Wednesday, March 28, 2007

They Haven't a Prayer

Really, I don't know which part of the school board's new praying policy is the silliest. Perhaps it simply mirrors the doublespeak that pervades all of CCSD's and the school board's communications.

Tell me, if you stood up (or sat down) in a meeting, got everyone's silent attention, and began by saying, "Dear most heavenly and gracious father," would YOU be praying? Would the rest of those in the room assume that you were praying?

Not according to the board's policy committee! According to the P&C "The guidelines passed Monday [. . .] don't allow prayer and forbid attempts to have a religious opening to the board's meetings." Yet these are the words said by Nancy Cook Monday night without anyone's objection.

Is this a hoot, or what? The two sensible votes against doublespeak were cast because the board months ago agreed to open its meetings with a prayer, but now, as David Engelman states, "With the way it's written, it makes the board sound 'like it's against prayer.'" No way! Must sound like it because it forbids prayer, I guess.

In fact, up is down and black is white, also. "No invocation may be a prayer" ? Really, if it looks like a duck, sounds like . . . [you get the picture].

Oh, but the BEST part is that Arthur Ravenel says he's "happy with the guidelines," apparently believing that they do not forbid prayer!

Talk about a bunch of wimps. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals "specifically ruled that [a town council] could not invoke the name of Jesus." From that prohibition the policy committee has interpreted that school boards may not offer prayer. Maybe the nuance here was too much for the policy committee.

It gets better, though. Thanks go to Diette Courrege for pointing out that the BERKELEY County School Board starts its meetings (audience joining in) with the Lord's Prayer.

You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Let's Hear It for Fraser

Rumblings over the dual-principalship controversy concerning Fraser Elementary School continue as CCSD's "poor stepchild" treatment of District 20 students rolls on.

In January 2007 Fraser's principal, Jeanette Whaley, was moved to McClellanville Middle School, and Ruth Cohen, formerly of Lambs Elementary and most recently (it appears) an administrator with the Accelerated Schools Project at the College of Charleston, was appointed interim.

At the time Maria Goodloe-Johnson said that Fraser was a "chronically low-performing school," a reason that necessitated removing Ms. Whaley in the middle of the school year.

Hmm. Why do I think that wasn't the ONLY reason, or even the most pertinent one? Maybe because I have come to distrust any reason given by the Superintendent, at least in regard to District 20?

Maybe because, if the principal were THAT bad, why give her a job at another school at all? Buy out her contract, or let her twiddle her thumbs for the rest of the year "on leave."

Somehow I doubt that Fraser's ongoing poor performance can be laid at the door of Ms. Whaley. CCSD's willingness to transfer her to another school speaks volumes. Goodloe-Johnson had to look like she was doing SOMETHING.

Now the "something" is to give the school HALF a principal. Can you imagine the uproar if that happened to Mt. Pleasant Academy? I don't blame MiShawna Moore for agreeing to the job. She undoubtedly wants what's best for students, but she also knows which side her bread is buttered on. Can it be that in all of CCSD only one educator exists who can turn Fraser around? I don't believe it.

Since my discovery last summer that Burke Middle/High School is 100% African-American [yes, I know, I naively assumed that desegregated schools meant desegregated schools--silly me], I've stopped taking anything for granted in regard to downtown schools.

So tell me--
  1. How long had Jeannette Whaley been principal at Fraser?
  2. How effective was she as principal?
  3. Why was Ruth Cohen named as interim?
  4. A Fraser parent was quoted as saying last week that "one of her daughters has had four teachers in the past month." What's going on?
  5. How old is the school building, and what condition is it in?
  6. What has CCSD tried to do to help Fraser improve in the past 10 years?
  7. Who is willing to speak up for schools like Fraser to see that they get treated fairly vis a vis schools OUTSIDE of District 20?
  8. Why has enrollment dropped from a high of 612 in 1992 to a low of 294 in 2005?
  9. Are any out-of-district 20-students enrolled at Fraser?

Maybe the Post and Courier is not interested in the answers to these questions. It always seems to report the facts fed to it by CCSD, solicit one or two comments, then drop the subject.

Let's not drop the subject.

Friday, March 23, 2007

CCSD Finances: Why Feign Surprise?

