The education system needs to be reformed, South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education told local business leaders Friday morning.
Speaking at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday Means Business breakfast at Newberry Hall, Dr. Mick Zais shared that people often tell him that the issue of poverty must be addressed first in order for education to be improved.
“Well, actually, they got it backwards,” he said. “First you fix education, then you fix poverty.”
New solutions are needed, he said.
“Traditional solutions for improving education — more money, better facilities, smaller classes and improved curriculum — will not work,” Zais said. “We’ve tried that for 40 years.”
One solution is to give parents choices.
“I believe that no student should be forced to attend a failing school and that low-income families deserve the same right that high and upper middle-class families have always enjoyed, which is to choose the school that’s a good fit for their child,” he said.
Parents should have a variety of schools to choose from such as public magnet schools, single gender programs, year-round schools, Montessori programs, arts or STEM focused schools, Zais said.
In traditional school systems, children are put into the same classroom and expected to learn the same things in the same way. While it works for most students, it doesn’t work for all, he said.
“This is a one size fits all factory-like assembly line model,” Zais said. “It’s a system that’s focused on seat time rather than mastering. It’s a system based on mass production and standardization rather than customization and personalization. It’s a system that’s school-centered rather than student-centered. It focuses on input — what’s taught, how it’s taught, how many hours it’s taught — rather than output — what a student knows and can do.”
The community’s role in the education system is also important, said Zais after the presentation.
“It is imperative that an entire community be involved in and committed to the success of their schools,” he said, noting that the community includes businesses and local government in addition to educators, parents and students.
Businesses can form partnerships, be mentors, bring students into their workplaces or work with classes, Zais said.
“I think it’s really, really important that local businesses get involved with a school,” he said. “They can’t do every school and they can’t do every child, but if every business had a school or a classroom and a couple kids, it would be transformative.”