Monday, August 31, 2015

FYI: Park Circle Friends Nurturing Public Schools

As promised, here are the notes from the first meeting that was held last week. We'll be posting next steps soon! Thanks again for your involvement.
Representatives at the meeting included (apologies to anyone we left out): Principal Bob Grimm, NCHS; Principal Joseph Williams, Morningside Middle; Principal Eric Hansen, NCCAE; Principal Ross, Goodwin Elementary; Principal Timothy Schavel, Hursey Elementary; Principal Lynn Owings, Burns Elementary; Principal Mary Reynolds, North Chas Elementary; Dr. Davis (special assignment principal); and many teachers. School board members: Cindy Bohn Coats (Chair), Chris Staubes, Tom Ducker; Charles Monteith, Constituent Schools Bd Member; City Councilor Bob King;
Ideas for getting involved:
• Mentor a child (group FB page will post a list of resources)
• Tour the school
• Join the School Improvement Council (do not need to have a child attend to join)
• Join the PTA (do not need to have a child attend to join)
• Increase opportunities for discussion and connections between parents of different backgrounds so that we get to know one another
• Advocate at school board meetings
• Volunteer for lunch duty
• Attend sports and other school events
• Work for legislative change, i.e. school report data collection methods
• Build relationships with people in the broader community
• Most importantly, send your kids to zoned schools
Overall discussion:
• Important to get involved in feeder schools now before high school
• Get to know the schools beyond what is stated in their report cards, which can be misleading
• Learn about our schools' success, e.g. NCHS has 13 AP courses, 70% of students passed EOC tests; Morningside Middle won the Palmetto Gold Award and has an exciting single gender program
• Hard to pinpoint the exact moment that a downward shift occurred at NCHS, but the capacity is for 1500 and there are only 494 students
• Our tax dollars pay for our schools, and when we don't attend, we are all losing out on a valuable resource
Next steps:
Park Circle Neighbors Nurturing Schools will hold another meeting to assess interest among parents as to what type of activity/actions they want to take as well as develop a purpose statement and some short term and long term goals.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

North Charleston High Hopes for Park Circle Parents' Group

Last week's meeting between North Charleston High School Principal Robert Grimm and neighborhood parents from Park Circle directly resulted from the P & C's articles on NCHS. Citizens should thank Deanna Pan for writing about problems that CCSD swept under the rug during the McGinley administration. Perhaps their enthusiasm will propel a critical mass of middle-class students into attending the neighborhood high school.

However, as the lead editorial on Friday makes clear, "In such a competitive atmosphere, neighborhood schools will have to reconsider what they have to offer, and make adjustments--with the support of the district and the school board."

Actually, the district and school board must make some decisions that favor its feeder schools as well. Let's hope someone with power and influence has figured out that more of the same won't work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How CCSD Failed Burke

Despite the liberal agenda that every student should go to college (and rack up tens of thousands in student loans), common sense dictates otherwise. Burke High School is a case in point. Well-meaning Charleston County School District administration and school boards accelerated its decline.  Burke supporters have called for vocational programs at Burke for years, calls that have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps Adam Parker in his article on Burke did not realize the significance of  the following:
Lillie Smith, 73, is a Burke graduate who taught there from 1982-1994. Two years after she arrived, enrollment reached its peak of about 1,700 students due to the consolidation of C.A. Brown and Charleston high schools. Burke had a robust athletic program, six periods each day, and at least 30 students in each class, Smith said.
What's more, it boasted a work ethic that most students subscribed to; they were expected to do well, to graduate and to seek employment, she said. And they did.
In the mid-1990s the school began to deteriorate: enrollment declined little by little, the dropout rate increased, programs were cut and the curriculum, which once included an emphasis on vocational training, was “generalized.” Students began to flee.
“The curriculum focus shifted away from trades” — such as home economics, masonry and auto mechanics — in favor of academics, even though “a large number of high school kids would not go to college,” Smith said.
Now that NO high school in the district offers masonry or carpentry courses, perhaps CCSD can come back down to earth.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Common Sense on CCSD's School Choice

For those of you who avoid reading our local paper:

School choice is a solution, not a problem
Aug 26 2015 12:01 am

The Post and Courier’s recent five-part series, “Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice,” leads one to believe that the hardships experienced by some students at a North Charleston high school are the effects of school choice policies.

Yet for all the series’ strengths — poignant stories, good writing — it doesn’t deliver on its central claim. Indeed, readers will wonder how any of the stories, moving though they are, have anything to do with educational policies commonly associated with the term school choice.

The series’ logic is this: North Charleston High School has lost large numbers of students to competing charter schools. The remaining students — those “left behind” — are therefore struggling to keep up.

The problem is the “therefore.” It’s just not clear how the exodus has anything to do with the hardships chronicled by the series.

The authors chronicle the achievements of charter and magnet schools, and so concede the benefits of non-traditional public schooling. But they treat these educational benefits as a zero sum game.

The gains of the charter and magnet attendees mean losses for those “left behind” at North Charleston High. Even if we accept the reporters’ highly doubtful assumption that the departing students are the “brightest and most motivated,” it’s never clear why the departure of some should hurt the ones who remain.

Another problem is the way in which the series refers to “school choice.” The policies most commonly associated with that phrase — state-funded vouchers, tax credits for donations to organizations that pay tuition costs at independent schools — are almost totally absent in South Carolina. Current state law makes limited tax credit scholarships available to exceptional needs students, but to no one else.

