Monday, August 31, 2009

What Focus Can Do to Reading Scores

Why didn't we think of focusing on literacy in the schools before? Silly us, we just assumed that it was the top priority. Strangely enough (or not), the emphasis pepped up by the P & C's articles on literacy had an impact. See Sunday's Freshmen Show Improved Reading.

Don't celebrate too hard, though, because these improved scores show that fewer ninth graders are reading at the fourth grade level or below than they did as beginning eighth graders. If high school texts were written on the fourth grade level, maybe we could relax.

So, what does it mean that the deficient students at Baptist Hill showed a much greater percentage increase in skills than those deficient at Wando? Did Baptist Hill do a better job with its eighth graders, or was some other factor at work?

And, just in case you've forgotten, we were supposed to get the results from the summer's expensive reading focus programs to show if they were effective. WELL???? Does silence mean they weren't? This article would have been a good forum to discuss them.

McGinley says she's data-driven. She should prove it by releasing those results.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Down to Brass Tacks with CCSD's McGinley

Unnecessarily long and full of verbiage, especially edublob jargon. That would be an accurate description of Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley's Op-Ed piece in Sunday's P & C. [So far the piece is not on line; the matching editorial may be found at Reading Right Aim for Schools.]

You may chew and swallow the Op-Ed in its entirety, if you can stand phrases such as "more focused than ever" and educational name-dropping (Barzun is misspelled, I hope by the editor). However, one bold sentence stands out. According to McGinley, "Our academic office refined our instructional approach and established 3rd, 6th, and 9th grade 'gateways' so that students are never promoted with skill deficits."

What her verb tenses imply is that at some murky time in the past the academic office [i.e., person?] decided that--at those grade levels--students with "skill deficits" would be retained. The use of "are never promoted" suggests that current practice does not allow these students to be promoted. We know that's not true, so in her feeble way McGinley seems to promise that at the end of 2009-10 students with "skill deficits" (including reading deficiencies presumably) will be retained at those three grade levels.

If so, this is big talk from one who, as Chief Academic Officer, forced the wholesale promotion of severely deficient eighth-graders over the objections of principals and parents.

During the course of her Sunday pep talk, McGinley points out that Quick Start helped struggling readers this summer (see previous P & C article). If the federal stimulus money was so effective, why can't she tell us the results, as we were promised earlier this month?

It is down to brass tacks. Either the "gateways" exist or they don't.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If Doug Gepford Said It, It Must Be True?

Talk about a lack of critical thinking!

The Charleston County School District's Chief Academic Officer Doug Gepford stated that "it's been his experience that retaining students doesn't work because nothing different happens when students repeat a grade." [See Policy Panel Grapples with Literacy in Thursday's P & C]

So the Charleston County School Board's committee on literacy policy (when you want nothing done, form a committee) simpered in unison, " Oh, yes, Doug! Of course, Doug. We shouldn't make students repeat a grade." Let's keep doing the same thing we've always done--promoting students who aren't reading on grade level--and hope for different results.

You all know what that constitutes, right? Insanity.

Oh, I know that the committee is trying to dress up the status quo with different language, such as directing the superintendent to identify which literacy programs purchased from the edublob might help individual students (Gregg Meyers's idea), but those same programs could be directed to students who have been retained. It was virtually automatic promotion that caused the severity of the problem in the first place.

Committee Chairwoman Ruth Jordan sincerely wants to see a change from students entering high school unable to read their textbooks. Let's hope Meyers and his ilk don't bamboozle her with their vocabulary on this one.

Why, even Jon Butzon (and what was he doing there?) disagreed with Gepford and Meyers, proving once again that even a stopped clock can be right twice a day: [he] told the committee after the meeting that he wanted them to take a firmer stance on requiring children to be able to read before pushing them through the system." [italics mine]

Holy cow! I just agreed with Butzon?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ACT Scores Picture Too Blurry to Be Useful

While everyone should be happy to see that ACT scores for last year's graduating classes in the tri-county area remained stable or improved slightly [see Area ACT Scores Improve], those statistics are virtually meaningless without regression analysis of variables affecting the scores. The numbers taking the test vary widely from one high school to another and from one year to another.

Look at it another way. What would really be an accomplishment would be that the statistics on standardized testing did not continue to mirror the socioeconomic status of the students. Do the numbers mean that Wando High School (at an ACT of 22.9, above the national average) does the best job in education or that its relatively affluent and white student body would do that well regardless of how poor its curriculum was?

Do the numbers mean that Burke High (with an ACT of 15.7, well below the national average) does the worst job in educating its students or that its relatively poor and ill-prepared student body would have done even worse if not for its strong curriculum?

