Gen. Zais right to end his tenure as education chief

After the November 2014 election, South Carolina won't have Mick Zais to kick around anymore. As he said in a news release Friday, the state education superintendent decided he wants to spend more time with his family.

And he will not seek re-election next year.

Though he said he planned on running, maybe we should have seen this coming.

For someone who's supposed to be improving the educational experience for our kids, some of the things coming out of his mouth sure didn't sound very education friendly.

Different goals

He has said that the state wasn't preparing students for real world careers, and thought high schools were spending too much time on things like literature.

Isn't that one of those three R's? He didn't attend the November protest against Common Core standards, but he did write a letter of support to the protesters, noting that 70 percent of S.C. high school students won't attend a four-year college, so "we should be preparing our students for life, not some elusive goal chosen by other people."

Of course, Common Core is supposed to prepare students for both.

He also made headlines in 2011 when he refused to apply for federal money from the Race to the Top grants, shutting South Carolina out of part of $200 million, and an Ed Jobs grant that could have been worth $144 million to the state.

Yes, those were one-time funding sources, so in that respect, he's not much different from other S.C. leaders. But it certainly seemed to contradict any notion that he wanted to help schools.

The biggest indication, though, that he may have stopped trying, just a little bit, comes from his press releases.

Same old song

When the ACT scores came out this year, Zais said, in part: "We must continue to address reading gaps because reading is fundamental to everything else in a student's education. If students cannot read, they will not succeed in school."

Which was awfully close to what he said in 2012: "Addressing the reading gap must be our top priority because reading is fundamental to everything else in a student's education. If a student cannot read, they will not succeed in school."

Now, to be fair, the scores got better in 2013, and he noted that. While both years he said that "nationwide assessments continue to show a reading gap between South Carolina and the nation," in 2013 he added, "it is encouraging to see the gap is closing."

For the release of the Advanced Placement and SAT college tests, there was actually no difference in his quotes in the press releases from year to year. In both years, he congratulated students for their good work on the AP exams, and in both years noted the "wide reading gap between South Carolina and the nation."

There's no doubt literacy is a key issue, and has been for years.

And there's certainly nothing wrong with emphasizing what needs to change.

Everybody recycles, even columnists, but when the taxpayers are counting on you to lead the way when it comes to educating their children, it's not unreasonable to expect a brand-new sound bite, at the very least.

Maybe this is the best decision he has made to improve schools in South Carolina.

Reach Melanie Balog at mbalog@postandcourier.com or 937-5565.

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