Friday, April 27, 2018

SC Disturbing Schools Law and the Police

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Are the police stationed in schools merely for protection from outside forces (that is, gunmen), or are they another disciplinary measure to be used by principals?

Legislators are again trying to change South Carolina's disturbing schools law into something that doesn't involve charging students with a crime. Does anyone else see the irony when all elementary schools in Charleston County are slated for their own police officers?

Original intent or not, what gives the law a bad press is lack of common sense on the part of principals and administrators and individual police. We've all seen the videos of excess and heard the horror stories regarding misunderstood children.

The Senate approved a bill last year that would have overhauled the law's scope. However, it stalled in the House after "the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association and 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette opposed the legislation, saying it should remain an option for officers."

"Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, said her proposal returns the law to its original intent, as approved in 1919 — to protect students from outside threats. Beyond applying only to non-students who come onto campus, her bill increases the penalty from up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail to a $2,000 fine and a year in prison."

A recent Letter to the Editor called this new approach into question. J.T. Foster questioned whether the law's opponents are in touch with "daily life in a school and the problems administrators, educators and school resource officers face." The writer points out that today's students not only violate rules but also perform criminal acts. Foster predicts that "Should the revised version of the statute pass, the defiant student who refuses the orders of administrators will rule. Legislators will find this out quickly as schools are already dealing with disciplinary problems spiraling out of control."

Should a couple of highly-publicized cases bring about a major change to the law--that students cannot be charged with a crime? 

Let reason prevail.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

CCSD Board's Lesson: Weapons in Schools Part 2

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Life isn't fair. 

That's the hard lesson that the Charleston County School Board has taught a student expelled from the School of the Arts. She drove her mother's car to school. It had a gun locked in the center console.

Does anybody else wonder how many guns are locked up (or not!) in cars parked or picking up students at Charleston County schools?

You betcha.

The Board has entered full grandstanding mode this month in response to furor over the latest school shooting. It refused the common sense of the relevant constituent board, deciding that it must make an example of this student.

Sending a message, so to speak.

If the incident had happened a couple of months earlier, this teen would be back in school after a suspension.

We get the message, all right: the Board is going to grandstand about guns until the next round of "national conversation" focuses elsewhere. This teen was in the cross hairs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Best Use of Police in CCSD's Elementary Schools

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Perhaps the Charleston County School Board should listen to the Police Department when it comes to safety in the city's elementary schools. After all, who's the expert here?

"Under the leadership of then-Chief Greg Mullen, the agency assigned 18 officers to a newly formed School Security Response Team. Working in geographic clusters across the city, those officers now provide security to 45 schools, including public elementary schools as well as private and charter schools that did not previously have officers."

"Rather than stay stationed at one school every day, the officers rotate constantly, in an unpredictable pattern meant to deter crime."

"Capt. Chito Walker, the department's West Patrol Division commander, said the SSRT approach has some advantages. It allows the department to protect all schools, not just the public ones. The officers on the team are highly trained in crisis response, stress inoculation and techniques that go beyond those of the average patrol officer. Perhaps most importantly, they're trained to work as a team."

The CCSD Board is simply grand-standing. Calls to do "something" about school shooters have beguiled them into pandering to pressure groups instead of following best practices.

Of course, outside of the city limits other concerns may prevail. Now CCSD will take on part of the cost already paid by residents of North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. To what purpose?

Better to send resources to outlying and rural parts of the district where the tax base is lower.

Don't second-guess the police!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Challenging Charleston County's Neighborhood Schools

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If your child is reading on grade level or above and the rest of his or her class is reading below that level, does that environment affect your child's advancement? Most parents will answer "yes."

Deborah J. Smith, principal of Mitchell Elementary School in Charleston, recently made a cogent case in her op-ed for the benefits of neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, her case shows that those neighborhood schools benefit the most those students who are "under-resourced."

George Orwell must be smiling down on the latest jargon to avoid saying "poor."

As Smith writes, 

"If a school population is composed mostly of children of poverty, it does not mean that they cannot learn. It just means we must build the background knowledge first. We do that by setting high expectations and teaching “bell to bell.” I see the teachers at Mitchell doing this daily. I see students who begin the year two years below grade level grow more than a year’s worth of knowledge."

