Charleston County School District Report Boldly Challenges Stakeholders

By Barney Blakeney

At a recent workshop conducted by Charleston County School District officials, facilitators presented excerpts from the Equity and Inclusion Report: How Much Do We Care completed in June. The report offered a scathing indictment. Shared here is the prologue to the report and recommendations for action.

Before the report was presented, facilitators passed out copies of an 1834 bill passed in the South Carolina Legislature. Essentially it read that if anyone taught a slave to read or write that person could be fined and imprisoned for each offense, a free Black convicted of the offense would be whipped and fined and a slave convicted of the offense would be whipped. Anyone informing authorities of the offenses was entitled to one-half of the fine. Not much has changed since that 1834 law.

“The Charleston County School district fails nearly half of its students,” the report opens. “Those students who are at or above grade level are well-served by the district. Those who are not are not (well-served). In effect, the district is comprised of two parallel school systems – one successful and predominantly wealthy and white, the other rife with failure, mainly poor with mostly Hispanic and African American students.”

It continues with several questions: “What will we do to insure every child leaves our schools with skills needed to thrive and with a realistic prospect for leading a fulfilling productive life; do we really care about all students; are we ready to put aside personal agendas and outdated attitudes; do we have the courage and commitment to make drastic changes; and are we willing to try, and do, whatever it takes?”

Candidly the report goes on to say its observations are nothing new – that the district has spent significant sums of money producing similar studies only to shelve them ignored or rejected. “Previous studies resemble this one because so little has changed in their wake,” the report said. “Nothing will change now if this study also is allowed to gather dust on a shelf.” The authors expressed hope that this time stakeholders are incensed enough to demand bold change and to hold people accountable if that change is timid, inadequate or ineffective, the report reads.

“It is time, past time, to take informed, bold and even disruptive measures,” the report challenges. “Mere tinkering and technical changes will not do. And what has been tried and failed won’t magically work this time … We need to question our hidden assumptions and raise expectations. Too many of us seem to assume that some children simply can’t learn and act as if some of our children matter more than others.

“Too many seem to believe that having several world-class schools makes up for having failing, even deplorable ones. Too many seem to believe that it is enough to provide a quality education for one’s own children while others’ languish. This must change.”

The report offered six areas where action must be developed: Closing gaps in performance and achievement; Making school governance more efficient, accountable and credible; Reforming the system to ensure access to quality schools; Engaging community stakeholders; Restructuring the 2020 School Improvement Referendum; and Following through on the recommendations of this and previous studies.

The full 56-page report can be found on the district’s website at ccsdschools.com.

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