Monday, February 29, 2016

CCSD's Miller Raises an Important Question About Burns

The Charleston County School Board has agreed to pursue a plan that hands over the kindergarten at Burns Elementary, one of the most fraught schools in the district, to the management of Meeting Street Schools for fixing. The rest of the school will occupy swing space during construction of a new building for Burns. Board member Michael Miller has made a valid point about the other grades' prospects: dim.

It's easy to comprehend why Meeting Street Schools wish to start with incoming students. They are likely to make the most progress in a program that begins when they begin school. However, the district seems to ignore the abysmal record of the rest of its grades. Why is there no push from Board members to meet the needs of those who have already started school? Are they relegated to the low achievement of the past?

Further, how demoralized will the remaining teachers at Burns become, knowing that their days are numbered under the current system? The decision provides an impetus to find a job elsewhere in the system as soon as possible. Increasing teacher turnover at Burns will hardly be helpful.

The Board needs to look seriously at the ramifications of its decision on the rest of the children at Burns and respond accordingly.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Common Core Claims More Victims with Pearson's GED

Matt Collette is a professional writer and  reporter,  He has an  Ivy League degree and a Masters degree.  He failed the test. READMORE at the Daily Beast.

While you weren't looking, Common Core hijacked the GED (General Equivalency Diploma) that dropouts trying to reconstruct their livelihoods have used for decades. Actually, English publishing firm Pearson took over the GED a couple of years ago and decided that it must reflect the Common Core standards that most Americans now reject. The necessity to recalibrate scores reported in the paper recently shows only the tip of the iceberg.

Pearson decided that those seeking this high-school equivalency diploma must then enter college. No doubt, some do; however, for many years the GED has been the entry point for dropouts seeking better jobs, not more education. Probably Pearson drank Obama's Kool-Aid that everyone in America should go to college. Whatever the reason for this disastrous decision, those hurt the most are the ones who can afford it the least., 

Numbers taking the test have also plummeted, thanks to the $120 fee, access to a computer, and access to a credit card now required. As one report puts it, 
"And there are serious repercussions. As national economic policy is emphasizing more adult education programs, and most jobs (even Walmart shelf stockers) require a high school diploma, the new GED test has pretty much moved the goal posts way back. And that includes the incarcerated, where so many prison re-entry education programs include getting the high school drop-out population to pass the GED test.
“Project Learn, the local program contracted to tutor inmates in the Cuyahoga County Jail, saw a total of 80 inmates pass the GED test in the past three years, but only one county jail inmate has passed so far this year.” 
The rhetoric about the Common Core is misleading. Infusing Common Core into the GED is a huge error. It has made the GED so rigorous that vast numbers of young people will never pass it. Do they’re really need to master algebra to work as a laborer in the construction trade or a shelf stocker at Walmart? Do they really need to demonstrate close reading skills to get an entry-level job to support themselves and their families? Why erect a barrier so high that large numbers of people will be trapped in poverty, unemployment, and unskilled low-wage jobs?--Diane Ravitch's blog
Even now in 2016, Pearson had to revise its passing score to improve results. No one faults the 571 South Carolina students who now have passed. The retroactive adjustment to those who took the test after January 2014 is simply a mathematical way to improve Pearson's results. 

It's time to take back the GED from the Brits or get rid of it altogether.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

True Single Member Districts Needed for CCSD

No doubt most Charleston County residents, if they ever think about it, assume all of the state's school districts have the same rules. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dorchester District 2 (mostly Summerville) made news recently when the state House of Representatives unanimously agreed that the district should have single-member geographic districts. Also, legislators are scrutinizing granting the DD2 School Board's budget freedom from oversight by the Dorchester County Council.

It's time for the Charleston County School Board to have true single-member districts as well. At present, the elected members must reside in individual geographical areas, but they are elected in the district at large. Why should a resident of North Charleston who gains the backing of the powers-that-be in Mt. Pleasant be guaranteed election? It's time to stop pretending that the interests of differing areas of the county are identical. Let's see someone prove that, please.

