Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Toya's Op-Ed: It's a Gusher for CCSD

If you've given up subscribing to the P & C, you probably haven't seen the latest puff-piece in support of the CCSD School Board in Wednesday's op-ed piece, "One School Board Member's Update: Grounds for Optimism" by school board member Toya Hampton-Green. I'll spare you the bulk of it, since much of it rehashes the rent controversy over the Charter School for Math & Science and explains how the district's budget is being affected by the changes in funding. Needless to say, her viewpoint is indistinguishable from that of Gregg Meyers, et al.

However, some statements were interesting.

According to Green, "We would be fortunate to have [Superintendent McGinley] in Charleston until she retires, which is something she has stated she is interested in doing." Since McGinley's already worn out her welcome in many quarters, that longevity seems unlikely. On the other hand, who else would pay her as much as we do?

Also, Green states, "A board majority voted in favor of allowing [CSMS]'s use of a facility with a rent charge." Although she rehashes the legal issues involved, Green never mentions the unusually high rent proposed nor the racial-quota aspects of CSMS's getting it lowered, an aspect clearly against the law.

Green touts as the Board's accomplishments the release of funds to increase the pay of principals and administrators in the district with a new evaluation process as adjunct. Yes, CCSD officials are fleeing the district due to non-competitive pay in the "Southeast region."

Finally, Green suggests that a strategy to get experienced teachers employed elsewhere in CCSD to "voluntarily transfer to schools in the district that are rated below average or unsatisfactory" is the fruit of eliminating the input of teacher hiring and transfer oversight by constituent boards. What? You mean the district has tried to provide incentives previously? When?

Most ironically for some of us who can recall Hampton-Green's position that she does not represent District 20 but the entire district, she states, "Keep the inquiries coming." Does THAT apply to District 20 also?

Finally, she challenges the P & C to provide more "positive" coverage of the district, providing her own ironic ending.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Statistical Case Against Buist's Lottery

All but the most optimistic residents of District 20 of CCSD and their friends were unhappy but not surprised by Judge Scarborough's ruling concerning the lawsuit against Buist Academy's admissions policies. If he had ruled in their favor, it would be the first sign of a break in the wall. [See County Board Wins Buist Battle in Saturday's edition of the P & C].

However, if 75 Calhoun thinks that residents of District 20 will simply go quietly into the night--well, another case is yet to be made. Of course, the plaintiffs should go ahead with their appeal of this one, but if the courts refuse to interpret the rules to mean what they say, the statistical route remains. It's time to pull it into shape.

Now, before you stop reading, let me say that I'm not going to bore you with statistics here. My point is that many high-profile lawsuits have been won on such data, the most obvious one being against the tobacco companies. The legal reason for that warning on each pack of cigarettes is the statistical correlation between cigarette-smoking and cancer, not scientific or medical evidence (although I'm sure by now some exists).

You can see where I'm heading with this. A statistician should be able to take the addresses of each student of Buist for the last, say, 10 years, and show that it is statistically impossible to arrive at the composition of its student population as it has stood over that decade without finagling and malfeasance on the part of officials "testing" with the YCAT and running the "lottery."

In other words, based on CCSD's use of four lists for kindergarten, a statistical case can be made that the number of Buist students living in District 20 should be within a certain range if CCSD has followed its own rules. Needless to say, CCSD officials, especially Janet Rose, have done everything in their power to avoid handing over the numbers. Thanks to FOIA, they can't hide forever.

Now that Doug Gepford supposedly is culling the waiting lists for Buist, will its "lottery" also be run transparently, or will we again have "trust us, the unknown number beside your child's name didn't come up." [If you want to see how its lottery "works," see my blog of last March, Gambling by the Numbers: Magic Tuition Money.]

Superintendent McGinley's integrity is on the line here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Summey-McGinley: Let's Ask the Real Questions

While the citizens of Charleston County continue to anticipate true give-and-take meetings with CCSD Superintendent McGinley, Mayor Keith Summey of North Charleston managed to arrange a meeting for himself and his City Council. As reported in the P & C, Wednesday became an opportunity for both officials to spout platitudes and congratulate each other on their sound ideas. [See North Charleston Asks Education Questions . ]

Summey's impetus seems to have been the desire to convince the City Council to vote funds for three-hour after-school programs at all of North Charleston's elementary schools. These would require parental involvement and the part-time services of a teacher-coordinator (paid by the city). McGinley thinks CCSD and North Charleston should "work together to figure out how to fund them." Right.

