Saturday, November 23, 2013

Councilman Gilliard Stokes Mean-Spirited Rumors About Burke's Closing

Wendell Gilliard has the floor, or at least the op-ed page, Saturday to respond to ideas proposed by the District 20 (downtown) constituent board. Most of his ideas mimic the usual platitudes emanating from Superintendent McGinley. However, one vitriolic section reads as though NAACP President Dot Scott thought it up. 
"My constituents are saying that there is a faction in the community that wants Burke closed so that it can be reopened as an exclusive academic magnet school for a select few. This group has already suggested the name of “Academic Magnet-South.” Group meetings are being held with handpicked special interest groups that want to close the school, change the school’s name and re-open anew. 
"The general community feels that the school is being neglected — that so-called advocates appear to be involved, but that movement on any real plans is running at a snail’s pace. This actually would allow for a further drop in enrollment and therefore the school’s closing.
"Such actions are unfair and cater to those who wish to exclude children who have every right to be at Burke.
Conspiracy theories, anyone? Gilliard uses the classic "straw man" strategy: set up a false premise and then demolish it.

  • "so-called advocates" are unnamed because Gilliard didn't want to publicize Arthur Lawrence's support;
  • "exclusive magnet school" and "select few" suggest that any change is meant to exclude the present students;
  • "handpicked special interest groups" translates as community members not selected by Superintendent McGinley
  • "change the school's name" slops over into the "red herring" category, since no one has suggested doing that.
The "snail's pace" Gilliard complains about can be laid squarely at the doorstep of the very administration he claims is doing so well for the school as it is.

Nowhere does Gilliard state what he really wants: an all-black high school. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

P & C Ignores Sen. Scott's Points About Parental Responsibility

Read the State's account of Tim Scott's speech on education; then read that published by our own cherished rag. You'll wonder if they're writing about the same speech!

While the former's account emphasizes Senator Scott's emphasis on parental responsibility, using his own life and rise from near-poverty as an example, Charleston's reporter ignores this topic entirely. Instead, if you read the local paper, you'll think Scott spoke about the need to look abroad for fixes to our educational system.

Somebody's got it wrong. Why do I think it's the anti-Scott Post and Courier?

P & C headline: "Sen. Scott says education improvements can be learned from overseas."

State headline: "Tim Scott says parents, not government, hold key to education success."

Charleston County Superintendent's Fail-Safe Evaluation

You have to hand it to Superintendent Nancy McGinley: she wrote the rules for her own evaluation and then cowed the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees into signing them! Or perhaps her hand-picked Board members weren't too savvy with numbers.

The result? Despite what future elected Board members might think of her, unless the district suddenly implodes, she's safe for yet another contract renewal and another bonus. She's soon to become the longest-tenured superintendent in CCSD's history. Crafty!

The Board of Trustees has the responsibility to oversee the Superintendent's performance. Soon will come another empty evaluation process. What about evaluating the Superintendent on these burgeoning factors: increased busing, increased defacto segregation, and increased homeschooling?

At this point in her seven-year tenure, she can show us how many failing schools she has closed to improve her statistics and how many new and expensive school buildings she has facilitated. Where's the academic progress?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In CCSD, Broad Graduates Take Care of Their Own Audrey Lane

It couldn't wait. 

It was so important to reward Audrey Lane for her attendance at the Broad Institute, where she learned all about the components of BRIDGE, that fellow Broad-graduate Nancy McGinley insured an almost 19 percent raise for her prior to the district's own salary study report. And the raise is retroactive for 10 months.

Well, what can we expect in a district where at least 30 employees rack up more than $100,000 each and when the superintendent says "Jump" the Board of Trustees say "How high"? Needless to say, none of the most highly paid are teachers, who everyone agrees are the most important component in educating any child.

