Friday, August 28, 2015

Common Sense on CCSD's School Choice

For those of you who avoid reading our local paper:

School choice is a solution, not a problem
Aug 26 2015 12:01 am

The Post and Courier’s recent five-part series, “Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice,” leads one to believe that the hardships experienced by some students at a North Charleston high school are the effects of school choice policies.

Yet for all the series’ strengths — poignant stories, good writing — it doesn’t deliver on its central claim. Indeed, readers will wonder how any of the stories, moving though they are, have anything to do with educational policies commonly associated with the term school choice.

The series’ logic is this: North Charleston High School has lost large numbers of students to competing charter schools. The remaining students — those “left behind” — are therefore struggling to keep up.

The problem is the “therefore.” It’s just not clear how the exodus has anything to do with the hardships chronicled by the series.

The authors chronicle the achievements of charter and magnet schools, and so concede the benefits of non-traditional public schooling. But they treat these educational benefits as a zero sum game.

The gains of the charter and magnet attendees mean losses for those “left behind” at North Charleston High. Even if we accept the reporters’ highly doubtful assumption that the departing students are the “brightest and most motivated,” it’s never clear why the departure of some should hurt the ones who remain.

Another problem is the way in which the series refers to “school choice.” The policies most commonly associated with that phrase — state-funded vouchers, tax credits for donations to organizations that pay tuition costs at independent schools — are almost totally absent in South Carolina. Current state law makes limited tax credit scholarships available to exceptional needs students, but to no one else.

Moreover, the argument that school choice policies harm public schools simply isn’t supported by the evidence. Out of 23 empirical studies that examine the effect of school choice on public schools, 22 found that the availability of school choice programs boosted academic performance at public schools. The remaining study found no effect.

It’s easy to see why this should be so. Most public schools — certainly this is true of South Carolina’s — receive funding based on the number of students they serve.

Thus a decline in enrollment won’t decrease a school’s funding relative to its student base. The presence of competing schools may actually encourage traditional public schools to find better ways to serve their students.

The Post and Courier’s series itself would seem to back this up: we learn that North Charleston High added four programs this year, and plans to add engineering and law enforcement programs next year.

One thing the series does demonstrate, however, is a correlation between the poverty index of a school’s student body and its ACT scores. Since the more affluent students have left North Charleston High, the thinking seems to be, the school’s overall test scores will suffer.

Well, maybe. The series doesn’t actually provide data to support that assumption, but it’s conceivable. There is zero evidence, however, that the academic performance of individual remaining students have suffered as a result of the exodus.

For all we know, it might have improved, since some of the students were no doubt sent to other schools precisely because they were experiencing behavioral or learning problems at North Charleston High.

What we do know is this: In no fewer than 12 empirical studies using random assignment — the gold standard of social sciences — to examine how school choice programs affect the academic performance, all 12 found consistently positive results. Six found a positive benefit for all student participants, five found positive results for some students but not all, and one found no impact. Not one of the studies found a harmful effect to participants’ academic performance.

The lesson is clear. School choice programs should be expanded, not rolled back — and certainly not blamed for “unintended consequences” they had nothing to do with.

How should they be expanded? The state could implement universally available vouchers or tax credit scholarships without a yearly cap. At the very least, the state could make vouchers and scholarships available to all students whose families fall under a certain income threshold.

The suggestions of reports like “Left Behind” notwithstanding, it’s students who are the least well off financially who stand to benefit the most from school choice programs.

Without these policies, more affluent families will have access to educational choices unavailable to their less well-off counterparts. The less well-off will in effect be stuck with the school they’re zoned for.

But in a system where everyone pays for public education, everyone should have access to the widest possible array of opportunities.

In short: the more South Carolina expands school choice, the fewer students will be left behind.

Shane McNamee is a policy analyst at the South Carolina Policy Council.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Really Happened to North Charleston High?

It wasn't school choice. Let's get that straight.

Why did North Charleston High School have eleven principals from 2003 to now? That turnover was not the result of school choice.

Why did the middle class, both black and white, leave North Charleston High School? Policies imposed upon the school by the Charleston County School District precipated their exodus to greener pastures. And Superintendent McGinley was happy because the numbers enrolled in CCSD public schools stopped hemorraging.

What middle-class parent would want his or her child sitting in a classroom with at least one convicted armed robber? Why was NCHS forced to take that teenager? What ever happened to the millions spent on construction of a discipline or alternative school?

What did CCSD do for parents of students reading on grade level who were enrolled in classes with a majority reading on second- or third-grade level? Please don't say, "individualized instruction."
Nothing about those classes could possibly be the same experience as a class with peers.

Did CCSD really believe that the millions spent on renovating NCHS would keep students from leaving, as though buildings were more important than learning?

Did CCSD make any attempt to change NCHS's curriculum to engage students, or did it follow the accepted liberal lie that all students must be prepared for college?

Has it ocurred to the great minds at the Taj Mahal that it makes no sense for any high school graduate to burden himself down with loans for classes at Trident Tech that he or she could just as well have taken for free in high school?

The recent series reveals major faults in CCSD's planning, not in school choice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lewis Finds Scapegoat for CCSD's Woes

It's all the fault of the constituent school boards--so says former Charleston County School District operations manager Bill Lewis in a lengthy op-ed this week. If they hadn't wanted small high schools, none of the Charleston County School District's failing schools would exist! All high schools should be over 3000 students. Then those embarrassing stats would melt into the larger whole.