Since June of 2006 CCSD has known that school funding would change and that those changes would not favor Charleston County. That's when the SC Legislature voted to swap "pots" from property taxes to sales taxes for a new state funding system for its school districts. Perhaps the magnitude of the shortfall is a surprise, but no one paying attention could have believed that funds directed to CCSD from the state would not fall as a result of the reform.

Charleston County (and other coastal counties such as Beaufort) has high property values, higher than those represented, for example, in the Corridor of Shame. As a result, it has spent more per pupil than the state average. Clearly the formula now in place redistributes state funds so that those districts spending less per pupil in the past will get more from the state.

Now it gets interesting. Beginning in 2008 sales tax money will be divided up based on school districts' 2007-08 baseline budgets plus allowances for growth, poverty, inflation, etc. Thus, CCSD naturally wants that budget to be as high as possible. In fact, it is taking the issue directly to McConnell & Harrell in hopes of an exemption or one-time relief or a miracle.

Why didn't they take it to them before now? McConnell and Harrell had to have known this situation would develop. I'm curious--what were they thinking?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Trust CCSD? Bridge for Sale

What will make CCSD change the way it does business? No doubt many posters on this blog are pondering the same question.

Sometimes the Post and Courier does provide hints, however. Take this statement from today's front-page story on changes in the district's special education programs:
" [CCSD] had such serious problems in the past with the way it provided services to students with disabilities that it was in jeopardy of losing $1.5 million in federal funds last year." AND "A scathing state audit in 2006 found 48 areas in which the district wasn't in compliance with state and federal regulations."

Yes, the audit looked at the underbelly of the beast. The district finally addressed deficiencies that had damaged its students for years (and who knows how many) for FINANCIAL reasons, not a desire to help special needs students and certainly not a desire to answer the justifiable complaints of their parents.

Of course, CCSD now proudly proclaims all of the ways in which those same students' and parents' problems are being addressed, but this concern and the district's actions were provoked by the threat of the loss of funds.

Money talks. Money certainly has talked in the Buist Academy lottery scandal (that's not too strong a word, is it?). A cursory look at the postings from supporters of Buist's principal and its record will reveal money's loud voice.

Furthermore, judging from the many comments of the Buist lottery's supporters and detractors, virtually no one defends the lottery results as producing a kindergarten class that is truly randomly selected from four accurate lists, as CCSD has promised would be the case.

I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell anyone who trusts CCSD to remedy these problems without its undergoing both political and financial pressure. Personally, I find the attitudes of the "our Buist"-needs-to-manipulate-the-lottery-to-survive crowd self-serving, yes, but, especially, embarrassing. THESE are the people who are "well connected"? I, for one, am proud I'm not connected to them!

I do believe the political pressure is building, if this blog is any measure. The long and thoughtful comments in response to it appear to be the result of the P&C's refusal to report on the issue. Every day when I look at the Letters to the Editor, I wonder how many were received about Buist and considered not suitable to print. Five per day? Ten? I bet they could fill up the Op-Ed page every day.

If this so-called "magnet" school is not in fact a magnet for the academically talented but instead a magnet for the well-connected and rich, is it in danger of losing funds from state or federal sources? Is it possible for CCSD to justify its protocols as necessary to keep the rich and well connected in the public schools?

Well, Post and Courier, how about it?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Buist: Where's the School Board We Elected?

The Buist lottery process needs complete sunlight at best; at worst, it is deliberately secretive and manipulated for the few. The Buist testing process at best is subjective and ill-informed and, at worst, disingenuous and subject to manipulation that favors the well connected.

Both of these procedures need a complete overhaul and the disinfectant of transparency, but CCSD remains unlikely to address them.

Who on the school board has the nerve to bring them up? Who on the school board, which purports to serve the entire community, is looking out for those most affected by failing schools--those motivated and bright students sentenced to an impossible school climate whose parents do NOT have the money to pay private school tuition?

What possible philosophy other than pure selfishness justifies robbing them of potential Buist admission for the child of a school board member or any other "mover and shaker" who CAN afford to pay for private school? Oh, I guess it would look bad in the next election if the school board member, knowing some of the desperate conditions downtown, was sending his or her child to a private school.

Well, we get the school board members we elect, don't we?