McGinley's motivation clearly was to show off to the Council her enlightened policies and plans while glossing over the past failures of CCSD (to be fair, not done on her watch). These include (1) encouraging teachers who want to curry favor with 75 Calhoun ("move up the education ladder") to teach in failing schools and (2) replacing more than half of the experienced principals in the district with "talented individuals." Of course, she trotted out the usual excuses about high-poverty areas, poorly-educated parents (whose fault is that?), and the "comeback" of "once-stigmatized trade-school courses" (who took them out? who stigmatized them?).

Since Summey urged her not to leave CCSD until they come to fruition, he bit--hook, line, and sinker. But there's no reason to think that he wasn't already privately convinced before the public meeting took place.

In perhaps the most ironic follow-up I've seen recently, the article goes on to quote Bill Lewis's contribution that
"the district is spending $211 million to build or upgrade new schools in North Charleston."

We've all seen the correlation between brand-spanking-new school buildings and achievement. Yes? And Lewis had the temerity to include the new campus for the Academic Magnet and School of the Arts in his numbers! Let's take those millions out, Bill. Those are only North Charleston schools geographically. Wouldn't it be interesting to discover what percentage of students graduating from North Charleston elementary schools attend either AMHS or the School of the Arts? Let's guess: 1 -2 % tops would be mine.

Other comments made reveal the fuzzy thinking involved in the planning of these programs that practically guarantees poor outcomes:
  • Summey wants to "mandate" parental involvement. Isn't he concerned that the children whose parents won't (or are unable to) participate and thus won't be eligible are those that extra help needs to reach the most.
  • Somehow the "site-coordinator" (teacher) will be deciding upon "recreation or whatever specialty" individual children are "interested in." Will playing video or soccer games make for academic success? Will the child choose to be "interested in" drilling math facts?
  • If these programs "could help parents as well," to read and write adequately, where will its focus be? On children's achievement or that of their parents? Did anybody say "adult education classes"?
  • Summey wants "local businesses to look to the schools for part-time help"--that would be high schools presumably. Has it occurred to him or to CCSD that business-school partnerships rather than vague desires would ensure results?
Summey really wants to improve the elementary schools in North Charleston? He needs to invite Director Cecelia Gordon Rogers of the Charleston Development Academy Charter School to a City Council meeting for a chat. As I said back in February,

I hope that others [. . .] are taking notes on how Ebenezer AME, Rogers, and the community have succeeded with this school. Visiting the school's website, I was struck by the following statement: " CDA incorporates The Charleston Plan of Excellence, The Coherent Curriculum, and The Core Knowledge Curriculum [italics mine] as the foundation teaching tools."

The Core Curriculum (an anathema to McGinley, no doubt) is one of the best hopes for those unfortunate children who enter elementary school from low-income and poorly-educated backgrounds. It can level the playing field if given a chance. Kids in the "projects" are succeeding at CDA.

Just ask Ms. Rogers how, Mr. Summey.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

CCSD: Why Not TAP?

Okay, I'll bite. On the SC Department of Education website is an article about South Carolina's role in a national teacher merit pay program called TAP (Teacher Advancement Program). [See TIME Article Features South Carolina's Role in National Teacher Merit Pay Program ].

According to its website, TAP schools may be found in Beaufort, Darlington, Florence 1 & 3, Georgetown, Hampton 2, Laurens 56, Marlboro, Richland 1, and Spartanburg 7.

There's bound to be some explanation for why CCSD's not on that list. I wonder what it is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why Is Jim Rex Hobnobbing with the NEA?

The National Education Association (NEA)? Hardly a powerhouse in South Carolina, which, after all, is a right-to-work state. I haven't seen statistics on unionized teachers in this state, but I can believe that percentage is very low. Certainly CCSD is not organized.

So I find it strange that State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex was more than happy to accept the funding of Communities for Quality Education. CQE "hosted a roundtable discussion between South Carolina Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and a group of SC high school students. The students shared their top education concerns and then submitted that concern via YouTube to the Presidential candidates in advance of the July 23rd primary debate." How sweet.

It turns out that Rex moderated a discussion that was carefully led into areas of interest to the NEA--
measures such teacher tenure and curriculum reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, merit pay, school vouchers, and many accountability reforms. Communities for Quality Education is a shill for the NEA and is funded by the NEA, one of the most vocal opponents of real reform in public schools.

For shame, Jim!

Education Non-Profits: Profitable for Some!

Politics and money and sex.

Wow! Can you imagine a more volatile mixture? Yet that's exactly what we have with the Heritage Keepers program being used statewide and in Charleston County schools.

