Sunday, July 29, 2007

Editors' Choices & "Letters to the Editor" on CCSD

How revealing! The lead editorial in Tuesday's Post and Courier congratulates Jim Rex for his decision to return Allendale School District to local control on the basis of unspecified "positive results." Don't you wonder what they are? Well, you're not going to find out from the P & C's editorial or any other piece in this newspaper, and I suspect the writer doesn't know either. That wasn't really the purpose.

In fact, here are some comments on progress being made in that district taken from the minutes of the Allendale School Board meeting of last November 27:

"Ms. Martin [the assistant superintendent] said principals and everyone worked hard last year and several kinds of strategies were used so all [were] disappointed with the school ratings. The numbers don’t report an accurate picture of our teachers, students or administrators. This year the number of schools rating unsatisfactory increased. The numbers scoring excellent also dropped. Science and Social Studies weighting increased from 15 to 20%, and this year the weights will increase even more. The overall State rankings continue to move 1/10%. Three schools last year were Below Average . . . . The District is not pleased and they think they can do better and have started to put the action in place. . . . We want to see the scores go up. Mr. Frazier [school board chairman] asked the Board to have further conversation about the Report Card and about funding. They are getting further and further in the hole. . . . Students are walking the street because something is going wrong. They asked for a budget last year to put people in the right places, they are headed somewhere, but not in the right direction. A lot of people are being frustrated. Over the years the District is bouncing up and down."

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

No, here in the editor's own words is the purpose of the editorial: "The fully informed decisions [taken by Jim Rex] that state intervention is no longer needed in Allendale--and that it will not be needed this year at Burke High, Morningside Middle or Colleton Middle--are welcome signs of educational progress."

Well, I'd like to think it's educational progress, but it's much more likely to be educational politics. NO failing school in the entire state will fall into the calamity of losing local control under Jim Rex--I guarantee it. Rex is carrying out promises he made to the education lobby in order to get elected.

Don't believe it? My bridge in Brooklyn is still for sale.

On another note, the editors published side-by-side under the caption, "Readers offer views on needs of Charleston County schools" letters of equal length by Sunny Rakestraw Gray, who identifies herself as a resident of District 20 (but is also the editor of Charleston's version of The Little Black Book for Every Busy Woman), and Luther W. Seabrook, a resident of Johns Island (but also a former executive assistant in curriculum and instruction for the S.C. State Department of Education).

Of interest about Gray's letter is that she appears to be unaware of the controversies surrounding the Buist lottery and waiting list (and selections from it); somehow, she probably detected (and rightly so) that raising those topics would prevent publication of her desire to duplicate Buist's excellence in other schools for the 2000 now on its waiting list. No doubt she has friends whose four-year-olds are on its 230-strong kindergarten list as she looks forward to the schooling of her own pre-school children. One wonders how she feels about address cheating.

In a less-than-admiring tone, Seabrook astutely identifies the heart of Goodloe-Johnson's strategy:

"Our past superintendent, it appears, adopted the strategy to focus on those schools that were functioning just below the 50th percentile while assigning the lowest, and often most disruptive schools, to an outside agency. The cost of this action was almost $12 million.Maybe the intent of the superintendent was to justify her salary with some winners, and then concentrate on the schools with the greatest need. We will never know."

McGinley should pay attention to this expert; the rest of his analysis is fact-based and impressive. He's worked in much larger districts than CCSD and clearly understands the education "game." He correctly hones in on McGinley's unfortunate statement that "she doesn't plan to force teachers to transfer to places where they don't want to go," rightly mentioning that persuasive power that superintendents have to put excellent teachers into schools with the greatest needs.

Let's see if she's wise enough to take his advice.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Allendale-Fairfax: Declare Victory and Get Out?

"Little more than superficial graffiti" is the phrased contempt shown by one reader of this blog for last Sunday's P & C report on a rural school district's return to local control after eight years of direct management by the State Department of Education.

