A cover of "A People's Movement," a book detailing key lessons from the South Carolina Education Improvement Act of 1984. Pictured on the cover is a child's hand holding a bright apple against a white background.About the book

A People’s Movement: How a team of state and local leaders mobilized the grassroots, transformed public education, and lived to tell the tale—and how you can, too shares relevant lessons from the South Carolina Education Improvement Act (EIA) of 1984, one of the nation’s most ambitious state-level legislative reform initiatives, widely acknowledged as one of Governor Dick Riley’s greatest achievements.

The book takes a fresh look at the EIA, a bold education reform effort championed by a broad coalition built by Riley to address the state’s low academic achievement and lagging economic competitiveness. Authored by Robert Saffold, A People’s Movement offers lessons and strategies relevant to today’s policymaking.

Notably, the book includes:

  • 25 key policy “plays” that generated widespread, bipartisan support and set an ambitious, comprehensive agenda for large-scale reform and are applicable to today’s political landscape.
  • Perspectives of 27 leaders involved in the passage and implementation of the EIA, captured through extensive oral history interviews and reflected both in the synthesized narrative and in the accompanying direct, colorful, and often humorous quotes.
  • A thoughtful narrative that captures the realities of enacting large-scale reform and achieving the art of compromise, as well as how South Carolina arguably made greater gains in public education than any other state in the nation in the years after the EIA was enacted.
  • Historical photos that capture the momentum Dick Riley and his coalition built around the EIA.

The book is available for purchase at Barnes & Noble on Furman’s campus and online at furman.bncollege.com

Early praise for A People’s Movement:

“Under [Governor Dick Riley’s] leadership, the Education Improvement Act set a new standard for bringing together coalitions of parents, policymakers, politicians, educators, business leaders, and more on behalf of South Carolina’s children. As a native South Carolinian, I cannot thank him enough for improving the education status of South Carolina’s children and documenting how we got there. I hope this playbook will now serve as an inspiration for the new kinds of strong leaders and broad partnerships our children desperately need today in every state.”

– Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President Emerita, Children’s Defense Fund

Press coverage 

The Statehouse ReportNew playbook offers strategies for legislative success

Southern Education Foundation — A former education secretary’s legacy, hopes for the future

Greenville JournalRiley Institute releases book on groundbreaking Education Improvement Act

KnowledgeWorks — Lessons for Sustainable Policy Change


For a list of corrections related to the book’s contents, visit our errata page.

About the South Carolina Education Improvement Act of 1984

“The Education Improvement Act was widely hailed as one of the most successful comprehensive education reform initiatives of the past several decades. The gains made in public education were tremendous, sweeping. EIA-driven initiatives raised average SAT scores by 35 points and for African American students by 69 points, caused public school enrollments to increase by 15,000 students and private school enrollments to drop by 5,000 students, increased basic skills across the state, drove a 25 percent drop in absenteeism, garnered South Carolina recognition as one of the top six states in achievement growth in that time, and much more. But the development, passage, and implementation of the EIA, while obviously centered squarely on public education, stands today as a model of how to craft and pass legislation aimed toward comprehensive reform in any area of public policy, in any broad and sweeping approach to advancing a public good.”

Terry Peterson, Chief Education Officer to Governor Richard W. Riley at the time of
EIA passage and a chief architect of the EIA effort

“A Man of the People” event

“A Man of the People: Dick Riley and the Passage of the EIA,” a celebratory program that launched A People’s Movement and took a look back at the Education Improvement Act was held on Furman’s campus on January 31, 2023. After contextual remarks by Dr. Terry Peterson, the event featured a discussion with the principals involved in the passage of the EIA:

  • Terry Peterson, Senior Fellow, The Riley Institute; then Chief Counselor to Governor and U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley
  • Ginger Crocker, Director of Community Relations for the Public Service Commission of S.C.; then Member, S.C. House of Representatives
  • Terry Dozier, recently retired Director, Center for Teacher Leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University; then teacher, Irmo High School, and 1985 National Teacher of the Year
  • Dwight Drake, Partner, Nelson Mullins; then Special Advisor for Legislative and Political Affairs, Office of Governor

John Simpkins, President and CEO at MDC, moderated the conversation. He was a student in South Carolina public schools when the act passed.

Other speakers at the event were:

  • Cathy Stevens, Senior Associate, The Riley Institute, and Project Manager, A People’s Movement
  • Dick Riley, former Governor of South Carolina and United States Secretary of Education
  • Bob Saffold, Author, A People’s Movement
  • Don Gordon, Executive Director, The Riley Institute

For more information about the core beliefs about education that have animated Dick Riley’s leadership and how those thread through the contemporary work of the Riley Institute at Furman, read our Six Essentials of Dick Riley’s Work That Have Improved Education Over a Half-Century.

View complete photo gallery from the event