Left behind: South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame

A few days ago, I was waiting for my Political Science 101 class to start when a fellow student entered the room wearing a shirt that read:  “School sucks.” Our professor was appalled — and so was I.

I am disappointed with the educational system of this country. Students don’t want to learn. Students don’t want to come to college. They don’t want to be students. College is seen as the final stop on the road that has been pre-paved by parents and teachers who “force” us to take the SATs and spend hours on essays and applications. College of Charleston students sit surrounded by their peers, intellectually stimulating lectures and engaging discussions, while simultaneously texting, posting Facebook statuses and checking Instagram.

Scholarship is dead. And education is dying with it. Students who show no respect for learning are not only disrespecting their peers and professors, but also the hundreds – if not thousands – of South Carolina minority students who do not have the opportunity to attend college.

Charleston County has one of the worst achievement gaps in South Carolina. In one school district, Charleston contains South Carolina’s lowest performing and highest performing schools based on SAT scores from last year. Not coincidentally, Lincoln High School, the lowest performing school, is 90 percent African American, while Wando High School, the highest performer, is 82 percent white.

I’ve heard thousands of reasons why predominately white schools perform better than minority schools. Judgemental stereotypes say black students aren’t as driven. Black students don’t learn as well. Black students are too poor to care. Black students have no chance.

Skin color does not determine academic worth, but it does apparently have an effect on the Department of Education’s ideas about where we need to focus our attention. Charleston is just a case study on the achievement gaps that plague this state. We should be investing more money in the at-risk Charleston schools. We should be focusing on pre-K education to solidify the necessities of a non-prejudice education early on. And the state should be focusing on districts that are plagued by achievement gaps and finding solutions rather than exacerbating the problem by ignoring them all together. These improvements will give local students the tools they need to be accepted to college — something we all take for granted.

Cue the infamous “Corridor of Shame.” If you aren’t an education major, you probably don’t know what I mean. Along I-95, from Beaufort to Marlboro County, stretches a concentration of the poorest schools in the state. They are falling apart as you read this — both structurally and academically. Not coincidentally, all of these schools are primarily minority.

Molly Spearman, S.C. state superintendent of education, visited the College of Charleston in September to speak to students and faculty about the issues we face in education. Spearman addressed the ongoing issues of the Abbeville v. South Carolina supreme court case in which the majority of South Carolina public schools sued the state for lack of funding and resource allocation to rural schools, many of which are located in the Corridor of Shame. Of all possible solutions, Spearman suggested consolidation, which essentially combines small, low performing school districts with bigger districts. “Consolidation. Some don’t want to talk about this, but there are some very small districts that are too small and very inefficient, and we have got to come up with some incentives,” she said. She also remarked that these districts are still racially segregated and economically unequal, proof that prejudice in education still exists after years of struggle.

Consolidation is the right solution. Combining the low performers with the high performers will effectively desegregate South Carolina once and for all. The low performing, predominantly black schools will combine with the high performing, predominantly white schools. The inadequate school buildings will be left behind — abandoned in time, representing the necessary and imperative need to abandon our deep-rooted racial prejudice in both the individual mind and in government funding.

As Charlestonians, College of Charleston students need to be aware of the educational injustices happening around them. There are reasons why we still have black versus white school statistics, and they all stem from racist roots. People often joke about the fact that black families always live in specific areas, but the reason for this is because black people have a hard time securing jobs and are forced to reside in places with easier access to blue-collar jobs that do not require much experience. Naturally, these areas are where the predominately black schools are, and where school funding is at the bottom of the priority list. It is a never-ending cycle. Consolidating districts could be a form of modern desegregation, and would be revolutionary in the educational world.

Consolidation would also allow for individual students to have better access to innovative programs including Advanced Placement classes, STEM programs and extracurricular activities. Spearman’s speech focused on the summer and after-school programs for at-risk children that have significantly improved individual student advancement in recent case studies. If we consolidate these schools, we need to make sure that the at-risk students who come from the rural districts are given special attention and proper care. Schools should do everything in their power to ensure that all students are offered the same programs – and this begins with ending what is known as “tracking.”

Tracking is a hot-topic in education right now. Tracking students means that the level of classes they take as early as middle school will determine the rest of their educational journey. Enrolling in honors classes in sixth grade will put a student on the track toward Advanced Placement classes in high school. This sounds great, but the problem is that the students who aren’t ready for those classes early on are never able to move up the rankings. It is historically minority students who come from difficult financial situations at home that simply do not have community support to assuage the difficulty of advanced classes early on.

Hillary Clinton, who visited South Carolina in June, commented on the serious problems associated with the achievement gaps, the Corridor of Shame and the mess our government has created here. “We cannot wave a magic wand and make everybody have the same opportunities,” Clinton said, “but we can do a better job by offering those opportunities.” Clinton believes that these opportunities need to start as early as pre-school. She made compelling arguments as to why we need to invest in Head Start programs to increase early-childhood education potential. Investing in the early years will spark an individual student’s motivation and drive for the next twelve years of his or her educational journey, regardless of racial and financial barriers, and will significantly lower the number of at-risk youth. The tracking program would be irrelevant, as all children would be ready for the most invigorating classes and honors programs to prepare them for college.

Clinton remarked that the I-95 stretch should be a “corridor of opportunity,” yet the fact remains that the state itself is a corridor of misopportunity. South Carolina’s education system is ranked 45 out of the 50 states in this nation. That is an appalling number. Charleston County itself is an example of the achievement gaps seen outside of the I-95 corridor, and it proves that this state needs a serious educational overhaul.

Dr. Jon Hale, professor of teacher education at the College, recognizes the racial stigmas that plague S.C. schools. “The biggest issues facing education,” he said, “are the lack of political will among the public to substantively reform education to meet the needs of all students and the public good, and the fact that quality education is not a right protected under the United States Constitution.” I see these injustices happening everyday, and it is time to make a change to revitalize our natural right to equality. The public essentially needs to support the investment it will take to improve barriers in education, otherwise we risk staying in this backward and discriminatory system of schooling.

Consolidating rural and urban schools, combined with pioneering Head Start programs to diminish the need for tracking, will require government funding. Recently, an infamous egomaniac named Donald Trump had some interesting words to say about this nation’s education. “No, I’m not cutting services,” he said, “but I’m cutting spending. But I may cut Department of Education.”

What neglect this would be on behalf of public school students. The Department of Education should be receiving more funding in order to solve issues like South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame. I don’t care what anxious conservatives say about cutting the budget — education is the most important investment this country and this state could make.

And we need to do it as soon as possible.

*This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Yard.

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Jessica Wilkinson is a feature writer at CisternYard News. She is a sophomore majoring in Secondary Education and History with a minor in Political Science. In her free time, she can be found binge-watching Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, doing Muay Thai Kickboxing and spending as much time as possible on Pinterest. She aspires to be the best history teacher your kids will ever have while spending her summers writing and traveling the world.

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