All will agree that the P & C consistently misses important details in its coverage. For example, reporters frequently ask Jon Butzon to comment on education but don't say who Butzon is or why his comments would be of interest, let alone establish their context.

Yet another example of shallow reporting occurs with the economically stressed community of Allendale. Its rural location, economic conditions, and local politics all relate to the topic, but the central issue of this article should have been the specific progress made by the Allendale schools since the state takeover in 1999.

The piece provides limited information about power struggles and individual egos along with a really lame photo of a junk yard near the Allendale town limits. The unrelated photo serves as only one of many cheap shots taken by the P&C at this rural community. Don't photos need to illustrate the story they accompany? Otherwise, why not show a photo of the Bayside Manor housing project on Charleston’s East Side or an unkempt industrial lot in the Neck when doing an article on Burke's near takeover?

Once caught by this condescending photo, readers quickly realize the article has no substance. The P & C’s hook irresponsibly plays to a stereotype and arguably damages its subject. But that’s just about a poor choice of photos.

The Allendale School District takeover interests Lowcountry readers, but the most important issue disappears from this end-of-the-takeover article. What initiated the state takeover of the Allendale schools in the first place? The reporter doesn’t address that at all. Was the state takeover a success for the schools or not? Did the schools improve? Courrege starts to go there when she reports that that takeover “did damage” and “left unpleasant memories,” but then she drops the ball. What about the state report card for Allendale? That’s left to readers to find out on their own.

In either case, this article shows no depth of understanding for the story or its context. This lack is what's wrong with the P & C today. Its reporting generally fails to focus on the specific issue while maintaining an eye on the context. Quotes from major players, if indeed they are major players (the jury’s still out on Jon Butzon’s credentials), are fine, but without data and analysis of the facts, the article fails in its purpose.

One point worthy of news is buried deep in the story: Jim Rex announces that "No one can predict whether the state again would chose the daunting task of taking over a school or district, but . . . that remains a possibility if the safety of students is at risk [italics mine]. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, but that option should be available for schools in crisis situations, he said."

In other words, the State Department of Education will not intervene for academic sinkholes or corrupt finances--intervention will occur only if students are "in crisis" for "safety." Now, that's news!

Why tout an eight-year takeover without data to support (or belie) its effectiveness? Rex has taken a page from the late Vermont Senator George Aiken--"Declare victory and get out." The P & C hasn't the moxie or the interest to find out the conditions.

Because of statewide concerns about measuring effective public education, the Allendale School District takeover deserves more analysis than what appears here--and the Allendale garden club may be owed an apology for the photo.

Friday, July 27, 2007

CEN's Big and Little Shots: Who's Playing in CCSD

Not too surprisingly, the Board of Directors of the Charleston Education Network (CEN) is comprised of big shots, money bags, and even the occasional educator.

Jon Butzon, its executive director, reports to a chairman, co-chairman, and 24 directors. Since the tax reports of 501(c) organizations (such as CEN) must be available to the public, through a helpful reader I am able to provide the names of these mysterious eminences, at least as of two years ago. Perhaps you can add some pertinent information to my groping attempts to identify all of them.

  1. Neil C. Robinson, Jr., a lawyer with Nexsen Pruett, a director who states he is a founder and past chairman of CEN on the firm's website;

  2. John Barter of Kiawah Island, listed as past co-chair, on the Board of Directors of Spoleto Festival USA and Board of Investors of the Noisette Company;

  3. James Etheredge, vice-chairman for operations, has an MUSC email address;

  4. Wilbur Johnson, lawyer with Young Rivers Clement;

  5. Sybil Fix, former education reporter for the P & C;

  6. Katherine Duffy, of Katherine Duffy and Associates, a marketing research firm, former director of the Palmetto-Lowcountry Health Systems Agency;

