Thursday, March 07, 2013

StudentsFirst Ideals Not CCSD's

According to Amanda Hobson's op-ed in Thursday's edition, Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst advocacy group relies on "three major ideals":
  • "First, it believes in empowering parents with good choices and ample information about their school options.
  • "Second, it advocates for transparency in school funding and governance so that taxpayers can see clearly what money is going into the classroom.
  • "Lastly, it believes teachers ought to be treated like professionals, which means they should be rewarded when they perform for their students, but also be accountable when they don’t.
While Superintendent McGinley and the Charleston County School Board of Trustees give lip service to the trendy third goal, the jury is still out on whether CCSD will treat its teachers as professionals. Perhaps teachers will be when their students perform, not "when they perform for their students." (Acting lessons, anyone?)

However, CCSD flunks badly on the first two goals. First, Superintendent McGinley and her mindless supporters on the Board oppose school choice by setting up phony "partial-magnet" schools that fool no one and by refusing to consider charter school requests from the community. McGinley also stacks Neighborhood Planning Teams with her minions and ignores communal desires.

As for "transparency in school funding and governance," excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing.


Anonymous One said...

Right again, Babbie.

James Labadorf said...

Transparency and government is like oil and water. It never happens.

James Labadorf,

Henry Copeland said...

Transparency and (good) government aren’t polar opposites. They are complementary actions. Both can happen if the public, elected officials and agency employees all have a healthy understanding of how they are on the same team. Of course, that assumes everyone involved has reasonably honest intentions to achieve a common good.

Those who lead CCSD have failed on all counts…transparency, honest intentions, healthy understanding, common good and full team participation, none of these concepts are viewed as high priorities by the superintendent’s office. That breakdown has to change in order for transparency and government not to be seen as oil and water. If public trust is to be restored, the leadership’s attitude has to change. – Henry Copeland

Henry Copeland said...

I really don't know very much about the StudentsFirst organization, but I am inclined to be suspicious of any argument that cherry picks its supporting documentation. Too often this is how data is applied in reports about Charleston County's public schools. This morning's letter to the editor in the Post and Courier (see March 20, 2013 edition) by Andrew HaLevi is an example of the selective use of facts to support a pre-determined conclusion.

Dr. HaLevi (or perhaps the newspaper's editorial department) failed to mention that he is currently a high level administrative employee of the same superintendent he is overtly defending. It looks like this letter is another example the carefully orchestrated counter offensive regularly launched by surrogates of CCSD's superintendent against any news that conflicts with the official script. It is fair to conclude Dr. HaLevi has an undisclosed professional bias which was not revealed in his by-line.

It is true he was a founder of the Teacher Alliance. Thankfully, that group continues to fact-check CCSD's official misrepresentations. They have occasionally revealed important discrepancies as they relate to teachers within CCSD reports. What is not mentioned here was that when Dr. HaLevi was elevated into the administration under the current superintendent, he had to cut his ties to this group. His promotion to management presented a conflict of interest with this former classroom teaching colleagues. As an administrator could no longer objectively speak for teachers.

As for cherry picking the data, it is a widely known and accepted fact the superintendent is fond of saying she has reduced the number of "at risk" schools over the last few years. Simply by the numbers, that may be true, but it is very misleading to use overly simplistic facts like this. Official reports indicate CCSD has reduced its number of failing schools by 7. What Dr. HaLevi and the superintendent fail to say is the district chose to close five of these schools and simply move the students to other schools rather than address specific academic problems and fix them where they were. The district is in the process of doing that again in McClellanville, Edisto Island and downtown. It looks good on paper to reduce the number of at-risk schools without changing what is going on in the classroom. What is not being addressed is the fact that there is little or no evidence these moves have benefitted the students involoved.

As for other implied improvements in local schools, for the last three years the state has been rapidly setting lower standards to measure school improvements to match national measures which are lower than those initially established by and for SC schools. It is widely known this move is specifically designed to make it easier for schools to reach targets when compared to the national standards. In other words, they moved the goal lines closer to make them easier to reach. Cynical as this may be, many parents and taxpayers are beginning to understand the dumbing down of school and district report cards have more to do with sustaining administrative salaries and contracts than with individual academic achievement.
- Henry Copeland

Henry Copeland said...

Dr. HaLevi is comparing unlike objects (apples and oranges) in order to support skewed conclusions. As a professional educator he knows this is misleading but as a member of the superintendent’s support staff he knows what is best for job security. If his over-the-top endorsement of his employer was not enough, for good measure he includes a jab at charter schools. He does this while neglecting to mention just how many of the district’s top performing schools are charter schools. He also fails to mention just how many of the marginally performing schools have been relabeled partial magnets as part of a policy to hide or just reshuffle problem schools by the superintendent. He reminds us the superintendent remains strongly opposed to charter school experiments (no matter how successful) as long as they remain beyond her control. He still points to her nominally named partial magnets as examples of choice, without calling attention to their negligible rates of success.

The full truth and context are important if real challenges to public education success are to be understood and properly met. Dr. HaLevi’s letter, as presented, is asking us to ignore that.

Finally, the editors of the local paper should have pointed out Dr. HaLevi's current position as a senior member of the administration for the school district. He has a vested interest in supporting the status quo. As a highly paid member of the superintendent's management team he would naturally take a defensive position against any outside discussions which might raise questions about true levels of success (or failure) within the local public schools.

I still know very little about StudentsFirst, but I know the information presented by Dr. HaLevi is not complete or particularly accurate. Let us have a full picture. Limited numbers that only support happy talk about our schools is no help. We have glossed over reports on the success of our public schools for too long without understanding what is really going on. Please stop cherry picking the data in order to support failed policies and practices. - Henry Copeland

Anonymous said...

Politics by inclusion.