Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fifty-first out of Fifty--Now That's Progress!

"Reports fuel graduation rate debate: State puts priority on getting students through high school," by Diette Courrege, the Post and Courier, June 21, 2006.

This banner headline appeared in Wednesday's Local and State section above the fold.

Now Guess: how many paragraphs does the reader need to wade through to get to the "reports."

Well, we know from paragraph 2 that they are "independent,"but it takes NINE more (and shuffling to page 5B with the Obituaries) to find out what the reports said! Those intervening paragraphs essentially lay out the state Superintendent's arguments that the "reports" should be dismissed.

Is it my overactive imagination, or is the reporter an apologist for the Superintendent?

But...Surprise! Surprise! The "debate" is NOT about how South Carolina underreported its graduates. No, shocking as it may seem, South Carolina underreported its dropouts! Whereas SC reported last year that ONLY 25 percent of its students were not graduating, that figure turns out to be more like 40 to 47 percent. For Charleston County the dropout rate (let's call it by its name) is 54 percent.

I'm not making these statistics up for dramatic effect. They're real.

Charleston County's Academic Officer "said she didn't want to argue about where the state or school district ranked." She characterized the rankings as being "in the bottom half." How about the bottom ONE PERCENT? A mathematical reality check here.

If the Post and Courier took itself seriously in reporting NEWS, a banner headline on the FRONT page would have read, "Future looks dim for Charleston County: More than half our children drop out." What do you think would have been the reaction if it had?

By the way, the reports came from Education Week, a national educational publication, and from the U.S.Department of Education.

And what were the Superintendent's points? Her ace-in-the-hole is that SC requires 24 credits for a diploma, "3.5 more credits than the national average." As Tenenbaum says, "'You can imagine how [states with lower totals] rates are going to be higher. We're proud that a high school diploma in SC means something.'"

As opposed to one from New Jersey, the state rated first? This is such a specious argument that I hardly know where to begin, but I'll try.

  1. Everyone agrees that most dropouts occur on the ninth-grade level. You mean, a 14-year-old looks at the requirements and says to himself, "Wow, I can't get more than 20 credits [the national average], so I might as well drop out now."
  2. The number of credits required does not affect the dropout rate in any meaningful sense. That would be only for high school seniors who do not pass enough courses to get the diploma and do not go to summer school.
  3. The total of credits does not reveal how difficult the courses are to pass, nor does it reveal what core requirements are included. Apples and oranges again.
  4. Tenenbaum does not seem to know that the lower total credits number does not reflect requirements added by local districts in states where local districts have more control. Case in point: Wyoming ( which along with California and Wisconsin) requires 13 credits to graduate. The Wyoming deputy state superintendent of public instruction "said the report is misleading because...each district imposes an additional 12 to 15 credits." That means Wyoming's graduates have earned MORE credits than SC's, while the state ranks 22nd instead of last and has a gap of only 3 percentage points between its own calculated graduation rate and that of the report. SC's gap was more like 20 to 25 percentage points.
  5. New Jersey, the highest-ranked state, also requires more credits than the national average, 22 on the state level. Surely Supt. Tenenbaum does not suggest that those two credits make up the difference between first and last places? And, since I have lived and taught in New Jersey, I know that many districts do the same as those in Wyoming--add additional requirements.
  6. Being fifty-first out of 50 states means that all of the usual suspects--the District of Columbia included--are doing a better job. Back in the dark ages, when I was in high school in Charleston County, at least we could count on Mississippi or Georgia to be worse off! No more.
  7. Blaming the community is no excuse. Calls for "collective ownership" of the dropout rate will go unheeded as long as bureaucrats gloss over the problem and newspapers bury embarrassing statistics with the obituaries. New Jersey has Newark, Elizabeth, and Camden--big cities with big problems, not exactly garden spots of the Garden State in any way. It also copes with more immigrants speaking more languages than the average person can list, not merely Spanish. It's first. Seriously, how many people think that "the community should be empowered and assume some responsibility...when they see a 13-year-old in the mall" that should be in school? Are truancy laws enforced? Are parents held accountable?

