Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Analysis of CCSD's Rating Shows How Statistics Can Lie

I haven't always agreed with Jon Butzon, but his analysis of the statistics being touted by the Charleston County School District should be read by all.

Job One: Find the right superintendent
Nov 19 2014 12:01
An old Navy friend of mine is fond of saying, "Experience is the best teacher. Considering what it costs, it ought to be." Now that there is a big "Help Wanted" sign out at 75 Calhoun Street, I thought it might be useful for the new school board to consider how our most recent experience could inform the search for the next superintendent.

Some great slogans have come out of CCSD. My personal favorites are "All Means All," "The Victory is in the Classroom," and the lesser known "A Tale of Two Districts."

Let's start with "All Means All." Even just a cursory review of student achievement data suggests it's really more like "All Means Some." Here are a few examples.

On the 2014 ACT (unlike school ratings, this is an actual measure of students' college readiness) the five lowest performing high schools in all of South Carolina are in Charleston County. The bottom five in our state!

They are Lincoln (the state's lowest at 12.7), Burke (13.1), North Charleston (13.4), St. Johns (14.0) and Garrett (14.1). The vast majority of students in these schools are economically disadvantaged and minority.

Let's be clear - these embarrassingly low ACT scores aren't the students' fault. They are the result of a systemic achievement gap that still defines CCSD, despite a ton of spending, new ideas and interventions. The ACT folks determine a 21 and above to be "college ready." Last year, the 1,099 white seniors who took the ACT earned an impressive 22.8, compared to the 692 black students whose average score was only 14.9, and the 127 Hispanic students who scored 18.7. Seniors at CCSD's suburban and competitive magnet schools far exceeded national averages. These are the same exact trends we were seeing 10 years ago.

So, we need a superintendent who can accomplish more than great slogans. We need a superintendent who can not only close, but can eliminate the achievement gap.

Let's look at another popular saying: "The Victory is in the Classroom." Unfortunately, over the last six years, this victory has been defined by race and income. The black/white achievement gap on the PASS tests has widened over the last six years in English language arts in grades 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and in math in grades 4, 5, 6 and 7. The gap for low-income children as measured by comparing free lunch children with full-pay children has also widened in both English language arts and math in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. The widening gap means the district has lost ground for these, our most vulnerable children.

If the victory is in the classroom, we need a superintendent who can do more than just claim victory. We need a superintendent who will reject the status quo and truly win on behalf of every child.

Which leads us to "A Tale of Two Districts." White middle class and affluent students in Charleston County outperform their white peers across the state. The opposite is true for their black peers. On many measures, black students do better in other S.C. districts. Remember those ACT scores. "The Tale of Two Districts" - the same sad tale told 10 years ago, five years ago, and still today - means that in Charleston County we manage to teach white children better than white children in the rest of S.C., but for some reason we continue to teach black children worse. That sounds closer to the state of education we'd expect to see in 1860 than in 2014.

Over the last 10 years, Charleston County has changed significantly. People are flocking here from all around the country. While the white and comparatively affluent population in CCSD has grown, the black population has shrunk. Improvements hailed by CCSD - for example, the percentage of students attending "excellent" schools - reflect demographic trends and enrollment shifts as much as any improvement to the quality of education. Now there may be fewer buildings labeled "at risk" - easily accomplished by simply turning out the lights and locking the door - but just look at actual measures of learning, and the quality of education has not improved for our children.

Taking all of this into account, we need a superintendent who can do more than add chapters to Charleston's historical inequities and "A Tale of Two Districts." We need someone who can provide real solutions, make excellence a reality for every child, and close this shameful book altogether.

I may be in the minority, but my hat is off to the school board for making a difficult change. The story may be unpopular, but the truth is, progress hasn't been made. We may have new shiny buildings and catchy slogans, but we're failing the same students we have always failed.

To the school board: Take a hard look at the data yourself.

Make this not about watermelons, but about the enduring tragedy of youngsters like Ridge Smith and the thousands of Ridge Smiths remaining in our system. [Editor's note: Ridge Smith, featured in a 2009 Post and Courier series on low literacy rates in the district, was shot to death in North Charleston on Oct. 31.]

Make it about the continued erasing of whole generations of children from the economic map, and the irreducible fact that after ten years of bold promises and new visions, race and income still define the quality of education in CCSD.

I trust you'll see that CCSD needs a leader who will bring a new set of skills and a true sense of urgency and humility to this work. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you, and this is the most important task you will undertake.

Get it right!

Jon Butzon is the former executive director of the Charleston Education Network.

1 comment:

West Ashley said...

I haven't always agreed with him either, but these numbers say it all. Nancy McGinley and her team were cooking the books. The least we can do is be honest about her failure as a competent leader of CCSD.

The next superintendent should be someone with a completely different approach and not a clone of the past. We should learn from our mistakes. It was a mistake to have let Nancy McGinley stay as long as she did.

No one other than Mr. Butzon has had the guts so far to call her administration out on the numbers. Meanwhile, how many CCSD students have missed the chance for an education while the superintendent jimmied the facts in her favor?