Thursday, March 15, 2018

SC's Revolving Door of Teachers Worsens

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No one goes into teaching in order to become wealthy. Though teachers may have as much or more education than other professionals, all they really desire is a stable middle-class existence. Raising salaries surely helps in that regard, but if the district and the state try to make teachers into robots, they'll leave the profession. 

Part of the problem of worsening teacher shortages is the education degree itself. Schools of education are a self-perpetuating morass of both super-trendy and outdated ideas taught by those who look down on aspiring teachers. Rarely are graduates prepared for today's classrooms. Further, students who enroll in those courses show less and less scholastic ability, truly problematic for education's future.

"Data from the Commission on Higher Education shows South Carolina's colleges and universities have seen a 30 percent drop in the number of their graduates eligible for teacher certification — in just four years. New and better financial incentives might not be enough to attract more teachers and keep them in the classroom."

"The SC Education Department committee solicited feedback from educators about why teachers leave the profession. Among the 197 responses, the most common complaint, after teacher pay and a lack of classroom support, regarded the demands of assessments and accountability."

"'What we know from having taught is not valued, and they’re constantly changing what they think should be taught in the classroom,' said former first-grade teacher Mary Ellen Woodside, who ended her 40-year teaching career at the Charleston County School District in June. 'There's less and less time to do the things that we know matters most at that age.'"

If the creative side of teaching disappears, teachers will also. It's already happening. 

Maybe you think a computer screen  or robot will do just as well. We may find out.

Anti School Choice Diatribe Ignorant of Reality

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Our local rag ignores viewpoints it doesn't support in the Letters to the Editor it prints, and it prints an inordinate amount of those whose viewpoints it likes. A recent letter from a New Jersey transplant is a case in point. The writer makes no mention of her expertise in the matter.. If we didn't know better, we'd think it was printed as a satire.

First, Patricia Marino seems unable to distinguish between public and private charter schools. In her analysis, they're all private. Now, she could make some points regarding private charter schools, but she instead blankets all with her condemnation. After all, public charter schools do not "drain state money from the entire education funding pot." In fact, she makes that point about vouchers, a tool not available to anyone in this state except special education students.

Marino makes the same point about "creating two separate school systems."

What the heck does she have in the way of facts to back that up when most of the charters in South Carolina are public? Same goes for her comments about public schools' accepting all students while charter schools do not.

Not true. Try to get into the Academic Magnet or Buist that way! 

Her last paragraph is too revealing:

"Public schools are a pillar of our democracy. We want schools in which people from all walks of life can send their children to learn together, and are democratically controlled by neighbors whom we elect to serve on the school board. They teach not just to read and write, but how to work and live together."

So why doesn't the writer live in an area where she can bump elbows with "people from all walks of life" instead of Cassique, an exclusive Kiawah Island development? 

Until parents find North Charleston Elementary so beguiling that they transfer their children from Mount Pleasant Academy, we know that democratic mix is merely pie in the sky.

If she knew more about the schools in Charleston County, she would have pointed out that public charter schools need the free busing given to magnet and neighborhood public schools.

That's where we can find agreement. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

College of Building Arts Rescuing Skilled Artisans From Oblivion

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Some of us remember when it was normal practice to get shoes re-heeled and even appliances repaired. No more. In our supposedly "green" society, repairs have gone the way of the dinosaur. Your dishwasher doesn't work? Throw it out. Repairs will cost more than replacing it with a new one.

If you think I'm exaggerating, you haven't needed a repairman lately.

So it's frustrating that too many people believe that everyone must have a college degree. Instead of equipping students for jobs, the degree has become a barrier for professions that don't need it and a drag on our whole economy as students assume tens of thousands in debt.

We are indeed fortunate to have the American College of Building Arts here in Charleston. Where otherwise would we find skilled workers to repair damage to our historic (and modern) buildings. In some ways Hurricane Hugo turned out to be a blessing, as it pushed the founding of ACBA.

Dr. Anthony Wade Razzi, its chief academic officer, has put forward a strong case for it and more schools like it:

"At ACBA, we teach six traditional trades: architectural carpentry, timber framing, architectural stone, masonry, plaster and architectural forged iron. Students spend four years learning their individual trade and becoming skilled artisans. In addition, they are also given a “traditional” education that includes math, science, literature, philosophy, history, foreign language, drawing and drafting, business management, leadership and historic preservation."

"More importantly, they leave with an education that fuses two branches of learning that have been artificially separated for more than 2,500 years. They learn to work with their hands and their heads. They learn to lay brick, carve stone, forge iron and frame timber, but they also learn the history of their crafts, the story of human architecture, and the scientific principles that underlie the buildings arts."