  7. Lee Gaillard, former principal of Burke High School and present interim principal at Murray Hill Academy;

  8. Edwin Halkyard, former president of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra;

  9. Thomas Hood, president of First Financial (better known in Charleston as "First Federal");

  10. Robert Lurie, retired founder of Bright Horizons Corporate Day Care, who lives on Kiawah;

  11. Cathy Marino, also of Kiawah, active in Gibbes, Etc., and WINGS;

  12. Elizabeth Marshall--no clear information available;

  13. Sara Davis Powell, professor in C of C's School of Education;

  14. Allan Rashford, M.D., downtown practitioner whose patients include former police chief Reuben Greenberg;

  15. Retired Bishop (and former chairman) S.K. Rembert of the Reformed Episcopal Church;

  16. Joseph P. Riley, Jr., who needs no introduction;

  17. John Thompson, whose name is so common that no reliable identification can be made here;

  18. Ruth Baker, another activist in community affairs from Kiawah;

  19. Nella Barkley, director of Crystal-Barkley and first general manager of Spoleto Festival USA;

  20. Johanna Carrington-Martin, co-chairman previously identified here;

  21. The Rev. Willis T. Goodwin, chairman of the Charleston Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance;

  22. Alicia Gregory, identified as Secretary, also on the board of directors of the Children's Museum along with Robert Lurie, its president;

  23. Paul Hines, Co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Education Committee that opposed the A-team in the last school board election;

  24. Rita O'Neill, General Manager of Channel 5;

  25. Theron Snype, Minority Business Enterprise Manager for the City of Charleston and CCSD school board candidate in 2004;

  26. Elisabeth Oplinger, former principal at Memminger Elementary.

In 2005 CEN listed its address as Capers Hall, Room 330. In that year it received almost $93,000 in "public support," $65,ooo of which went for Butzon's salary as the only employee.

Considerable overlap exists between this group and the members of the Charleston Planning Project for Pubic Education (C3PE) that produced a year-long study of public education in Charleston County in 1998. That organization's work was described by the Charleston Business Journal as

"the Equity and Excellence Study funded by private donations generated through a volunteer committee, the Charleston Planning Project for Public Education. C3PE is an education planning group consisting of business leaders and educators who are dedicated to the overall improvement of Charleston County schools."

Is that study the blueprint for the Charleston Education Network?

Who calls the shots in this unwieldy committee of 26?

Who decides what policies to push?

Where does more than $92,000 in "public support" come from?

What are Butzon's qualifications for sitting in on CCSD meetings?

Why does CCSD list CEN under "parent" organizations?

Any and all answers will be appreciated!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Mystery of CEN and Butzon's Power

"Who is Jon Butzon and what is the Charleston Education Network," recently posted in my comments section set me to digging. Here's what I've gleaned so far about this seemingly powerful organization.

First, Jon Butzon does not reside in Charleston but in Berkeley County. As Executive Director of the Charleston Education Network (CEN) he leads an organization that is part of PEN--the Public Education Network. LEF's (local education foundations) such as CEN funded by the Ford Foundation attempt to improve education in urban and impoverished school districts. South Carolina sports several others besides CEN--in Aiken, Greenville, and even North Charleston, where the Education Foundation affiliated with the Metro Chamber of Commerce can be found.

It's not clear whether CEN gets public funds or where it has an office, if any. Butzon uses an email address at the Citadel ( ), but no mention of his name or that of the organization appears on the Citadel website. CEN's so-called website remains "under construction" and contains a post office box.

However, the Charleston Education Network does appear on the CCSD website under "Parent" organizations, a categorization that seems a bit off. Its activities are touted there as

"promoting effective School Board functioning through state-of-the-art training in goverance; facilitating leadership and management development for senior district personnel; helping parents transfer children from chronically low-performing schools; working for legislation to reform school district governance; and providing data and analysis on educational performance to be a voice for improved student achievement."

How and when Jon Butzon became Director of CEN is unclear, as are his credentials for the position. Certainly one of the criteria must be to act as cheerleader for the district office and school board. However, according to PEN's website, the motivation for local education foundations like CEN is to change minds gently from within.

Two policies that CEN has lobbied successfully against include the "Put Parents in Charge" bill that did not pass and the powers of the district constituent school boards, which the state legislature gutted recently.