No true progress will be made as long as we pretend the elephant is the size of a mosquito.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Only Connect": E.M. Forster Was Right!

Note: For those who have not read the Dendy story,
try "Forward to Pickens" below.

C of C fires Herrion: Buyout of basketball coache's contract could cost $1 million, screams the banner headline of the Post and Courier, June 15, 2006.

On the same day in the Sports section, Ken Burger's column explains, "Fatal flaw: Herrion just didn't get it."

Burger's Friday follow-up column, "It's academic: What the College needs to learn,"
provides interesting advice to the College and insight to the careful reader.

Well, it's not about LaRon Dendy or Clemson this time, you say? "Only connect"!

Each of these articles (and others speculating on Herrion's replacement) points out that the firing "[constitutes] a messy divorce with strange timing," "timing . . . [suggesting] an unfixable problem," since "the College is left with a basketball program in shambles and a big buyout bill to pay." Okay, Herrion was hired in April 2002; a successful season allowed him to renegotiate his contract in 2003; "his win-loss record slipped a bit each of the [following] three years"; attendance at games dropped off; some players were "showing up on the police blotter" and their academics slipped. None of the foregoing explains the TIMING.

According to Burger's Friday column, grades "broke the camel's back." GRADES??? Of course, not Herrion's grades, but those of his players, spring-semester grades characterized as "pathetic." So outgoing C of C "president Lee Higdon finally" agreed to the firing.

No one would care about the grades except for NCAA rules, those that "require athletes to be on course to graduation at all times." The resulting punishment is a "cost of valuable scholarships" (i.e., the number that can be offered by the C of C), using the definition of scholarship loosely here!

Who is to blame? Herrion is fired, with the added difficulty of finding another job for 2006-07. While he is being raked over the coals, however, the incident requires another look.

In his Friday column, Burger gives some remarkable advice to the C of C. For example, he points out that entering Division I sports "in the early 1990s" meant no more "schoolboy sports," that "a different kind of player" was needed, and "that kind of player is not college material."

Let's be clear on that--"not college material" presumably means not prepared to pass college courses without intervention, that is, being accepted to colleges and universities without meeting the usual entrance requirements. Coaches do not run the admissions department, so such acceptance requires the collusion of admissions (and probably administration).

Well, at a Division II school, this loosening of requirements may help an average student gain entrance to a highly-competitive college; however, because of potential big bucks down the road in professional sports, in Division I, a student may have not met the NCAA requirements for SATs and, in fact, may be reading on the fourth- or fifth-grade level. Far-fetched, you say? Read on.

He goes on to berate the C of C for not acting as the "big" schools did when NCAA eligibility rules were tightened: "build[ing] these expensive academic support systems that basically hand-carry" weak players through college.

Question: Who pays for that? Most, if not all, of the so-called "big" schools are state-funded.

To support his claims, Burger cites the complaint of Steve Spurrier in May about "lack of academic support for football players" at USC and Burger's own knowledge of "huge athletic buildings for academic support" at Clemson and Georgia, "staffed by tutors [who] get athletes to class and make sure they do the work," even push[ing] them through summer school" to become "graduate students in their senior season."

Okay, so how did Clemson get the money for that? And, whose pockets does it come from?

"Way behind the curve" is the way Burger describes C of C. He also wonders if a special program at C of C (SNAP--for "students with learning disabilities") is being abused by coaches (i.e., Herrion) "looking for an edge."

As opposed to not being abused elsewhere? Why would C of C be different, unless players have routinely been routed through SNAP as a substitute for the academic support they would have received at Clemson?

Why the problem now? The College of Charleston entered Division I sports in "the early 1990s," a decade before Herrion was hired. Therefore, if a new kind of athlete were needed, these must have been recruited by John Kresse, who retired in 2002.