It's NOT new. It wasn't just adopted this year. Questions have been raised about the selection of this particular nonprofit for YEARS. Questions have been raised about how the program presents itself and who benefits from its contracts. Questions have been raised about its political protectors.

In fact, every red flag you could think of has been raised in regard to this "non-profit" that receives millions of dollars from the taxpayers of South Carolina and seems to have local political links.

Apparently, the P & C has finally decided that the issue merits newsprint in Tuesday's edition.

[See Character Program Questioned].

Let's see. So the SC House is poised to approve a five-member oversight committee for "abstinence-based programs." Why stop there? What about oversight of the rest of the non-profits in the education blob that are swilling at the public trough?

And CCSD's response to questions about the program? "The school district also has asked the state Department of Education for guidance, said Tamara Kirshstein, the district's science and health curriculum coordinator." Now, we don't know how long Ms. Kirshstein has held that position, but after years of using the program, isn't asking for guidance NOW a bit late?

Pathetic, isn't it? Or it would be if it weren't our tax dollars being wasted.

Monday, February 18, 2008

CCSD Super Stumbles Again

Would you believe that Charleston County has a long history of depending on private schools?

I wouldn't either. Yet that's exactly what Superintendent Nancy McGinley told the P & C as quoted in Monday's article on new charter schools. According to McGinley, " the local interest in charter schools also could be tied to the area's strong history of private schools, and many parents have started looking to charter schools as an alternative to those tuition-based schools."

Get real, Nancy. For a city of its size, over its history Charleston has had a relatively SMALL percentage of its students enrolled in private schools. Check any other metropolitan area over the last 100 years, and you'll see what I mean. What McGinley should have said is that participation in private schooling has increased over the time period since the consolidation of Charleston County school districts. Even so, probably home schooling has been growing at a faster rate.

How long has she been in Charleston now? Or is she still taking her cues from some mentor at the Broad Foundation?

P & C Charter School Piece Good for a Laugh

CCSD is an "incubator"! Why, thank goodness. Our failing school system has a positive aspect as an incubator for charter schools, no less! I'm sure the various folk involved with the new Charter School for Math and Science got a good chortle over that one this morning, but maybe Courrege is right--just not in the positive way she spins it.

From Merriam-Webster's On-line Dictionary:
one that incubates: as a: an apparatus by which eggs are hatched artificially b: an apparatus with a chamber used to provide controlled environmental conditions especially for the cultivation of microorganisms or the care and protection of premature or sick babies c: an organization or place that aids the development of new business ventures especially by providing low-cost commercial space, management assistance, or shared services
Yes, we can agree that CCSD has provided the "controlled environmental conditions" needed for the spread of charter schools. That would disastrous policies and poor planning that have led to the mess we are in today, one that encourages parents to get their children out of traditional public schools in any way they can.

Even in a back-handed way, we can agree that CCSD has aided "the development of new [charter schools]," albeit in a negative fashion. That is, as more and more diverse groups of constituents find common cause in jumping ship from its sinking system, new charter schools are being born. However, someone needs to read the last part of the definition to CCSD: that of "providing low-cost commericial space, management assistance, or shared services." Well, actually these charter schools can thrive without the last two!

In fact, if trends keep up, perhaps the CCSD School Board will no longer need to exist.

See School district has most charter schools in state, expected to grow

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"News" Story Should Be Labeled "Opinion"!

Sure, it's news that the South Carolina legislature has finally passed laws attempting to respond to the illegal-alien crisis in our state. However, the front-page story in Saturday's P & C is loaded with one-sided opinion, presumably that of both the reporter and the editors. [See S.C. Targets Illegals for the full story.] Although it purports to give both sides of the story, it becomes a shill for one side. Why did that happen?

  • "Yet for all its proposals, the law's chilly sentiment might be its strongest weapon."
  • "The bill is riddled with proposals already covered by existing law." [diction implying that it is needlessly flawed]
  • "But what about the adult who needs antibiotics for an infected wound? If care is denied, the problem could balloon into a far more expensive problem in the emergency room. Already, immigrants too often turn to emergency rooms for primary care. By closing the doors of community clinics to illegal immigrants, hospitals could face even more expenses." [perhaps true, but the reporter is arguing a position]

  • "Many illegal immigrants [. . . ] say the decision to enter the U.S. illegally isn't a stark choice between right and wrong — it's survival. [Quoting one worker]"I crossed the border out of necessity," he said. "Not because I want to, because I have to." ]This is a reason to accept illegals?]

