Confirmed: SC Implementing Retain to Impede

Residents of South Carolina have yet more evidence of the state’s inept history with education reform: The rush to model SC’s reading legislation on Florida’s failed policies has begun to fulfill my warning that Read to Succeed is better labeled Retain to Impede.

Nathaniel Clary, reporting for The Greenville News, has detailed, Read to Succeed fails its 1st test. What are the failures?

Clary ticks off the list:

And while communication lapses, missing training programs and a flubbed statewide test marked the first few months of the statewide Read to Succeed program championed by Gov. Nikki Haley last year, the threat still looms that third-graders could be held back starting in the 2017-2018 school year if they don’t measure up to the state’s reading standards.

These first failures include flawed implementation on top of the essential failures of replicating the discredited Florida model as well as ignoring a powerful body of research refuting grade retention.

Since SC passed reading legislation built on grade retention, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the largest organization of English teachers in the U.S., has taken a strong policy stand against the use of retention and high-stake testing in reading legislation:

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English strongly oppose legislation mandating that children, in any grade level, who do not meet criteria in reading be retained.

And be it further resolved that NCTE strongly oppose the use of high-stakes test performance in reading as the criterion for student retention.

The evidence, then, is mounting that Read to Succeed is being implemented badly, but that does not justify this nod to optimism about the intent of the legislation and the election of a new state superintendent of education, Molly Spearman:

The intent of Read to Succeed is good, said Burke Royster, Greenville County Schools superintendent.

The tenor of Read to Succeed has changed significantly since Molly Spearman replaced Mick Zais as state superintendent of education, Royster said.

“I feel very positive that they’re going to address many of those issues,” he said.

We should all know the wise warning about good intentions, and at best, Spearman can oversee doing the wrong thing the right way—and that does not serve students or the state well.

Here, we are facing watershed moments, lessons that must be heeded if we are to shift directions in education policy. Those lessons include:

  • Education policy must be divorced from political compromise (a compromise between partisan political ideology and evidence-based policy is corrupted policy). Reading legislation built on grade retention and high-stakes tests is a testament to the failure of partisan politics in forming education policy, but SC’s legislation (as well as Florida’s) is also a story of how compromise cannot work since many sincerely supporting good literacy practice in the state simply relinquished on the grade retention element in order to secure more funding for reading. We must ask: How many children’s lives are we willing to ruin to gain more state funding of programs?
  • Intent behind education policy and even the details of education policy are irrelevant when that policy is actually implemented. This debacle with Read to Succeed is just a small version of the larger Common Core train wreck. To ask Superintendent Spearmen to right the implementation ship of this policy is falling well short of the need to scrap it, and then draft genuinely effective and credible reading policy for the state of SC.
  • Professional educators must stop sitting on the sidelines, stop hiding behind resisting being political, and then start flexing our professional muscle. There is no excuse for professionals to implement harmful policy that is not supported by research. Literacy educators need to stand up for best practice in literacy and their students.

Retaining children impedes their possibilities.

Decades of research on literacy and grade retention have shown us that fact, but partisan politics trumps evidence in education policy.

With these facts before us, what will we do?

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