In Our Opinion: Early education deserving recipient of investment

The General Assembly hasn’t exactly been generous with spending on education since the Recession started, but there’s still a considerable need to invest in South Carolina’s future.

A bill in the state Senate could mark a step in that direction by aiming to improve education in South Carolina by investing in students’ education early on.

The bill, proposed this week, would hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at their grade level and in turn provide them with the instruction and summer school they need to catch up. Right now, three in 10 South Carolina third-graders aren’t up to grade level.
One extra year in school, the bill suggests, is far better than a lifetime of poor reading skills. We tend to agree.

Much of early education hinges on parents’ willingness and ability to help their children learn, by helping with homework, reading together and fostering an environment conducing to their advancement. When students lack those resources, especially as a result of poverty, it’s all too easy for young students to fall so far behind that failure is essentially inevitable.

Rather than letting these kids slip through the cracks and fall into a pattern of failure, the bill would help provide programs to help overcome a vicious cycle.

Getting the educational ball rolling early will also help get students ready to succeed in high school and make them much more likely to go to college. And as a benefit, the better primary and secondary school prepares students overall, the better South Carolina’s colleges will be.

We think that implementing such a program would help South Carolina students’ performance in school and produce a positive chain reaction: Better students make better colleges, which lead to better jobs and, over time, a more robust economy. A relatively small up-front investment could reap plenty of benefits.
In fact, Florida implemented an identical program in 1998, and since then, it has seen significant improvement in its students standardized test scores. We should expect South Carolina to experience the same.

But why stop there? We agree that this is a sensible benchmark to set, but we can’t expect it to be a magic bullet with a ground-up approach that will be infallible.

To make sure third-graders succeed, legislators need to be willing to invest in first- and second-graders, too. Setting a benchmark is a good step, but students need to be given the resources and instruction to get there. Clearly, they aren’t getting that now.
It should go without saying, but proper reading ability and comprehension is paramount for a student’s success.

We’re glad that some in the state Senate have recognized this, and we hope this idea becomes law.

But better yet, we’re eager for how the state’s leaders will follow it up.


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