"State tests are given on grade level, which means that even if a student has grown a year and a half, they will still be classified “not met” on the state exam requirements. Accountability is absolutely necessary when you measure the progress of a school, but you need to look at what you are measuring. When measuring growth, you will find that Mitchell is as effective as any Charleston County school — even those classified as magnet or choice."

The question Smith does not answer is whether the so-called "advanced" reader will see the same level of growth. Too many parents who desire an excellent education for their children have sat in classrooms as bored students while teachers presented material they already knew. Perhaps teaching has changed, but Smith will have a hard time convincing parents that it has changed that much.

Do some neighborhood schools such as Mitchell "offer sub-par educational opportunities" to "resourced" children?

That is the question that makes all the difference.

Friday, April 20, 2018

SC Media Campaign for Teachers Meets Headwind of Bad News

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It happened. 

The SC Education Department spent half-a-million dollars on an ad campaign to attract teachers that launched just days before the latest scores from national testing of fourth and eighth graders showed the state in free fall towards the bottom, bested even by Mississippi!

Well, you can't blame them for trying.

Some of you may be asking yourselves why it is that teacher shortages are appearing in South Carolina as well as across the rest of the country. Time for a history lesson.

Once upon a time (that's the twentieth century to you) virtually all female college graduates got teaching degrees, even when they weren't planning to teach.

Yes, children, you read that correctly.

What caused this universal desire to get a teaching certificate? The desire for employment. Most jobs requiring a college education traditionally were not open to women. Teaching was a natural fit for many who saw it as a stepping stone to marriage and children. Salaries could be lower because those who were married with children had another paycheck to rely on. Districts took advantage of the free market.

What happened? Demographics and changing attitudes towards female employment. Things were already changing by mid-twentieth century, but a strong cadre of female teachers had entered the profession and stayed. Then, as other avenues opened for college graduates, these teachers started retiring. 

It was a perfect storm.

Now many top students shy away from the low pay and sometimes dismal working conditions in our schools. Can you blame them?

The market will adjust. Salaries must rise. Working conditions must improve. When that happens, college graduates will again seriously consider teaching careers as a commitment instead of a fall-back position. 

I give it twenty years. Meanwhile, fasten your seat belts.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Letter Defends CCSD's School Lotteries Against P & C Bias

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It's amazing that this Letter to the Editor got published.

After the moaning and groaning highlighted over the Charleston County School District's magnet and charter schools, Joyce Green felt the need to respond. Good for her!

As Green cogently points out, no one would be worrying about lottery results if all of the district's schools were better:

"The truth is, with roughly half of all Charleston schools expected to be rated below average or unsatisfactory this year, choice schools represent the only acceptable option for many students."

"Under-resourced children shoulder the greatest share of this burden, as it is precisely those least able to afford private schools whose neighborhoods offer the lowest quality public education. Many parents are realizing that if they stick with their zoned schools, their children will be deprived of the American dream."

"It’s wrong to fault the schools that parents and students aspire to attend, rather than condemning the schools that most under-resourced kids are forced to attend."

Right on.

Let the editors and reporters send their children to failing schools. Not likely to happen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Police in Charleston County Schools?

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Nearly $2 million of the Charleston County School District's operating budget will go towards police in every school if this school board has its way. We must be rolling in money. 

Instead of putting another teacher in each school and cutting class sizes, our children will have an armed officer to look up to. 

Any money spent on police is money taken away from teaching. "Local municipalities and county government" will need to find cuts to services. Evidently we now need to pay for security at the Taj Mahal. Remember all those attacks on administrators?

I don't either.

Oh, yes. Add another staff member, this one to plan for emergencies at an additional cost of $90,000 per year.

The proposals enlarge the bailiwick of present security director Michael Reidenbach. After all, if you ask a bureaucrat for solutions, you get more bureaucracy. Why wouldn't planning for emergencies be his job?

School resource officer in every elementary school: $1,800,000

District search team: $305,000

Emergency planner: $90,503

Security personnel at district office: $50,000

Private relief officers for elementary schools: $238,000

Private security officers to provide security checks at middle and high schools: $238,000

24-hour security operations center: $167,000

Surely you jest?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Weapons in CCSD Schools? In SC No One Knows Whole Picture

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What's in that book bag?

