Sunday, May 02, 2010

Candidate statement from Brent Nelsen

The first of the candidate statements VUI is offering space to comes from Brent Nelsen, Republican candidate for Superintendent of Education. Below is the statement, unedited.

As summer nears, high schools are getting ready for that grand spring ritual -- graduation. Soon, promising young men and women will walk across a stage and into college, technical school, military training, or the workforce.

Our problem, though, is that too few of our young people make that walk. It is costing each of us and killing our state’s economic future, not to mention suffocating the careers and earning potential for thousands of our state’s young people.

Only 6 of 10 students who start high school graduate with their peers, according to the Southern Regional Education Board (2009).

We rank 48th in the country and 15th out of 16 southern states, only ahead of Louisiana. Half of our high schools were identified as "dropout factories" that graduate 60 percent or less of their freshman entrants, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

Low graduation rates affect all of us. South Carolinians who do not graduate from high school will, on average, make $10,000 less per year than their classmates who graduate. And low-skill jobs are vanishing. By 2014, six of ten jobs will require workers with some college. Fewer graduates mean lower incomes, lower tax revenues, and higher government spending on unemployment relief, healthcare, and law enforcement.

If South Carolina is going to emerge from the recession with any hope of replacing the 95,000 jobs it lost, we need to find the resolve to improve education now.

Politicians tell us that poverty and budget cuts are the excuse. But graduation rates are the same as they were in 1996 -- long before the budget crisis. If poverty is the dominant cause, why do schools like the Garrett Academy of Technology and James Island Charter successfully graduate nearly all their impoverished students?

No more excuses. Other states have moved their graduation rates up. We must act now.

We can improve graduation rates by focusing on three areas:

* At-risk students
* Transitions
* Incentives

Studies demonstrate that students most at risk of dropping out are those who have been retained because they can’t read well; scored poorly in math in the 8th grade; or received a long-term suspension in 8th or 9th grade.

These students are easily identifiable and need targeted, intensive remedial work. The best solution is to teach them the math and reading skills they need before 9th grade. Ending social promotions by adopting a skills-based approach in the elementary grades will go a long way to addressing the problems that emerge in high school.

Transitions into and out of high school are also critical. Many successful schools require rising 9th graders to attend a week of summer classes that acclimate students to high school-level courses. Students don't just learn their locker combinations; they learn how high school teachers teach and what they expect. Freshman academies that separate 9th grade students from upperclassmen further improve retention rates.

Seniors also drop out because they are often afraid of life after school. Many students grow more confident if they have an adult mentor who will help them apply to college, explore technical training, or seek employment. Groups such as Communities in School have proven track records in raising graduation rates by deploying volunteer mentors to help at-risk students, but guidance counselors and community volunteers are stretched to fill this need.

Each of us, and our churches, civic organizations or businesses can act now to turn lives and our state’s economic future around. We must do more to match adult mentors with apprehensive seniors.

Finally, many students need incentives to remain motivated. Representatives Tom Young and Bill Wylie advocate tying driving privileges to school attendance and academic performance –requirements that have proven effective in other states.

We must consider mandating successful performance on the high school exit exam as a requirement for a driver’s license. Such incentives will require students to be responsible before enjoying a privilege.

We can increase graduation rates in South Carolina by being smart -- not necessarily spending more money.

South Carolina cannot wait. It needs someone who is qualified and ready to lead. Someone who is ready to act boldly, to Act Now! With passion and vision.

That is what sets me apart. I have the qualifications. I have the breadth and depth of experience. I bring 27 years of classroom teaching experience. I have lead one of the country’s best political science departments in one of the top liberal arts universities in the country. As a student of international politics, I have also focused our efforts to train students to be globally competitive.

And I have a passion for making our public schools work. My three children went through public schools and I helped turn around an inner city elementary school to help it become a magnate school as the leader of the Summit Drive Elementary School Improvement Council.
My uncompromising commitment to conservative principles and urgent action in education is why I am endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint. I also am endorsed by two former governors, David Beasley and Jim Edwards

I have also demonstrated a deep commitment to the public school system in South Carolina. I committed my life to educating others and my wife Lori and I committed to sending our children to Greenville County schools. We have been very involved in leadership roles in our children's schools, including long stints on School Improvement Councils, PTAs and Booster Clubs. We have seen the schools from the inside out; we are happy with some of what we see but deeply frustrated by the fact that so much of public education in the state needs dramatic improvement.
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Thank you for your time and your consideration ahead of the June 8th primary election.

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