In the days before the annual State of the State address, Gov. Nikki Haley put forth a set of new plans and goals for the state's educational system. These plans were a major focus of Haley's speech, and they were spurred by the governor's recent trip to her hometown of Bamberg, where she found the school "didn't even have the equipment to show a video." That may be, but Haley's plan of devoting more money to the state's school system runs counter to the beliefs of most South Carolina Republicans, particularly those who proudly proclaim that we cannot fix our schools by throwing more money at them. For once, I agree with that assessment. What Gov. Haley should do instead is take a long, hard look at the people who currently head our state's educational system.
For starters, there's state Superintendent Mick Zais. Last year, Zais made headlines when he said South Carolina schools should rethink current student-to-teacher ratios. Now, Zais didn't just want to raise those ratios, he wanted to eliminate them. After all, teaching 30 children can't be different than 20, right? And besides, who needs to actually teach students when technology can handle everything? Fortunately for the children of South Carolina, Zais is not seeking reelection.
Although as tempting as it is to celebrate Zais' impending departure, the rest of the South Carolina educational system is filled with equally bad leaders.
Take Elizabeth Moffly, one of the people hoping to replace Zais. A Charleston County School Board member, Moffly has focused her attention on budgetary matters, but her concern for how the district spends money hasn't stopped her from advocating for a pay increase for school board members, from $25 per meeting to $15,000 a year. Her apparent frugality also didn't stop her from submitting a request for almost $5,000 in expenditures in 2012. Moffly's apparent contradictions about taxpayer money, though, are the least of her issues.
In her first run at the superintendent's job, Moffly campaigned on the idea of reducing the number of credit hours for a high school diploma. Today, Moffly still believes that the key to making South Carolina schools more competitive is to make it easier for students to receive an "A" grade, according to a recent piece in the Post and Courier. I am not sure what is more shocking, that Moffly thinks that the key to competitiveness lies in making it easier to succeed, or that the P&C's education reporter didn't call her on it. In either case, it seems that Moffly is more concerned with the appearance of South Carolina's educational system than its actual performance.
A similar absence of questioning was afforded to another P&C subject, Associate Superintendent Terri Nichols, in a piece on a possible new magnet school in Mt. Pleasant. As part of the pro-magnet pitch, Nichols made the stunning assertion that "[t]he biggest thing is that they're going to move at a more rapid pace and probably put a little more depth into the lessons." It boggles the mind that anyone in charge of educating children fails to grasp that it is impossible to simultaneously "move at a more rapid pace" and be more in-depth. The two concepts are mutually exclusive, and if Nichols was challenged to explain her stupefying statement, the result of that follow-up question did not make it into the P&C's published piece.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Mike Fair of Greenville managed to remind everyone just how committed he is to making South Carolian schools "competitive" in science when he tried to nix a section of the state's new science standards because it referred to "natural selection." His reasoning: Natural selection isn't fact.
The only problem with that, naturally, is that evolution — and its key component natural selection — are considered facts by the scientific community. While there are other competing scientific theories about the origins of life, few have ever made much headway against Darwin's. Even so, Fair is not interested in teaching competing scientific theories; he only wants Intelligent Design taught as the counterpoint to evolution.
Even if we assume that "competitiveness" is a valid goal of an education system, it isn't clear how people like Fair, Moffly, and Nichols are going to get us to where we want to be. Perhaps while the governor is figuring out how to throw an additional $160 million at the school system without raising taxes, she can figure out how to do it without seeking the assistance of people who clearly didn't learn anything when they were in school.