In fact, until taking the ACT is a graduation requirement and high schools become more diverse, such numbers will be but a blurry snapshot of educational progress.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Scott's Call of Segregation Falls Flat on Facts

“It’s about segregation,” [the NAACP's Dot] Scott said. “That is germane to every move (the charter school) makes - to keep these kids separate." [See Friday's on-line P & C for School Board to Hear More About Lowcountry Tech.] Scott continues to whine that the Rivers building might be used by a charter school.

According to Scott, the Charter School for Math and Science (CSMS), the most heavily integrated school in CCSD's District 20 (downtown) is "really just a commie plot, you see, to get us internally." (That's what conspiracy-theorists sang when fluoride was introduced to the Charleston water supply.) Her comments reflect their paranoid philosophy. Truthfully, it's Scott who hopes to "keep these kids separate," for as long as the downtown schools are 98% black (or more), the NAACP will be in the driver's seat, and she will be the driver.

Peninsula residents both black and white agree that high-tech programs should exist. Many Burke supporters have asked for them at Burke High School for years and instead have been presented with programs such as the AP Academy. Lowcountry Tech High may or may not be the answer.

The saddest fact is that Scott erroneously assumes that a high-tech program would appeal only to black students and that CSMS's fully-integrated student body would be afraid to inhabit the same building with them.

How prejudiced is that?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

State Scholarships Total Funny Money

I decide to advertise my old clunker for sale for $8,000. My first caller offers $5000; the second, $6500; the third, $4000 (a cheapskate!), and the fourth, a mere $3925. Things are going downhill. I decide to wait a year and try again.

The next year I advertise again, this time asking $7500 (well, it is a year older). Again, offers come in at $6000, $5500, $7000, and $5800. I'm still not satisfied, so I take my offer back.

The third year I try again with similar results. Then in the fourth year, when I ask $6500 for the car, I receive 10 offers: each for $3500.

Realizing I've hit the jackpot, I quickly sell the car to the first caller for $3500, thereby making $35,000 on the deal.

What's that, you say? I didn't make $35,000? Well, tell that to State Superintendent Jim Rex and all of those district superintendents all over South Carolina (and other states) who claim hokey scholarship totals. What I've done with my old clunker mirrors how they've jacked up the totals awarded to individual students.

It's funny money. Doesn't this practice make you wonder how they arrive at other numbers?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sensible Talk from DD4's Montjoy

Dorchester District 4's Superintendent Jerry Montjoy has at least one idea right concerning improving his school district: see Student Motivation Is Primary Goal in Wednesday's P & C. It's an idea that was trashed years ago by the Charleston County School Board. Give up?

Montjoy says, "What we're trying to do here is build tradition. That keeps alumni involved. And motivation leads to tradition." You might also put that, tradition leads to motivation.

Ever wonder why Burke High School has the only strong group of alumni supporters in CCSD? Easy. It's one of the few high schools that's been allowed to keep its name.

What graduate of Moultrie High really feels a connection to Wando? Or graduate of St. Andrews High to West Ashley? Which high school do graduates of the High School of Charleston support? Or Chicora or Rivers High?

Pathetic, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can't Talk Straight Either

The gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight--AKA the CCSD School Board--admitted Monday night that it "forgot" to add the Rivers Middle School building to its request for estimates of repairs and seismic upgrades of older schools in the district. [Board to Assess Scope of Repairs]

Sometimes it seems as though the Board, and its henchman, Bill Lewis, think they're doing the rest of us a favor by not immediately razing every school over the age of 20, but that's another story.

The NAACP--that would be the "shoot-self-in-the foot" gang--which remained remarkably silent on the closing of five all-black schools, spoke up in advance to decry any expenditure on a building potentially useful to an integrated charter school.

Gregg Meyers can use words such as "unintentional" and "misunderstanding" all he wants; given the history of this issue, "supporters of the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science [who] realized the omission of Rivers and began asking questions" propelled the change of course on the Board's part.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Superintendents Serve Up Pablum to P & C

If you're so young that you've never heard of Pablum, you may be wondering what it is; on the other hand, if you have ever tasted this old-fashioned baby food invented in the 1930s, you too would find it "bland, unappetizing, or with little content value"--its metaphorical definition today.

Precisely what is served up in recent interviews with CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley and Berkeley's Anthony Parker. [In Berkeley, Children at Center; Charleston Superintendent Prepares for Third Year]. You might suspect that the reporter either was afraid to ask pointed follow-up questions or didn't know what to ask. Instead, we find out that McGinley doesn't especially like to cook.