"They leave with the ability not only to build, but also to plan and design what they build. ACBA nourishes the critical thinking skills required to excel in any endeavor. . . .  They also leave with the ability to advance in their careers with the requisite leadership and management skills. And yes, at the end of four years they leave with a Bachelor of Applied Science in the Building Arts, so that they will not be shut out of other possibilities." 

"But more important than the degree, we at ACBA think that the education we provide produces fully rounded individuals, educated artisans, who have developed their craftsmanship and their intellect to reach their full potential. There should be no stigma attached to that accomplishment."

Too bad that the Charleston County School District doesn't feel the same way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hold Algebra Nation Accountable When SC Test Results Available

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The cost of homework help just went through the roof. Help with algebra now comes with a million-dollar price tag for South Carolina's students. 

What is Algebra Nation? It's an online program that "features video tutorials, practice problems and an interactive homework help page." Thanks to the additional millions that the Charleston County School District has spent on Chromebooks and their ilk, it's readily available to CCSD students.

Study Edge has figured out how to create big business out of tutoring, and the best part is that many, if not most, of its "tutors" are unpaid teenage students. They rack up points instead. The company employs only a "handful" of "study experts." Probably they live in India. Why not?

It's a genius of a business model.

Study Edge has results from Florida for the last three or four years to back up its promises. "Algebra Nation also ran a full-court press in the Statehouse as budget talks began last year, paying $20,000 to lobbyists in the first half of 2017, according to state Ethics Commission filings. The state Legislature approved Algebra Nation as a pilot program for the 2017-18 budget year, setting aside a one-time sum of $1.5 million."

That was money well spent.

Its affiliate, the Lastinger Center at University of Florida, already had its hooks into CCSD for "literacy coach training," so this program is another step into this particular edublob. "The Charleston area's Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative got on board with the idea after reviewing it with leaders from nine state colleges and universities, according to CEO John Read."

"About three-quarters of South Carolina students who took the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam last school year passed it, according to the S.C. Department of Education. But scores skewed toward the bottom end, with only 9 percent earning an A, 13 percent earning a B, 22 percent earning a C, 30 percent earning a D and 25 percent earning an F."

Want to bet that their report card grades "skewed toward" the top end? 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Chinese Language Charter School: Sign of the Times?

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China rising?

If ever you wondered about China's increasing importance to the United States, the founding of the second Mandarin-immersion SC public charter school in Mt. Pleasant should confirm your suspicions. East Light Academy, modeled after a school in Columbia, expects to enroll up to 350 students in four-year-old kindergarten through second grade for the upcoming school year of 2018-19. The school has located near the Philip Simmons campus off Clements Ferry Road in Berkeley County.

Previously in Charleston a weekend immersion program has satisfied demand.Two other area schools offer Mandarin as a subject. However, this is the sole immersion program, varying from 75/25 to 50/50 Chinese.

Students from any county can enroll in the school; its enrollment period ends this month. "Charter committee Chairwoman Hong Lee said she anticipates . . . adding higher grade levels in subsequent years. Enrollment will be free in kindergarten and older, but pre-K will cost $5,500 per year, she said."

More information may be found on the school's website,

Friday, March 09, 2018

What School Board Qualifications Should Be

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Guess what qualification the State of South Carolina requires to be a school board candidate?

You must be a registered voter in the district you wish to represent.

That's it.

You can be a criminal with a long list of encounters with police, as long as you have no felony conviction that takes away the right to vote.

You could have dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and have never held a steady job since.

Of course, you could be an 18-year-old high school senior.

Some may argue that the election process weeds out the undesirables, but how much do we really know about people whom we've never met. How many stories have you heard about those who've puffed up their credentials, be it in education or military service?

Since here in Charleston County members of the school board run on a non-partisan basis, even the cursory vetting available from a political party doesn't exist.

What causes a person to desire the slings and arrows that arrive with school board membership? Who recruits these people? It turns out that most, not all, have an ax to grind--whether it be shilling for the Chamber of Commerce, palling around with the superintendent and her friends, or promoting mere self-interest, such as a stepping stone to higher office.

The sooner we realize that the Charleston County School District is one of the largest employers in the county and has one of the largest operating budgets, not to mention its capital projects, it becomes obvious that merely having gone to school at some time in your life or even having a child in the school system is not a qualification for this responsible position!

Believe it or not, this school board is supposed to supervise the superintendent and not vice versa. It is required to oversee both operating and capital budgets. Too many boards in the last decade have been at the mercy of fancy financial charts foreign to their backgrounds. CCSD administration is more than happy to enjoy an ignorant board; basically, oversight becomes nonexistent.

What if we created a list of qualifications for the members that actually meant they would understand what the district does? The National School Boards Association has published the following:
What makes a school board effective?
                                  Effective School Boards:
Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement.
Have strong shared beliefs and values about students’ ability to learn and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
Are accountability driven.
Have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community.
Are data-savvy.
Align and sustain resources to meet district goals.
Lead as a united team with the superintendent.
Take part in team development and training.
Sounds good, right? "Data-savvy" should be changed to "Financially-savvy."

