Friday, January 29, 2016

Paying for Universal Preschool in SC NOT Cost-effective

How do you tell a liberal from a conservative or, for that matter, a Democrat from a Republican? The first judges on intent; the second, on results.
"In the 2014–2015 year, South Carolina made one of the largest investments in universal pre-K, second only to California. As a result, 17 additional school districts will offer public early childhood care and education. In addition, due to a push by the child-welfare organization SCAN, it seems probable that universal pre-K will be a major issue in the 2016 election."--Noodle
But why, you ask? 

Who doesn't hope that all children, rich and poor, entering kindergarten are equally ready for school? No one suggests that universal preschool should exist for ease of babysitting for working parents. Instead, the intent is to narrow the "achievement gap."

The preschool idea has been around since the beginnings of the War on Poverty with Head Start. It's yet another example of how results can be costly and wrong but still pushed as effective. In fact, as the Washington Post points out, "President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to create universal preschool for low-income 4-year-olds, saying it is the best and most cost-effective way to narrow the achievement gap between poor children and their more affluent peers."

The problem is that the results of the last 50 years do not support this noble intent.

Now the Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) headed by Mark Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, founder of the discredited Head Start program [the family business?] is lobbying all state governments to bankroll a failed idea. And South Carolina fell for it, no doubt with the best of intent. You have to wonder, though: do we really want to be in the same ballpark with California?

Despite some claims to the contrary, Head Start has shown its benefits last through the third grade. Period. Without a large-scale study to show that universal preschool would work, politicians are plunging willy-nilly on a feel-good bandwagon. 

Universal preschool will become another "throw money at the schools" program that doesn't work and takes away funds from other ideas that might.
"And here is the problem. Given the scientific uncertainty, advocates cannot answer the following question: Will increased federal spending on early childhood education programs improve children’s futures? The evidence says probably not. 
"By creating the false illusion that we are helping children in need, programs like Head Start and Early Head Start do a tremendous disservice by wasting both the resources and the political will for effective action. There may, in fact, be ways we can help children in need. But we won’t find them if we believe, despite the evidence, that the right programs are already in place."--David Muhlhausen

Catching up with ACE: One CCSD Program That Works

Image result for northwoods nighthawks

How does a 15-year-old end up in the eighth grade? It's not a pretty story, but an innovative program at Northwoods Middle School, the Alternative Choice in Education (ACE), has smoothed one such student's rocky road. Harry Brunson's winning a lottery seat at Jerry Zucker Middle School turned out not to be so lucky. Home life and lack of confidence equalled failure. His life changed partly because of the assistance of an older brother and sister and partly because teacher Jason Allen saw that putting "10 students for a couple of hours a day in a portable trailer behind the school" wasn't going to change lives.

The appeal of using "one teacher and a program on computer with earphones" to enhance learning is a siren call that few school districts have resisted. It's oh-so cost effective, but rarely academically effective. Fortunately, in Allen, Northwoods has a teacher who cared enough to question an ineffective program and persuade his principal to approve another. He also recruited Zac Goatley, "the best teacher in the school," to assist.

Don't forget that the Charleston County School District planned and built an entire alternative school that fizzled. Personnel count. Teachers count. Programs count. Now 21 overage students at Northwoods have chance to catch up with their peers instead of being the anonymous and troubling faces in a crowd of 1,000. 

Oh, yes. One-thousand-student middle schools are cost effective, too. Academically? Not so much.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Charleston County School Board Elections Matter; System Stinks

Louis Weinstein, MD, former president of a school board in Toledo, Ohio, and former write-in candidate for the CCSD Board of Trustees, is not happy. He wants Charleston County voters to take school board elections seriously. As he pointed out in a recent Letter to the Editor, at the moment "in Charleston we have schools that are more segregated than they were 30 years ago, a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, a large number of students who cannot read at their appropriate grade level and SLED investigating a fraud-type complaint regarding district funds within the Charleston County School District."

And who's to blame? Well, Dr. Weinstein, mostly our stupid system.

First of all, is there any selection process for nominees for school board? The ostensible answer is no, but the reality is yes. You see, candidates seem to represent no one but themselves, but in reality many represent special interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Democrat party, and the education bureaucracy. Most have no experience with analyzing and approving multi-million-dollar school expenditures and so spin their wheels trying to figure out what's going on or take on faith the august advice of others, such as the superintendent and chief financial officer.

