South Carolina has the sixth worst school system in the United States, a new report shows.
Students will return to school in the Palmetto State this month, but they’ll be doing so in a system that lags behind most others in the country on multiple key metrics, from various test scores to dropout rates, according to a new report from WalletHub, a major personal finance website. Still, some South Carolina education experts caution that while data on metrics like testing and pupil-to-teacher ratios have their use, much more granular statistics are needed to paint a full picture of a school system.
According to WalletHub, its study takes a more comprehensive approach, unlike other research that focuses mainly on academic outcomes or school finance. It accounts for performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials.
The study compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 32 key metrics to determine the top-performing school systems in the nation.
Below is a list of some of the most significant metrics that helped South Carolina obtain its low ranking, the report states.
41st – Math Test Scores
39th – Reading Test Scores
25th – Pupil-Teacher Ratio
40th – Median SAT Score
47th – Median ACT Score
42nd – Dropout Rate
33rd – Bullying Incidence Rate
43rd – % of Threatened/Injured High School Students
“Reports like these can be helpful, but they also treat education systems as a monolith — as if they are all uniform across the state. We know this is not the case in South Carolina,” said Thomas Hodges, interim dean of the University of South Carolina college of education and director of SC-TEACHER, a research organization that studies teacher recruitment, preparation, retention and effectiveness throughout the state.
Hodges said SC-TEACHER and its partners have studied teacher workforce issues and discovered that shortages are highly non-uniform. They are in geographic pockets in certain contexts.
Hodges added that addressing any of South Carolina’s lower ratings requires non-uniform solutions to non-uniform problems.
“While test scores can be an important metric when rating the quality of an educational experience, they are only proxies for what transpires in school settings, and may be of minimal benefit in understanding students’ success beyond P-12 schooling,” Hodges said. “In short, much more granular, state-level data is needed to address gaps in academic achievement.”
Tom Ramming, clinical associate professor emeritus, Buffalo, graduate school of education, told WalletHub what state and local policymakers can do to improve their school systems without raising taxes.
“School leaders should focus on research-based, strategically-focused initiatives that will likely provide the greatest return on investment. Resource allocation — money, people and time — should be aligned with the strategic initiatives,” Ramming said. “Also, research shows us that teacher quality, more than any other school-related variable, impacts student achievement.”
Hodges said the General Assembly and Governor’s Office made several investments in education for the 2023 fiscal year, including educator compensation, research and policy and improving the teacher pipeline.
“The College of Education at USC has designed innovative recruitment and retention strategies to address the state’s workforce needs. In particular, Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) is an alternative preparation pathway for career changers, particularly focused on high needs schools, districts, and subject areas,” he said. “We know the strong impact the teacher has on student success, thus investments in creating a stable educator workforce are investments in South Carolina’s children.”
Here are the 10 worst school systems in the U.S., according to the WalletHub report.
Here are the 10 best school systems in the U.S.