Has any school principal ever rejoiced to find a weapon in his or her school? Hardly. That's why such events are "under-reported." The most serious problem, however, concerns the definition of "weapon." 

Anyone remember the little girl who got suspended for bringing a bread knife with her lunch?

For example, should we distinguish between a pocket knife and a gun? It's certainly true that a knife can be used as a weapon, but it just as easily can be used for non-violent purposes. 

That's not true of a gun.

Does it matter if a teen who hunts keeps his equipment in his car when at school?

"In December 2012, police arrested a 17-year-old student at Easley High School after finding a .22-caliber handgun, 200 rounds, two axes, knives, cuffs and a stun gun in his car. District officials said at the time that it appeared the student used the weapons for hunting and did not have plans to harm anyone." 

We can question the cuffs and even the stun gun, though the other equipment could be used in hunting.

"South Carolina schools say they found 1,000 weapons in 3 years — but reports are hazy and incomplete."

Is a slingshot in the same category as a pocket knife or a gun?

It certainly is aggressive but usually confers minor damage, leaving David and Goliath aside.

"At the very least, South Carolina can say that its schools found weapons on their campuses 1,089 times in the past three school years, while the types of weapons found were seldom guns." Some of them were slingshots. Who knows what else.

The Charleston County School District ranks second to Greenville in the number of weapons seized. However, Charleston County School District is also one of the largest districts in the state. The percentage per student would be incredibly more informative to parents. Greenville claims that seized knives outnumber other weapons by far.

"Currently, no schools in South Carolina are labeled persistently dangerous under the state's reporting standards. To avoid the scarlet letter effect of a 'persistently dangerous' designation, critics say schools tend to under-report — and states tend to set very high thresholds for the label."

As one expert put it, "But in real numbers, we typically have never known where that point is."

"Three years' worth of reports generated by the Education Department from . . . showed zero firearms confiscated in Greenville schools, despite multiple on-campus gun confiscations that made local news."

Not encouraging, is it?

Of the 88 firearms seized in the 2015-16 school year, only nine were in CCSD. That's about ten percent. Does CCSD have ten percent of the student population in the state? Were there really only nine guns found?

I doubt it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Loss of Federal Funds Brings Williamsburg School District Takeover

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It's a sad state of affairs when the South Carolina Department of Education takes over a school district because it's bleeding federal funds. Sad because (a) the district's schools have been failing since records have been kept; and (b) the district should have been forced to combine with another decades ago. We're talking about Williamsburg County, one of the poorest in a state with multiple poor districts. 

The district's students total about one Wando High School, and enrollment has continued to decline over the last decade. 

"The district's finances are in such disarray, the federal government forced the district to pay back $283,000 last year and to use an additional $368,000 to hire outside help on following federal spending and reporting requirements. Combined, that means the district lost about half of the federal money it would otherwise receive for students with disabilities — money that primarily pays for teachers."

"The district has been on notice since 2015 to fix the problems but has done little. Without drastic change, it will lose even more federal money, according to the state agency."

Its superintendent and school board are now toast. Spearman is threatening the rest of the district's staff with unemployment. Since the school district probably is one of the biggest employers in the county, things are looking grim for locals.

With $17,000 spent per student even the poorest district should have better results than this one.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

SC Blames Mississippi for Education Ratings Fall, Thanks New Mexico

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We've always been able to console ourselves with "Well, at least Mississippi is worse," when it comes to educational statistics. 

Mississippi has done the unthinkable: passed South Carolina on the "Nation's Report Card."  South Carolina is still reeling from the news, especially since its Department of Education just released a half-a-million-dollar campaign to convince everyone that its schools really aren't so bad.

We don't have Mississippi to kick around anymore. 

No longer can educators say that it's just poverty and race that determine who falls to the bottom on these measures. Time for some soul searching on the part of educrats. 

For sure, federal meddling in South Carolina's schools hasn't helped. Importing citizens from other states hasn't either. What's next?