Why was Herrion's contract renegotiated in 2003 on the basis of the performance of students recruited by Kresse? Maybe it was the "fog" of victory?

How could C of C players who were "not college material" stay on track to graduate for a decade--from the early 1990s when the college entered Division I (and won a championship in four years!) until 2002 when Kresse retired? Is this why Burger complains about Herrion's not getting along with faculty and administration? As if he didn't smooze enough to get instructors to pass his players? May we ask what Kresse's secret was, if not that?

If the basketball roster is almost exclusively made up of players who spent at least one year at a private prep school prior to entering the C of C, why aren't they better prepared as students? Isn't that what prep schools do? We have now come full circle to LaRon Dendy, who is on track to join recruits at Clemson who have done the same. IS academic preparation what "prep" schools do? For basketball players at Division I schools, apparently not!

Why did the majority of C of C players attend prep schools then? Aha! That takes us back to NCAA rules. If a player's SAT scores are below the minimum, his grade-point average must meet a minimum or the player is red-shirted and must sit out freshman year while he brings up his grades.

[NOTE: A student who could not meet a minimum grade-point doing high-school-level work will now excel doing college-level work.]

Here's where the prep schools perform. Students who do not meet SAT minimums or grade-point minimums are encouraged by Division I schools not to graduate but to enter prep schools instead, where miraculously in a short time they raise their grade-points so that they do not need to red-shirt! As a coach quoted in a New York Times article said earlier this year, "We can't do anything about the SATs." What are coaches talking about? See quote below from a website on NCAA rules:

The "sliding scale" has also been extended. It will now allow a higher core GPA to reduce the SAT component. A 2.5 core GPA will still require a 820 SAT score, a higher core GPA of 2.75 GPA would need a 720 SAT score, a 3.0 core GPA would only require a 620 SAT score and a 3.55 core GPA would require just a 400 SAT score.

So, Tavon Nelson, who left C of C after drug charges against him were dropped, came from South Kent Prep in Connecticut, having started out at a Baltimore public high school; Josh Jackson, from Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts (a school of 38 students, half of whom are seniors); Dontaye Draper, from Trinity-Pauling of New York; Jermaine Johnson, from Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts (tuition $34,000 per year); Junior Hairston, from Fork Union Military Academy; Marcus Hammond, from Brewster Academy; Drew Hall, from Montrose Christian Academy in Maryland via two years at Georgetown after being turned down as a sophomore transfer to Gonzaga for not meeting academic standards.

The team's record's slipping for each of the last three years suggests recruiting problems, does it not? Kresse's recruits graduate and Herrion's take their places? What changed? Obvious answer is, the coach, but perhaps strengthened athletic academic programs at "big" schools also played a role. And another mystery arises.

Who pays the prep school tuition?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Georgia, Ohio--What's the Difference?

"Church to tackle divisive issues at meeting," Michael Gartland, Faith and Values section, above the fold, June 11, 2006
Notice : Editor asleep at switch. Continue at risk of confusion.
"Leading the way," Jennifer Berry Hawes, Faith and Values section, below the fold, June 11, 2006
The first of these concerns the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church; the second, St. Andrew's Mount Pleasant Episcopal, "a diocesan trendsetter" (never mind what that is). Gartland's article clearly points out that the Convention begins in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 13th. That's that big city in the Midwest, home to Ohio State? Strangely, Hawes states that "tension is building" as the Convention begins in Columbus, Georgia, where the entire county has fewer than 200,000 inhabitants and a hefty proportion of those are at Fort Benning.
I can see how that WOULD cause some tension, but it would make a good headline: "Episcopalians Debate Gay Bishop Apology at Fort Benning" Makes sense.
Somehow it reminds me of the Katrina refugees who appeared in Charleston, West Virginia, last summer as their overdue arrival was anxiously awaited by volunteers in Charleston, South Carolina.
I mean, once you get east of the Mississippi, it's all the same, right?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Forward to Pickens!

