Thursday, August 29, 2013

CCSD's McGinley: "Nothing Is Certain but Death and Taxes"

In this age of 15 minutes of fame, does anyone else recall the promises of Charleston County School District's Superintendent Nancy McGinley regarding the last campaign for the "penny sales tax"? Apart from this innocuous-sounding sobriquet, it had an expiration date. That promise probably ensured its passage.

Even Brian Hicks commented at the time that the district had gone from desiring to fix five seismically-challenged schools to asking for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here we go again. 

Somehow the hundreds of millions weren't enough. McGinley has fired the first shot in her new venture into the pockets of Charleston County residents. Did anyone ever tell her that sales taxes fall unequally on the poor? Does she care?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

CCSD's Rules Differ for Charters in Mt. Pleasant

The way to get the Charleston County School District's support for  your charter school is to locate it in Mount Pleasant and plan for rich kids to attend.

That's the lesson charter-school hopefuls should take from the chummy relationship between CCSD and the East Cooper Montessori Charter. Earlier this year the district announced it would provide the Laing campus for the charter, which has outgrown its building in I'On, one of Mount Pleasant's most exclusive developments. Those of us who remember the prolonged enmity over the use of the downtown District 20 Rivers campus by the Charter School for Math and Science snickered. Why, according to Superintendent McGinley, the best practices from the Montessori's experience would be worth the district's financial support. No agonizing over charter schools' taking away tax dollars from other schools this time!

Bur wait--there's more.

CCSD determined that the Laing building must meet the highest standards of Montessori classrooms for this favored charter school. That means renovation, McGinley-style. Millions of tax dollars. It's not enough to keep a campus that the district had planned to sell (foregone millions), replace the roof (almost $1 million), and fix damaged ceilings (at least half that amount). This money comes from "federal stimulus dollars" that must be allocated by October 14. Then the building will sit vacant.

Does anyone believe that the Montessori school said it wouldn't consider using the building unless walls were knocked down to make larger classrooms, technology and other infrastructure were state-of-the-art, and  bathrooms updated? Those improvements would add $10 million to the cost of renovations, money that Bill Lewis, who oversees capital programs, says must now be spent on additional classrooms for Jennie Moore Elementary and the new Laing Middle School--as though the district couldn't have known last spring that additional seats would be necessary.

If anyone ran a business like this, it would go out of business. CCSD gets away with it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Theme for Mt. Pleasant Magnet at Whitesides?

To relieve overcrowding without offending any parent in Mt. Pleasant, Charleston County Schools Superintendent McGinley has a brilliant idea: create a magnet elementary school open to any resident of East Cooper. The school, unlike other magnets, will have no attendance zone and will be located at the former Whitesides Elementary in an almost all-white area of the town.

The idea neatly sidesteps the toes of Mt. Pleasant parents who want smaller classes in their overcrowded schools but want somebody else's child to change schools.

But what happens if too few parents sign up for an untested school not knowing what its student body will look like?  How many parents will be enticed by a "theme"? CCSD is taking chances with its overcrowding because Mt. Pleasant parents have clout. You merely need peruse McGinley's effusive praise of Mt. Pleasant in her op-ed: "There's not a town in America that does a better job of supporting high-quality public education than Mount Pleasant." "The town of Mount Pleasant should beam with pride that so many people want to reside within its boundaries."

As we used to say, "Gag me with a spoon." No, these parents need not suffer the closing of neighborhood schools and shuffling around of their children nor tolerate one ethically-challenged principal running two elementary schools, as downtown District 20 residents know so well.

Just try to imagine a theme created by administrators that will actually fulfill a desire of Mt. Pleasant's residents while resulting in an integrated school. McGinley knows perfectly well that what residents desire most is another Buist Academy located in Mt. Pleasant, an all-honors elementary, if you like.

Has anyone sensed support for a theme other than that one? In truth, most parents want their children to stay in the attendance zone they paid for and for the pesky newcomers crowding into the schools to go away.

Monday, August 26, 2013

CCSD Feeds Millions to Edublob in New Teacher Evaluation Scheme

"Will Teacher Evals Tied to Scores Work?" queries the front page headline.


The Charleston County School District's aptly-named BRIDGE initiative will work--to funnel millions of dollars to waiting members of the edublob. You know, a bridge of tax dollars.