This spring CEN put forth seven goals for improving education in CCSD. According to the P & C article, "members of the advocacy group announced seven policies that they believe will improve the district:

--Staff the lowest-performing schools first.
--Ensure that teachers at below-average and unsatisfactory rated schools have at least three years of experience.
--Assign only experienced principals to those schools.
--Ensure every child without a profound disability is a proficient reader by the end of third grade.
--Fully adopt student-based funding as the budgeting mechanism.
--Identify ineffective employees. Improve their performance quickly or remove them.
--Improve the use of technology in delivering instruction.

"'There is nothing magic in these policies,' said Johanna Martin-Carrington, cochair of the Charleston Education Network board. 'They are all common sense and they all go to the heart of the school district's mission: teach every child successfully to high standards.'" Who could disagree!

Martin-Carrington, Director of Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston, ran for CCSD school board in 2000, when she was endorsed by BACPAC, a political arm of the Metro Chamber of Commerce. It is unclear how and when she became co-chair of CEN and who else is on its "board."

Superintendent Nancy McGinley should get along just fine with CEN. The Philadelphia Education Fund that she headed for five years prior to coming to Charleston is also an affiliate of PEN and the same type of organization.

Perhaps some of you can shed more light on this non-transparent organization.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Outsourcing for Principals: How About South Carolina's Talent?

While the state focuses on creating principals who have the skills to create master teachers, CCSD seems locked into appointing as many out-of-state principals as possible. What is the rationale behind poor treatment of respected and proven leaders from the Lowcountry and South Carolina?

Take, for example, William Dixon of James Simons Elementary School. Dixon came to CCSD from Columbia in 2004. He previously was an AP and coach at Dreher High School, where he was on a track to become a principal. He was brought in as the assistant principal at Buist (the accepted slot for Buist's one-and-only black teacher/administrator in recent years). His background in administration was solid, and he was obviously overqualified as the AP at Buist.

According to a reliable source, in early 2005 Dixon was among the finalists interviewing for the opening as principal at James Simons. He was the top choice of both the District 20 constituent board and the school committee, but Goodloe-Johnson bypassed the recommendations to appoint someone from Springfield, Mass. Her choice resigned after fewer than three months in the position. She then gave Dixon an "interim appointment" (after having passed him over previously) at less pay and no guarantees beyond the remainder of the 2005-06 school year. CCSD and HR refused to consider his position as permanent and refused to immediately readvertise the opening so that Dixon could be more quickly provided some guarantees.

Only after the District 20 board protested, G-J eventually relented to allow an "early" posting of the vacancy for 2006-07. In February 2006, Dixon was allowed to "reapply" and interview for the position that he was then holding as "interim." Needless to say, it was a degrading and insulting process that he was forced to repeat as if he had "come in second," when everyone knew that G-J had derailed his selection after he had been vetted and approved. She refused to admit her mistake in not appointing him outright. Many in District 20 believe she was playing with Mr. Dixon to remind him that she was in charge; she also left the other candidates hanging. He was finally chosen but not approved by the superintendent or the CCSD board until many weeks later.

From District 20's viewpoint, another advantage arose from reopening the James Simons principal's position for interviews in February 2006. Since CCSD and its agents, such as Earl Choice, habitually waited to advertise until April or May (when all the best applicants had been snapped up by other districts) despite repeated requests from District 20 constituents, for the first time in years, District 20 could see potential downtown principal applicants before many had been eliminated by CCSD.