Moreover, the argument that school choice policies harm public schools simply isn’t supported by the evidence. Out of 23 empirical studies that examine the effect of school choice on public schools, 22 found that the availability of school choice programs boosted academic performance at public schools. The remaining study found no effect.

It’s easy to see why this should be so. Most public schools — certainly this is true of South Carolina’s — receive funding based on the number of students they serve.

Thus a decline in enrollment won’t decrease a school’s funding relative to its student base. The presence of competing schools may actually encourage traditional public schools to find better ways to serve their students.

The Post and Courier’s series itself would seem to back this up: we learn that North Charleston High added four programs this year, and plans to add engineering and law enforcement programs next year.

One thing the series does demonstrate, however, is a correlation between the poverty index of a school’s student body and its ACT scores. Since the more affluent students have left North Charleston High, the thinking seems to be, the school’s overall test scores will suffer.

Well, maybe. The series doesn’t actually provide data to support that assumption, but it’s conceivable. There is zero evidence, however, that the academic performance of individual remaining students have suffered as a result of the exodus.

For all we know, it might have improved, since some of the students were no doubt sent to other schools precisely because they were experiencing behavioral or learning problems at North Charleston High.

What we do know is this: In no fewer than 12 empirical studies using random assignment — the gold standard of social sciences — to examine how school choice programs affect the academic performance, all 12 found consistently positive results. Six found a positive benefit for all student participants, five found positive results for some students but not all, and one found no impact. Not one of the studies found a harmful effect to participants’ academic performance.

The lesson is clear. School choice programs should be expanded, not rolled back — and certainly not blamed for “unintended consequences” they had nothing to do with.

How should they be expanded? The state could implement universally available vouchers or tax credit scholarships without a yearly cap. At the very least, the state could make vouchers and scholarships available to all students whose families fall under a certain income threshold.

The suggestions of reports like “Left Behind” notwithstanding, it’s students who are the least well off financially who stand to benefit the most from school choice programs.

Without these policies, more affluent families will have access to educational choices unavailable to their less well-off counterparts. The less well-off will in effect be stuck with the school they’re zoned for.

But in a system where everyone pays for public education, everyone should have access to the widest possible array of opportunities.

In short: the more South Carolina expands school choice, the fewer students will be left behind.

Shane McNamee is a policy analyst at the South Carolina Policy Council.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Really Happened to North Charleston High?

It wasn't school choice. Let's get that straight.

Why did North Charleston High School have eleven principals from 2003 to now? That turnover was not the result of school choice.

Why did the middle class, both black and white, leave North Charleston High School? Policies imposed upon the school by the Charleston County School District precipated their exodus to greener pastures. And Superintendent McGinley was happy because the numbers enrolled in CCSD public schools stopped hemorraging.

What middle-class parent would want his or her child sitting in a classroom with at least one convicted armed robber? Why was NCHS forced to take that teenager? What ever happened to the millions spent on construction of a discipline or alternative school?

What did CCSD do for parents of students reading on grade level who were enrolled in classes with a majority reading on second- or third-grade level? Please don't say, "individualized instruction."
Nothing about those classes could possibly be the same experience as a class with peers.

Did CCSD really believe that the millions spent on renovating NCHS would keep students from leaving, as though buildings were more important than learning?

Did CCSD make any attempt to change NCHS's curriculum to engage students, or did it follow the accepted liberal lie that all students must be prepared for college?

Has it ocurred to the great minds at the Taj Mahal that it makes no sense for any high school graduate to burden himself down with loans for classes at Trident Tech that he or she could just as well have taken for free in high school?

The recent series reveals major faults in CCSD's planning, not in school choice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lewis Finds Scapegoat for CCSD's Woes

It's all the fault of the constituent school boards--so says former Charleston County School District operations manager Bill Lewis in a lengthy op-ed this week. If they hadn't wanted small high schools, none of the Charleston County School District's failing schools would exist! All high schools should be over 3000 students. Then those embarrassing stats would melt into the larger whole.

Californian Lewis has no idea what a high school means to a community. In fact, he wouldn't even recognize a community if it hit him over the head. Why do parents of Lincoln High School's or Baptist Hill's students object to their spending four or five hours every day on the bus? How could a small high school benefit an entire community? Lewis is still scratching his head.

His rant apparently responded to the paper's special series on the problems of North Charleston High School. Now, the reporters seemed to blame the school's low enrollment on school choice. Clearly the problems of various students at the school result not from school choice but from poverty, especially the lack of resources caused by broken families. Neither he nor the reporters questioned the school district's policies--and in particular, those of ex-Superintendent McGinley--in bringing about the low enrollment at the school. Would forcing the school to enroll a convicted armed robber bring back the middle class? Would having a majority of students reading at the second- or third-grade level in a ninth-grade class encourage the middle class to return?

So, let's get this straight: if North Charleston had a 3000-student school, these students' problems would be solved? Not likely. They would become part of the mass of students lost in the halls, but any low scores on testing would give no cause for alarm to a district that wants no failing schools. The failing students would still exist but not the failing schools.

Anyone remember Fraser Elementary? Its closure, with promises that its students would be tracked to see that they thrived in the new environment, in reality improved McGinley's stats. And the result was?

Oops! Down the memory hole. That would be the fate of NCHS's students.