Thursday, February 04, 2016

Can Meeting Street Academy Fix Charleston County's Failing Schools?

This 2015 chart is impressive. It shows how much students at three Meeting Street Academy Schools--one on Meeting Street, at Brentwood, and in Spartanburg--have exceeded expectations. Now hopes are that its program will be replicated at another problem school, Burns Elementary.  If these results continue, Academic Magnet may have found its feeder schools.

It's a private-public partnership that takes money from the Charleston County School District but also helps itself to private funds. Of course, more money helps to fund "two teachers per classroom, an extended school day and school year, and an in-house crew of therapists and social workers"--including a speech therapist and doctor of clinical psychology. 
Sarah Campbell

Principal Sarah Campbell comes to Brentwood a seasoned employee of KIPP schools, with an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school (Brown) and an advanced degree in Business Administration. Let's face it--that's not the usual background for CCSD principals.

On the other hand, what happened to the previous teachers at Brentwood? Any still there? And what will happen to the present Burns Elementary teachers? Meeting Street makes its own curriculum decisions and can hire and fire teachers without the oversight of CCSD's superintendent. That power isn't necessarily bad, but you do have to wonder if more of the district's schools should be run this way, then the role of the school board is reduced. 

Superintendent Postlewait will be one of three on the executive board, which includes Campbell and bankroller Navarro. She's asking for an extra $5000 per student from the district for the start-up at Burns. That's clear enough, but what's not clear is the total expenditures per year per child including private money. Let's hope Navarro doesn't tire of doing good.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Holding School District Employees Accountable in CCSD Budget Shortfall

Will it actually happen? Will the Charleston County School District auditors find that certain individuals mishandled funds? The problem is bureaucracy: how can individuals be held accountable? Too long we've heard the mantra, "Mistakes were made," thus laying the blame on no one.

James Winbush, at present an Associate Superintendent in CCSD, thinks his close association with ex-superintendent McGinley has targeted him for the blame in mishandling of "private donations he received in support of community  projects." Postlewaite ostensibly told the school board that $40 to $50,000 was "unaccounted for." Also, the Innovation Zone Learning Community that Winbush oversaw "overspent its budget for an extended-year program by $200,000. 

Here is an example of what taxpayers suspect wrong with the district's finances. Winbush may well have had the best interests of students at heart. The milieu at the Taj Mahal did not expect good bookkeeping or staying within budget.

Such practices end up as a $18 million shortfall. Will Winbush claim that "everybody was doing it"?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Due Diligence Needed to Raise SC Dropout Age to 18

Former Charleston County guidance and career counselor Mark Epstein feels "hit in the gut" and "smacked in the nose" after the SC Department of Juvenile Justice raised objections to increasing the minimum high school dropout age to 18. Epstein has been vocal in Charleston County in praising the effects of raising that age from 17. According to sponsors, the purpose of the change is to "give parents another tool" to encourage their children to stay in school.

Here we have another clear example of intent versus consequences. Who doesn't want students to stay in school for as long as possible and/or until graduation. Epstein and the bill's sponsors in Columbia failed to explore fully other consequences of raising the age.

It's all very well to express shock over opposition from Juvenile Justice attorneys, but "setting a tone" is not the same as fixing a problem without creating others. According to attorney Elizabeth Hill, "If the dropout age is increased to 18, truants 'would fall under no one's jurisdiction--making it harder to enforce the law.'"

Maybe someone should have carefully reviewed all ramifications before now.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Paying for Universal Preschool in SC NOT Cost-effective

How do you tell a liberal from a conservative or, for that matter, a Democrat from a Republican? The first judges on intent; the second, on results.
"In the 2014–2015 year, South Carolina made one of the largest investments in universal pre-K, second only to California. As a result, 17 additional school districts will offer public early childhood care and education. In addition, due to a push by the child-welfare organization SCAN, it seems probable that universal pre-K will be a major issue in the 2016 election."--Noodle
But why, you ask? 

Who doesn't hope that all children, rich and poor, entering kindergarten are equally ready for school? No one suggests that universal preschool should exist for ease of babysitting for working parents. Instead, the intent is to narrow the "achievement gap."