"Clemson's prized recruit may be ruled ineligible" by Larry Williams, Post and Courier, June 6, 2006, Sports

What do these cities have in common: Baltimore, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; Binghamton, New York, Augusta, Georgia; and Queens, New York?

Give up?

. . . All of them were represented on the 2005-2006 varsity basketball roster of an 85-student, 1st-through-12th grade "Upstate private school" (that would be in Pickens) also attended by LaRon Dendy, Clemson's prize commitment to its basketball program.

I confess I do not always read the Sports section thoroughly. However, since one of my former students rejected a hefty sum from the Major Leagues to play on USC's baseball team this year, I do peruse the headlines every day, usually pleased by what seems to be the higher quality of writing in that section. After one of my former Texas students, whose SATs and grade-point average were so low that she was red-shirted as a basketball player at A&M-Kingsville, made a 4.0 her freshman year of college (smile), I HAVE paid attention to NCAA academic eligibility issues.

So, the headline caught my attention. As I read, the article became more and more fascinating. "Recent investigative reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times" had not entered my radar screen previously, that "the NCAA is scrutinizing secondary schools with questionable academic rigor." And Prince Avenue Prep, run by a former attendee (NOTE: not graduate) of Bishop England High School, right here in Charleston, is one of them.

Let me be clear about my intentions. I wish LaRon Dendy the best of basketball careers at Clemson, injury-free. May he be the next Michael Jordan! My questions surround the mysterious details of Prince Avenue Prep, Clemson recruiting, and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Those were not so clear.

  1. How old is LaRon Dendy? What grade did he just complete? Probably the reporter assumed that anyone reading the article would be familiar with the Dendy-Clemson story, but as a teacher, I can say, "Never assume." After considerable sleuthing on the Internet, I deduced that Dendy completed his junior year in May and has committed to Clemson in 2007. What I was unable to find out is how old he is; my original suspicion that he was over-age, given the three schools mentioned that he has attended, probably is unfounded, but I can't be sure.
  2. Why did Dendy leave Greer High School? Where is he from? On the Internet Dendy is variously identified as being from Greer, Greenville, and Taylors, South Carolina. It turns out, as those from the Greenville area undoubtedly already know, these are all in Greenville County and the Greenville County School District. Further investigation reveals yet another mystery.
  3. If Dendy is from Taylors, as he is currently identified on the Prince Avenue Prep website, why did he attend Greer High School at all? Eastside High School, also part of the GCSD, is IN Taylors! Why wasn't Dendy leading Eastside to a state championship? Surely Greer High School doesn't recruit players from other attendance zones! (What a thought!)
  4. A new question arises: where did Dendy attend high school as a freshman?
  5. Let's be generous and assume that Dendy USED to live within the Greer High School attendance zone. When and why he left Greer High School, enrolled at Prince Avenue Prep, left and traveled down to Bradenton, Florida, and bounced back to Pickens, South Carolina are still open questions, with murky answers at best.
  6. When did he leave Greer High School? The reporter states that Dendy attended Prince Avenue Prep in 2004-05 AND 2005-06. Problem is, the former is the same year that he led Greer High School to its state championship. Then the reporter states that "Dendy led Greer to the Class AAA state title in 2004 before transferring to Prince Avenue. He transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., after the 2005 season but re-enrolled at Prince Avenue after just a few months." Clear as mud! Would "2004" be the 2003-04 season or 2004-05? Would "2005" be the 2004-05 season or 2005-06? Well, at least we can assume those are two DIFFERENT seasons! Assuming the latter in each case, he must have left Greer High School almost immediately after it won the state championship. WHY???
  7. What basketball team did Dendy play for during the 2005-06 season? This is where it gets interesting. Reports available on the web show that he played on IMG Academy's "Blue" team during the first semester of the season; then he returned to Pickens in mid-January to play on the Prince Academy team. Even at this date the Clemson website shows him to be still in Bradenton. Now, we seem to have established beyond a reasonable doubt that he finished his sophomore year at Prince Street Academy in order to bring up his grades, transferred to IMG to get more advanced basketball experience, then transferred back to Prince to . . . bring up his grades? Hmm.
  8. When did Dendy give Clemson a verbal commitment? That appears to be around the time that he transferred to Prince.
  9. How much is tuition at IMG Academy? Would you believe $15,000 per year? $25,000 per year? How about nearly $34,000? That's right. Gosh, the Dendy family must be really wealthy.
  10. To come full circle, WHY might "Clemson's prized recruit ... be ruled ineligible"? That's because Prince Avenue Prep is being investigated as a "so-called diploma mill." As it turns out, on Tuesday, June 6, the NCAA reported the first 15 schools now no longer approved, and Prince Avenue Prep is not on the list--YET. Another longer list is expected by July 1.

