SC Education Superintendent Wants Major School Changes



South Carolina superintendent of education Mick Zais has some ideas about how to improve state schools, but he told the Columbia Rotary Club Monday afternoon that his ideas were probably not what they would expect.

"More money, better facilities, improved curriculum and smaller classes will not work. We've tried that for 40 years," he said.

Instead, he thinks the state needs to completely change its approach to education.

"We have a traditional school system that puts every child in the same classroom, expects them to learn the same material on the same schedule. The surprising thing for me is that it actually works for so many children," he said.

He wants to change the system to offer parents many more choices, whether it's single-gender classes, magnet programs based on science and math or the arts, public charter schools, year-round schools, online schools or career and technology centers.

He says, "Rather than having an assembly-line model of education, rather than standardizing education, we need to personalize and customize education so that each child can learn at the pace and the method that they learn best."

He also wants to change the school funding formula so that state funds stay with each child, regardless of where he or she goes to school.

He would also start performance-based pay for teachers. "Right now, we don't pay them based on how effective they are," he says. "We pay them based on how long they've been in the classroom."

But Palmetto State Teachers Association executive director Kathy Maness says teachers have to be at the decision-making table when any changes are made to their pay.

"Should it all be based on test scores? I don't think so. You've got a child who one day can do great on a test score, on a test, and the next day he might not have gotten any sleep the night before," she says.

Zais says his plans would not cost taxpayers any additional money. What's spent now on schools would just be spent differently.

His plans would take action by state lawmakers. The school choice idea should have a good chance of becoming law. State lawmakers passed a public school choice bill in the past, but then-Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed it and lawmakers didn't have enough votes to override.

Now, however, Gov. Nikki Haley also supports more public school choice and performance-based pay for teachers.