by John Read, February 2021
In the scenario planning work completed by Charleston Shared Future (CSF) for CCSD in 2019, one of the four scenarios, “TechTowne”, illuminated a future that has many similarities to our current situation and it came to pass sooner than anyone would have expected.
In the early stages of this scenario as laid out by CSF, confounding technical challenges, increased isolation for students and disruption to families, teachers and schools work to exacerbate racial issues and education disparities. Decades pass before technology and education come together in ways that further the interests of equity and equal opportunity to succeed in school.
The CSF Report published two years ago joins the Harvard and Clemson Studies, the Avery Institute Report and the CCSD Certification Report all of which are in violent agreement that fundamental reforms in CCSD are needed if every child is to have an equal shot at a quality education. These reforms extend from a restructuring of CCSD governance to financing reform, equity-based personnel practices and more innovation in our schools such that every school and especially those with the greatest challenges have an excellent instructional leader directing highly qualified, culturally competent teachers setting high expectations for students.
The Charleston region, and cities with similar demographics across the country are struggling to deal with the effects of this pandemic, made worse by the longstanding distrust of many families, especially Blacks, in the safety of our schools. Students of color and especially those in poverty struggle with the technology, and the motivation to learn remotely and the consequences in academic, social and emotional development will take years to overcome.
There is however every indication that this pandemic will come to an end in 2021 and, moreover that substantial new funding from Federal and State sources will be forthcoming. If, however these funds are used simply to revert to the system we had pre-COVID – a system that has institutionalized disparities based on race for a century – our region will have squandered its best opportunity to make these long overdue changes.
The reforms identified in these reports should be adopted.
New funding from public and private sources needs to find its way to our most challenged schools. Once a highly qualified principal is placed in charge and expected results agreed upon, s/he should have the autonomy by whatever means to hire qualified teachers and support staff and decide the curriculum.
Micro schools and learning pods now under development, if demonstrably effective, should be deployed in areas where the need is greatest so that students who are furthest behind can receive the support they need.
Another of CSF’s scenarios entitled “1835” makes reference to the year in which the South Carolina legislature made it illegal to teach Black children to read. Generations of children from then until now have experienced a system that does not serve them well. If we waste this opportunity, brought about by multiple crises to reform education in the region, we will destine this and future generations of Low Country children of color or poverty to more of the same.