You do realize that, if ever enacted, true single-member districts, such as used for the County Council, would direct the attention of at least ONE board member to District 20's problems.

The memo (copied to the comments on my last post) that circulated to Buist supporters last week addresses NEITHER the distrust of the lottery procedure NOR distrust of testing procedures. It seems to focus on ways to remove any remaining hope from other Lowcountry students, District 20 students in particular. Their response that the "mob" is trying to destroy the very school it wants equal access to suggests that they do see the school as run for an elite, and not an intellectual elite either.

The well connected are on the offensive. They've already gotten several politicians to suggest doing away with constituent boards. Who's going to stop them from these new proposals? Not CCSD. Not any school board members that I know of.

No doubt CCSD will take their proposals quite seriously.

As Ben Franklin might have pointed out, is that sun rising or setting?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spotlight: Responses

As I indicated at the beginning of this conversation, I am a stranger to the Buist controversy, knowing only what I have read and seen in the media or, at this point, read in comments on my blog. However, many of the commenters on my previous post have more information, opinions, charges, and rumors to share. Perhaps others can shed some light on the following issues, charges, and (yes!) even a threat. LIGHT is definitely what is needed! Please jump in, for it's clear that Jerry Adams has decided to stay out of the stream of answers for now, probably to keep his job.

These are listed in order of appearance:

  1. "The most important criteria for Buist admission are the profession of the parents, and the ability for the parents to raise funds for the [Buist] foundation." and the related comment from a later poster: "The Buist foundation donations should be public knowledge."
  2. "Testing is an easier way to conceal preferential choice of students by the Administration." and "The way it is achieved is by non-uniform testing proctors." and "You can be sure that the proctors knew which children were the offspring of the well known and well connected. and "The principal's room passed 100%."
  3. "[When students are dismissed from Buist for an average below 85], are the parents informed of their appeal rights? Or are some parents not informed intentionally? What part has race [...] played in how student dismissals for academic reasons have been handled?"
  4. "The publisher [of the YCAT, apparently the test used at Buist] states that the test is not designed to be used as the sole criteria for assessing a student and the test results should not be used as a single determining factor for directing where a child is placed in school."
  5. "The YCAT does not measure intelligence; it measures the chance that a child is at risk to have problems in school. [...] It identifies children that will need extra help."
  6. [mine] "Why is Buist using an ACHIEVEMENT test? [...] This test sets up the 'winners' to be children whose parents can buy enrichment programs and/or tutors over those with more native ability. Therefore, it favors the rich."
  7. "People get a teacher to buy the YCAT on line and pass it around to each other. They then take turns testing the children of their friends. [...] Some Buist parents [...] hire teachers who have given the YCAT to prep their four and five year olds."
  8. In regard to Dist. 20 as a"dumping ground": "Of the 3100 students still found in downtown schools, more than 800 (25-30%) are from outside the district." and "Over 30% of Memminger's students live outside of Dist. 20 while nearly 2/3 of its students don't even live in its attendance zone of mostly south of Calhoun."
  9. "Charleston Progressive (a magnet school?) was ordered to take more than 50 transfers from troubled Brentwood Middle under NCLS [NCLB?]. (Buist has taken no students under NCLB.)" and "How many children from Dist. 20 were allowed to transfer to Sullivan's Island ES under NCLB? [...] Sullivan's Island is now purging their student body of 'illegal' transfers from Dist. 20 [from] low performing [schools]." and "Magnet schools are not immune to [NCLB]. [...] Irregardless of what CCSD chooses to say, Buist is not immune to it." and "Magnet schools are not supposed to let a teacher's child in automatically or they risk losing a certain type of funding."
  10. "Do you know the overlap that [the story about the No New Town Taskforce's anti-incorporation campaign last summer] had with the Buist fake address story? [...] Most of the money behind the campaign came from a handful of real estate interests that [...] have contracts or pending contracts with Charleston."