You may be wondering after such treatment what record Dixon achieved in his 17 months as Principal at James Simons. Here are a few examples:
  • Met AYP in all 13 targets in May

  • Front office and door cameras installed in May

  • Security gate installed in May

  • Murals painted by the College of Charleston in January

  • $2500 donated to the school by a businessman in Mt. Pleasant and the Intertech Group

  • Washer and dryer donated to the school in December

  • First yearbook published for the school in May

  • Proficient and Advanced scores increased from 19 to 27 percent

  • MAP scores increased by double digits in for categories, one of only eight schools in the entire county

  • Recognized with Home School Reading Award in May

  • Lt. Governor's Award winner: Jasmine Dais in April

  • Governor's Citizenship Award winner: Talea Clark

  • School Nurse Ms. Washington was a Golden Apple Award recipient in April

  • The school's gospel choir sang by invitation at the Stingrays hockey game in March

  • Sixth-grade boys won the region championship in basketball for the Tri- County Area in March

  • Terry Washington was Trident Basketball Coach of the Year in March

  • SuperPetz donated a fish tank to the school in August

Some of these highlights are thanks to Simons's relationship with the business community and with CCSD residents outside of District 20; some are due to his school leadership.

Now, I ask you, who's more likely to understand the needs of James Simons Elementary--a native of South Carolina or a native of Massachusetts? Maybe we'll discover that the "chosen one" who disappeared after three months was a graduate of the Broad Fellows program. I'll bet he or she didn't even know how to spell or pronounce "Simons."

In addition, there's CCSD's treatment of several respected principals, such as Jeanette Whaley at Fraser, who were unceremoniously dumped mid-year by Goodloe-Johnson and replaced with interims who were G-J's "people." But that's another story.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oops, We Forgot! CCSD Address Verification Scandal

Address verification "fell between the tracks" during the transition from Goodloe-Johnson to McGinley, did it? Weren't we told one of the benefits of hiring McGinley was a seamless transition? Guess the seams leaked a little. An article on such printed in the P & C revealed that "District officials said they investigated the allegations [of false addresses used in the Buist lottery process] and didn't find any problems."

That means the district considered the following list of discrepancies for eight students in the 2006-07 kindergarten class provided to it by District 20 proponents in 2006:

  1. Used 83 Hester Street to enter the school. The house has been for sale and is now under contract.
  2. Used 22B Mary Street to enter the school, but parents claim 4% (primary residence for tax purposes) on Sullivan’s Island. Family never lived on Mary Street.
  3. Used 40 Bee Street #205 to enter the school, but parents claim 4% for a home on Johns Island. They own and rent out the Bee Street condo.
  4. Used 28A Addlestone Avenue to enter the school, but parents claim 4% on Folly Beach. The family never lived at this address.
  5. Used 33 Calhoun St Unit 236 to enter the school, but parents claim 4% in Mt Pleasant. Parents own this condo but do not claim at as a primary residence.
  6. Used 70A Church Street to enter the school, but lives with mother in Mt Pleasant. Father lives out of state.
  7. Used condo at 32 Vendue Range #300 to enter the school, but parents claim 4% residency on James Island.
  8. Lives in South Windermere according to records.
According to Courrege, "The address inconsistencies were never explained publicly." Or privately either, it seems.

These 8 (out of 40 members of the entering class) will be allowed to continue in the sham process instituted by CCSD and promulgated by Buist Principal Sallie Ballard. This list doesn't even include further class members who claim to be eligible on the failing schools list but whose addresses prove they are not!

Funny how when the seams leak, one verifiable item of major concern to residents of District 20 gets dropped, even though administrators in at least two other constituent districts have stated that additional verification would not be burdensome. These complaints, reported on the national TV news last year, were essentially brushed off by Goodloe-Johnson. Can we assume that McGinley will ignore new ones for the Class of 2007-08? Does anyone believe that all addresses used for THAT class will be kosher?

McGinley states the oh-so-very-complicated verification process will be phased in with magnet schools including Buist. She said it. Let's hold her to it.
The cloud of suspicion that hangs over Buist needs to be cleared up NOW; otherwise, McGinley's "street cred" will evaporate.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Supt. McGinley's 90-Day Goals: What Ever Happened to Buist?

Goals or priorities? Whatever she calls them, on June 28 new Superintendent Nancy McGinley's 90-day priorities appeared on the CCSD website. See what you think:

• Improving Middle and High Schools Admirable goal, but is it even necessary to state? Improve in WHAT? Stated goals should have measurable outcomes; in other words, as I frequently tell students, be more specific!

