We Can Learn a Lot From Florida

April 6, 2013


Interview with Superintendent of Education Mick Zais

South Carolina’s education superintendent says he wants this state to be more like Florida when it comes to education.
During an interview on Charleston affiliate WTMA, Superintendent Mick Zais referenced a recent study by the new South Carolina conservative think tank Palmetto Policy Forum, founded by former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, who is now president of the Heritage Foundation.

“The difference between high poverty kids who are learning and being successful and high poverty schools where kids are not learning anything is not the demographics of the students or the education level of the parents, it’s the competence of the adults in the system,” says Zais.
Their comparison of the two states found that low-income bilingual students in Florida outperformed the average overall South Carolina student.
Zais says poverty may be a factor in some cases, but Florida’s statistics show poor kids can learn.

He says the Palmetto State should mirror the practice of measuring teacher effectiveness by student performance. “Florida has developed a system that holds teachers and principals accountable for whether or not children in the classroom actually learn anything. We’re working on doing that here in South Carolina. But I can tell you we are getting enormous pushback from the education lobby group, who do what lobby groups are supposed to do, represent the interest of their members,” says Superintendent Zais.
Zais says if a student by the third grade can’t read he wants efforts to swing into full gear to teach them to read. He is pushing for a similar idea that Florida uses to ensure literacy in their students: “If you are at the end of the third grade and you cannot read, you’re not held back to repeat third grade, rather you spend an intense year focused on nothing but literacy.”
Zais also says he believes that teachers who are producing positive results need to be recognized and rewarded by the state.
WTMA’s Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report.