WMBF Investigates the cost of keeping up with changing academic - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF Investigates the cost of keeping up with changing academic standards

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Learning to become a teacher is far from over when a college grad walks across the stage. In fact, the Horry County School District utilized nearly $4 million this past school year to make sure teachers were on top of their game. But with South Carolina students falling behind the rest of the nation, is it money well spent?

About a half-dozen teachers sit around a table at Burgess Elementary School for the weekly teacher review session. Every school district in the county holds similar sessions. It's where teachers discuss what's working, what's not, track progress in the classroom, and find out changes that are coming their way. The sessions are imperative, so teachers can clock the state-mandated 120 hours of ongoing education, but also because it enables teachers to learn new curriculum and then teach it.

“I teach very differently now than I did two years ago, much less 20 years ago,” said Marti Hancock, an instructional coach at Burgess Elementary, who has over 30 years of experience in various roles in the district.

Hancock's duties are just one way the district keeps teachers on track, but it's not enough.

WMBF News obtained an eight-page spreadsheet that outlines dozens of consultants that are hired in addition to instructional coaches, to take teachers to the next level. The spreadsheet shows how much they are paid, who paid for them, and what services they provided.

Nearly $4 million in state, federal and local money is used to hire consultants. Some of the findings show that in 2015, the consultants were used for all kinds of training; they trained teachers on student assessments, implementation of science standards and new ways to do math, just to name a few.

The spreadsheet shows local money was used to pay for a little less than $700,000 for outside consultants for the 2014-2015 school year. The state contributed around $200,000, and the federal government pitched in $2.8 million for consultants to train teachers.

“The thing about consultants is they have the privilege of having a single vision,” said Angela Rush, the director of professional development. “I don't have that privilege; a reading consultant has the privilege of only researching and learning about reading, our math consultants have their privilege and so they bring their expertise to me.”

Rush says professional development is critical. “All our research shows that one of the biggest resources for ensuring student achievement is by providing high-quality effective professional development in an ongoing manner,” she said.

But research shows South Carolina is falling behind, according to the state Department of Education.

Thirty-three percent of fourth graders in the nation are reading below level, while 40 percent of South Carolina fourth graders are reading below level.

The Horry County school District does has the privilege of being on the higher end of state statistics.

DIG DEEPER: View the report cards for your child's district and school from the SC Dept. of Education

Burgess Elementary boasts nearly 60 percent of its kids falling in the exemplary category for reading, and more than half are exemplary in math.

The district as a whole has a good rating with a 98 percent graduation rate, as opposed to the state stats.

But being at the high-end academically in a state that's falling behind means teachers have to keep pushing harder.

“I think teachers feel a huge responsibility to the little people that sit in front of them every day,” said Hancock.

It's a responsibility that often begins with legislation. Every time you look up, South Carolina state standards seem to be changing. Common Core, for example, was adopted by South Carolina in 2010, but on May 30, 2014 Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill to replace both math and English standards by the 2015-16 school year. That means new ways to learn with new standardized tests are likely coming this fall, and for teachers, that means new things they have to learn first.

“I think when you are hired into Horry County you know the expectation is to continue to grow and achieve in whatever role you are in,” said Samantha Coy, the principal at Burgess Elementary.

The bottom line is successful students start with teachers who are prepared and are constantly taking on new initiatives. Because learning really is a life long journey

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