South Carolina

Mountains of paperwork lack purpose and disrupt teaching, SC teachers say in survey

Thousands of teachers march to SC State House

South Carolina teachers, students and advocates marched to the State House to call on lawmakers to increase their pay and approve reforms that improve the state’s public schools.
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South Carolina teachers, students and advocates marched to the State House to call on lawmakers to increase their pay and approve reforms that improve the state’s public schools.

South Carolina teachers say mountains of paperwork are burying them, leaving them unable to effectively teach their students. That problem, highlighted in a new survey of S.C. teachers released Thursday, is partly why they said they protested by the thousands on a school day in early May.

Now, the S.C. Department of Education says it has ideas to reduce the burden of paperwork, responding to the new survey of nearly 6,000 S.C. teachers.

The survey found that roughly 70% of teachers believe the required paperwork prevents learning. About 81% of S.C. teachers said the paperwork they are required to fill out overlaps. And just half of those surveyed — almost 51% — said they understand the purpose of the paperwork they are required to complete.

In a 77-page report sent to state lawmakers Wednesday, state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman proposed five ways the state and school districts could help prevent paperwork pileup for teachers, helping to keep teachers in the classroom. They include:

Limiting the number of state, district and school-level initiatives, while possibly introducing a moratorium on new programs and requirements for at least three years,

Extending teachers’ contract days — and paying them more — to give teachers extra time for paperwork and professional learning, and

Eliminating paperwork not required by state or federal law.

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The paperwork problem is exacerbated by a growing teacher shortage, observers note.

S.C. school districts reported 621 teacher vacancies at the start of the last school year after an exodus of veteran teachers who left after the end of a popular state retirement program that allowed state employees to retire and start accruing pension benefits while continuing to work and draw a salary. The shortages were higher in critical needs areas, including 105 openings in special education classrooms in elementary, middle and high schools.

That number was 16% higher than the school year before, not a surprise to researchers at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University, who said fewer teachers are entering the profession as teachers are leaving.

“I don’t think there is anybody out there that will say teachers don’t need more money,” CERRA’s Jennifer Garrett told The State in January, just as lawmakers started to work through a massive school reform bill. “It helps. But there’s some other underlying issues in there.”

That piece of education legislation still resides in the state Senate’s Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry. Hembree said he plans to bring the proposal to the Senate floor in January. The Senate Education subcommittee will meet next on Aug. 14.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
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