scores improved, but English/language arts scores fell), the district would have been eager to follow up in 2012. It will evaluate test scores for the affected students this year.

From the beginning, some parents have been skeptical of the decision to close Brentwood, McClellanville and Schroeder middle schools, Fraser Elementary and Charlestowne Academy. Downtown, some contended the decision was racially discriminatory and filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights. It remains under investigation.

Given that concern — and the significant changes that students had to deal with — the district’s failure to evaluate the students consistently is indefensible.

As for the expected cost savings of closing the schools, even those are not documented. The district estimated that closing the schools saved $2.3 million in 2009, but it hasn’t computed savings since then. The buildings still require maintenance, to the tune of about $420,000 a year. And programs and personnel for the dislocated students aren’t free.

Recently several people in McClellanville and on Edisto Island protested the school board’s plan to shuffle students among schools. The board assured them its goal was not to shutter any of their schools, but the communities were unconvinced.

The board decided not to shift the students, but the exercise might also have been more substantive and less emotional if the public had been given the kind of data that might be gleaned from previous school changes.

If the district can demonstrate that closing the five schools served the budget and the students well, it’s a story worth telling.

But even the best-intentioned plans can fail. If the hoped-for improvements didn’t occur, the district needs to know that — and be able to make better decisions in the future.

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