Californian Lewis has no idea what a high school means to a community. In fact, he wouldn't even recognize a community if it hit him over the head. Why do parents of Lincoln High School's or Baptist Hill's students object to their spending four or five hours every day on the bus? How could a small high school benefit an entire community? Lewis is still scratching his head.

His rant apparently responded to the paper's special series on the problems of North Charleston High School. Now, the reporters seemed to blame the school's low enrollment on school choice. Clearly the problems of various students at the school result not from school choice but from poverty, especially the lack of resources caused by broken families. Neither he nor the reporters questioned the school district's policies--and in particular, those of ex-Superintendent McGinley--in bringing about the low enrollment at the school. Would forcing the school to enroll a convicted armed robber bring back the middle class? Would having a majority of students reading at the second- or third-grade level in a ninth-grade class encourage the middle class to return?

So, let's get this straight: if North Charleston had a 3000-student school, these students' problems would be solved? Not likely. They would become part of the mass of students lost in the halls, but any low scores on testing would give no cause for alarm to a district that wants no failing schools. The failing students would still exist but not the failing schools.

Anyone remember Fraser Elementary? Its closure, with promises that its students would be tracked to see that they thrived in the new environment, in reality improved McGinley's stats. And the result was?

Oops! Down the memory hole. That would be the fate of NCHS's students.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Does NAACP Want Charleston County School Board to Do?

Not surprisingly, the first Charleston County School Board meeting with Gerrita Postlewait as superintendent turned contentious. The NAACP's Dot Scott, given more power by the result of the Confederate flag controversy, plans to disrupt the board until something is done. As she said, "We will not move on."

So what will satisfy Scott and others who believe the process tainted? 

Agreed that "the hiring of the new superintendent was not done in a proper manner," who has the solution? If the Board backs down and begins the process anew, the cost of buying out Postlewait's contract would surely affect "the educational well-being of minority children [and all other children]" in CCSD's schools. 

Even if the above happened, Scott and her cohort would not be happy unless the new superintendent were black. Surely that's racist.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

P & C on Postlewait Sheds Light on Cronyism in Hiring New Superintendent

Columbia attorney Ken Childs had the largest role in the hiring of his friend Gerrita Postlewait for the new superintendent of Charleston County schools. He realized his opportunity as he negotiated McGinley's buy-out.

Childs has had Postlewait in mind for the position for more than a decade, if we are to believe reports in the paper. He orchestrated meetings of various CCSD board members with her (and no other) prior to the Board's discussion of requirements for a new superintendent, carefully keeping the numbers down each time so that the Open Meetings law would not apply. Well, he is an attorney.

He also omitted Board members Miller and Collins from these meetings because those two, who did not belong to the go-along-and-get-along crowd, had already put forward Lisa Herring's name. Considering that McGinley had not previously been a superintendent and was promoted to the position without a search, the Collins-Miller proposal was not so far-fetched.

When this omission saw the light of day, Childs called it "regrettable," as in regrettable that the public found out. Unfortunately for him, both omitted members were black. Clearly, his objective was to maneuver Postlewait into the position while keeping boosters of Lisa Herring (also black) in the dark. Who added Bobby's name remains a mystery, but most likely he allowed his name put forward so that the Board would not appear split between Herring and Postlewait. If Coats's recent statements about needing someone with prior superintendent experience are to be believed, only one of those three--the one hand-picked by Childs--qualified.

After the omission of Collins and Miller became known and Bobby withdrew, Childs again manuevered the whole process. He convinced Coats that the School Boards Association, filled with his and ex-President Postlewait's friends, restart the process. After a whirlwind day or two, what happened next was predictable: Collins and Miller held out for Herring and other Board members held out for Postlewait (they had been well primed), To cover the impasse,a sacrificial goat was included in the final three names.

Childs succeeded in his original goal. Board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats still doesn't understand why so much fuss has been made about the process.

If the Board had conducted a proper search without Childs's manipulation, Postlewait might very well have been selected anyway. That the Board was so easily manipulated is problematic--and its members really do owe an apology to Lisa Herring.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Seriously? Seriously, Berkeley County--McGinley?

Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe ex-Superintendent Nancy McGinley is just what the doctor ordered for the Berkeley County School District. She could antagonize every segment of the population while closing any remaining neighborhood schools to improve BCSD statistics, or she could ram through a capital building program to employ her contractor pals from Charleston County. Your schools are 20 years old? How outrageously archaic!

The question is, do residents of Berkeley County know anything of McGinley besides the whitewashed and flattering accounts perpetrated by the P& C? Watermelon controversy? How about failing programs? What ever happened to Vision 2016?

What is definite is that if Berkeley County hires McGinley as its next superintendent of schools, it should change its name to Beserk County.

Monday, July 13, 2015

CCSD Flash: Cindy Bohn Coats's Days as Chair Are Numbered

Ask yourself the question: could the Charleston County School Board's process and publicity in selecting a new superintendent have been any worse? It's hard to think how.

Coats in her heavy-handed way has managed to alienate almost every person who cares about what happens in the school district. In addition, as I've written previously, her treatment of Lisa Herring defies belief. Herring was first named as one of two in-house employees being considered for the position.

When the Board announced the selection of Postlewait, Coats pointed out that Herring had never been a superintendent and was thus passed over for the job. Coats can't have it both ways:either Herring is qualifed or she is not.

Now the original naming of Herring looks like window-dressing to suggest that not all candidates being considered were white. Who can blame the NAACP's Dot Scott for calling for Coats's head?

Not me.