Friday, November 28, 2008

Demography Rock-Hill Style for CCSD

[What follows is based on both FOIA requests and corresponding partial answers from Charleston County School District staff as well as the analysis by various members of the community not associated with district staff.]

When Bill Lewis, Chief of Operations for Capital Programs for the Charleston County School District, needed demographics for growth projection in the public schools, where did he turn but to Rock Hill, South Carolina, that well-known center for demographic research.

In fact, to save himself the hassle of a publicly-advertised Request For Proposals (RFP), he requested seven or eight separate reports, all for charges just below the CCSD policy on cost thresholds for requiring Board approval. Reasonable estimates put the total paid to McKibben Research Associates between $60,000 and $70,000, although it may be higher still. McKibben himself was paid $500 to attend at least one constituent board meeting in which he merely read from his report.

If that behavior isn't smelly enough for you, no one at district headquarters will admit who ordered the reports, although Superintendent McGinley has stated that they "belong to Bill Lewis." Yet the McKibben Reports ( as they are known) are the basis for a wide range of CCSD planning, from buses to facilities; school redesign rests on these unacknowledged step-children.

Apart from the money trail, other more worrying aspects remain. No one in CCSD seems to be willing to vouch for the quality and content of the reports.

To make matters worse, the reports contain no concrete data, no maps, and no hard evidence that the information supplied to McKibben by CCSD has been independently verified using US Census, City of Charleston, or SC Department of Education figures. For the amount of money, taxpayers would assume that McKibben would provide its own up-to-date data!

On top of that, McKibben's analysis consists of seven or eight reports that are boiler-plate documents, with standard wording throughout, almost verbatim copies of each other. [See blog posting below: the Fairfax County Citizens Task Force had already discovered this little "short-cut."]

Nowhere do the McKibben Reports mention the effects of transfers into and out of attendance zones, especially the effects of NCLB transfers. As one observer writes,
"A disturbing discovery was to learn just how much important and available information is missing from the reports. Some include student numbers that CCSD has so far refused to supply to anyone under previous FOIA requests. There is no mention in the district population and school enrollment reports of any NCLB transfers. Nor is there any analysis of what impact this mass movement of students out of their neighborhood attendance zones has had on the schools that are receiving these transferees or on the schools and districts those students are leaving.

Any attempt by CCSD to claim that NCLB numbers are low would be a confirmation that they are simply putting those transfers under a different heading. How else can CCSD explain the large number of students being transferred from other parts of the county to West Ashley High when that school isn't even eligible under NCLB?

If these numbers are buried within each of these eight reports as "students enrolled within their attendance zone," then all the numbers are skewed as much as 20-30% off the mark. That would make it even more questionable why Moultrie, St. Andrews, and James Island are left out of the redesign process. Their overcrowded schools have directly resulted from the abject failure of other CCSD schools. CCSD's added incapacity (or refusal) to verify accurate addresses for those attending schools in zones or districts where the students are legally assigned is only salt added to the wound.

On average, 10-20% of the students attending every school are either attending using a false address or transferring in under a policy other than NCLB. How have these numbers been considered by CCSD and their hired demographer, or have they been addressed at all?
At the CCSD Board of Trustees meeting on December 8th, ten days from now, Superintendent McGinley will present her proposals for school closings and redesign based on numbers in these reports. She is fully expected to ignore these nagging questions. Will the School Board ride along?

[BTW, McKibben's educational credentials make him more a trained sociologist than a demographer: "Ph.D. Sociology/Demography, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, 1990; MA Sociology, Syracuse University, New York, 1982; BA Sociology & History, State University of New York at Geneseo, 1981." Prior to starting his own business, he taught in several university sociology departments, presumably where he got the idea to become part of the edublob.]

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