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S.C. Measure Ties State Funding to School Achievement

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School districts in South Carolina that refused to remove principals from poorly performing schools would lose part of their state education funding under a bill making its way through the legislature.

The measure is part of a larger effort launched by state schools Superintendent Barbara Nielsen that is designed to hold each of the state's 1,100 schools accountable for its students' performance.

The so-called South Carolina School Accountability Act also would reward schools that demonstrated marked academic improvement.

"We are willing to invest in our public schools, but they have to produce," Ms. Nielsen said in an interview last week.

Under the plan, the state would set benchmarks for each school. In the first year of implementation, for example, 90 percent of students would be expected to pass the state's high school exit exam as well as score at or above the national average on the Scholastic Assessment Test. The average score for the SAT, the nation's best-known college-entrance exam, was 910 out of a possible 1,600 points last year.

South Carolina students now rank at the bottom among the 22 states where the SAT is the predominant test, according to state education officials.

Schools that met the new academic-achievement goals would be considered "successful," and those that made significant progress toward them would be considered "improving."

Each category of school would be eligible for special innovation funds and employee bonuses. The legislation would set aside between $40 million and $50 million from an existing fund paid for by a 1-cent sales tax to cover the incentives.

A school that failed to make any progress toward the goals after three years would be designated "substandard" and would lose 2 percent to 4 percent of its state funding unless the principal was replaced.

In addition, teachers' contracts in poorly performing schools could be canceled at the discretion of the local superintendent.

Teachers Object

Most teachers' groups are strongly opposed to the plan. They argue that such a system would discourage many teachers from working in troubled schools for fear of being fired.

"Teachers are going to move to improving schools just to keep their jobs," said Sheila Gallagher, the president of the South Carolina Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

Ms. Gallagher also said the system would penalize teachers and administrators who worked in schools that had limited resources.

But Superintendent Nielsen said that high expectations, strong leadership, high-quality teaching, and parental involvement--all ingredients of a successful school--can be found in both poor and affluent districts.

"Poverty is a factor, but that cannot be used as an excuse," Ms. Nielsen said. "We need a system that rewards success and that meets failure with clear action."

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