Besides DD2's legal budget oversight, several other districts in the state must submit budgets to their local county councils for approval. If CCSD had had such a system in place for the past few years, perhaps we wouldn't be looking at a millions-of-dollars shortfall.

Just sayin'

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CCSD's Postlewait Reverses McGinley's Pet Project

Back in December 2013, a little over two years ago, many Charleston County educational advocates voiced their unhappiness at then-Superintendent Nancy McGinley's plans for teacher evaluation based on "value-added" measures, as though students are widgets on an assembly line. At the time even Diane Ravitch criticized McGinley's plans. McGinley's response to criticisms of her BRIDGE program:
"Superintendent Nancy McGinley responded to criticism by saying the district wants to work with teachers and celebrate and reward their success. She said some of this negativity isn't supported by facts, and she encouraged the public to check out the district's BRIDGE website for more information."
The $23 million grant gained from the federal government by CCSD was part of nearly $1 billion set aside for such programs. As with many federal programs, it was a bust, but we might not be hearing about it if not for the district's stumbling over a major shortfall in its budget. As with most federal incentives, the plan had other costs. McGinley planned to expand the program to all Charleston County Schools next school year--at a cost of $5 million beyond the federal grant.

CCSD used funds from the federal program to pay 24 employees to spend their days "evaluating teachers under the incentive fund standards." That's almost two employees per school (13 were involved). 

Waste. Waste. Waste. Ten million was spent. Teachers and administrators received under $700,000 in incentives. And the program didn't work.

Why do I surmise that the principals and teachers in those 13 schools could have found better ways to spend $10 million?

A perfect example of unnecessary federal intrusion and waste of your tax dollars.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How Wisely Will CCSD and SC Turn NCLB into ESSA?

Image result for every student succeeds act

The essay, bane of all high school English students (and sometimes teachers), popularized by Montaigne in the late sixteenth century, originally meant "trial" in French and later evolved to mean "attempt." In December, Americans received another attempt at "fixing" their local schools. Let's hope it doesn't become a trial also.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has replaced the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) despised by many who saw its testing and accountability standards as Draconian. Several commentators have pointed out how ESSA gives power over education back to local districts. While it is correct that school districts no longer must allow students stuck in failing schools to transfer, does anyone seriously believe that the new program loosens the reins on local schools?

There's a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. . .

Will you be startled to learn that Congress has passed another program without reading to see what's in it? Must be a habit now. Let's see how loose those reins are.

  1. Though states are not required to implement Common Core standards, the standards they do adopt must align with the same definition of "college and career" standards previously used to force states into Common Core.
  2. Career and technical education standards must align with the federal Workforce Education and Opportunity Act.
  3. States must collect non-academic data on students and families "attitudes, behaviors, and mindsets."
  4. ESSA requires that each state's accountability system be structured as the feds have written.
  5. Parents are no longer permitted to opt their children out of testing.
  6. No sunset provision means the program could proceed forever.
  7. ESSA expands the federal role in childcare while dropping work requirements for low-income families seeking grants.
  8. Et cetera
Some of these may be worthy goals; some, not. The overall effect will be federal intrusion into education well beyond what NCLB ever intended. Do you really trust federal bureaucracies to know what is best for local schools?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Can't CCSD Fix Failing Schools Without Private Sponsorship?

As another of the Charleston County School District's elementary schools, Burns Elementary, falls under the management of Meeting Street Schools, Charleston County residents have cause for hope and cause for questioning the organization of the district with its at-large, elected, nonpartisan school board and appointed superintendent. As Board member Michael Miller has pointed out, "With all the minds and degrees and experience of this district, . . . we have to rely on them to do our job. That is sad."

Not only sad, but costly. The jury has not come back with its final verdict on the efficacy of Meeting Street Schools, but initial results show incredible promise for students who, for too long, have been locked into a cycle of poverty and ignorance. We can disparage the failings of No Child Left Behind, yet one positive result, if you can call it that, was that required testing meant schools such as Burns could no longer be swept under the rug. What Miller said rings true: "We've been doing Burns wrong for so long that we can't wait another second to get it right."