Once elected, school board trustees can successfully ignore the areas of the county they ostensibly represent. Does anyone believe that former member Toya Hampton-Green's comment to District 20 (the peninsula) that she doesn't represent them is an anomaly? After all, voters in Mt. Pleasant can guarantee the election of the North Charleston members that Mt. Pleasant desires. It's already happened with Cindy Bohn Coats. Is it any wonder that North Charleston's schools (no, not those magnets filled with Mt. Pleasant students) have among the worst statistics in the district? Who's really looking out for them?

Besides financial ignorance, what're the educational philosophies of those elected? We never know, do we?

What we do know is that school boards are where liberals hang out, especially in mostly Republican districts. You'll need to ask yourself if being a liberal or conservative affects the way you view education and the administration of local schools. Well, Common Core comes to mind. South Carolina and our last superintendent blindly followed the US Department of Education's guidelines on this issue so that they could qualify for Race to the Top funds. Was that beneficial or not?

If candidates for school board were required to run in a political primary, the local organizations potentially could recruit those well-qualified. It's a dirty little secret, actually not so secret, that they put up their own slates now. Too many voters are lulled into a sense that the position is not political, say, like being mayor of Charleston. Tell us another one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Return Powers to Charleston County's Constituent School Boards?

Once power flows to a central administration, does it ever flow back? For the states, the answer seems to be "no." Once power goes to Washington, it would require another revolution to get it back. The question is, Can the constituent boards that make up the Charleston County School District buck this trend?

In those oh-so-long-ago days of 1967, the eight independent school districts agreed to combine to equalize finances. The consolidated school district was purely a financial and administrative layer. Then came creeping centralization: after 1978 constituent districts no longer hired their own principals. Finally, in 2007 ex-Superintendent McGinley demanded control over the hiring of all school personnel, and the legislative delegation's support in Columbia put that power grab into practice.

Now the six of the eight constituent boards have requested that the Taj Mahal's power be returned to 1967 levels. Early in December virtually the same legislative delegation agreed unanimously to refer the boards' request "to the delegation's education subcommittee for further study." A euphemism perhaps? 

Kicking the can to a subcommittee can portend a lingering death. Superintendent Postlewaite wants time to show the individual boards that she can play nice. If you want power returned to local constituent boards, maintain pressure on your local delegation; otherwise, it will become a dead issue.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

P & C Reveals CCSD's Racism in Sham AP Program at Burke

Jerry Manigault represents everything that's desirable in a high school sophomore and everything that is wrong in the Charleston County School District. His story, ably told by reporter Deanna Pan in Sunday's edition, should strike a chord with every Charleston County resident who cares about our schools and our future.

The relative modernity and condition of Sanders-Clyde (S-C) and Burke Middle-High's buildings belie the racism of soft expectations within. Ask yourself why S-C has no ongoing provision for an Algebra 1 class that is required for entrance to CCSD's Academic Magnet. Ask yourself why it took a Teach-for-America volunteer to institute a successful algebra class there that disappeared when she left. Ask yourself why it disappeared.

What's happened to Jerry, who transferred from Burke to Academic Magnet this school year, doesn't show weaknesses in the Academic Magnet admissions process; it shows that CCSD's administration and school board for too long have tolerated low standards in Charleston County's all-black schools. Ask yourself why.  Of course, many of these students need more resources than those middle-class white students at Wando. Duh. Why don't they have them? 

What about the Jerry Manigaults of this world? Where is CCSD's provision for them? Instead Burke has an Advanced Placement program that isn't. Who ever heard of an AP class that required little studying or homework where students passed the AP exam? Now we know why Burke's students fare so poorly on these national tests: "As an honors student at Burke High School's Advanced Placement Academy, Jerry rarely studied. [...] He wasn't prepared for Magnet's high expectations and heavy homework load."

If you suspect that Burke's 4 X 4 schedule is part of the problem, raise your hand!

The 4 X 4 schedule allows for two goals. The first is cramming more students into an overcrowded school. Given that Burke is half empty, we can ignore that reason. The second is more likely: that schedule allows for students who, for example, fail English 1 the first semester to retake it the second semester and qualify as a sophomore for the following year. It also allows students to concentrate on fewer subjects at a time, for whatever that is worth.

You see, most likely Jerry, who passed the end-of-year Algebra I test in eighth grade, took geometry his first semester at Burke; then no math at all the second semester. That's what happens in a 4 X 4. Even students who didn't take a semester break from math often have trouble with Algebra 2. 