The preschool idea has been around since the beginnings of the War on Poverty with Head Start. It's yet another example of how results can be costly and wrong but still pushed as effective. In fact, as the Washington Post points out, "President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to create universal preschool for low-income 4-year-olds, saying it is the best and most cost-effective way to narrow the achievement gap between poor children and their more affluent peers."

The problem is that the results of the last 50 years do not support this noble intent.

Now the Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) headed by Mark Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, founder of the discredited Head Start program [the family business?] is lobbying all state governments to bankroll a failed idea. And South Carolina fell for it, no doubt with the best of intent. You have to wonder, though: do we really want to be in the same ballpark with California?

Despite some claims to the contrary, Head Start has shown its benefits last through the third grade. Period. Without a large-scale study to show that universal preschool would work, politicians are plunging willy-nilly on a feel-good bandwagon. 

Universal preschool will become another "throw money at the schools" program that doesn't work and takes away funds from other ideas that might.
"And here is the problem. Given the scientific uncertainty, advocates cannot answer the following question: Will increased federal spending on early childhood education programs improve children’s futures? The evidence says probably not. 
"By creating the false illusion that we are helping children in need, programs like Head Start and Early Head Start do a tremendous disservice by wasting both the resources and the political will for effective action. There may, in fact, be ways we can help children in need. But we won’t find them if we believe, despite the evidence, that the right programs are already in place."--David Muhlhausen

Catching up with ACE: One CCSD Program That Works

Image result for northwoods nighthawks

How does a 15-year-old end up in the eighth grade? It's not a pretty story, but an innovative program at Northwoods Middle School, the Alternative Choice in Education (ACE), has smoothed one such student's rocky road. Harry Brunson's winning a lottery seat at Jerry Zucker Middle School turned out not to be so lucky. Home life and lack of confidence equalled failure. His life changed partly because of the assistance of an older brother and sister and partly because teacher Jason Allen saw that putting "10 students for a couple of hours a day in a portable trailer behind the school" wasn't going to change lives.

The appeal of using "one teacher and a program on computer with earphones" to enhance learning is a siren call that few school districts have resisted. It's oh-so cost effective, but rarely academically effective. Fortunately, in Allen, Northwoods has a teacher who cared enough to question an ineffective program and persuade his principal to approve another. He also recruited Zac Goatley, "the best teacher in the school," to assist.

Don't forget that the Charleston County School District planned and built an entire alternative school that fizzled. Personnel count. Teachers count. Programs count. Now 21 overage students at Northwoods have chance to catch up with their peers instead of being the anonymous and troubling faces in a crowd of 1,000. 

Oh, yes. One-thousand-student middle schools are cost effective, too. Academically? Not so much.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Charleston County School Board Elections Matter; System Stinks

Louis Weinstein, MD, former president of a school board in Toledo, Ohio, and former write-in candidate for the CCSD Board of Trustees, is not happy. He wants Charleston County voters to take school board elections seriously. As he pointed out in a recent Letter to the Editor, at the moment "in Charleston we have schools that are more segregated than they were 30 years ago, a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, a large number of students who cannot read at their appropriate grade level and SLED investigating a fraud-type complaint regarding district funds within the Charleston County School District."

And who's to blame? Well, Dr. Weinstein, mostly our stupid system.

First of all, is there any selection process for nominees for school board? The ostensible answer is no, but the reality is yes. You see, candidates seem to represent no one but themselves, but in reality many represent special interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Democrat party, and the education bureaucracy. Most have no experience with analyzing and approving multi-million-dollar school expenditures and so spin their wheels trying to figure out what's going on or take on faith the august advice of others, such as the superintendent and chief financial officer.

Once elected, school board trustees can successfully ignore the areas of the county they ostensibly represent. Does anyone believe that former member Toya Hampton-Green's comment to District 20 (the peninsula) that she doesn't represent them is an anomaly? After all, voters in Mt. Pleasant can guarantee the election of the North Charleston members that Mt. Pleasant desires. It's already happened with Cindy Bohn Coats. Is it any wonder that North Charleston's schools (no, not those magnets filled with Mt. Pleasant students) have among the worst statistics in the district? Who's really looking out for them?

Besides financial ignorance, what're the educational philosophies of those elected? We never know, do we?

