12 ideas for 12 candidates for top education post

-A A +A

Phil Noble

The Mattamy Homes proposal to develop the Treetops site on Van Wyck Road passed the Lancaster County Planning Commission, 5-1, on Feb. 18 and will move to Lancaster County Council, probably on March 10. The dissenting vote was provided by Vedia Hatfield.

In the 2014 election, the post of state superintendent of education is open. Incumbent Mick Zais is not running again. By my count, as of Feb. 24, there are 12 people who are announced candidates – 10 Republicans and two Democrats.

Given the state of education in our state, the superintendent of education position should be about the most important position in our state, second only to the governor. Unfortunately, there are far more candidates in this race than there are constructive ideas to improve education.

You would think this many candidates would produce a lively and substantive discussion and debate. It’s not happening.

First, the candidates. Let me begin by stipulating that they are all good and decent people who are running for this job because they truly want to improve education in our state. They all have different experiences and qualifications and I’m sure they will do the very best job they can in office. We should applaud all of them for volunteering for this tough and thankless job of enduring a campaign with all its big and small pains and humiliations to them and their families.

There are some highly qualified candidates running and, this being South Carolina, there are also some borderline wackos. I will leave it to the voters to sort out which is which.

For many years, I’ve been involved with a variety of education issues. I really care about this stuff, and I try and follow education developments in our state very closely. I have visited the websites of all the candidates who have one. I’ve read about their backgrounds and what they say they want to do to fix education.

Visiting all these websites is a bit depressing. First, they seem to all care most about asking us to donate to their campaign. Second, they all have a bio section that tells who they are and a little about their involvement with schools. And a distant third is a few paragraphs that could very loosely be called “policy” – what they say they want to do in office.

In reality, most of it is just boilerplate, innocuous rhetoric about quality education, teacher accountability and often strong words of praise for school vouchers for private schools as the silver bullet to improve education.

What was missing were interesting ideas for change; there was a lot of rhetoric and little substance.

So, I’d like to humbly offer 12 ideas for the candidates to consider – these are serious ideas that have been tried and tested in other states and have produced positive results. I’m not saying that all these ideas ought to automatically be adopted for our state, but I am saying they are all serious and substantive ideas that are worth discussing and consideration by candidates for S.C. superintendent of education.

1. Year-round schools – Adjust the vacation periods of students to reduce the amount of summer downtime. Studies show that students lose much of what they have learned over the summer.

2. Flipped classrooms – Students learn the material in the evenings with homework and the classroom time is reserved for individual teacher-based help and instruction.

3. International Baccalaureate Degrees – This international learning curriculum is comparable to other students worldwide in what they need to know to be globally competitive in the 21st century.

4. An individual learning device for every student – Whether it is a computer, iPad or something else, these are the learning tools of the future and every student should have one and know how to use them, and have access to high-speed Internet connections.

5. Copy Finland – Their schools are generally considered the best in the world. A few short years ago, they were just average, so they prove what can be done in a short time.

6. Radical freedom – Give some number of  teachers and schools radical freedom by essentially exempting them from most of the normal rules and regulations, so they can experiment with new models and modes of leaning.

7. Move to project-based learning – Students learn by working collaboratively on projects instead of following rote course textbooks and fixed lesson plans.

8. Bring in non-traditional teachers – Because Bill Gates was a college dropout, he would not be considered qualified to teach computer science in S.C. schools.

9. Global online classroom exchanges – Students in classrooms all over the world have access to computers and the Internet. Use them to connect students in real time to learn together.

10. Try P-Tech schools – These extend high school by two years to include highly focused job training, coordinated with businesses that guarantee jobs to graduates.

11. Universal community service – Students learn the value of giving back to the local community that provided them with their education.

12. Extend child support from 18 to 21 years – This would help kids who are going on to college; their child support payments won’t be cut off when they need the extra cash the most.

Will these ideas change the poor quality of education overnight? Of course not. Are these interesting and compelling ideas that are improving education in other states? Absolutely yes.

And we should expect our candidates for superintendent of education to be talking about such things and not simply spouting empty rhetoric and telling us to “donate now.”


Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats