Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CCSD's Herring Needs to Skip Jargon to Communicate

Here's a bingo game teachers enjoy as they sit through hours of boring in-services. It comes in many versions, but all have a serious underlying message. Jargon in any field makes one professional sound knowledgeable to another, but often those same terms inadvertently impress audiences with the idea that the speaker is talking down. Such is the case with Dr. Lisa Herring's recent op-ed on "personalized learning." She responded to an article in which some teachers and parents worried about overuse of iPads in the early grades.

Nothing in Herring's essay will alleviate the concerns of those parents and teachers, since she intimates that she needs to explain "personalized learning" to them. Evidently, she does not consider their worries part of her desired "feedback from critical thought partners," although they seem to fall into the categories she names as "stakeholders."

"Building 21st century skills" for "today's global economy," Herring suggests, must cause these critical thinkers to "step outside of [their] comfort zone." She's not stepping out of hers.

Too many educational "fixes" have flopped for "stakeholders" to accept that professionals always know best.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

CCSD's Constituent Boards Victims of Central Planning

Elizabeth Moffly's op-ed correctly points out that a 2007 law supported by our legislative delegation made the Charleston County School District's constituent boards into toothless wonders. This policy change negated traditional powers of what were originally independent school districts, a structure approved under district consolidation. CCSD touted the change as necessary to hold the superintendent responsible for her job.

Well, that worked, didn't it? 

Apart from playing musical chairs with principals, ex-superintendent McGinley appointed layers of bureaucracy to take that responsibility, writing her own evaluation form to guarantee her success. Centralized planning is always the refuge of liberals. Think of the school district in terms of the federal government (the Taj Mahal) versus the states (constituent districts). Does one size fit all?

If you are a liberal, the one-size-fits-all philosophy is self evident. Heaven forbid that local districts might have differing ideas about the worth of personnel or disciplining students.

Critics suggest that local power leads to cronyism.

Please, give me local cronyism over cronyism at the Taj Mahal!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

CCSD Board Members Met with McGinley's Choice

Calling for the resignations of all white school board members in the Charleston County School District, the political "clergy" of Charleston (i.e., Joseph Darby and Nelson Rivers III) made themselves look foolish when black board member Eric Mack admitted that he too met privately with Gerrida Postlewait, one of the three originally named as superintendent candidates. Why were members Michael Miller and Chris Collins left out of the loop? As Collins states, he doesn't think the oversight was about race. He's right.

Michael Miller's comments to the reporter stop short, perhaps cautiously, of naming anyone as the instigator. His questions include how the members came to be in contact with Postlewait, whom Miller and Collins had never heard of at the time. As he says, "Someone contacted them in an attempt to familiarize them with a potential candidate."

Gee, who would be influential enough to do that?

If you look at who was excluded--Miller and Collins--the answer becomes obvious and probably is just as obvious to Miller and Collins. Postlewait is a friend of former superintendent Nancy McGinley, who is trying to affect the search so that her influence locally remains undiluted. Miller and Collins have not been enthusiastic supporters of the ex-superintendent. From the local paper's viewpoint, McGinley can do no wrong; hence, Miller avoids using her name.

Violations of the Open Meeting laws are nothing new in CCSD, as any close observer knows. Perhaps there was a bit of an over-reach this time. Entertaining, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

IPads: Could CCSD Find Better Uses for $20 Million?

Two years ago the Charleston County School District made this statement about its Department of Personalized Learning:
Charleston County School District is the recipient of one of only sixteen Race to the Top - District grants from the United States Department of Education in Cohort One (2012). As a national grantee, CCSD was awarded $19.4 million to transform traditional learning environments to learner-centered environments in our schools. With this funding, CCSD is supporting the continued development of a Personalized Learning system in 19 schools, with the vision of expanding this work to schools across the district. [italics mine]
As part of its carrot-and-stick approach, the US Department of Education required the district to implement Common Core. Here is another example of educrats pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into far-flung classrooms for unproven results.

Perhaps the educrats did not mean to sneer at present "traditional learning" versus "learner-centered" enviroments.Most teachers would respond, "I thought my classroom was already learner centered"!

Certainly, using iPads makes a school district look modern, with-it, and up- to-date.  Unfortunately for educrats, some of us can remember that computers in the classroom were the solution to individualized learning. Hey, it wasn't that long ago!

Guess what: after all the millions spent on computers and the required infrastructure, educrats cannot show they have improved student learning! On the other hand, various education-related companies (AKA edublob--can you say "Pearson"?) have grown fat.

As they did with computers, students may enjoy using another tech gadget, but is the role of the school district to spend millions on technology or to improve student learning? In a recent article on this topic, CCSD provides us with anecdotes from Goodwin Elementary but does not show us that overall student achievement has improved--with or without iPads. Now the Charleston Teacher Alliance has called into question whether increased use of gadgets actually increases student achievement and want more flexibility in the classroom.  Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, another part of the edublob, couldn't find corroborating data.

Wouldn't those in the classroom every day have a better handle on what works? Not according to CCSD's director of Personalized Learning, Kristen Brittingham, who oversees but has never been on the front lines of teaching herself. Brittingham, whose career is all about implementing technology, confidently sweeps aside teachers' concerns. (I'm tempted to call her "Ms. Biggity.") Basically, her remarks boil down to, "Full speed ahead with our plans, We've got the money. Who cares about what classroom teachers think. They're probably just a bunch of middle-aged Luddites."

One important question for a new superintendent should be, "Will you take classroom teachers' opinions as seriously as those of specialized flunkies?"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Financial Transparency in CCSD

Charleston County School Board Members shed just a smidgen of light on the Byzantine expendures of the district in this week's op-ed.

Thanks to Todd Garrett and Kate Darby, we now know that Charleston County spends 25 percent more per student than Greenville County while paying its teachers and principals less. Ask yourself, has this top-heavy expendure on administration and special programs produced better results? Clearly, the answer is "no" if you judge by outcomes, as Garrett and Darby point out.

Further, the student-growth excuse for a tax hike uses figures that suggest the district will grow next year almost as much as it has in total over the last 15!  How much was paid to a consultant for that projection?

Garrett and Darby confirm the "implicit guarantee" made during the sales-tax extension that passing it "would ensure that we didn't raise taxes." Where did the idea originate that taxes should rise anyway?

Either Acting-Superintendent Bobby is disingenuous, or the Taj Mahal is feeding him a line.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Single-Member Districts for Dorchester D2 and CCSD

My husband's uncle, a retired British Army colonel, used to claim that he was "so far to the right, he met himself coming around the other end." Sometimes, however, the positions are not right and left but right and wrong. I remembered Uncle Stanley when I read of the activities of Louis L Smith at Monday night's Dorchester District 2 meeting in Summerville. Two minds with but a single thought!

"Single" is the word. Smith has correctly identified one of the stumbling blocks to a more representative school board. His group was prepared to stage a sit-in to promote single-member districts for DD2. Smith himself took the floor to state that the "current at-large method of electing board members is an elitist vestige of the Jim Crow era." A recommendation to bring up the issue with the state legislative delegation met with no support from the present board, who were all elected under the at-large structure. Go figure!

The board passed the buck by authorizing a letter to be written to "a community member" who had brought up the idea (Smith?) that the issue rests with the legislative delegation. Weasels.

To defend the present system, Board member Tanya Robinson stated her opinion in classic autocratic fashion: "each member of the board represents all children in the district, unlike single-member districts where board members represent only their areas, and the board becomes politicized as members fight for their slice of the pie." To put it more succinctly, each board member represents himself or herself and the deeper, more politically active pockets of the community, such as the Chamber of Commerce--in Robinson's case, perhaps the Junior League.

Amazingly (or not), Robinson sounds exactly like former CCSD board member Toya Hampton-Green, protege of Mayor Riley, who told Constituent Board D20 members that, even though she was elected for District 20, she didn't speak for them.

I share Smith's frustration over outmoded school-district structures. Let's not forget that CCSD's Board Chair, Cindy Bohn Coats, who ostensibly represents North Charleston, would not have won re-election without piling up votes in Mt. Pleasant that pushed her over the top.


Notice anything?

Monday, May 11, 2015

CCSD Loading Up on Taxes to Coax New Superintendent

Evidently the local newspaper doesn't find it odd that an acting superintendent would continue to push for the Charleston County School District's taxing power to expand.

Perhaps its reporters have short memories and do not remember the promises made during the "Not a Penny" sales tax campaign. Of course, these may be the same reporters who didn't seem to know the difference between a penny sales tax and a one-percent sales tax!

While CCSD searches for a new superintendent, Michael Bobby has proposed raising property taxes on all but owner-occupied homes to cover "unexpected" operating-cost shortfalls. Now he's proposing an additional property-tax increase for all to purchase CCSD's private fleet of school buses. These proposals emanate from a district that promised, if the sales-tax extension passed, no more taxes would be needed. How times, and superintendents, do change.

The CCSD Board of Trustees should under no circumstances vote funds to purchase buses, no matter how old the fleet, until taxpayers and the board have hard figures on how much the district spends on busing. These numbers have been top secret in the past under ex-Superintendent McGinley's vendetta against neighborhood schools.

Further, until the State of South Carolina changes its mind on providing buses to school districts, CCSD has no business getting into the bus business.

So what's going on?

In recruiting a new superintendent, the present administration at the Taj Mahal wants to show that that person need not start his or her job with the unpopular proposal to raise taxes. This thought presumes that whoever is recruited will be another tax-and-spend liberal (probably true!).

What CCSD needs is not more taxes but a forensic audit that provides some light in the dark places where its present money disappears.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

CCSD Should Ponder Palmetto Scholars Academy's Partnership

The Charleston County School District under ex-Superintendent McGinley forced Palmetto Scholars Academy (PSA) go to the statewide Public Charter School District for approval, knowing that CCSD's policies would prevent its operation. Now PSA has wisely taken advantage of a new law allowing "charter schools to set aside up to 50 percent of their enrollment for students with active-duty parents in exchange for locating on a military base"--in this case, Joint Base Charleston.

Here's another example of missed opportunity on CCSD's part. The idea of partnerships such as this one appears foreign to the Charleston County School District.  For $71,000 per year the Base will lease to the charter school almost 10 acres of land along Dorchester Road near Hunley Park where a new 45,000 square-foot school building should open to house a potential 500 students in January 2016. The new law guarantees enrollment preference to children of military personnel at the Base. The land for the school has been sitting vacant on the Base for years. Presently the school uses an old building on the Navy Base.

Despite CCSD's spite, PSA thrives as a school for gifted and talented, thanks to the ongoing efforts of its organizers. Maybe CCSD school board members should contemplate what's happening in their own backyard.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Darby's Confused Plans for CCSD's Burke High School

In Wednesday's op-ed ("Heed Burke's Past Lessons While Deciding Its Future"), the Rev. Joseph A. Darby typically wears his two hats--one as a presiding elder in the AME church, the other as first vice-president of the Charleston Branch NAACP. Darby seems to believe that "progress" is about to close Burke High School.

Never mind that Darby, who graduated from high school in Columbia, bases his Burke opinions on second-hand information. It would be nice, however, if he could separate politics from religion occasionally. Burke's fate will not be decided by the AME Church; his is a political opinion on a secular topic!

Darby is "concerned" by what he calls "the sudden interest in Burke" on the part of District 20 parents (that's the peninsula for those of you from off), a mixed group of black and white. This constituent school board wants to consider all options to improve what is a de facto segregated school.

Good grief, man! Don't we want parents to take an interest? And is this really "sudden" interest?

No, what really concerns Darby is that someone mentioned the word "charter." Further, somehow he equates the use of the phrase "proud history" with white takeover. Darby seems to forget that the High School of Charleston had its own proud history, and "progress" favored the all-black Burke over the originally all-white school. Darby fears that, given the majority of students living on the peninsula are white, somehow that majority will make Burke into something new. Well, an integrated school would be new for this decade.

Given its list of failures ad nauseum over the last  few decades, maybe something new for Burke isn't bad.

In his own version of "waving the bloody shirt," Darby reiterates the old "game plan" for Burke when established in 1911: to produce "cooks, maids, and delivery boys"--and how the school itself foiled that plot.  Instead of parroting the  past, how about giving that oft-quoted statement 10 minutes of critical thinking? Why would cooks, maids, and delivery boys need high school? Transmission over 100 years has garbled the past. Imagine that!

No one could quarrel with Darby's stated future plans for Burke as a center of excellence. If he ever wonders what explains the reluctance of white parents to send their children to "predominantly black schools" besides racism, he should contemplate the poor rating of every predominantly-black school in the county! Why would white parents with choices send their children to failing schools?  No parent wants his or her child to be an educational experiment, white or black.

Darby cites past lack of funding as the the root cause of Burke's demise. Unfortunately, if more money were the answer, Burke would have pulled out of its nose-dive years ago. His is a typical liberal solution to a much more complex problem.

Darby still lives in the past, where fifty years ago racist white parents avoided integrated schools and where more money was always the solution. Burke will not reach his goals based on those ideas.

Meanwhile, under the present administration and policies, a proud high school goes down for the count.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Burke's Future on the Line in CCSD

What should happen to a high school that has failed, failed, and failed over the last dozen years? At times the state has threatened its takeover.  If you asked Senator Lindsey Graham, he would say, "Close it."

Closing Burke High School is not an option. When Charleston County's districts were consolidated as part of an order to integrate black and white school systems, Burke survived because of its long, proud tradition as a black high school. With the demise of the High School of Charleston, it became the only public high school on the peninsula (District 20). It has continued to have the strong support of its graduates.

So, what went wrong? Certainly its buildings are more than adequate, but the school has slid on the slippery slope of high-achieving students (both black and white) transferring to high schools where the course offerings, such as foreign languages, prepare them for college. Enrollment, despite transfers in from other parts of the county, continues to plummit.

Parents and taxpayers in District 20 are exploring whether turning Burke into a charter school makes sense. Certainly removing CCSD guidance from the everyday business of Burke has the potential to improve recent dismal outcomes.

How could a charter school be worse?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Graham: Close Failing Schools to Improve Education

Lindsey Graham's remarks to the SC GOP convention this weekend perfectly exemplify interfering where you don't know what you're talking about. Graham called for failing schools to be closed in order to improve education.

Did Graham even understand that he's calling for closure of neighborhood schools in majority black neighborhoods? Somehow, I doubt that. His idea doesn't seem quite so smart when stated in those terms. And what would make those closures guarantee better education for the students involved? No answer. Did the closure of such schools in the Charleston County School District improve education or improve statistics?

Say, ex-Fraser parents, how's that working out for you? 

Remember how ex-Superintendent McGinley promised to track students affected by her school closures to make sure they were getting a better education? Believe me, if the ruse had worked, we would have heard about the results.

Closing failing schools improves the stats for the superintendent, a trick apparently taught at the Broad Institute. McGinley is still touting how she improved the district, while not revealing how her statistics improved with her closing of neighborhood schools.

Would you believe that, despite McGinley's efforts and her go-along-and-get-along Board of Trustees, Charleston County still has the five lowest-performing schools in the state.  Or, maybe that's because of McGinley's policies. When you contemplate the economy of Charleston County and then compare it to the rest of the state, you can reach only one conclusion regarding CCSD: malpractice!

Stick to foreign policy, Lindsey!