Unite to close the learning gap

Students study at Pinckney Elementary School. (Grace Beahm/File)

Though the tri-county area has some outstanding public schools, many local children don’t get the educations they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.

And judging from a wide range of reliable statistics, it’s getting worse.

That’s the timely — make that urgent — message from the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC). Founded by an impressive array of concerned business, civic and other community leaders, it launched a campaign Thursday aimed at fostering an “aligned” effort to improve public education here.

The driving concept is based on the “collective impact” of policies designed to uplift educational outcomes.

TCCC’s goal is to close the longtime, large and growing scholastic achievement gap between local students from affluent and non-affluent backgrounds.

The data suggest that failure to do so will make that gap even wider. Thus, the people of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties must choose: We either will significantly close that gap, or our local economy — and our children — will suffer serious long-term consequences.

TCCC board chair Anita Zucker has ample insight into the business world’s manpower needs as CEO of the InterTech Group. She said that “jobs equal education,” adding that our community “can’t provide the workforce if we don’t pay attention from the minute that child is born.”

However, you don’t need corporate-boss status to see the ominous implications of statistics reported in the TCCC’s Regional Education Report, including:

Roughly three-quarters of tri-county kindergartners lack proficiency in vocabulary, and three-fifths fall short in social and emotional development.

On average, lower income, Hispanic and black students score far below other students in third- and eighth-grade reading and math.

These and other similarly sad numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

But TCCC’s confirmation of the learning gap’s growth should come as a wake-up call. The organization intends to identify the most daunting factors in the achievement gap, and to track what works — and what doesn’t — in the quest to narrow it.

John C. Read, CEO of the TCCC, makes a convincing case that the group’s “deep dive into data already available” will be an enlightening asset.

TCCC Treasurer Michelle Mapp, a former Stall High teacher and administrator, said such data serve as “a tool to arm not just education advocates but parents, teachers and business people so that the broader community has something to stand behind.”

And Mrs. Zucker cited this harsh bottom-line reality: It costs much more to house one inmate than to fund pre-K access for one child.

Repeated alarms about the achievement gap can be daunting — even numbing.

There’s no short-term cure for what ails our public education system.

There’s no cheap fix, either.

But if you think investments aimed at closing the achievement gap are expensive, count the costs of a continued failure to do so.

Giving low-income children more — and yes, earlier — educational help is the right thing to do. It’s also economically smart.

The TCCC isn’t just alerting the public to a continuing, high-stakes challenge.

It’s striving to identify proven ways to overcome it — and to inspire the collaborative resolve required to make this indispensable mission a success.