South Carolina's top education official spent the day in York County on Tuesday, meeting with teachers, administrators, local legislators and the public and touring schools.
Superintendent Jim Rex made the trip to talk about his plans for education reform in the state, which he will push during the 2008 legislative session. The visit was part of a statewide tour that began in August.
Rex stressed it's important to instill a sense of urgency in legislators if any major changes are going to happen.
"Without that sense of urgency, I'm just really worried that we're going to continue to tinker with it, try this and try that," he said. "In certain situations, doing the right thing too slowly is no different than doing the wrong thing."
Rex's reform plan includes five major platforms, which he said should be adopted as a group.
• Accountability: Rex will propose changing the accountability system to include less end-of-year testing and more testing throughout the year. This will give teachers more feedback about how their students are progressing, Rex said. The change would involve eliminating social studies from Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests and only including science on the tests once in each elementary, middle and high school.
• Funding: Two committees have been formed, one to study how South Carolina raises money for public schools and one to look at how that money is distributed. The purpose is to make funding more even among districts and to make sure each district's needs are being met. Results of the committees likely will be released in January.
• Choice: Rex said he would like to see more magnet, Montessori and other programs in schools to give parents a menu of options for their children's education.
A proposal to allow students to attend any public school in the state, regardless of their district, was vetoed by Gov. Mark Sanford last legislative session.
• Innovation: The state already has created an office of school innovation to encourage schools to pursue new ideas. The office of innovation and programs for school choice will work together to create a "menu." Rex will continue to oppose vouchers for private schools.
• Teachers: Rex said South Carolina needs to "elevate the teaching profession" by recruiting more qualified teachers, increasing the average salary for teachers and providing merit-based pay incentives for teachers with high-achieving students.
Different groups of people reacted to Rex's plans in different ways.
Some teachers disliked the merit pay system, saying it isn't research-based and doesn't factor in students who improve but still don't make standards.
Rex said that when No Child Left Behind is revised, he hopes it will include a growth model that factors in what students knew when they arrived in a classroom, rather than requiring all students to reach the same benchmark.
Others expressed frustration that some legislators don't understand what educators say they need.
"They want to browbeat us as teachers, and we are doing the best that we can," said Jackie B. Hicks, a math teacher at Clover High School and president of the York County Education Association.
The next legislative session begins Jan. 8.