• Strategically planning for growth, especially in the areas of John’s Island, Mt. Pleasant, and North Charleston
Okay, this one does make sense. But, at the end of 90 days, will the Board see some data on projected student numbers and corresponding seats available? Will plans be unveiled by McGinley?
• Responding to the demands from diverse constituencies, including The Peninsula Project and Charter Schools
I'd like to think that we were all one big constituency, but I guess not from McGinley's point of view. "Diverse" = code word? The "Peninsula Project"? Is that the District 20 plan for schools; if so, which one? There is no other reference to "PP" that I can find on the CCSD website. "Charter Schools," on the other hand, suggests that the charter math & science high school will get a response on use of the Rivers building--by September 28th.
• Dramatic increase in the time school leaders spend in the classroom
See previous posting for background. This goal should be measurable.
• Move toward making CCSD’s diversity a strength and an asset rather than a divisive element Excuse me? This is double-talk; actually, it suggests "Broad" talk. "Diversity" is "divisive" only when CCSD makes it so! Apart from clarifying this terminology, please explain how the outcome of this "move" will be measurable!

CCSD's June 28 press release continues, "McGinley stressed that these priorities are designed to ensure victory in the classroom. She also outlined her plans to provide new supports for teachers explaining, 'If we do a better job of taking care of our teachers, they will take care of our students.'" These "new supports" apparently are too esoteric to be of interest to the public; presumably the Board will know if they happen.

The Board of Trustees expressed agreement with Dr. McGinley’s priorities. Yes. Well, the priorities are so generally fuzzy, who could disagree?

Do you see any glimmering that McGinley might be contemplating a review of Buist's admissions processes, fake addresses, and vacancies? Maybe that's included in responding to "diverse constituencies," but I doubt it.

So far, looks like business as usual.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Principal Teachers Needed; Pendulum Swinging Back

Did you ever wonder how the "principal" got to be your "pal," as the spelling trick goes? A synonym for it is "head teacher." There, that should help.

Once upon a time in American public (and private) schools, perhaps a century or so ago, the principal was the first among teachers, the principal teacher. This person earned the position through (usually) his facility in classroom teaching. Then times changed, and so did principals--into disciplinarians, managers, executives, and businessmen. We had reached the full arc of the pendulum when No Child Left Behind Act became law. Even according to S.C. Deputy Superintendent Mark Bounds, "In the last decade, the job of principal has really shifted away from simply being a building manager." Well.

Evidence of yet another effect of NCLB is the finding reported in last Tuesday's P & C of the Southern Regional Education Board. The SREB reviewed South Carolina's present education of principals and found it lacking in progress toward "changing principal training programs to highlight classroom instruction" in comparison to 15 other southern states. The study calls for major "revamping" of the State's curriculum.
Emphasis is shifting to effective classroom teaching. What will they think of next?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

P & C Discovers the Broad Foundation!

Only three months after my posting on the Eli Broad Education Foundation and its production of urban superintendents Abelardo Saavedra (for Corpus Christi), Maria Goodloe-Johnson (for Corpus Christi and then Charleston), and Nancy McGinley [see my post of April 5 on "Roving Opportunists"], the P & C broke the news last Monday that the foundation has provided "substantial" resources to CCSD!

Clearly the editors need to pay more attention to this blog. Perhaps their attention was raised when CCSD appointed its THIRD graduate of the Broad Foundation's fellows program for urban educators, Randy Bynum, Sr., who was in its Class of 2007.

The Broad Foundation is active in many other cities, too, including Portland, Oregon. An on-line weekly newspaper,, identifies its goals: "to create competition by starting publicly funded, privately run charter schools, to enforce accountability by linking teacher pay to student test scores, and to limit teachers' say in curriculum and transfer decisions." Whether true or not, this list sets up some interesting queries for CCSD. Portland parents are mainly unhappy about the closing of neighborhood schools in the name of progress.

