Collaboration to change the story on poverty & education in South Carolina
School performance has consistently lagged behind the national average in South Carolina, America’s 10th poorest state according to recent research.
This is especially evident in rural schools serving low-income students, and is among the many factors why the agriculture-dependent state has continued to bleed industries and jobs.
But chief among these is an acute teacher shortage, a crisis that deepened last year when some 7,300 teachers quit their jobs in state schools ahead of the 2019 school year. An ongoing problem, it means support services to address the academic, physical and social well-being of South Carolina’s future talent capital are often underutilised.
A new research project led by the University of South Carolina (UofSC) wants to get to the bottom of the problem and hopefully, offer solutions to fix it.
The Accelerator for Learning and Leadership for South Carolina (ALL4SC) is a community-wide study involving every stakeholder across the state, from students, teachers and researchers to business leaders, lawmakers and church leaders.
From UofSC, the project brings together 12 academic and professional units across the university who will work on creating a strategy to close achievement and opportunity gaps for all South Carolina students.
The central objective isn’t just to improve student performance in South Carolina but to transform education for a state system in desperate need of an overhaul.
According to the university, ALL4SC will focus on the following:
- community-based schooling that integrates the academic, social and health needs of students.
- creative approaches to preparing and supporting educators that reinvents the teaching profession.
- leadership development that spurs entrepreneurship in public education.
- evidence-based storytelling to inform and engage policymakers, parents and community leaders.
“This is not a standalone research center or program, but rather a catalyst and accelerator for developing systems and more effective approaches to serving students and the educators who work with them every day,” College of Education Dean Jon Pedersen says in an article on the project on UofSC’s website.
The project will first kick off in Fairfield County, South Carolina. Commenting on the project, the school district’s superintendent J. R. Green said the responsibility of improving school performance in South Carolina is one that should be shouldered by the entire community.
“Only as a unified team can we maximise the potential of our students,” he said.
“If the students improve their academic performance, graduate and attend post-secondary education but are not able to return home to work because of a lack of job opportunities, then our community will not grow and prosper.
“The ALL4SC initiative is exciting because it advocates for a community-wide effort, not just a schoolhouse effort.”
For the project, the university team will huddle with county business and school leaders, as well as other members of the community.
Among others, they will seek their views on the challenges they face; catalogue their student support resources; develop and use tools and processes to better align people, data, evidence and money to ensure support reaches those most in need of it; and develop and launch a communications strategy to engage practitioners, policymakers and the public.
“Everything that needs to be done to serve children, their families and communities is already being done somewhere,” Barnett Berry, founding director of ALL4SC and a research professor in the College of Education, pointed out.
“However, no state has put all the pieces of the puzzle together; we can do this in South Carolina.”
In addition to engaging with community and schools, ALL4SC will also propose new forms of accountability for schooling, and will communicate the results of its research and support efforts by other partners across the state.
The university has a five-year plan to develop a financial and organisational model for and interdisciplinary and universitywide collaboration that extends to UofSC’s system campuses and its highest-need school/community partners.
“Our approach is to think big, start small and learn fast so that we can inspire new policies and financial investments in support of young people from cradle to career,” Berry says.