"Align and sustain resources to meet district goals" means that members must critique all those charts from administration. 

See what I mean? Maybe Todd Garrett figures out most of what goes on, but I'd wager than the majority of the present board must take administration's word for it. That's adequate for a small business.

CCSD is not a small business.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Time to Close CCSD's Greg Mathis Charter?

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A recent homicide in North Charleston resulted from a robbery gone bad. Charles Michael Cooke and his father were simply working to prepare a house for a needy family. Two teenagers on their way to school decided to use a gun to rob them. The two miscreants were caught almost immediately, but what seems to have been lost in the telling is that they were students at Greg Mathis Charter High.

Our local school board should answer several questions about the perpetrators. For example, why was a Summerville student attending a Charleston County charter school? Aaron Jordan White of Summerville possessed the pistol and did the shooting, according to his own confession.

We don't have enough criminals of our own and must import them from Dorchester County?

Another question concerns the gun: was White in the habit of bringing it to school everyday? Was it ever inside of Greg Mathis High?

Will we ever know the answer to that one?But it gets better!

When Darby raised the specter of closing Greg Mathis last month, ABC News 4 interviewed a student at the school who was a success story.

You can't make this stuff up: his name was Aaron White! 

White proudly announced this was his "first regular high school" after spending two years in a "juvenile correctional facility."


Greg Mathis exists as a replacement for the discipline school upon which CCSD squandered millions of dollars in the last decade. Now it accepts "students who have been arrested, fallen behind academically, dropped out or been suspended from their regular high schools." And Dorchester County's problems as well apparently.

I don't know about you, but if my child "had fallen behind academically" or "dropped out," I wouldn't want him or her together with the likes of Aaron Jordan White or his locally-grown partner. You do understand what it takes to get arrested or suspended from high school these days?

Greg Mathis enrolled 72 students last year. School Board Chair Kate Darby wants to close it as a cost-cutting measure.

"The district's legal counsel sent a letter to Greg Mathis Charter High on Dec. 19 citing an audit that stated, 'substantial doubt remains regarding the ability of the School to continue as a going concern.' The school's charter is up for renewal in June. The letter said Greg Mathis ran a deficit for four consecutive years and had a net deficit of $105,509 as of June."

By the way, this amount is a rounding error to the district's overall budget.

"Principal Natrice Henriques said the school already has shrunk its deficit from $160,000 in June 2015. The school changed its paid time off policy to save money and eliminated a $50,000-a-year CEO position. Donors have given money to support a brick masonry class and meals at an after-school program, she said."

"The district's letter to Greg Mathis did not mention academics, but the school has consistently low test scores and one of the lowest four-year graduation rates in the state — 17 percent in 2017. Darby proposed revoking the school's charter in April 2016, but no other board members joined her."

Darby wants to send students suspended from their high schools back to those high schools. That means that suspension no longer matters. She wants to send students who've been arrested (and are presumably out on bail) back to the welcoming arms of their original high schools. Does it matter if the arrest was for murder? How about rape? Drug dealing? Guess it's all the same to her.

Perhaps a prison bus could pick up the Greg Mathis students who fall into these categories and deposit them at the school's doorstep, where they would be guided into their classrooms. No doubt the neighborhood surrounding the school would like some reassurance that students approaching the school will not commit murders on the way.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Diversity Management Looms on CCSD Agenda

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Evidently, Superintendent Postlewait and the Charleston County School Board hope that a bunch of folks from "off" can steer them in the politically correct direction. 

Don't fool yourself that the "study of CCSD management practices" from a Clemson University team will be done by South Carolinians. No, for a mere $135,000, diversity in Charleston County will be directed by those from Michigan. And they aren't educators, either.

In addition, we are the guinea pigs, the first school district that has signed up for the team's efforts.

When did "integration" become "diversity"? We no longer speak of the benefits of integrated schools; now the buzzwords concern diversified schools. It's no accident that these concepts come from management gurus: the treatment of education as a business is reaching new highs (or lows, if you like). You can always tell when you see the word "stakeholders."

Who decides the parameters of "diverse"? 

Obviously, CCSD believes it should not be the local community--hence the need for outside intervention. For example, would it be diverse to hire a creationist to teach biology? Perish the thought. How about making sure that every letter of LGBTQ is represented in the high school faculty? That would be diverse, wouldn't it? Or each teacher should have graduated from a different school of education? We can figure out right away that's not the goal.

If we're merely hoping to have more even distribution of racial minorities across the district's schools, shouldn't we just say so? Clearly, the concerns of the black community propelled this new foray into the edublob (and who can blame them). 

If reports are to be believed, Postlewait plans to implement the team's recommendations as soon as they arrive. Trusting, isn't she?