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College of Education

USC Study Recommends Steps SC Can Take to Transform Education

South Carolina has many bright spots in schools all over the state. A common theme among these success stories is attention to the “whole child,” which means meeting a student’s needs beyond just academics in the classroom. A study conducted by a team of USC researchers [pdf] is recommending three steps for the state to ensure this kind of success for all students – from cradle to career:

  1. Eliminating long-standing policies and regulations that stifle the type of personalized learning that results from a whole child approach.
  2. Encouraging collaboration (already happening in some South Carolina schools) that focuses on providing supportive, personalized, student-led learning environments for all children. 
  3. Developing a comprehensive process to provide data that encourages a teacher-led strategy tied to innovation and based on the elements of the Profile of the SC Graduate.

This analysis of state education policy [pdf] by a team of University of SC College of Education researchers, anchored by its SC-TEACHER and ALL4SC initiatives, indicates that South Carolina can meet many of its education challenges by focusing on educating the “whole child” beyond just what’s taught in the classroom. The concept of whole child education aligns academics in the classroom with community resources such as mental health professionals, mentors and businesses to meet students’ needs outside of the hours of the school day.

“We would position schools as hubs of communities, not just a place where children go for a certain number of hours a day,” says Barnett Berry, senior director of Policy and Innovation in the College of Education and lead researcher on this report. “This concept encourages collaboration among community partners that drives cost efficiencies and will result in more opportunities for young people.”

The USC College of Education joined with Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative in Charleston to release the analysis of how South Carolina fares in its efforts to educate the whole child. The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative is an example of the type of partners that Berry says will move whole child education all over the state to a reality. 

Phyllis Martin, executive director of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, says, “We focus on changing systems that can transform learning outcomes for every child, especially the Black, brown and low-income children who historically have had fewer opportunities to achieve academically. This important analysis has identified the existing or needed state policies that can help guide local school communities to create a whole child system of education.”

The 157-page report assesses gaps and identifies opportunities in state policy that would allow South Carolina to create a more collaborative system of education to give every child a chance to succeed in school and life. The research took nine months, examined over 200 policy documents, and includes 45 interviews with teachers and other education professionals in the state. Input also came from the SC Department of Education, SC Department of Social Services, SC Department of Mental Health, and the SC Education Oversight Committee.

Interviews and analysis of state laws and regulations revealed that, while South Carolina is making progress in many ways, layers of long-standing state policies, a decades-old state financing model, and inflexible regulations stifle movement toward this type of whole child approach. 

A primary finding of the research notes that, while South Carolina does have many of the elements of whole child education in place, many of these successes sit in siloed individual agencies and school districts. In interviews for this research, policy leaders and education professionals said that fragmented rules and regulations often favor compliance over competence, competition over collaboration, and reactive responses over preventive strategies. 

Recommendations to combat this fragmentation include: 

  • Developing a clearinghouse of proven practices of whole child education in South Carolina and creating a fund for school communities to learn from each other across districts.
  • Creating a set of common performance metrics for measuring progress and success in developing whole child systems of education in South Carolina.
  • Identifying pilot school districts that will be needed to reimagine the education professions for whole child teaching and learning while also aligning resources equitably and efficiently in addressing current teacher shortages. 
  • Engaging students and parents, along with educators and helping professionals, to define local opportunities and gaps in community schooling.
  • Building on an emerging coalition of organizations and business leaders to establish a plan for supporting whole child education from cradle to career.

While the report makes recommendations about how South Carolina can transform education through a whole child approach, Berry says one thing must be clear. “The recommendations of this report do not mean teachers and principals need to do more than they are now. Not at all. In the future, schools must work more closely with their communities, businesses, and other agencies in personalizing learning so all students can reach their full potential. Partnerships among PK-12 school communities and other child- and youth-serving fields become indispensable.” 

Charleston business leader Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group, Inc., and chair of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, says organizations like the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative are key to this effort. “It is time to advance whole child and whole community education,” she says. “The USC researchers point to our state’s successes and opportunities as well as our challenges — setting the stage for the innovative policy roadmap that South Carolina’s schools need.”

The whole child policy analysis comes out of USC’s collaboration with the Learning Policy Institute, a national non-partisan research center that advances evidence-based policies to support equitable learning for every child.

Read the highlights and next steps of the report here [pdf]. Find the full 157-page report here [pdf]. Listen to the recent episode of ALL4SC’s video podcast, ElevatED4SC to hear more about this analysis.

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