In any event, interested readers learn that McGinley's new "top priority" is "improving student literacy." Duh. I wonder where she got that idea. We all hope she's serious.

At least she was a bit more forthcoming about her recent trip to Houston, saying that "When I was asked to have a conversation to see if I might be interested in running the seventh-largest district in the country, I thought it was worth my time to give it some thought" [as I wended my way west on the airplane?]. That's about as close as she's going to get to admitting the trip was for a job interview.

Superintendent Parker wants to keep "put children at the center point" in Berkeley County. Well, that's a relief. We were worried that he would put them off to the side.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Waiting with Bated Breath for CCSD's Quick Start Results

This expenditure of stimulus funds sounds great, although the stimulus may affect reading ability instead of financial stability. I'm referring to CCSD's summer Quick Start program described in Thursday's P & C, Failing Our Students Series: Fast Forward.

The anecdotal evidence of reading improvement among elementary students gladdens the heart; however, the final comparison of ability at the beginning and end of the course should be made public also. Doug Gepford should send that information to the P & C as soon as possible. If the district shows that its expenditure of $325,000 this summer for the program has been effective, it will lend credibility to other programs getting underway.

Two aspects of the P & C story remain unclear. How did the district measure the "highest-performing teachers" at each school? Also, the article states how many students were offered a chance at the program but not how many accepted. Isn't that important?

Why does the lack of that information make me suspicious? About 480 students were eligible. If fifty percent took advantage, that would be a cost of $1354 per student; if only one-fourth attended, it would be $2708.

Aren't you curious, too?

Monday, August 03, 2009

North Charleston HS Signs Up for Edublob

Cloaking the true situation in the Charleston County School District, State Superintendent Jim Rex's press release has glossed over the meaning of the reorganization of North Charleston High School and, now, the meaning of the district's signing up the school for a program called "Turnaround Schools." [See School to Receive State Help in Monday's edition.] Or maybe the reporter didn't understand.

We know that NCHS needs all the help it can get. First of all, the majority of incoming freshman read at or below the third-grade level. In the past, many of those students would drop out during or at the end of freshman year. The new NCHS has to figure out how to teach them to read while still maintaining a high school curriculum for the students who read at or above grade level.

Second, since Bill Lewis has not managed to finish renovations of the NCHS building in a timely manner, these high school students will be taught for at least a semester at a notorious middle-school building, namely Brentwood, that is not designed for high school needs. If the new principal manages to get them to settle in there, by mid-year the settling-in process will start all over again. There's no way that precious instructional time and discipline won't be lost through the mid-year move. You begin to feel sorry for Juanita Middleton, although we suspect she simply goes where she's told by Supt. McGinley.

How did NCHS achieve the status of the only district-run high school in the state that will participate in "Turnaround Schools"? CCSD made the decision that it would avoid a state-takeover required under NCLB rules since NCHS did not meet its goals for the required number of years. NCHS then could have gone charter (horrors!) or--CCSD's choice--been completely reorganized. No other school district that qualified for "Turnaround Schools" chose this path. You have to ask yourself why.

"High Schools That Work" and "Turnaround Schools" programs may or may not do the trick. Considering the reading problems at NCHS, they have a hard row to hoe.

Should I point out that both are part of the edublob that makes its living from billing districts for institutes and training, or is that fact already obvious to you? Can there ever be local solutions from local educators and administrators or do those people not charge enough?

Straight Story on New CCSD Buildings

Probably not everyone is
as irritated as I am by paeans of praise to the Charleston County's newest Taj Majal school buildings in the latest editions of the P & C. Even knowing that the funds for building them and those for daily operations are separate has not assuaged my nagging suspicion that, here in these multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art schools, children will still be left behind in reading skills.

Now, let's use just a little bit of critical thinking about statements made as fact in two recent articles on Mt. Pleasant Academy and Orange Grove Charter Schools.

According to one article, the enormous new Mt. Pleasant Academy had to be built because the old 1950s building had grown too small. Wrong. It would be an easy bet that the Old Village of Pt. Pleasant doesn't have as many elementary-age children as it had in the 1950s! No, what happened is that the CCSD School Board made a conscious decision to create large elementary schools instead of smaller new ones and, as a result, to increase busing. Now ask yourself if it is better for an elementary-age child to be bused to an 850-odd student school or go to one half that size in his or her own neighborhood.

Monday's article on Orange Grove Charter School has a misleading brag in both the front-page teaser and the article itself: that this is the first school building designed specifically for a public charter school in South Carolina! Of course, the decision to rebuild Orange Grove was funded prior to its becoming a charter school. Of course, the CCSD School Board fought its going charter tooth-and-nail and caved only when it became clear legally that the Board didn't have a leg to stand on.