BROAD "a non-profit" = edublob at work 

Common Core Concerns from Washington Post Blog

As one commenter puts it in Valerie Strauss's blog, the following Common Core instruction from Student Achievement Partners attempts to teach students to read passages as they are presented in the context of standardized testing. Is that the goal of teaching?
   "Imagine learning about the Gettysburg Address without a mention of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, or why President Abraham Lincoln had traveled to Pennsylvania to make the speech. That’s the way a Common Core State Standards “exemplar for instruction” — from a company founded by three main Core authors — says it should be taught to ninth and 10th graders.
   The unit — “A Close Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address“ — is designed for students to do a “close reading” of the address “with text-dependent questions” — but without historical context. Teachers are given a detailed 29-page script of how to teach the unit, with the following explanation:
 'The idea here is to plunge students into an independent encounter with this short text. Refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset. It may make sense to notify students that the short text is thought to be difficult and they are not expected to understand it fully on a first reading — that they can expect to struggle. Some students may be frustrated, but all students need practice in doing their best to stay with something they do not initially understand. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s address.' [italics mine]

The last statement presupposes that students of varied backgrounds socially, economically, ethnically, and racially will be tabula rasa, that is, blank slates in their knowledge. Now I will admit occasionally encountering a student seemingly fitting that category; however, to assume that will be the case with an entire class, no matter how homogeneous, is absurd. To put such a statement into written teaching materials as an exemplar reveals the utter stupidity of the writers and calls into question the validity of all 29 pages!

In fact, a teacher following these instructions will be making the playing field even more unfair for the least privileged students in the class. The statement also reveals the basic weakness of reading sections on standardized tests. E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum does more to level that field than any misguided attempt to teach in a knowledge vacuum.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Critical Thinking not Exclusive to Common Core Standards

Good grief! Some days I feel like Charlie Brown.

Today's Letter to the Editor from a retired teacher made me wonder what had been going on in her classroom for the last 35 years. In her 36th year, she states, using the Common Core standards, she required critical thinking from her students! She made this statement to defend the Common Core:
"I asked my students to critically read various pieces related to our curriculum and respond to given questions. Their responses were to be reflective of the reading, which meant they had to justify their responses based on evidence in the reading."
Apparently this social studies teacher got this strategy from collaboration with an English teacher.

Frankly, this admission is breath-taking. Why wouldn't this teacher have used such strategies previously? Does she believe that the writers of Common Core standards invented them?

Her letter is not the intended defense of the Common Core; it is an indictment of the cluelessness of a few (I hope!) teachers who don't understand how to teach. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Shock & Awe in CCSD: Close Burke; Put in 2nd Mt. Pleasant HS

It's brilliant! Whoever came up with this outside-of-the-box idea should be running the Charleston County School District instead of Nancy McGinley!

Over the last 40 or so years, Burke High/Middle School has become a buzzword for failure. In hindsight, the die was cast when the powers-that-be determined under consolidation that the white High School of Charleston would close, and the black Burke High would take both black and white students, a tactic destroying any loyalty that white parents as graduates of the former would have for the new school district. Burke not only became the lone high school on the peninsula; it retained its name and loyal following. Probably this agreement was worked out between the fed's attorney, Gregg Meyers(later an influential member of the CCSD School Board), and the NAACP.

Superintendent McGinley's box of tricks that she learned at the Broad Institute have failed her and failed her. No one has confidence that Burke can become an integrated school under the present circumstances. By petitioning the constituent board for transfers, droves of parents have made the choice to send their children to high schools that have the advanced and career programs that all students deserve. As a result, about half of eligible students living on the peninsula attend Burke. It's easy to accuse these parents of racism, but the cause is one of district mismanagement after a stupid initial decision.

No one has confidence that Burke can even retain its recent standing as "average," a rating based largely on better record keeping and last-minute cramming. Other signs point towards the inevitable downward slide. The current principal, Maurice Cannon, does not sound as though he is a solution but actually part of the problem. His perception that Burke's students do not pay attention in class nor do their work because they don't like some of their teachers is asinine. The school clearly lacks good leadership; we all know who controls that variable: Superintendent McGinley.

When you have Arthur Lawrence, a Burke graduate and long-time community supporter of Burke, calling for the shut-down of the school, you know the situation has reached a nadir. Lawrence wants to close Burke and all its programs and take the overflow from Mt. Pleasant's overcrowded Wando High School into the building as a new Mt. Pleasant High School while the district builds the new facility for Mt. Pleasant. Why, look! That means that "Burke" will have an integrated student body and the programs that are impossible to sustain under the present structure.

Now, the NAACP won't like this because Dot Scott doesn't want an integrated high school; she clearly wants a de facto black high school on the peninsula. Of course, she lives in West Ashley.

CCSD's Barter Discovers Board of Trustees Position not Honorary

Another elected member of the Charleston  County School District's Board of Trustees has resigned only one year into his term. John Barter, a retired executive, claims to have found his duties too time-consuming. His attitude most likely stems from promises made by those behind the scenes who encouraged him to run for election. No doubt they told him all he had to do was to support Superintendent Nancy McGinley in whatever she wanted, no questions asked.