  • "University of South Carolina professors released a report in August analyzing the lives of Latinos. The report does not distinguish documented and undocumented people." [Shouldn't we get one that does?]

Buist Lawsuit May Be District 20's Last Gasp

For sure, once CCSD's Board of Trustees starts appointing District 20's constituent board members (and all others, as supported by Sen. Robert Ford's stealth bill), the raison d'etre of all constituent boards will no longer compute.

Let's all remind ourselves why these constituent boards were created. The idea was to bring what were then separate districts into partnership while still protecting the interests of each individual district. Decades later, the results reveal it was a forlorn hope for the downtown district. Instead, its best interests have been ignored, with the proceeds of its considerable assets going to build up other constituent districts, especially in Mt. Pleasant.

So it is with a certain amount of nostalgia that we read of District 20's day in court over the lawsuit concerning CCSD's policies for Buist Academy [Buist to Get Board Answer], noting the irony of Alice Paylor's role in the Buist controversy, obviously a conflict of interest. As District 20's attorney, Larry Kobrovsky, correctly pointed out, "it wasn't fair for former Charleston County School Board Chairwoman Nancy Cook to receive free representation from Paylor on an issue related to her board candidacy and then preside over the Buist Academy principal's appeal of the constituent board's admissions policy decision."

Just out of curiosity, does Buist still have "over 1000 on its waiting list"? I thought Doug Gepford was working on that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bill "Tear-em-Down" Lewis Continues CCSD Rampage

My prediction is that, when Bill Lewis gets through with CCSD, there won't be a building left standing that wasn't built on his watch.

The latest controversy is over tearing down the Jennie Moore Elementary building in Mt. Pleasant. See [Group fights to save school .] Funny thing, those most affected are objecting. Today's P & C neatly encapsulates Lewis's philosophy of razing. According to the article,

Bill Lewis is executive director of the school district's building program.

  • which qualifies him to tear down every ante-Lewis school in the County.

The preservation group [Gullah Heritage Foundation] has been invited to participate in the planning process for the new schools to ensure the Gullah heritage is incorporated in the new campus. . .

  • a plaque? a picture?

but the school district isn't in the position to give a building to them because the Jennie Moore land is needed for new schools, [Lewis] said.

  • because of the way he's planning to utilize the property

The school district has been able to buy the land adjacent to Jennie Moore, which is an ideal spot for the new Laing

  • which brings up another school that shouldn't be moved, but when Bill Lewis talks, CCSD listens--or is it the other way around?

and creates a similar synergy to the schools in Park West, Lewis said.

  • "Synergy" is a 50-cent word for "traffic jam"

Jennie Moore will be expanded from 500 to 800 students,

  • so that it will lose its small-school atmosphere and become another "government learning center" to warehouse students

and the cost to renovate, expand and ensure that it meets current codes would cost almost the same as a new building, he said.

  • well, then don't expand. Anyway, after what's happened with Lewis's figures on renovating the old Rivers High Building, does anyone trust his calculations?

Laing Middle also will be expanded,

  • so that it, too, will become another government learning center to warehouse students

and its current site is too small to hold a new school with the desired capacity.

  • let's see--who's desiring this capacity? Lewis or the parents of students now slated to attend Laing?

The district plans to sell the Laing site and use the proceeds to help fund its new building.

  • Sell? No kidding. I wonder which developer with ties to CCSD and Joe Riley will be buying.

All schools are built to be community centers, Lewis said.

  • Well, now that's clear!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another Sea Islands YouthBuild Update?

In the ongoing saga of the building-less Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School, as of January 24th, the following information appeared in the P & C:

Charter officials are negotiating almost daily on a multi-year lease, and they hope that will be finished by the end of next week [Note: that would be by February 1st]. Two state agencies also must sign off on the building, and that hasn't happened yet. Chewning [the director] hopes students will be able to move into the new site by the third week in February.

For those of you who might have forgotten, CCSD closed Murray Hill Academy to older students, while agreeing to expand YouthBuild into a charter school to accommodate them. YouthBuild's director promised a suitable facility without having one, and CCSD Board members didn't verify that it did.