What we do know is that school boards are where liberals hang out, especially in mostly Republican districts. You'll need to ask yourself if being a liberal or conservative affects the way you view education and the administration of local schools. Well, Common Core comes to mind. South Carolina and our last superintendent blindly followed the US Department of Education's guidelines on this issue so that they could qualify for Race to the Top funds. Was that beneficial or not?

If candidates for school board were required to run in a political primary, the local organizations potentially could recruit those well-qualified. It's a dirty little secret, actually not so secret, that they put up their own slates now. Too many voters are lulled into a sense that the position is not political, say, like being mayor of Charleston. Tell us another one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Return Powers to Charleston County's Constituent School Boards?

Once power flows to a central administration, does it ever flow back? For the states, the answer seems to be "no." Once power goes to Washington, it would require another revolution to get it back. The question is, Can the constituent boards that make up the Charleston County School District buck this trend?

In those oh-so-long-ago days of 1967, the eight independent school districts agreed to combine to equalize finances. The consolidated school district was purely a financial and administrative layer. Then came creeping centralization: after 1978 constituent districts no longer hired their own principals. Finally, in 2007 ex-Superintendent McGinley demanded control over the hiring of all school personnel, and the legislative delegation's support in Columbia put that power grab into practice.

Now the six of the eight constituent boards have requested that the Taj Mahal's power be returned to 1967 levels. Early in December virtually the same legislative delegation agreed unanimously to refer the boards' request "to the delegation's education subcommittee for further study." A euphemism perhaps? 

Kicking the can to a subcommittee can portend a lingering death. Superintendent Postlewaite wants time to show the individual boards that she can play nice. If you want power returned to local constituent boards, maintain pressure on your local delegation; otherwise, it will become a dead issue.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

P & C Reveals CCSD's Racism in Sham AP Program at Burke

Jerry Manigault represents everything that's desirable in a high school sophomore and everything that is wrong in the Charleston County School District. His story, ably told by reporter Deanna Pan in Sunday's edition, should strike a chord with every Charleston County resident who cares about our schools and our future.

The relative modernity and condition of Sanders-Clyde (S-C) and Burke Middle-High's buildings belie the racism of soft expectations within. Ask yourself why S-C has no ongoing provision for an Algebra 1 class that is required for entrance to CCSD's Academic Magnet. Ask yourself why it took a Teach-for-America volunteer to institute a successful algebra class there that disappeared when she left. Ask yourself why it disappeared.

What's happened to Jerry, who transferred from Burke to Academic Magnet this school year, doesn't show weaknesses in the Academic Magnet admissions process; it shows that CCSD's administration and school board for too long have tolerated low standards in Charleston County's all-black schools. Ask yourself why.  Of course, many of these students need more resources than those middle-class white students at Wando. Duh. Why don't they have them? 

What about the Jerry Manigaults of this world? Where is CCSD's provision for them? Instead Burke has an Advanced Placement program that isn't. Who ever heard of an AP class that required little studying or homework where students passed the AP exam? Now we know why Burke's students fare so poorly on these national tests: "As an honors student at Burke High School's Advanced Placement Academy, Jerry rarely studied. [...] He wasn't prepared for Magnet's high expectations and heavy homework load."

If you suspect that Burke's 4 X 4 schedule is part of the problem, raise your hand!

The 4 X 4 schedule allows for two goals. The first is cramming more students into an overcrowded school. Given that Burke is half empty, we can ignore that reason. The second is more likely: that schedule allows for students who, for example, fail English 1 the first semester to retake it the second semester and qualify as a sophomore for the following year. It also allows students to concentrate on fewer subjects at a time, for whatever that is worth.

You see, most likely Jerry, who passed the end-of-year Algebra I test in eighth grade, took geometry his first semester at Burke; then no math at all the second semester. That's what happens in a 4 X 4. Even students who didn't take a semester break from math often have trouble with Algebra 2. 

More insidiously, the 4 X 4 schedule allows teachers to present instruction during the first half of a class and have students do homework during the second half. Now, some advantages apply to this schedule--asking questions about math problems comes to mind. But if the schedule means that students get only half as much instruction as in a regular schedule and have no homework, academic rigor inevitably is lost. Schools where most students for whatever reason habitually do not turn in homework are attracted to the 4 X 4. 

Thanks to the article's publicity, Jerry Manigault should get more of the assistance he needs. Now what about the rest of his peers? Time to stop stalling.