And from the other side of the issue:

  1. "If keeping Buist Academy for Advanced Studies means stocking it with a group of wealthy and connected people then so be it."
  2. "So what if [Gregg Meyers and Toya Hampton Green] get a little preferential treatment in the lottery or admissions process. [...] A very few children are ever displaced because of this."
  3. "The proctors are human! Of course they might be a little star struck by the child of a mover and shaker."
  4. "Downtown children are usually either unqualified or their parents are too stuck up to put them in a public school like Buist."
  5. "It's only right that Gregg and Robert New should have had five kids each go through Buist. Maybe they owned rental property downtown or had in-laws that lived downtown."
  6. "In my day these downtown people would have minded their own business and appreciated public servants like Gregg Meyers."
  7. "This 'primary residence' business isn't written anywhere on Buist forms."
  8. "The Title 1 list idea for Buist is nonsense. Most of those people don't pay taxes at all."
  9. "We should move our [sic] school to Mt. Pleasant anyway so we all won't have to commute over the bridge. Really, if it's made up of children mostly from Mt. Pleasant then why is it downtown?
  10. "[Sallie Ballard] had a meeting just this week to address the downtown whiners. Many of us think that there shouldn't even be a downtown list. Watch out! You're right, we are well connected.
  11. "If that downtown mob gets their way it will destroy Buist Academy as we know it. I would put my daughter in Ashley Hall if it became more of a district school."

Isn't there enough smoke here for the Post and Courier to do some investigative reporting?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Testing: Four, Five--Testing

Now having the process straight for creating the lists of students that will be tested to enter kindergarten at Buist, I propose further questions that need to be answered concerning that testing process.

  1. What is the rationale for testing the first 20 students on each of the four lists for the 10 slots available? Who picked that number? Is it based upon any statistical method?

  2. What happens to the children who are in the bottom 10 on the ranked list after their testing? Are they cast off the waiting lists forever?

  3. Who does the testing? What test(s) are used? Where is the testing done? When is it done? How is the testing validated?

  4. Who ranks the children from 1 to 20 on each list? Are any criteria besides test results used for ranking?

  5. Has the district or school correlated the results of these pre-kindergarten tests with later testing to check for accuracy?

  6. Are the results of the tests made available to the child's parent?

  7. If a lucky child is selected as one of the 20 numbers generated on more than one list (say, countywide and sibling), is the 21st child on one of those lists tested, or are only 19 tested? Who decides which list shortens or includes a 21st child for testing?

  8. Here's a good one: What if a child's score places him or her in the top 10 on the sibling list and as 10th on the countywide list? Is the 11th-ranked child on the sibling list admitted or the 11th child on the countywide list? In other words, have any protocols been established and made available to the public?

  9. Once the four lists of 10 have been notified and prior to August a parent decides against Buist, moves to Alaska, etc., is the 11th-ranked child on the list offered admittance, or does the opportunity go to the (presumably) 21st child from one of the four lottery "waiting" lists, who is then tested?
  10. Are children who did not participate in the original lottery for kindergarten ever admitted to more advanced grades at Buist?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gambling by the Numbers: Magic Tuition Money

Let's have an education lottery using the methodology now used by CCSD for Buist applicants.

So, those players who pay careful attention to all gambling opportunies would sign up to buy lottery tickets. Exactly one month later CCSD would notify the winners that they had won.

Oh, I forgot.

The ticket holders would not pick their own numbers. No, CCSD would assign secret numbers. In fact, only CCSD would know the names associated with each ticket number.

But that's okay, because CCSD would save holders the trouble of checking their tickets to see if they had won.

Then CCSD could announce through the media that the winners selected by the computer had been notified and were being paid (that's $6000 to $15000 per year for the following nine years).

Of course, due to privacy issues the winners' names would not be made public. A few well-known names might leak out or be subject to rumor, but no one would ever question if the process were fair.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Waiting Game

I'm still waiting for the answers to what it seems to me are very pertinent questions regarding the lottery [see previous post]. Since Jerry Adams hasn't responded, perhaps some of the commenters have the answers? That's (1) why no controversy at other "magnet" schools if the process is the same; (2) why can't parents get their list or registry numbers prior to the lottery; (3) what privacy rights are violated by publishing lottery results that are not violated by calling out names during the lottery; and (4) what happens to the lists after the lottery is finished.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lottery Answers . . . and Questions

Transparency is key if the Buist Academy controversies are ever going to die down, so I (and presumably others) appreciate Jerry Adams and Janet Rose's quick response to my previous questions. [For these answers, check out the comments on my March 5th blog.] I now have a clearer idea of how the lottery operates. Maybe the Post and Courier will stop calling it a "drawing."