Meanwhile, Dendy is "hoping to attend Hargrave Military Academy as a senior in 2006-07."

Why not stay at Prince?

Go back to IMG Academy?

Will he find himself back in Pickens in January of 2007 as he did last January?

Stay tuned.

Purely for conspiracy theorists: What if the Clemson scout said to the Greer High School star, "We're going to help you get through high school academically and prepare for the next level of competition athletically if you commit to us now." Would the record look any different?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"They're Coming Across the North Charleston Line!"

Why would I worry that it might be a while before the Post and Courier provided another "newsless" article? How silly of me; there were three to choose from today alone. Where to begin?

"Hanahan shootings stir fears: Town that rarely sees slaying is abuzz" by Prentiss Findlay, first page of Local and State section, June 6, 2006.

"They." Would that be the same they that called it the ParaPro (see previous comments)?

Prominently featured in this article were comments by the denizens of Pappy's restaurant on Remount Road, just inside Hanahan from the city of North Charleston. The buzz regarded two murders in Hanahan. Problem is, the reporter perhaps has a poor sense of geography. We'll be generous here, since the paper itself showed exactly where the murders took place in a small map attached to the end of the article.

It's easy to understand the comment of one of Pappy's customers (i.e., "They're coming across...") as ill-informed and probably racist in genesis (on the other side of Remount is Charleston Farms). However, the reporter need not have reported it, knowing that the murders took place in a part of Hanahan MILES north of the "line," in fact, north of Hanahan High School.

Further, the suspects in one slaying (of a resident of Summerville) were from Dorchester County and Summerville. The other victim lived in Hanahan but had a Georgetown address on his driver's license. Since the Hanahan police said they had no suspects in the second slaying, the North Charleston connection is BOGUS. Here we have in addition to the newsless paper, the factual error paper.

Now, if he had just said, "They're coming across the Summerville line," the comment might have been factually correct, if still fatuous!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Some Answered Questions About TAs

Thanks to a chance conversation and a quick visit to the CCSD website, I am able to shed some light on the neglected details of the preceding news article.

According to a teacher at Alice Burney Middle School, TAs have known "for years" that they must qualify on the ParaPRO; some have simply ignored the requirement hoping to be "grandfathered." Many of these TAs are used for Special Ed. And her middle school had several who were not rehired for next year.

The CCSD website reveals that TAs are used for all levels, including high school. Also relevant to the article is the "minimum of 60 college credit hours" that would allow a TA to opt out of testing. Since these are roughly equivalent to two years of college, that fits with the information on the ETS website. The website also reveals an hourly wage of $10.60 to $13.46 in a NINE-month position (i.e., no pay in the summer) for new hires.

Charleston is not known for its high wages, so that range is not surprising. What cannot be learned from the CCSD website, however, is how long these wages and these requirements have been in effect. I think we can assume not for the 25 years or more that some TAs have been employed!

The real NEWS would have come from those 54 who may be laid off.