The push for more pre-k funding is a non-starter. Case after case has revealed that early intervention fades by fourth grade, just the point when students are tested in this case. No, what's really needed is parental intervention. Want a preview of what that can do? Look to Meeting Street Schools. Its staff will explain that having a responsible parent or guardian involved makes all the difference. 

Maybe the Guardian Ad Litem program needs to be expanded to our failing schools for those students whose families refuse to engage.

At least we'll always have New Mexico. We hope.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In CCSD, Middle-school Choice Makes All the Difference

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Show me a middle school that doesn't have problems, and I'll show you a movie set! All parents can hope for is a middle school with fewer problems than others. Problems occur in academics, discipline, and curriculum. In fact, dedicated middle-school teachers deserve the front row in heaven.

So it's disappointing that our local reporters seem to miss the importance of this linchpin of educational success. Their recent stories on the horrors of school choice blurred the distinction between getting into the elementary school of choice and getting into the middle school of choice.

One such example put forth really deserves a second look. A straight-A fifth-grader at E.B. Ellington Elementary in its Advanced Studies program (whatever that means) was wait-listed at three middle schools his parents chose. He's zoned to attend Baptist Hill Middle/High next fall.

Now, we can say all sorts of good things about Baptist Hill, which certainly would hope to draw students such as this one, but the reality is that the academics are stuck at a much lower level than the schools he hoped to attend, such as Buist.

"Last he checked, he was No. 43 on the waiting list at Buist and No. 15 at Haut Gap Middle. C.E. Williams Middle? Somewhere in the 90s."

Probably some will say that's what he gets for living in Ravenel, but why should that be true? The district created the Advanced Studies program at his elementary school to keep students coming. What have they created at that end of the district so that he can continue on an advanced level in middle school?

Nothing. Guess there aren't enough voters in his end of the district.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Letter of Reality on CCSD: It Takes a Family, Not a Village

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A recent Letter to the Editor blamed "disparities in local schools" on the family.

Marc St. George of Summerville pointed out correctly that, "until parents take ownership of this issue the numbers will never improve." Actually, the excellent results posted by Meeting Street Schools back up his claim: the schools it runs demand a responsible parent or guardian remain involved with each student. 

Therefore, the point arises that the Charleston County School District should require the same!

That means penalties will hit parents who refuse to engage. But shouldn't that be the case anyway? Who is ultimately responsible for the student? Certainly not the teacher, principal, or the district staff. 

What should those penalties be? If parents won't or can't look after their children, maybe those children should be taken by Child Protective Services. Isn't failure to engage in your child's education child abuse?

Time to get tough, before another generation fails.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Band Bites SC's PE Requirement? Yay!

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The Physical Education lobby is alive and well in South Carolina, even though PE's original purpose has morphed. PE began in response to the poor physical health of World War I recruits. Now its rationale has become obesity among children and teens. At least we're not New Jersey, which requires four years of this torture. 

Tell me, has anyone ever "develop[ed] life-long healthy habits" because of PE class? Yeah, right.

Yes, torture, except for the athletes among us, and they don't need PE. Many victims are old enough to remember those ugly and ill-fitting gym suits foisted upon us.

Even though Sen. Vince Sheehan has many unlikeable ideas, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. His sponsorship of Senate bill 302 should be welcomed with open arms. What's that? Using band to fulfill the PE requirement. Considering that PE can now be completed on-line (!!!), why not fulfill the requirement with marching?

Let's hear it for the band!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Can SC's Teachers Be "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet"?

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Don't take that headline the wrong way! 

Only Superman can fulfill that role; forget school shooters.

No, one nonprofit believes that casting teachers as heroes will alleviate the teacher shortage plaguing our schools. S.C. Future Minds hopes to lure teachers in the same way as Marines. Some might say that in a few schools teachers need the same skill set as Marines, but that's not what this nonprofit's new marketing campaign is about.

"What if, instead of seeing teachers as overworked, underpaid and unappreciated, we viewed them as heroes, recognized their sacrifices, and rewarded their hard work?"

“'If we think of how we encourage people to go into difficult careers, like the military, people who sign up know it’s not going to be a cakewalk,' [director Caroline Mauldin] said. To . . . push this idea of teachers as heroes, Future Minds started a campaign last year to profile and recognize publicly the teachers of the year from each district."

