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Education basics

Posted: October 1, 2010 9:24 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2010 9:22 a.m.

Every time test results are released from public schools in South Carolina, including those here in Kershaw County, there is either celebration or hand-wringing. Some years scores spike upwards, and in others years they disappoint. And here, as across the United States, various theories are advanced about what measures can be taken to improve school performance. Smaller schools and class sizes are often favorite subjects when it comes to “here’s what we need to do.” And of course, that involves pushing more taxpayer dollars towards education.

At Brockton High School in Massachusetts, however, educators have radically improved student performance with a simple strategy: returning to basics. After miserable performance there, a few teachers persuaded officials to incorporate reading and writing instruction into every single class -- even gym. The turnaround was startling, according to a recent story in a national publication. Last year, despite having a socio-economic demographic that would appear extremely challenging for academic performance, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of the high schools in Massachusetts.

The effort began with just a few teachers meeting to brainstorm ideas on how to improve students’ dismal performance; many kids were failing and not earning diplomas. There was some opposition to their back-to-basics strategy, but other teachers gradually bought into it, and Brockton High’s test scores improved immediately. When that happened, remaining resistance crumbled, and the school has been on a roll since then. The multi-cultural student body has reacted with pride, and confidence in academic work is brimming at Brockton. The teaching staff overcame the typical union opposition to any change, and the future is bright.

Old-timers used to talk about the “three Rs -- ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.” It appears that those basics might be a key to success -- without throwing millions and millions of additional dollars into schools.

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