Googling into the efforts of Broad-trained personnel will certainly turn up some disgruntled, in fact, ranting, opponents of the foundation, especially after it joined forces with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. No doubt many, if not all, of these unhappy districts (such as the one in Christina, Delaware), like CCSD, had many problems waiting to be solved when these supers arrived. But Broad's philosophy (and follow-through) should raise some yellow flags (notice I didn't say "red").

To assist them in succeeding, Broad-trained fellows have resources available to them that support their training, and Goodloe-Johnson took full advantage of them. According to Courrege's article, the "foundation has spent more than $100,000 in the district." Thus,

"--The foundation will provide McGinley with a strategic support team of superintendents and leaders who will come to Charleston periodically and work with her on any issue she picks.
"--The foundation paid for an outside expert to come in and look at the district's communications department to see what could be better, and it will do the same for the district's information technology department.
"--The foundation has paid for Jim Huger, an independent consultant, to lead school board workshops.
"--The foundation covered expenses associated with executive coaches for Goodloe-Johnson in her first years as superintendent and McGinley, just beginning her tenure.
"--Brenda Nelson, the school district's new director of community outreach, will apply for the Broad Residency in Urban Education program, which involves two years of management training.
"--The foundation, with the Council of the Great City Schools, gave an $18,500 grant to the district to review operational or instructional processes and capacities for change."

Board members Hillery Douglas and Nancy Cook and training-participant board member Ray Toler are quite satisfied that the foundation's support "has done a good job" in helping schools.

But I'm wondering about the outside consultants. One aspect of Broad Education Foundation training encourages participants to explore the expertise of other national organizations to address specific problems in a district--for example, the New Teacher Project (or Teach Charleston) to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill positions and Community Education Partners to run Murray Hill Academy. No doubt there are other nonprofits either under consideration or in effect. So far the jury is out on whether the money spent on these consultants will reap rewards.

In addition, what are the qualifications of Randy Bynum, Sr., to be chief academic officer, other than being a Broad Fellow?

Try Googling "Randy Bynum."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CCSD: Special Needs Catching Up on Mandates

Now showing signs of progress, CCSD is publicizing the phasing in of a five-year plan to redistribute special needs children to their "home" schools. However, according to a recent P & C article, "The law doesn't require students with disabilities to be educated at their home school, but district officials are going beyond what's mandated to try to make that happen."

In fact, district officials are carefully phasing in mandates required by IDEA 2004--that's the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 as amended in 2004.

What the Act actually mandates is the following:

"The Department [of Education] has consistently maintained that a child with a disability should be educated in a school as close to the child's home as possible, unless the services identified in the child's IEP require a different location. Even though the Act does not mandate that a child with a disability be educated in the school he or she would normally attend if not disabled, section 612(a)(5)(A) of the Act presumes that the first placement option considered for each child with a disability is the regular classroom in the school that the child would attend if not disabled, with appropriate supplementary aids and services to facilitate such placement. Thus, before a child with a disability can be placed outside of the regular educational environment, the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to facilitate the child's placement in the regular classroom setting must be considered. Following that consideration, if a determination is made that a particular child with a disability cannot be educated satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, even with the provision of appropriate supplementary aids and services, that child could be placed in a setting other than the regular classroom.

"Although the Act does not require that each school building in an LEA be able to provide all the special education and related services for all types and severities of disabilities, the LEA has an obligation to make available a full continuum of alternative placement options that maximize opportunities for its children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled peers to the extent appropriate. In all cases, placement decisions must be individually determined on the basis of each child's abilities and needs and each child's IEP, and not solely on factors such as category of disability, severity of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space, or administrative convenience. "

Now, this law requires major reconfiguration of CCSD's special education programs--and who would complain about that? Judging from the statements by Connie Mathis, CCSD's executive director of special education, the District is edging carefully into compliance, with the first 100 students placed in home schools to be those with the least disabilities. However, nothing in the article indicates that CCSD is "going beyond what's mandated," and I suspect Mathis did not say that it is.