Let's hope that CCSD analyzes what actions it can take to make all its elementary schools as effective as Meeting Street Schools' management promises. How much difference does making hiring and firing decisions independently make? Or is it the longer school day and year and careful involvement of parents that make the difference? Is it possible to replicate their results by changing policies without handing over the district's schools?

Just a cautionary tale. Let's also not forget that a certain principal at Sanders-Clyde worked wonders until false test results emerged. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Can Meeting Street Academy Fix Charleston County's Failing Schools?

This 2015 chart is impressive. It shows how much students at three Meeting Street Academy Schools--one on Meeting Street, at Brentwood, and in Spartanburg--have exceeded expectations. Now hopes are that its program will be replicated at another problem school, Burns Elementary.  If these results continue, Academic Magnet may have found its feeder schools.

It's a private-public partnership that takes money from the Charleston County School District but also helps itself to private funds. Of course, more money helps to fund "two teachers per classroom, an extended school day and school year, and an in-house crew of therapists and social workers"--including a speech therapist and doctor of clinical psychology. 
Sarah Campbell

Principal Sarah Campbell comes to Brentwood a seasoned employee of KIPP schools, with an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school (Brown) and an advanced degree in Business Administration. Let's face it--that's not the usual background for CCSD principals.

On the other hand, what happened to the previous teachers at Brentwood? Any still there? And what will happen to the present Burns Elementary teachers? Meeting Street makes its own curriculum decisions and can hire and fire teachers without the oversight of CCSD's superintendent. That power isn't necessarily bad, but you do have to wonder if more of the district's schools should be run this way, then the role of the school board is reduced. 

Superintendent Postlewait will be one of three on the executive board, which includes Campbell and bankroller Navarro. She's asking for an extra $5000 per student from the district for the start-up at Burns. That's clear enough, but what's not clear is the total expenditures per year per child including private money. Let's hope Navarro doesn't tire of doing good.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Holding School District Employees Accountable in CCSD Budget Shortfall

Will it actually happen? Will the Charleston County School District auditors find that certain individuals mishandled funds? The problem is bureaucracy: how can individuals be held accountable? Too long we've heard the mantra, "Mistakes were made," thus laying the blame on no one.

James Winbush, at present an Associate Superintendent in CCSD, thinks his close association with ex-superintendent McGinley has targeted him for the blame in mishandling of "private donations he received in support of community  projects." Postlewaite ostensibly told the school board that $40 to $50,000 was "unaccounted for." Also, the Innovation Zone Learning Community that Winbush oversaw "overspent its budget for an extended-year program by $200,000. 

Here is an example of what taxpayers suspect wrong with the district's finances. Winbush may well have had the best interests of students at heart. The milieu at the Taj Mahal did not expect good bookkeeping or staying within budget.

Such practices end up as a $18 million shortfall. Will Winbush claim that "everybody was doing it"?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Due Diligence Needed to Raise SC Dropout Age to 18

Former Charleston County guidance and career counselor Mark Epstein feels "hit in the gut" and "smacked in the nose" after the SC Department of Juvenile Justice raised objections to increasing the minimum high school dropout age to 18. Epstein has been vocal in Charleston County in praising the effects of raising that age from 17. According to sponsors, the purpose of the change is to "give parents another tool" to encourage their children to stay in school.

Here we have another clear example of intent versus consequences. Who doesn't want students to stay in school for as long as possible and/or until graduation. Epstein and the bill's sponsors in Columbia failed to explore fully other consequences of raising the age.

It's all very well to express shock over opposition from Juvenile Justice attorneys, but "setting a tone" is not the same as fixing a problem without creating others. According to attorney Elizabeth Hill, "If the dropout age is increased to 18, truants 'would fall under no one's jurisdiction--making it harder to enforce the law.'"

Maybe someone should have carefully reviewed all ramifications before now.