Barter has taken on another unpaid position, this one at his alma mater, a fact that he cites in his decision to quit. No one forced him to take it. Why would he accept when he already had an important commitment to fulfill?

We may never know, but it's just possible that after a year on the CCSD Board, Barter realized what a can of worms festered in the finances and management of the district. Being a person used to getting such problems under control, he probably saw that straightening them out would not only antagonize his previous supporters but eat up whatever retirement plans he had left and believed going along and getting along was reprehensible.

It's a thought. Let's hope our legislative representatives do a better job of selecting a replacement than they did last time. How about Henry Copeland?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Balog Needs Critical Thinking on Common Core

She's too young to remember high school and college students who skipped classes to protest the Vietnam War. That's why columnist Melanie Balog, while paying lip service to freedom of speech, denigrates families that will protest Common Core by doing the same. Why, they might even be (horrors!) tea partiers!

Balog has the mindset that, if Common Core standards are supported by CCSD's Superintendent McGinley and Executive Director Paul Krohne of the SC School Boards Association as well as the federal Department of Education, they must be great. She parrots Krohne's opinions:
"Neither of those things quite justifies pulling kids out of school. Just because it happens to be the federal government involved in trying to set up a uniform standard for math and English doesn’t make it wrong. The plan is there not only to ensure that what students learn in South Carolina is the same as what they learn in South Dakota, but that students from both states — and all the rest — are ready for what comes after high school.
“All we’re doing is talking about establishing world class standards, getting kids either career ready or college ready,” Krohne said. “To say that it’s more than that is a complete misinterpretation of the facts.”
Sounds like what these folks need is more education, not less.
No, it's Balog who needs more education. She accepts Krohne's judgment that the Common Core is "world class" and will accomplish "career or college ready" graduates, more so than the previous ones, despite ill-thought-out materials and serious testing questions. 
Whom do you trust?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

CCSD Goes a Bridge Too Far

At least Saturday's puff piece did mention some parents' concerns over the new teacher evaluation scheme that the Charleston County School District avidly races to pursue, thanks to a grant from the Education Department's Race to the Top. No CCSD teacher would dare criticize the district's plans to a reporter, and none did so. Don't assume that silence means consent here; it means intimidation.

Here's a lucid explanation of Common Core's problematic genesis and flaws from a Tennessee senior in high school: 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CCSD's Michael Miller: Naivete Showing on Orange Grove Charter?

The Charleston County School Board's "strategic education committee" must sign off on Orange Grove Charter School's request to add the middle grades. Committee head Michael Miller says he is in favor of the proposal but the school must delay, linger, and wait until the District 10 Task Force reports on a proposal (from Superintendent McGinley) that would merge West Ashley's two middle schools.

The "task force," as with all such committees formed in the district, is guaranteed to be stacked with those who will do whatever the Superintendent proposes.  Has the Superintendent not made up her mind yet? Or is Michael Miller so naive that he doesn't realize the report is a foregone conclusion.

Whichever is the case, postponing only decreases the chances that Orange Grove will get its desired result any time soon. And that's not good news for potential middle-schoolers West of the Ashley.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mason Prep Leads in English Education, Too

Pleased to see that the independent schools association has recognized the Kreutner brothers' contributions to Charleston-area education, one for leading Mason Prep, where he has taught for 24 years, and one for heading the new University School of the Lowcountry.

Never having had the pleasure of meeting either, over my years of teaching high school English, I developed a healthy respect for Mason Prep's language arts program. It's not much of an exaggeration to state that I never encountered a Mason Prep graduate who didn't know grammar backwards and forwards, and never met a student from any other local school, public or private, who did (although two or three came close).

Perhaps you may think grammar knowledge "old-school," but I defy anyone to teach students ignorant of grammar how to punctuate properly (another lost art, I suppose!).

Congrats to both!

P & C's Adam Parker Confuses Charleston with Newark!

Adam Parker's Sunday story about Charleston's developing visual arts community was interesting and informative--until I reached the last paragraphs. Then I wondered if any facts in the article were actually true.

What changed my opinion? This phrase near the end, "And as [Charleston] has recovered from the social turmoil of the 1960s and related urban decay, . . .

Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but Parker apparently believes that poverty on the peninsula was a result of upheavals of the 1960s, you know, much like the results of rioting and burning in Newark, New Jersey. Hey, for all I know, Parker is intimately familiar with Newark.

What is clear is that Parker, despite more than a decade of writing for the paper, is not intimately familiar with Charleston! Do you suppose he knows what started at Fort Sumter? Or even when the peninsula began to turn around? Painful, isn't it?

Common Core Hurried into Fruition Too Fast

Sunday's paper contained a Letter to the Editor about the experiences of one math teacher using the new Common Core standards. Sometimes it seems that this new fad was hurried into schools before opposition could build! 
"Daniel Ruth’s Nov. 4 op-ed on Common Core seemed to suggest that I am both illiterate and ignorant because I have reservations about Common Core. 
"I am skeptical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Common Core is being implemented by government agencies, albeit not necessarily the federal government, and we all know what a stellar job most government agencies do in implementing complex programs. (Need I mention Obamacare?)
"But, the primary reason I have reservations is that I have a daughter who is in the first year of teaching Common Core (mathematics specifically), and it is an unmitigated disaster. The curriculum was issued late (with portions not issued even now), and for those who teach more than one math subject, that is a significant problem.
"When teachers complain to the administration, they are told to do the best they can since even administrators know you need lead time to prepare lesson plans with a new curriculum.
"Well-intentioned teachers are beyond frustrated since they are not able to teach the subject matter to the levels they had with the prior curriculum because they do not have the time to prepare study aids, support notes, etc.
"I would suggest Mr. Ruth talk to some teachers who are under Common Core requirements rather than the 45 governors and educators whom he references. My guess is few, if any, of the educators are classroom teachers.
Jeff Weiner
Legends Club Drive
Mount Pleasant

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Francis Marion University--Mt. Pleasant: Unpaid Student Loans in Job Seekers' Futures

Time will tell. Mt. Pleasant parents lulled into magical thinking by outgoing Mayor Billy Swails's desire for another four-year public campus in the Lowcountry will be taken for a ride, or we should say the ride will be taken by their children, who are too proud to attend Trident Tech and too academically unskilled to enroll in the College of Charleston. Apparently, they are also adverse to the Citadel option (or not accepted) and the thought of attending CSU in North Charleston (so far away and so declasse!) is an anathema.

FMU's plans for awarding a four-year nursing degree are hardly the stuff of academic dreams, except for nurses hoping for higher salaries. These nurses with two-year degrees apparently can't get into the rest of our local programs. What other gaps in four-year programs will this unnecessary campus fulfill? Is it going to turn out bachelor's degrees in Psychology? That should be helpful.

A public university can spend OPM. No wonder its Board of Trustees was unanimous in its support. If it was spending its own money, the Board might have wondered if the move was financially justified.

Soon this uppity part of Charleston County won't need to step outside of Mt. Pleasant's boundaries for anything. And in years to come, those unemployed who complete four-year degrees by taking out student loans will be wondering how they were suckered.

CCSD's Stacking the Deck Decoded by BRIDGE Opponents

BRIDGE--another program introduced by the Charleston County School District that is directly encouraged and funded by federal grants in the Race to the Top national competition.

Whether you agree or not with Sarah Shad Johnson's opposition to standardized testing, her Letter to the Editor published Saturday shows she understands how Superintendent Nancy McGinley guarantees her intended outcomes in CCSD. Long-time watchers know how she has stacked community committees for her entire tenure.

Johnson's analysis shows that the Bridge steering committee deliberately omits "parents who are not CCSD employees" and "independent community members," while including only four teachers, one of whom represents StudentsFirst. The rest are administrators, and we all know whom they answer to in fear of their jobs.

CCSD claims to "'welcome input of our teachers, principals, parents, and community partners.'"

BRIDGE's goal is to replace current salary structures for teachers with value-added merit pay based on standardized test scores. In other words, each child is a product on the assembly line of schooling, and each teacher adds value until the student reaches the end of the assembly line, or graduates. Furthermore, that value can be measured from year to year.

What's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Put Horse Before Cart Before Changing Admissions Criteria at Academic Magnet

A student who transferred into the Academic Magnet from a magnet school in another state was surprised to see how few black students are enrolled at the school. We don't know what criteria the previous school used for admissions. We do know that, until now, Academic Magnet has admitted freshmen based strictly on its 15-point scale with the most qualified admitted first until the freshman class totals 160.

