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South Carolina School Choice Bill is a Win-Win

The school choice movement is rapidly gaining momentum in South Carolina. Last year, a school choice bill failed by just one vote in the South Carolina House of Representatives. A virtually identical bill, H. 4576, has been introduced this session and grassroots activists are determined to ensure that it passes. More than 350 citizens gathered in Spartanburg, South Carolina to rally for parental choice in education last night. The successful event sent a loud and resounding message to legislators: pass the school choice bill or ultimately pay a heavy price at the ballot box.

Cato Institute Scholar Andrew Coulson writes that “if they gave out awards for good policy design...the folks in South Carolina would be top contenders for gold.” The bold legislation would boost competition, increase parental choice and save taxpayers money. It would provide tax credits of up to $500 per child to families who send their children to private schools. Unlike most existing school choice programs, these tax cuts would be extended to homeschoolers. Coulson is correct; South Carolina is leading the fight for real school choice. 

Granting tax cuts to parents that opt to homeschool or send their children to private schools would be a step in the right direction. A poll by the South Carolinians for Responsible Government found that 63 percent of South Carolinians support tax credits while only 29 oppose them. Many families are struggling to afford the cost of their children's private school tuition. Taxpayers are immorally forced to pay for government schools via taxation regardless if they have a child attending the school. Lowering the tax burden on families would enable them to send their children to better schools.   

The bill would provide tuition assistance to low-income families through privately-funded non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). The size of the scholarship is determined solely by the individual SGO. The Individuals who donate to SGOs will receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to 100 percent of their tax liability and corporations that donate may receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to 60 percent of their tax liability. These donation tax credits will encourage people to contribute to a good cause of helping low-income families pay for good quality private schools.

Education tax credits will help students escape failing South Carolina public schools. The disturbing statistics show just how bad South Carolina public schools are right now. During the 2010-11 academic year, a whopping 76 percent of South Carolina public schools (831 out of 1,037) failed to make adequate yearly process. South Carolina has consistently ranked in the bottom ten states on 4th grade reading.  Only 58.6 percent of South Carolina high school students graduate on time, according to Education Week. The South Carolina Policy Council found that the state has the lowest SAT scores in the south.

The one-size-fits-all education model has failed children in South Carolina. Public schools in the Palmetto State are not preparing students to compete on a national scale. Education spending has skyrocketed but academic achievement and parental satisfaction remains low. It’s time to implement new, bold solutions to shake up the education status quo. After many years of attempting to pass a school choice bill in South Carolina, there's a very good chance that this will be the year that we finally achieve victory. We know that our over 20,000 FreedomWorks members in the great state of South Carolina are willing to stand up to the special interests that are blocking parental choice in education.

Kendall Svengalis

This is great news. School choice advocates need a victory like this to advance the cause of education in the United States. Just on the basis of freedom alone, school choice is the right thing to do. But school choice is not a panacea. It should be paired with the right kind of curriculum to achieve maximum results. The Core Knowledge curriculum designed by E.D. Hirsch is what our students need to achieve academic success.

For starters, see his book "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Ought to Know," published in 1987. Since the release of that eye-opening book, Hirsch has published a number of other books outlining his theories of education and where we have gone wrong on the education front. And his Core Knowledge Foundation has published an entire series of books designed to be used as supplementary texts in a well-designed core knowledge curriculum that imparts substantive knowledge, particularly in grades K-8 (see, for example, "What Your First Grader Needs to Know," etc.).

What Hirsch argues is that while American students learn language de-coding skills on par with other advanced nations in the world, we fall progressively behind them because we do not impart the substantive curriculum that provides the context for achieving higher level reading skills. By the eighth grade, our students are woefully lacking in this substantive knowledge in comparison with countries like Finland, etc.

The cause of this education malfeasance is the departments of education that supposedly teach our future teachers. The schools of education are dominated by Progressives wedded to failed pedagogical theories which have their origins in the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey. The child-centered approach the Progressives have been advocating and implementing since the 1920s place the child in the center of the learning experience and relegate the teacher's role to that of a facilitator. The mistaken assumption is that the knowledge is already in the student and all the teacher needs to do is bring it out, that is with the help of other students organized in collaborative groups. But, more significantly, these Progressive educators oppose the teaching of substantive factual content on the grounds that it is "rote memorization" and "regurgitation." They think they can teach "higher order thinking skills" apart from a substantive knowledge base. To the contrary, cognitive psychologists acknowledge that higher order thinking requires mastery of core subject content as a prerequisite.

To call the acquisition of factual knowledge “rote memorization” or “regurgitation” is absurd on its face. Factual knowledge is not the mere memorization of names and dates, but any substantive factually-based knowledge that forms the basis for being an educated human being. It includes names and dates, yes, but also theories, philosophical ideas, scientific definitions, musical terms, word etymology, literary allusions, and any else that a well-educated human being should master.

The Progressives would argue that you can simply “look it up” on the Internet, for example. But this is fallacious reasoning. To engage in higher order levels of thinking, one must be able to quickly synthesize and integrate many disparate bits of knowledge. One cannot simply “look it up.” This requires the acquisition of a substantial knowledge base which one can then draw upon, particularly in one’s field of specialty. Grades K-8 are the most important years for the acquisition of such knowledge.

Young people are like educational sponges, given the curriculum and motivation to acquire such substantive knowledge. We have deprived them of that knowledge. Our poor test scores are just one indication of how we have failed them. Or see, for example, how poorly our students score on tests of their civic knowledge such as those sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). Students at most colleges and universities fail the exam, many actually exhibiting negative learning after four years of college.

Core Knowledge has been enormously successful where it has been tried (Massachusetts, for example). Sol Stern has also reported on a highly successful pilot program in some NYC schools. There are about 600 Core Knowledge schools around the country, but they in no way constitute a threat to the poor performing public schools that dominate the landscape.

For more information, Google "Core Knowledge Foundation" to read more about E.D. Hirsch and his common sense ideas that have been stifled by the educational establishment. Once you understand what Hirsch is advocating, you will realize how baseless are liberals’ arguments that money is the answer to higher educational achievement. No amount of money will fix a broken educational system using bankrupt education theories. Many generations of poorly educated children are already their legacy.

Kendall Svengalis, President
New England LawPress

Priscilla King's picture
Priscilla King

Condolences...hope school choice can help the public schools!