Campbell says he won't run

Kwadjo Campbell

WADE SPEES

State Education Superintendent Mick Zais is visiting Fort Dorchester High School at 6 tonight for a town hall meeting. At least he’s going to get some exposure to public high schools in South Carolina, because it doesn’t appear that he’s spent very much time in them so far.

How else do you explain his comments to the Berkeley County Republicans on Saturday?

As reported this week, Zais told the group that schools should dump British literature for business writing, and algebra for consumer math. At least this provides more specifics to his education policy, which up until now has largely consisted of cutting funding, rejecting federal dollars and fighting with the state school board.

Career and college prep

Public high schools focus on both college preparation and career-track education, said Jackie Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association. They have career and technology centers on campus, where students can take courses in sports medicine, computer programming, welding and a whole host of other pursuits.

There are equal opportunities for students to prepare for college and career paths. “I’ve said our high school curriculum should focus on career preparation and life skills. Public speaking is an important skill that children do not learn,” Zais said.

“It’s very sad for him to make such comments,” Hicks said.

She noted speech and drama opportunities for students to hone public speaking skills, and students exercise leadership skills in various clubs.

Yes, business writing is important, but so is literature. “Our literature helps us with our history, helps us see where we have been in our past as we go forward into the future,” Hicks said. And by future, she means the 21st century, where students are spending more time than Zais, apparently.

Zais also said high schools need to focus more on consumer math and less on subjects such as algebra II. It’s a pretty good bet that even a high school student knows that if you send all your tax dollars to Washington and don’t get any money back, that formula’s not working too well.

Pay for performance

Zais also used Saturday’s appearance to promote teacher pay for performance.

Hicks noted this has been tried before and was stopped because it cost too much, which would seem to violate Zais’ basic operational procedures, but never mind that. Hicks said the SCEA would definitely support extra pay for teachers going to schools or districts that are hard to staff.

But she also suggested starting teachers at more of a living wage, say $40,000, to get good quality teachers in the classroom from the start. “Pay for performance should be based on student growth and not benchmarks,” she added. She has a point. This isn’t like being a college coach, where you get to pick your team.

“Parents can only send who they have, we have to accept their children,” she said. “Our public schools are open to everybody. I think we do a very good job with children who are sent to us.”

Maybe after a few more town hall meetings, Zais will have a better idea of what goes on in the classroom.