Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SC Superintendent Zais No Lame Duck on Smarter Balanced

If the Democrats manage to get control of the SC Department of Education by electing Mick Zais's replacement, those opposing the imposition of Common Core and its attendant government-mandated testing will think of these as the good old days.

Retiring Superintendent Zais earlier this week used his position to withdraw South Carolina from the consortium pushing Smarter Balanced Testing for the Common Core standards. Other mealy-mouthed politicians in the state are hedging their bets with comments on how, since we started down the Common Core road (under a Democratic Superintendent) we must continue. South Carolina is not alone in its rejection of the federal take-over of education by dangling Race-to-the-Top funds in front of ignorant noses.

We're going to miss Mick.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

SC State Board of Ed Stubbornly Approves Discredited Sham VAM

How many edublob members does it take to change a lightbulb? None, apparently. They would still be arguing over the merits of changing to wind turbines to power the light.

Despite the presence of level-headed Larry Kobrovsky and the prevalence of studies discrediting the practice, the State Board of Education, top-loaded with edublob members, voted to approve using VAM (value added measurement) for teacher evaluation. The practice treats students as though they are vehicles on a Ford assembly line. You know, one teacher adds the brake pads, another checks that the screws are tightened properly.

Here we have a situation where the assembly-line model of schooling has been discredited for decades, perhaps even a century! But schooling must now use the models provided by business.

VAM will not improve student outcomes. Where it has been used so far, the results have been erratic, to say the least. No study has shown that it has improved teaching, and year-to-year results for individual teachers have been ludicrous. Unmotivated teachers are not the problem. If someone proposed using VAM to evaluate parents instead, imagine the uproar and reasoning put forth as to why it would be unfair.

To top off its pig-headedness, the Board also voted to support Smarter Balanced testing. Let's hope the state legislature has more sense.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SC House Signs on to CCSD's One-Cent Sales Tax Extension

Don't you love it when politicians get together to spend Other People's Money? Our state House has now made it possible for voters to approve an extension of the tax for capital building programs in both Charleston and Horry Counties in the next election cycle. Otherwise, those districts might actually have a chance to pause and take stock of whether previous capital expenditures were really worth it.

My favorite statement from Michael Bobby, who is in charge of CCSD's capital program?

"The school could use the money to finance long-term bonds instead of a "pay-as-you-go" system, which they say would reduce the overall cost of projects. They could also use any additional funds generated by the 1 percent tax to reduce property taxes."

In other words, what we really need is long-term debt. And we can promise the voters that we might reduce property taxes. Actually, I've always been a fan of "pay-as-you-go." That must make me old fashioned. If you think this tax will lower property taxes, well, I've got a bridge. . . . Furthermore, sales taxes are the most hurtful to the poor among us, something CCSD Board Vice-Chairman Tom Ducker apparently doesn't mind.

As you read, Superintendent McGinley and Bobby are busy conspiring to dream up a list of "necessary" capital projects that will be of interest to voters in every corner of Charleston County. They've been working on it for months. You get the picture.

Call or email your state senator and tell him or her to vote against this bill if it actually comes to a vote in the state senate! And ask the CCSD Board of Trustees for an external audit of capital expenditures. It's past time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

CCSD's Garrett Has Clear-Eyed View of Segregated Schools, Vague Solutions

One of the newer members of the Charleston County School Board, Todd Garrett, opined in Saturday's edition that the district has not fulfilled the promise of desegregation nearly 60 years after Brown versus Board of Education. While no one in his or her right mind could dispute Garrett's figures, other board members and district administration have tried to gloss over the details for decades. 

For sure, the disparities among schools are the result of decisions and policies of the CCSD School Board ever since its inception when Charleston schools were consolidated. The effects of decades cannot be overcome overnight. 

Most people probably assume that segregated schools in the district (15 by Garrett's count) result from homogeneous neighborhood school populations. Not in Charleston County! These schools by and large are in thoroughly integrated neighborhoods. Where homes sell for half a million dollars and up, some neighborhood schools are nearly 90 percent free and reduced lunch. We're not talking just about race here; economic background is the villain. The middle class of all ethnic backgrounds has deserted these schools for those that are succeeding. The poor would do so if they knew how.

Garrett's analysis is cogent; however, his plea that the community trust CCSD board members to fix its problems is premature. The Board needs more members such as Garrett who are willing to speak the truth and criticize blanket proposals from the McGinley administration. 

When the CCSD Board of Trustees stops rubber-stamping administration and acts as the boss, and not the underlings, perhaps desegregation will go forward.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

SC Education Department Drops Margarine--oops, Smarter Balanced--Testing

Even as districts are forced to waste money implementing the Common Core Standards, the underpinnings are failing. Participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a case in point.

Unlike Smart Balance products, which are devoted to lowering cholesterol, SBAC devoted itself to winning the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment contest. Think of the millions at stake (and I don't mean students!). The SC decision halts Horry County's field testing this spring.

Legislation to prevent using SBAC was already in the pipeline in the state. South Carolina must find another test and must decide what to do about Common Core implementation in the next year or so. The state has plenty of company in its misgivings regarding the entire program, but not Charleston County's Nancy McGinley, who has been content to follow Arne Duncan's lead.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Thurmond Takes Senate 2 by 4 to CCSD's Gnat of a Problem

One school board in the State of South Carolina has not managed to get its act together--or should we say, get its members together--to finish the appeals process for teachers not receiving continuing contracts last spring. Those teachers continue to receive money from the district.

Guess which one. Duh.

Senator Paul T. wants to change the appeals process statewide so that the Charleston County School Board can take care of business. This logic is akin to junking the car if one of the brakes starts to squeal.

How about putting the blame squarely where it belongs. If school board members are too busy with other, more important, aspects of their lives to provide a quorum for hearings, they should resign to be replaced by someone who can put school board business first.

It's a no brainer, Paul, unless you're trying to protect your buddies.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Is You Is, or Is You Ain't: CCSD Doublespeak on Math Standards

Could someone who has never learned to write in cursive actually read cursive? Probably not. Think of all the letters and historical documents that must be filtered through typeface for those individuals lacking this centuries-old skill. Think about an educational system that proposes if something isn't on standardized testing, it's too unimportant to be taught!

This ridiculous proposition and doublespeak in mathematics standards are the reason for SC's "Back to Basics in Education Act of 2013 pass[ing] with little opposition. It requires adding cursive writing and the memorization of multiplication tables to the list of required subjects of instruction in South Carolina's public schools."

CCSD's Math Specialist, Cathy DeMers, appears well educated in doublespeak. She points out that the 2010 standards require "multiplication fluency" and provides the reporter with two nebulous examples:
In the third grade, students must be able to multiply single digits, such as 9 times 9. By the fifth grade, students must fluidly multiply using the standard algorithm for multi-digit multiplication; in other words, they must be able to solve 782 times 94, for example.
Notice DeMers avoids the obvious question--does CCSD require memorization of multiplication tables or not? Was the reporter too embarrassed to ask?

So tell us, please, how much are calculators used in these circumstances? Is the student learning to plug numbers into a calculator? If you ask a random third grader what is the answer to 8 times 9, will the student be able to answer without one? And does that fifth grader learn how to solve multi-digit problems the long way, with pencil and paper?

If you've taught the upper grades recently, you already know the answer.