These shenanigans have resulted in the following headlines:
  • August 22, 2007: "Students Start from Scratch" (spin about its lack of equipment);
  • September 8: "Charter School in Jeopardy";
  • September 12: "YouthBuild Charter Officials Perplexed by Board Directive"(can't understand why charter would be yanked if it doesn't have a building);
  • September 13: "YouthBuild Told Why It Must Close";
  • September 22: "Johns Is. School Evicted";
  • October 5--"District: Charter Won't Get Funding";
  • October 16--"Panel: Give Charter School 90 Days";
  • October 23--"Charter School Given 60-Day Reprieve";
  • October 25--"Jury Could Decide School Eviction Case in 2 Weeks";
  • November 7--"YouthBuild Charter School, Landlord Reach Agreement";
  • November 9--"When School Suffers, Students Do Too";
  • November 24--" Charter School Requests Services";
  • November 25--"Charter School Students to Study at Home While Facility in Limbo";
  • December 27--"YouthBuild Still Without School Site"; (the end of the 60-day reprieve?)
  • January 24, 2008--"Charter School Has Temporary Site for Classes"(after spending two weeks at a Boy Scout facility on Wadmalaw Island).
Are we actually going to hear next week about YouthBuild's new permanent facility? Are even 20 of the original 75 students left in the program after these months of confusion? Is the CCSD School Board still keeping track?

Finally, how much money has been given to the school so far, and is it accounted for?

Watch Out for Senator Ford's CCSD Bill

According to a recent commenter, "Sen. Robert Ford has filed another bill to turn the [CCSD] constituent boards into appointed positions. . .and he's particularly targeted the District 20 Board downtown to be abolished outright." Well, District 20 Board members, I think that's a compliment, backhanded though it may be.

It's another issue the P & C will ignore, I suppose, until it becomes law. Then we'll all be told by McGinley et al what great improvements will result. We'll be told again that CCSD is the only district in the country where constituent boards have any power within the district. (Of course, those boneheads haven't heard of New York City).

Prediction by the commenter? "They must really want to flood the county board with candidates this November with 56 constituent board members (7 seats on each of the 8 districts) suddenly being told to go home."

Oh, I don't know--there must be a few flunkies and toadies among the 56 members.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If You Made This Up. . .

Archbishop of Canterbury's Rowan Williams has caused quite a stir by suggesting that Great Britain should observe sharia law as equal to and/or parallel to British. But, of course, if you're Episcopal these days, even outrageous and damaging nonsense coming from Williams is not a surprise.

However, in Los Angeles, the inmates have also taken over the asylum. To whit, a statement made by the Bishop of that Diocese and reported happily on Indian blogs:

Episcopal Christians Apologize to Hindus

India Abroad, Posted: Feb 10, 2008

LOS ANGELES - The Bishop of the Epsicopal diocese of Los Angeles has issued an apology to Hindus worldwide for what he called "centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them" reports India Abroad. The apology was given in a statement read to over 100 Hindu spiritual leaders at a mass from Right Reverend J John Bruno. The ceremony started with a Hindu priestess blowing a conch shell three times and included sacred chants.

This meeting was the result of a dialogue, started three years ago, between Hindu leaders and Rev. Karen MacQueen, who was deeply influenced by Hindu Vedanta philosophy and opposes cultivating conversions. "There are enough Christians in the world," she said. "What we need to see is more Christians leading an exemplary life and truly loving their fellow man." However the apology has triggered considerable debate among pastors across the US.

I wonder what they are debating:
  • If they've fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice?
  • If the Bishop of Los Angeles should get a medal or be tarred and feathered?
  • If it's possible to send both Bishop Bruno and the Rev. MacQueen to Canterbury where they can comfortably debate sharia law?
  • When the Rev. MacQueen will suggest that Christians be persecuted for attempting to convert Hindus?

Engelman's Response to Darby's Op-Ed

Just in case you refuse to subscribe to the P & C or choose not to let your blood pressure rise by looking at its editorial pages, Tuesday's edition prints a letter from CCSD School Board member David Engelman concerning the Rev. Darby's op-ed piece that appeared a couple of weeks ago. I responded in a post on February 1st. [See "First Take the Log out of Your Own Eye"]

Here's a copy of Engelman's letter.

In his Feb. 1 column, the Rev. Joseph A. Darby speaks to various aspects of the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science and notably, Rep. Chip Limehouse's bill regarding charging rent to the school and the issue of diversity. In the column, Rev. Darby refers to recent coverage of the school as an "unprecedented wave of positive reporting," implying that the coverage has been less than balanced. Might it be that the only negative comments about the school have come from but one source?

Rev. Darby stated, "It should be noted that should Mr. Limehouse's legislation pass, the result would be an unmitigated disaster for public education in South Carolina." I would point out that public education in South Carolina achieved the level of "disaster" long before the concept of charter schools came into play. In fact, charter schools are an effort to mitigate that reality.