More insidiously, the 4 X 4 schedule allows teachers to present instruction during the first half of a class and have students do homework during the second half. Now, some advantages apply to this schedule--asking questions about math problems comes to mind. But if the schedule means that students get only half as much instruction as in a regular schedule and have no homework, academic rigor inevitably is lost. Schools where most students for whatever reason habitually do not turn in homework are attracted to the 4 X 4. 

Thanks to the article's publicity, Jerry Manigault should get more of the assistance he needs. Now what about the rest of his peers? Time to stop stalling.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

CCSD's Housecleaning Gets Interesting

While taxpayers await the results of the recently-ordered forensic audit of the Charleston County School District, beguiling news issues from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. It seems that, completely independently of that audit, the interim Risk and Safety manager brought his concerns about that department's accounts to Sheriff Cannon. And the Sheriff's office thought his findings serious enough to pass along to SLED.

"Fraud relating to district funds" in "irregular accounting" would be criminal if true. This suspicion does not fall into the same category as forgetting to file reports with the IRS. 

Interim Risk and Safety officer Michael Reidenbach reported the irregularities. Risk and Safety manages self-insurance funds among other duties. It falls under the purview of CCSD's chief financial officer, in this case, ex-financial officer Michael Bobby. If fraud is established, will anyone be held accountable? 

Hmm. And whom did Reidenbach replace? Someone nameless, apparently.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

CCSD Needs Effective and Fair PARENT-Teacher Evaluation Criteria

Rather than berating a Charleston County School District system that lobs students reading below fourth-grade level into eighth- or ninth-grade classes. let's focus on how to evaluate parental responsibility for their problems. If teacher quality were the only variable affecting these poor readers, agonizing over how to evaluate teachers' ability to succeed in improving reading where other teachers have failed would make sense. 

Yet, as any teacher and most parents will acknowledge, home life bears the burden of preparing children to learn and keep learning at grade level. If teachers must be evaluated by how much progress a student makes, then parents must be evaluated in tandem. What teacher has not experienced seeing mostly parents of students who are doing well at scheduled conferences? What teacher has not wished that [fill in the blank]'s parent had shown up? 

Heaven knows, CCSD cannot fix the unpleasant circumstances of every failing child's home life, but any teacher evaluation must take those circumstances into account.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Ineffective Oversight by CCSD Board On Senior Exam Exemptions

What a fiasco!

Presumably nearly a thousand Charleston County School District seniors breathed a sigh of relief today after the startling (to most) news that they needed a 93 average to exempt exams scheduled for next week. In case you haven't figured it out yet, that's an A. They were told in September that they needed an 85, or B. The Charleston County School Board conferred in emergency session and confirmed the 85 average that had been printed in several, perhaps the majority of, student handbooks.

No fault accrues to these students. 

Is this problem going to be another swept under the rug with no one taking responsibility? If so, that lack of ownership will continue to weaken community support for the district.

Now for the questions.

Who instituted the "one-year pilot program for 2014-2015" and why? What Dorchester District 2 uses for exemptions is irrelevant here. 

Not only do we not know who did it, but evidently the Board never voted for it!
Board member Kate Darby said she would like to discuss personnel issues related to the exam exemption policy in the future. 
“Personally I think we need to address that issue, but we can do that later and get information on that issue,” Darby said.
Board members Coats and Chris Staubes said the board never voted in the first place for the pilot program that set the minimum at 85 for seniors. Coats said she had scoured meeting minutes from past years looking for any discussion of the matter. “I cannot find anywhere that that policy was discussed with this board,” Coats said.
How did a one-year policy end up in some of this year's handbooks? That's an easy one. The handbook was simply copied from the previous year with corrections approved by the principal.

That brings up two more questions.

Why did CCSD not have copies of every high school handbook?

Why did some handbooks use the correct grade of 93?

Perhaps Cindy Bohn Coats inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when she said, "We are very glad that we have administrators who now understand the need to cross T's, dot I's, do it the right way so that people are not inadvertently affected by these kinds of issues."

"Now," Cindy?

Kudos to  Superintendent Postlewait for suggesting that the original exemption policy of 93 makes sense.

Monday, January 04, 2016

2016: Year of Promise in Charleston County School District

While many problems in the Charleston County School District remain unresolved, the coming year seems the most promising in the last decade. New superintendent Gerrita Postlewait has shown great common sense so far. The Board of Trustees has authorized a forensic audit of the last five years.

Let's keep that momentum going!