“'It’s modeled on Humans of New York,' Mauldin said. 'We write a little story about why they became a teacher, what’s the hardest part of the job, and then we share those with the community and on social media. The response has been extraordinary.' Since the beginning of the school year, the #TeacherHero campaign has encouraged students and parents to honor their favorite teacher by describing what makes them a hero. 'It’s a low-cost way to spotlight these teachers,' Mauldin added."

Why do American teachers receive so much less respect than their counterparts in Europe and Asia? That might be a good research project for SC Future Minds.  

CCSD's School Choice Stress Reveals District's Weaknesses

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Would anyone really care about magnet schools if all schools in the Charleston County School District were equal in quality?

Okay, I'll give you Academic Magnet, but I'm really thinking about the elementary schools where it all begins. Can we focus on them?

You see, it all began with Buist Academy. Now, Buist has a somewhat checkered history in regard to the fairness of its lottery and secret waiting lists. Actually, that situation has improved in transparency as the number of magnets has risen.

Even so, long-time watchers of CCSD still wonder why no Buist II has ever appeared.

"Applications for seats in Charleston County School District's public magnet, charter and Montessori schools have more than tripled since 2015, while the number of seats in those schools has stayed roughly the same. A record 6,035 students submitted 12,991 applications for 2,339 available seats via the district's online school choice system this year, often applying to several schools at once. Most schools conducted a lottery to determine who would get the available seats."

Too bad the reporter couldn't give readers a breakdown by elementary, middle, and high schools, instead relying on vignettes regarding individual students. Where the emphasis should be is on the elementary schools. It's a sad fact that too many students in "failing neighborhood schools" do not receive the foundation to thrive at a magnet middle school. In one story, "friends gasped when [a couple] decided to send [their daughter] to preschool at the traditional public school in their attendance zone, Chicora Elementary. Beyond the stigma of a high-poverty school in a crime-troubled neighborhood, the Akerys say they love the teachers at Chicora."

So, naturally they applied to Buist for kindergarten. Their child is on the waiting list.

Believe it or not, this mother thinks "It's crazy . . . that we have a school system where parents are so worried about where their kids are going to go to school." 

As though it wouldn't make any difference.

Let's face it. School choice frees families from stretching to live in the most expensive neighborhood possible. That was the old way of ensuring that your child attended a good elementary school.

This is the new way.

Get over it.

Changes In Charleston County's Educational Disparity

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Systemic change in three years is asking for the moon. That's the bottom line on the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative’s (TCCC's) fourth annual report. The status quo remains unacceptable.

"According to the report, 48 percent of all third-graders in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties last year met grade-level standards on their state-mandated reading assessment and 57 percent met grade-level standards in math. Scores were worse in the eighth grade, where 45 percent and 40 percent of students, respectively, met grade-level reading and math standards."  

"But those numbers conceal wide gaps in performance among white students and students of color. For example, just 26 percent black third-graders and 30 percent of Latino third-graders met grade-level expectations in reading, compared with almost two-thirds of white third-graders. Similarly, 37 percent of black third-graders and 43 percent of Latino third-graders met grade-level math expectations, unlike 72 percent of their white counterparts."

Barbara Kelley-Duncan, former CEO of Carolina Youth Development Center and current member of TCCC's Board of Directors, stated that these statistics prove that "'Our poor and minority children, they do not have equal access. They do not get an equal education.'"

You must ask the question, what is "an equal education? Does that mean equal outcomes?

What we really don't know is what the disparity was fifty years ago when Dr. King was assassinated. We simply lack those statistics. We also know that fifty years ago many poor and minority children weren't even in school. We also know that, despite the best efforts in single-parent families, students without two parents swell the ranks of those who lack achievement on grade level. Meeting Street Academy has shown the gap can be narrowed with the cooperation of parents and extra resources.

TCCC's three major goals are exactly what is needed to improve outcomes:

(1) raising teacher pay, 

(2) providing transportation to students who attend charter schools and 

(3) reforming Act 388, a controversial 2006 state law that exempts homeowner-occupied homes from the property taxes that fund school operations.

Actually, these should be listed in reverse order of importance!

Surely no one beams at the statistic that only 40 percent of high school graduates are prepared for college-level work!