And the much-touted separate building for day care for faculty? The lack of the ability to have that facility, thanks to CCSD's policies, created the impetus to go charter in the first place. What short memories we have!

Let's hope that Bill Lewis has managed to build and plan these facilities better than he did for Wando High School, where they're still suffering with air conditioning problems in the gym!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Missing Children Alert: Burwell & Waring

What's wrong with this picture: Your child is missing. No law enforcement officer even mentions an amber alert or takes you seriously because he or she is 18 years old or older. After a brief mention in the local news, the story disappears from the public's radar screen, but not yours. It's your child.

Take the case of Teista Burwell. Her mother lobbied law enforcement for almost two years before Burwell was even listed as missing. [See Woman Finally Listed as Missing.] Never mind that her former boyfriend, David Kornahrens, is a known criminal whose rap sheet has now topped 27 pages! During that time period the local media also ignored this crisis. The attitude seems to have been that, since she had been involved with a criminal, she got what she deserved.

Only when the Dorchester County Sheriff's office listed Burwell on a national computer base did the P & C notice. To be fair, since then it has published stories about a vigil for Burwell and the suspicion cast on a Summerville resident who used to be employed by Kornahrens. [See Vigil Held in Ladson and Marcotte in Clear, But Fallout Lingers.]

Now Kornahrens is nowhere to be found, though he is also wanted for armed robbery. It's time to publish stories on his activities and, especially, his 12 or more aliases. Maybe someone will notice him or remember an important detail.

Perhaps because of the Burwell fiasco or because of her family's status, Charleston Police responded more rapidly to the case of Katherine Waring. However, since her mid-June disappearance occurred, the only media update has been a July 23rd article detailing the lack of results from a false tip that her body might be in an Anderson County field. [See Rural Area Searched for Missing Woman] It's an odd case. One odd aspect is that, even though a video exists showing someone trying to cash one of her checks, no picture of that person has been released. Why not?

Finally, I don't understand why the P & C doesn't put more focus on cases like these. Think of the popularity of America's Most Wanted for the last decade. Such coverage might actually sell some newspapers.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

McGinley's Tale Tests CCSD's Gullibility

Throwing up a smoke screen in front of her every action has become such a habit for CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley that she can't manage a bit of candor when the truth would help her credibility.

That's what most readers should take away from the P & C's Saturday story, McGinley to Stay in Charleston. If Courrege wrote the lead, "McGinley flew to Houston on Friday to interview with the Houston school board that's looking for a new superintendent," that's what she thought also.

McGinley would have the public believe that she simply wanted to share the Charleston success story (!) with the search firm hired by the Houston School Board looking to replace its superintendent and had no intention of actually interviewing for a job that pays twice what she makes now. The Houston Chronicle was confused about this being a job interview. The moon is made of green cheese, also.

This much is true: her plane was rerouted to Austin, causing a delay that made her miss her interview. She learned about the Houston article. She may have learned other facts through the grapevine, such as that she was being interviewed only because of the recommendation of the previous superintendent, her "friend" from the Broad Institute, or that her interview was pro forma because the School Board really wants a black replacement for its present Hispanic.

Abe Saavedra! The name brings back sweet memories of Corpus Christi, his post prior to Houston. I won't rehash his shenigans there except to point out that he hired Maria Goodloe-Johnson. You all remember her, right? These three Broad Institute graduates make quite a triumvirate. If McGinley should leave, one hopes another won't be shoved down our throats.

Another reason? Why would Saavedra leave Houston at the ripe old age of 58 without another superintendent's job on the horizon? One Houston blog may have had the answer last February:
". . .he's made more than his fair share of bungles. Board members have sometimes seemed blindsided by his proposals -- like cutting transportation for magnet schools or combining whiz-kid high school Carnegie Tech with the much rougher Worthing.

"He'd been on thin ice for a while; it seems the ice finally cracked. " [See Houston - Hair Balls - Abe Saavedra Is Leaving The Building.]
In another of those bizarre coincidences, the name of Houston's school board chairman is Greg Meyers.

Our own Meyers version was already blowing more smoke:

"Board Vice Chairman Gregg Meyers said McGinley's actions tell him that she has such little interest in moving somewhere else that even a job paying more than double what she earns here isn't of sufficient interest to bother with an interview if there's a small inconvenience involved.

"'I don't think this trip means anything,' he said."

Why the subterfuge? Who would blame McGinley if she took a job paying double what she gets now? Let's just hope that she doesn't pull an Abe Saavedra on us and work this "interview" into a raise to keep her here.

Does it ever occur to these people that a little honesty would go a long way towards restoring their credibility?