The Princeton-based Mathematica will receive $3 million to create an algorithm to treat each student as a product. Each year what the student learns will be dubbed, "value added." It's the assembly-line, factory model of education, teachers as workers on the assembly line whose worth is measured by how much value they add to each product, i.e., child.  Somehow Mathematica will magically adjust for "other factors, such as poverty, which could affect scores."

No wonder most teachers who are brave enough (or secure enough) to speak up are skeptical.

Let's see. Will the magic formula adjust for pot use? parent in jail? homelessness? parental neglect? How much personal information on each "product" will CCSD garner?

More importantly, will the formula produce reduced expectations for the progress of that child identified as poor? Surely someone else can see where this model logically heads: high expectations for the rich; low for the poor; high for whites; low for blacks and Hispanics. Is that really what Charleston County residents want?

Meanwhile, CCSD is licking its chops after receiving a $24 million five-year grant from the feds to provide incentives to teachers. Michael Ard, former Hunley Park Principal and BRIDGE project director, promises that "no teacher will lose money" when the district switches in three years to a new salary structure based on "quality and effectiveness." The district promises to reward with bonuses even after the grant runs out, but not lower any salaries for "low" performing teachers. The grant money for bonuses will run out after two years. Then what?

Superintendent McGinley has already primed the public relations machine by using another edublob organization, Battelle for Kids of Ohio, for public relations at the low cost of $1.3 million. Battelle will also be useful to blame if implementation of the new salary scheme becomes rocky.

Everyone (well, almost everyone) agrees that good teachers are underpaid and bad ones should be fired. No one will lose a job under this proposal, and in spite of Mathematica's formulas, no one will know under this system which teachers are really superb.

No one seems to be considering the elephant in the room: good teachers don't need incentives. They are already highly motivated, bonuses or not. Who does need incentives, then?

a) parents to then encourage their

b) students to learn.

If any teacher had the magic formula that motivates students, he or she would have retired on his or her millions long ago, and we wouldn't be having such problems in our schools.

Meanwhile, this taxpayer can easily think of many more effective ways for our government to spend $24 million.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beware Comparing CCSD's ACT Scores

The ACT is definitely a better college-entrance test than the SAT as it measures more of what a student has learned in high school to prepare for college than the student's potential for learning. Until recently the SAT has ruled in college admissions in the South; however, the ACT is gaining.

Still, the percentage of students in a high school graduating class who take the ACT varies widely. Both good and bad overall scores for a district are at the mercy of which students took the test. In many cases, very few students' taking the test can skew the results dramatically.

Our local newspaper needs to learn how to report statistics accurately, not merely to make
schools look good. Any overall score, state, county, or district-wide should be accompanied with the percentage of graduating seniors who took the test. Duh.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Uneven Dispersal of Poor Readers Worsens CCSD's High School Problems

Having spent and touted the effects of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars on its literacy initiatives, the Charleston County School District now proudly announces that only one out of eight of its entering ninth graders reads below the fourth-grade level.

I'm not making this up.

Well, in a class of 24 that would mean that three students could barely read--IF those students were dispersed evenly throughout the classes. They aren't.

How about CCSD's sharing with us the percentage that applies at North Charleston and Burke High Schools? Too scary? Imagine how the teachers feel!

It's pathetic enough that CCSD uses a benchmark (fourth-grade reading level) meant for elementary school. For full transparency, the district should publish statistics for those reading at least the sixth-grade level (for which some textbooks and materials are available) and those reading on grade level.

Maybe only one out of eight is reading on the ninth-grade level as well. Not a good thought.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

CCSD Bus Schedules That Shame

Would you let your kindergartner stand waiting for the school bus next to busy Highway 17 at 5:40 in the morning? That's what will happen on St. James Santee's Route 107 every morning. The late bell rings at 7:45, two hours later.

How about the kindergartner who must catch the 5:31 bus on Laurel Hill's Route 242 and travel three miles to a school that begins at 7:40? That's another two hours.

Then think about the five year olds who anxiously await the 5:29 bus for the Route 617 trip to Ashley River Creative Arts magnet program three miles away. They win the prize for the earliest pick up and longest wait--two and a half hours--to begin school at 8:00. Must cut down on the numbers coming from Forest Lakes!