Rev. Darby adds, "School districts that are already stretching scarce dollars to build and equip traditional public schools would be required to stretch them even farther to cater to charter schools ..."

My idea of stretching scarce dollars is not found in spending the taxpayers' $175 million bond referendum on three schools costing $40 million , $50 million and $65 million. And it will not be found in paying a public relations firm's $80K fee, or in spending $77K on a facilitator to lead public discussions on the use of Rivers High School. It won't be found in paying $600K a year in legal fees, or $2 million a year for vacuuming leaves, or $5 million on the failed Edison project. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Why all the fuss about a charter school's diversity? By law, diversity is already defined in a charter school's charter. You will find diversity at James Island Charter High School — in its student body and on its board. You will find diversity at Orange Grove Elementary Charter School as well. You will not find diversity at any of the public schools on peninsular Charleston. And I never hear any complaints about that from the Rev. Darby. Nobody seems upset about that.

So I have to ask: What is the real motivation behind this negativity toward an effort that will actually achieve diversity in a peninsular public school? Could it be that the negatives about the charter school are based on something other than genuine concern for diversity or the state of public education? Is it about control, or the loss of it?

Couldn't have said it better.

CCSD's Douglas: We Won't Hold CSMS Back

Can I quote you, Hillery?

Acting on the advice of CCSD's "experienced educators," the Charter School for Math and Science's organizers had pared down their original plans for two sections of eighth graders to a request for one, or about 20 students, in their 180-student school.

Turns out the waiting list for eighth grade was another section long. Why should that be a surprise? Could it be that many parents of rising eighth-graders want their children better prepared for high school?

According to the P & C's report on Monday night's CCSD Board meeting, the Board unanimously agreed to allow another section without any discussion. [See Math & Science School to Grow ]

My favorite comment? from Board Chairman Hillery Douglas: "'We would not want to hold them back.'" It falls into the same category as Gregg Meyers's statements about not charging rent for the Rivers building, although he can't seem to get around to putting that item on the agenda.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Would You Believe. . Broad Lectures on Charter Schools

Strange, isn't it? Our local CCSD superintendents and administrators have fought the new Charter School for Math and Science with all they've got. In fact, they're not finished yet--even though the end game is at hand.

So it seems hilarious that the P & C published on Monday's op-ed page a long piece by Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation that produced Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Nancy McGinley, and Randy Bynum. In it Broad earnestly touts the benefits of public charter schools.

Maybe they didn't listen in class?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Pete" Lawrence: Definitely a Fisher of Men

Kudos to the P & C [I know, can you believe I said that?] on its feature of Arthur "Pete" Lawrence, leader of the West Side Neighborhood Association, in Saturday's edition. District 20 (the downtown school district) does have its leaders, although they're not always the ones making the most noise--just quietly getting the job done. For those of us who do not know Lawrence personally, the article provided some interesting background on a kindred spirit.

One note on his forming the Friends of Burke: Lawrence's comments on how the powers-that-be couldn't touch his job if he spoke the truth must have resonated with many who are concerned with the operations of CCSD and its Board of Trustees. Can anyone forget the "ambush" of Lawrence several months ago by members of the NAACP for his support of the new Charter School of Math and Science? That stand took real courage.

Circulating among District 20 residents is a letter to Lawrence and Leroy Connor, a fellow co-founder of the Friends of Burke, portions of which I am reposting here:
To many of us who live and/or work downtown and who value our downtown schools, you (Pete) have proven to be our experienced helmsman. Leroy has been your able watchman from the bridge and bow. The two of you continue to guide us safely through the night. Pete, you have been steadfast and in the forefront on the issue of quality schools for all, among the many other related concerns shared by peninsula residents. You cut a confident figure of leadership, even when our directions seemed unclear or the horizon wasn't in sight. Like a matched team of experienced boatmen, you and Leroy have used your talents in tandem to show us the way and teach us how to recognize dangerous obstacles. Then you've shown us how to turn these same obstacles into friendly landmarks and to recognize some of them as valuable opportunities.

I know these are analogies that might seem more appropriate to a Navy sailor than an Army soldier, but they still accurately apply to you in the best ways. Maybe the water based comparisons reflect your continuing good fortune at fishing as your grandfather recognized these talents when you were still a kid. Appropriately named, like St. Peter, you have become a fisher of men.