I do have many questions about pre-kindergarten testing, but I need further clarifications on some of the lottery answers.
  1. If the computer program and the process used for the Buist lottery are the same for admission to St. Andrews Elementary, Charlestowne Academy, and Garrett Academy, why is there no controversy over what happens at those three schools? Is there not a waiting list at each? Or is part of the process different at Buist?

  2. The answers regarding if "registered applicants for each of the four lists [are] checked for status prior to the lottery" are confusing. Here is the answer: "Applicants are checked, but verification is done prior to enrollment. . . . The children's names are placed on the appropriate lists, with their addresses used to determine the proper lists. For instance, the constituent district will verify that an address is in the attendance zone for a low-performing school, . . . [etc.]"

  3. First of all, who is placing the names on the appropriate lists? When? When are eligibilities checked? When are addresses checked? If addresses are not checked before the lottery, then what is "checked"?

  4. In answer to, "When do the applicants find out what [their numbers on the registry lists] are?" the response is "There is no reason to give them this number." Why not do so in the name of transparency?

  5. If the numbers generated by computer are called out in order and the "name of the applicant whose name corresponded with name on the registry," is announced, I assume you have mistyped? Do you mean "number" on the registry?

  6. Assuming that to be true, why is there a privacy issue with making the results public when names are called publicly as the numbers are read? What right protected by privacy laws would be violated that is NOT violated by calling out the names?
  7. Once all of the lists of applicants have been assigned lottery numbers, what happens to the lists?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Let's Start with Lottery Program Questions

The blip on the local news outlets (TV and newspaper) that was the Buist lottery for incoming kindergarteners passed by a week ago, yet comments on my blog continue. In the interest of transparency, Jerry Adams has suggested that I ask questions of him.

I can do that, but I 'm going to do it in the blog.

  1. Is the computer program used for the lottery a simple random number generator or some other type of program? If random, is it truly random or pseudo-random?

  2. Is the computer program "canned" or locally written? How long has it been used?

  3. Are registered applicants for each of the four lists checked for status prior to the lottery?

  4. When are registry numbers assigned to the applicants?

  5. When do the applicants find out what these numbers are ? [I don't mean from the lottery; I mean from registering.]

  6. Who assigns the registry numbers, and how are the registry numbers assigned?

  7. When the lottery program itself is run, who matches the generated numbers with the names on each list? Is it the same person or persons who assign the registry numbers?

  8. What check in the system prevents cheating on matching names with numbers that are generated by the program?

  9. Has an independent auditor ever certified the lottery results?
  10. Has the school district considered having registered applicants sign a waiver so that lottery results may be made public?

Now, I am not asking these questions in order to impugn anyone's integrity.

However, unless questions such as these are answered straightforwardly, those who believe the process is being manipulated will continue to believe so.

Next installment: testing questions

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Answers Are Blowin' in the Wind

Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Think of me as someone who actually reads the newspaper every day. My source of local news, along with fleeting local TV newscasts, IS the Newsless Courier.

As someone who grew up in Charleston, graduated from the Charleston public schools, and returned after a long hiatus in other parts of the country, I want my "hometown" to be the best that it can be. Using a perspective of living in the Lowcountry years ago, information from family members who never left, and insight that only living and teaching in other cities can bring, I carefully read what the newspaper publishes on education, especially in regard to CCSD.

But, now I feel betrayed. Somehow I assumed that the paper was being straight with me. I discovered in my search for information that it actually had been sitting on relevant information. It was the Channel 4 website that clued me in.

It's in regard to these vacancies in the seventh and eighth grades at Buist. Channel 4 News apparently reported on February 1st that they existed and had existed since the start of the school year. Not surprisingly to me, I didn't catch that. But the Newsless Courier, this time deserving of its nickname, sat on the information until February 24th.

That's 23 days, otherwise known as three weeks, during which time I'm sure the 2000+ parents on Buist's waiting list (and my "guesstimate" of 100 who remained on the seventh-grade list) would have been VERY interested in that information.

What? Too much else was going on to report it? It didn't "fit"? It was no one's business?

This "oversight" had to have been an editorial decision.