These schedules are all about Durham's (and CCSD's) cutting the cost of bus transportation. Of course, the total cost of busing remains a mystery as transparent as the Sphinx.

Meanwhile, those exhausted five year olds from Highway 17 North are scheduled for drop off at 3:14, making a round-trip day for them of nine and a half hours.

Sure, some parents stay with their kids and some drive them to school at a reasonable time. It's usually the poorest among us who can't.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Don't Credit CCSD with Plethora of Charter Schools

Some readers of the Wednesday morning paper must have puzzled over the large number of charter schools that are coming to the Lowcountry this year and next. Even those with short memories can remember Superintendent McGinley's over-my-dead-body attitude about the Charleston County School Board's approving more charters, her mantra's being, "they take money away from other schools in the district."

The reporter never clearly identified how all these schools came into being. She knows perfectly well what the district's policy has been, so why the reticence?

Of all new charters mentioned, only one has the approval of CCSD--the one open to students residing in Charleston County. All of the others, open to any student residing in South Carolina, have been vetted by the state charter district without any cooperation from CCSD.

Let's not give McGinley good publicity for the work of others. Misleading? Disingenuous?

Monday, August 12, 2013

CCSD Needs to Remember: All Students Count

Depressed that efforts to meet Vision 2016 goals in the Charleston County School District have sputtered, administrators want two groups of students excluded from the PASS statistics.

In other words, McGinley doesn't think that the progress of special needs students and second-language learners should count.  So why did she include them originally? Probably to comply with NCLB mandates.

If she wishes to do so, McGinley can get the percentages on the PASS for each of these groups quite easily. They still are a part of the school and community and should be treated as everyone else, including being counted in overall progress reports.

Stop playing around with the statistics, Nancy. Just because McGinley's percentage of failing schools looks better since five were closed doesn't mean those students are served any better. Neither would the boost to PASS scores from eliminating two groups of students serve them.

We all know who's being served.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Grades Do Matter

My daughter's Maryland school district changed its report cards last year--ostensibly to conform to the new Common Core standards.  No more A, B, or F. Instead, three nonjudgmental letters that make her third-grader's progress a mystery, along with something like 24 standards written in educationese. Teachers no longer may write their own comments.

So it is a brave statement that South Carolina is making to the world of education by assigning to its school districts letter grades that parents actually understand. Let's hear it for transparency!

"Teaching to the test" is a shibboleth that needs to be retired.  Do the questions test information and skills that are essential to becoming a high school graduate and well-informed citizen? If they don't, change the test. If they do, then test content should take top priority in the classroom.

Can a third-grader read at grade level? Can a seventh-grader tackle her math homework with a solid foundation gained in previous years? Can high school freshmen read their textbooks?

Parents need to know if schools perform these basic tasks. What does it matter if the dropout rate is zero if a quarter of those who graduate cannot function in society?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Charter High's Home Run with Middleton

Congratulations to the Charter School for Math and Science! It has wisely chosen Juanita Middleton, a long-time Charleston educator, for its new principal. Middleton as a principal has earned high marks in the past from both parents and teachers, most notably at North Charleston High School in its recovery efforts.

A strong, experienced principal who knows the county and can consolidate CSMS's successes on the academic front while keeping its diverse student body, the best integrated in all of Charleston County, should send shivers down CCSD Superintendent McGinley's spine.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Same Old Problems Surface in School Report Cards

No more TV for you. I'm taking that cell phone. Furthermore, you're grounded until those grades improve!

Don't we wish we could enforce those penalties with our local school districts?

Take Dorchester 2 and 4, for example. A cursory glance at the graphs in Friday's paper says it all: how did Dorchester County get away with dividing itself up that way?  Why not divide Charleston East and Charleston West and create similar results!

Let's all recall that the PASS was designed several years ago to replace the more stringent standards causing all the state's districts to look bad. It was aptly named for its goal: everybody should pass; unfortunately, its designers still put the bar too high to accomplish.

Really, for Charleston County the headline should read,"Burke High scores sink once again!" This result despite special contracts and bonuses and incentives to its administration. CCSD's attempts at North Charleston High didn't fare any better. Remember, the state poised for takeover of these two schools but trusted Superintendent McGinley with making improvements. An inconvenient truth. Parents at both schools should be up in arms.