Pete, you are one of the reasons that our peninsula neighborhoods are starting to reconnect after having been divided for so long. Not only divided, usually along racial lines, we have too often felt defeated, if not conquered. You are showing us that we have too many common interests that should unite us. Please know that due to your patience and willingness to educate many of us, including some of our more recently arrived white neighbors, a growing majority of all colors increasingly stand ready to back you on many of your most valued goals and priorities. These include raising the educational opportunities available to all students at Burke, establishing a sailing program where none exists or showing up to support you on whatever is best for your downtown neighborhood (and by association, our adjacent neighborhoods, too).

As you have helped us to articulate on all fronts, your downtown neighbors have discovered that our common enemy is "Average". Our true ally and ultimate objective should be nothing less than "Excellent". Truth and knowing the facts are powerful tools in this struggle. Our only assumption is that if given the chance, we, as a united body working together, will rise to the challenge every time by choosing "Excellence" over "Average" for our schools, our neighborhoods and our city. This has so far been true for OUR new charter school, for OUR Burke HS and for OUR new city gym named for Arthur Christopher.

Thanks for helping us to understand how all of these goals are connected.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

New Plans? Sigh. Sound Familiar?

When you read the link to the following posting, remember that the Seattle district is about the same size as CCSD: A Waste of Editorial Space . Here's a taste to whet your appetite:
And so we wait. For more review outcomes and a new plan. The Plan to End All Plans. Sorry to be cynical but we've seen it before.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Charter School's Lottery & Results: Diverse

Showing that a real lottery can work, the results of registrations for the first year of the Charter School for Math & Science are in. As reported by Octavia Mitchell of Channel 2,

Enrollment numbers are in for the new Charleston Charter School for Math and Science, proposed for the Rivers Middle School site. School officials say they're on track with diversity goals.

Park Dougherty, chairman of the Charter Committee says they sent out 180 enrollment packages to students selected in a lottery. Parents had two weeks to return forms confirming enrollment, and for the first time they now have a clear picture of the school's diversity makeup. Fifty-two-percent of 120 students who returned their enrollment forms are White; 41-percent are African American; and 7-percent are Hispanic, Asian, or multi cultural; 30-percent are on free or reduced lunch.

Charleston-branch NAACP President Dot Scott, who has opposed the school at every turn, is left to mumble about keeping diversity. Pitiful, isn't she?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

CCSD's Cinderella Gets Invitation to the Ball

"Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition. It is action and reaction." So said Henry Clay, nineteenth-century Kentucky statesman, past Speaker of the House of Representatives, the "Great Compromiser," and multiple-time nominee for President of the United States.

Does anyone believe that CCSD would have gotten around to adding rigorous course offerings at Burke High School if the downtown Charter High School for Math and Science had not taken form?
  • Sure, lots of talk but no action in the decade or so since the Academic Magnet moved from trailers at Burke to the old Navy Base. Those were Burke students in geography but not in makeup or name anyway.
  • Sure, lots of talk but no action as Burke gradually deteriorated to its unsatisfactory rating and near takeover by the State Department of Education.
  • Sure, lots of talk but no action as parents of students living in District 20 found various routes (including permission to attend high schools off the peninsula) to avoid attending Burke, resulting in a decline in the size of its student body and de facto segregation.
Oh, excuse me. I should have said effective action. Lots of motion has occurred. Even lots of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at the problem. Look at the A+ Program instituted by Goodloe-Johnson that failed for various reasons, not the least of which was that it was not properly implemented or supported. None of them have worked.

Probably more than a third of high-school-age students resident on the peninsula attend schools-other-than-Burke, with resulting transportation costs for CCSD that are probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last decade. Finally NCLB has added the options, thanks to several years of Burke's failing to make progress on its standards, of changing the school's structure, allowing it to become a charter school, replacing all teachers and administrators--well, you get the idea. CCSD is being forced to address the Burke problem again for the 2009-2010 school year, both from competition for higher-achieving students from CHSMS and from NCLB oversight.

Thanks to millions of taxpayer dollars, Burke High Middle has a beautiful facility, even if its playing-field situation is less than stellar; however, there are other ways to have a "Corridor of Shame" than decrepit buildings. You only have to contemplate what has happened to schools on the peninsula since their consolidation with those in Charleston's suburbs. It's been a downhill slide all the way. While you could argue that CCSD's academic "corridor of shame" actually meanders all over its district (with the exception of Mt. Pleasant), certainly District 20 has become the Cinderella ill-treated by the stepmother and her ugly step-sisters. Even true representation on its Board of Trustees has been bought away by political payoffs and at-large voting.

So, with great fanfare, Superintendent McGinley officially announces her plan for an "AP Academy" at Burke, first put forward as a counterpart to approval of CHSMS last year.
[See Burke to offer new AP Academy ].