It would be nice to think that CCSD would go beyond mandates out of the goodness of its heart, but such isn't the case. Instead, let's commend it on its careful plan to make sure that the inclusion of these special students in the general classroom works to the benefit of all.

I'll now horrify some of you by quoting President Bush, whose No Child Left Behind Act is also impacting special education:
"America's schools educate over 6 million children with disabilities. In the past, those students were too often just shuffled through the system with little expectation that they could make significant progress or succeed like their fellow classmates. Children with disabilities deserve high hopes, high expectations, and extra help. . . . We're applying the reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act so schools are accountable for teaching every single child."
It's not only students with disabilities who have been "just shuffled through the system with little expectation." Let's hope this new attitude carries over to other aspects of CCSD.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reasons Not to ELECT State Treasurers

Thomas Ravenel!

Take the political big names and the millionaires out of the state treasurer's office. It's the TREASURER, for pete's sake! Let the elected governor be responsible for who's treasurer. Lots of states do it.
Look what the State Treasurer does:
Why would we want a "politician" in this position?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Do the Math: New Teacher Project Doesn't Add Up

What if you got paid to fail? And the S.C. legislature helps to pay you? Sounds like Alice in Wonderland, doesn't it? Well, how about the New Teacher Project (NTP), contracted by CCSD to provide about 100 teachers per year for two years for the sum of $1.1 million.

Okay, that's $1.1 million divided by 200, which equals approximately $5500 per teacher.

Now, if the organization finds and trains teachers for failing schools that have difficulty recruiting and, especially, retaining teachers, and those recruits effectively teach for, say, at least five years each, that works out as a pretty good, if somewhat expensive, deal for students in failing schools.

But, what if NTP doesn't reach its target? Why, the NTP must pay CCSD $1500 for each position it falls short of the minimum of 90 per year that the contract requires. That means the NTP earns $4000 for each teacher IT DOESN'T FIND!

Right now, according to today's P & C, the project has signed nine teachers, "only 10 percent of the goal," and has 14 "potential hires" more in the works, for a potential total of 23. School begins in about six weeks. The seven middle and high schools in question have about 50 vacancies. The article does not clarify if 50 is the norm for them.

While the site manager for NTP says that she "believes Teach Charleston will meet its goal," let's assume just for argument's sake that instead of signing 90 it signs 50. NTP will then pay CCSD $60,000 for the shortfall, but NTP will have received $550,000 as the contract requires, for a cost to the district of $11,000 per teacher. A bit stiff, don't you think? What if NTP signs only 25?

One would hope that these teachers not only must sign but also must teach for a minimum number of months in order to count as fulfilling the obligation. Who knows?

And where does the state legislature come into play, you ask? In order to pay for Teach Charleston, CCSD "wanted to" pay half and get the community to pay the other half. Right now the community has contributed $27,600, or about 10 percent of its share.


"The community" apparently includes the state legislature, which in its wisdom has granted $100,000 to the Coastal Community Foundation to give to Teach Charleston as part of the pork [read "earmarks"] doled out from its Competitive Grants Committee made up of former state legislators. So in effect the state legislature has given CCSD another $100,000.

No, don't get me wrong. I hope NTP succeeds with these schools that desperately need effective and stable teaching staffs. There are other ways in which the legislature could help, however--even if the State Department of Education, Jim Rex, and the education lobby would blow a collective gasket if it did:

  • South Carolina should accept out-of-state certificates in good standing as qualifying those who hold them to teach in SC public schools, and those attempting to change careers through alternative certification should have their process smoothed and made less expensive.

  • A hefty proportion of non-need-based lottery scholarships should be awarded to those pledging to teach for at least three years.

  • Teachers who take advantage of state funding to get National Board Certification should be required to teach and/or mentor for at least three years in failing schools in order to get the salary bonus.

And individual school districts, such as CCSD, must revamp their support of "newbies" by mentors and principals as well as their discipline programs to prevent the huge percentage of certified teachers who leave the profession prematurely. Stop blaming that drain on low salaries alone.