What should happen to them when a school district raises its standards?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's All About the Local Paper

Welcome to the Newsless Courier! My inspiration arises from "The South's Oldest Daily Newspaper," now a combination of the Charleston Evening Post and its better half, the News and Courier. The editors of the latter should be whirling in their graves over what passes for a standard of reporting in 2006.

"They Called It the ParaPro."

"Hope pays off for educator; 54 others might lose jobs" by Diette Courrege, published below the fold on Thursday, June 1, 2006

Sounds ominous, doesn't it? The eponymous "they" strikes again.

Never fear, however; a quick Google turns up the well-known name of Educational Testing Service (ETS for short) as the source for this standardized test.

THE GIST: A "teacher assistant" since the early 1980s at Stono Park Elementary took and passed ParaPro after her husband's death of lingering illness. The Charleston County School District (CCSD) had provided review classes "to help people prepare"; she took the classes, reviewed, and passed. But 54 other teacher assistants may be laid off because they have not yet met the "federal requirement."


  1. What "federal mandate" is this? Surely this is an appropriate question under the circumstances! And, while we're at it, when was it mandated? This year? Last year? Two years ago? Three? Could this mandate be the fruit of the No Child Left Behind Act?
  2. How many teacher assistants (TAs) are employed by CCSD? It should matter greatly if the answer is 55 or 550. So, of those who took ParaPro, what PERCENTAGE passed?
  3. What does the test "test"? That is, does it test for skills that are essential in a TA? Which brings us to unanswered question No. 4 (see below).
  4. What grades do they assist? What are their duties? So, elementary schools use teacher assistants. What about middle and high schools? What do these TAs do? Okay, so I checked the ParaPro website for information regarding test content. ParaPro tests basic skills in reading,writing, mathematics, and questioning. Sounds appropriate to me.
  5. What percentage of CCSD TAs were required to take the test? Aha, another detail I learned from the ParaPro website that should have been in the article: those having an associate's degree or higher are not required to test. Hmm.
  6. How many TAs took the test and failed to meet its standards? Those would be the same standards required of TAs in, say, North Dakota, California, or Vermont. Yes, national standards. So, what has been the experience in Greenville or Irmo?
  7. Why is the number of CCSD unqualified TAs so much higher than in Berkeley (17) and Dorchester District 2 (1)? Now you can see why knowing how many TAs in total makes a difference. Does DD2 employ more than one TA? Do the rest have associate or bachelor's degrees? Did they take and pass the test? It's a mystery not answered here.
  8. What is "passing" on the test? Just curious. How far below passing were the scores?
  9. How long have TAs known that they needed to qualify on the test? An important detail. Did CCSD just tell them this year? Last September? How many chances have they had to pass?
  10. Why would CCSD employ 54 TAs who could not qualify on the test? Now, that really opens a can of worms (see below)
  11. What level of education had the featured TA completed? Certainly relevant to the article's emphasis on her fears. "She hadn't studied some of the information (italics added) since high school." Did she graduate? What kind of information?
  12. What are the educational requirements to become a TA in CCSD in 2006? Good question. I'll check its website to see if I can find out.
  13. How do those requirements differ from those of 30 years ago? Have they changed? Maybe not.
  14. What will CCSD do for those who have been satisfactorily employed as teacher assistants for 10 years or more who did not pass the test? According to the article, they will be laid off, one with "25 years of experience" and "three years shy of retirement." I encourage that individual to sue for age discrimination. If his/her work has been satisfactory for CCSD but does not now meet FEDERAL standards, CCSD should be obligated to offer employment in another capacity.

As Paul Harvey would say, "And now, the REST of the story..."

The can of worms: If salaries are so low for so many years and positions are filled for so many years on a "whom-do-you-know" basis, is it any wonder that TAs cannot meet federal minimums? If academic standards in the classroom are so low because of overwhelming discipline problems, is it any wonder that more qualified TAs are not employed? These are rhetorical questions, of course.