Everyone wishes those at Burke who will try to make this "school-within-a-school" effective the best of luck. It is not automatically doomed to join its sister programs in failure, but as the old proverb goes, "The devil is in the details." One detail that should have been obvious is that the Academy will begin in the ninth grade: it should have begun at LEAST as early as the seventh. And that would have been possible, since Burke High Middle, as its name implies, does contain seventh and eighth grades. This start at ninth grade probably was a political decision made primarily because only middle school students at Burke would have been given the opportunity for these classes, leaving out other middle-schoolers on the peninsula. [Hmm. Why not spread resources to other middle-schoolers, say those at Charleston Progressive Academy? Oh, I forgot--that's a "magnet" school. It doesn't need an AP Academy. Right? What a can of worms that would open.]

Effective middle-school teachers are saints. There are some great middle-school teachers out there. They are definitely racking up brownie points in heaven by teaching at the sixth through eight grade level. Anyone who has ever attended middle school, subbed in middle school, or taught in middle school knows exactly what I am talking about. Despite the best efforts of all, middle schools in general [and that goes for many private ones as well as public] are sinkholes of academics for all but the most highly motivated and gifted. It's the nature of the beast. Whoever decided to invent schools that separate these specific grades from their saner counterparts deserves a special place in hell--maybe in the ninth circle,--that would be traitors to preteens.

Why do I say to start at seventh grade at the latest? Partly for the above reasons gleaned from personal observation and partly from knowledge of the national College-Board sponsored AP program itself. Probably McGinley is well aware (at least I hope she is) that the CB recommends the use of Vertical Teams to prepare students for AP courses. If you look at the materials for these Vertical Teams, you will see that they assume that preparation begins prior to high school. That is especially necessary for students who come from less-educated, lower-income families. Isn't that what CCSD is dealing with here?

A rigorous academic course in ninth grade is a shock to incoming students, no matter what previous school they attended. Even students from highly rated middle schools will have difficulty reaching the place they need to be to take AP courses successfully in the junior or senior years. We can hope that CCSD's administration has thoroughly thought through the needs of this program at Burke and will extend the serious help needed to make it successful.

If my calculations are correct, CCSD plans for up to 50% of its incoming freshmen to be in these honors courses. That's a high percentage for any school, even those with entrance requirements (except for the Academic Magnets of this world). Only time will tell.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"First Take the Log out of Your Own Eye"

Not again!

The Reverend Joseph Darby again opines on the P & C's op-ed page in response to an editorial supporting legislative efforts to allow public charter schools to use public school buildings (already the policy in many states). As is his wont, he strongly implies that the new Charter High School for Math and Science is really a plot to introduce segregation to downtown Charleston, when in reality it is a plot to introduce integration to downtown Charleston.

See Tie measurable diversity goals to free rent for charter schools .

Nothing will be gained by another reasoned response to such willful disregard of the facts. Clearly, the Rev. Darby has an ax to grind, and for whatever reason, the P & C sees fit to provide the grindstone whenever Darby wants it.

Notice what is part of his argument here:
". . .the Charter School for Math & Science is a 'start up' charter school that simply wishes to claim a public building and not pay its way. Should the school district choose to allow them to do so, then the same thing should be done for all future and existing charter schools, like the YouthBuild Charter School.

YouthBuild has had considerable struggles in finding and paying for operating space. Should the Charter School for Math & Science be given a free building, then the same should be done for YouthBuild.

Gee, I haven't heard Darby call for "diversity goals" for YouthBuild.

The reasoning here just doesn't hold water. YouthBuild is in its horrible circumstances because CCSD encouraged it to take on students who the district determined would not return to Murray Hill Academy [for reasons having to do with failures in its McGinley-selected for-profit administration]. The CCSD Board of Trustees was so anxious to have these students at YouthBuild that they didn't look too closely at YouthBuild's director's assurances that a suitable facility had been arranged.

Unlike the charter school under discussion, YouthBuild has never asked for use of a public school building. You might ask yourself why. Obviously that is a solution to its housing problems, as I have said before, and such space does exist.

But don't hold your breath waiting for Darby to call for "diversity" in YouthBuild's classrooms. The de facto segregation in District 20 and in CCSD's other charter schools is part of the outmoded racist thinking of the Charleston branch of the NAACP: under the present segregated conditions it can wield greater power (and get long op-ed pieces into the P & C).

Who cares what's best for the students involved, black or white? Maybe the organizers of CHSMS?