Now CCSD is puzzling over how to create a more diverse student body at AMHS. One proposal mimics the practice of the University of Texas in guaranteed admission to the top 10 percent of every high school, in this case guaranteeing admission to the top two students from each CCSD middle school as long as each scores at least 13 out of 15. The additional 28 students would not cut into the 160 admitted on the old basis.

Before the district plunges into the controversies bound to occur, it needs to collect hard data. Isn't the superintendent always saying her decisions are "data driven"?

  • Survey to find out why those 28 from each of the last five years did not apply;
  • Estimate how many of those 140 students would have had a score of 13 or above;
  • Track the records of those students to see what their high school achievement became;
  • Find out the male-female ratio of these 140 students;
  • Survey how many of the 140 applied to AMHS and how many were left on the waiting list.
One student is reported to have replied that she was afraid of being rejected, so she didn't apply. That's like saying, I won't apply for a job because they might not hire me! Apart from AMHS concerns, the district needs to nip this kind of negative thinking in the bud.

Maybe that's a good place to start the process.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

CCSD Should Build on Success at Orange Grove Charter

West Ashley has two middle schools, but their enrollment is so low that the Charleston County School District is considering closing one and combining on one campus.

Contemplate that for a moment. . .

West Ashley is a large area, replete with young families with children. So why has enrollment dipped so precipitously in its middle schools? Because families who can find other choices take them.

Parents who can do so choose a better school for their sixth to eighth graders. Who can blame them? Their children are not an experiment, no matter how much CCSD would like them to be.

Then there's Orange Grove Charter School. From its inception, it has been successful at just the criteria where CCSD's other schools fail. When its pupils leave Orange Grove after fifth grade, parents must choose among a failing middle school, a private school, a magnet school (such as School of the Arts), or homeschooling.

No one should have any difficulty in understanding why Orange Grove wants to expand to include grade eight. Given its successful track record, no one, even CCSD's School Board and its charter-hating superintendent, should stand in its way.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

P&C Reporting Bias over Zais's Class-Size Proposals

When a newspaper has an agenda, watch out. Not only do opinions wander into straight news reports, but bias leads to omitted facts. Such is the case with our local paper, The Post and Courier. Now apart from a few editorials and opinion columns, its approval of the liberal Democrat agenda becomes more obvious daily.

How many stories about shocking proposals from Mick Zais has the paper run? Too many to count. Their focus has centered on his proposal to devolve power from the State Board of Education. You might think that is the last action an educrat would desire. You would be correct. Zais is a Republican dedicated to devolving power closest to home, in this case, local school districts.

We have been deluged within its pages with horror stories of 50+ sized kindergartens and one counselor per 2000 students from the rest of the edublob, including EdFirstSC and what passes for a teachers' union in the state. Zais is the first Republican elected to the office of State Superintendent in decades, maybe ever. They are determined to get rid of him in the next election.

It's not hard to figure out that our local paper wants the same. What it has neglected to report is important to the entire issue. In fact, if the paper had reported all the facts in the beginning, there would have been no controversy. But the P&C wants to create as much bad press as possible surrounding Superintendent Zais.

For the last four years on a yearly basis, the state legislature has given exactly the power to the districts that Zais proposed to make permanent. As Zais has pointed out, "the state hasn’t heard any complaints from teachers, school boards or parents about misuse of that authority, and local leaders are better equipped to make staffing decisions than those in Columbia."

"'This misinformation is motivated simply by pure, partisan politics.'”

Welcome to your local Democrat newspaper. It's wondering why its paid subscriptions are falling.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Future Perspective on the Clemson Monstrosity

Another architect has added his unqualified approval to the "pierced concrete" Clemson building proposed for the corner of Meeting and George Streets. Mark Sloan, of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, believes that the proposed design is just dandy. In fact, it "will win over any detractors within its first year of operation."

No doubt, Sloan would have approved knocking down one of the old mansions surrounded by its peers, say this one, for example:

and replacing it with a nice mid-century modern such as this one:

Wouldn't that have been great? Who would want a row of houses that resemble each other?

That change would have been "relevant" in the 1950s, just as Sloan wants to be "relevant" now. 

Okay, sixty years later, who (besides Sloan) would want it in the middle of lower King?

Beware of those who want change to remain relevant. If Charleston had gone down that road in mid-century, it wouldn't be the tourist destination it is today, living museum or not.