Thursday, January 31, 2019

To Our State Legislature and CCSD: Focus on Parents to Improve Education

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Frank Leister's Letter to the Editor, "Parents make the difference for students," should be required reading for all concerned with improving educational outcomes in South Carolina. As he posits below, all the money in the world will not budge those scores without major changes in how schools recruit the help of parents and inspire students to desire to learn.

"A Jan. 28 letter to the editor correctly pointed out that funding for schools has little or no effect on student achievement. More money for South Carolina students over the years did not result in higher achievement.

What does have a positive impact on achievement is parental involvement and expectations. For many years I headed a team that worked with school districts and schools on technology and later consulted with schools on the same. I also served on multiple district and school committees and a few at the state level.

No superintendent thought class size made a difference. All the teachers were more than competent to teach. New buildings or technology made little or no difference.

Parents did make a difference.

When parents expect their child to learn, to behave, do the work and make school their responsibility, achievement soars. For this to occur the family needs stability. That comes from jobs that provide parents the time to review school work, attend parent-teacher meetings, support school functions and discipline their children when behavioral problems surface.

This is a long-term fix — maybe as long as a generation or two to develop a solid economy that underpins good jobs.

Spending large sums on initiatives that don’t boost achievement simply lowers the standard of living through increased taxes while lulling everyone into complacency for a few years with no improvement until the next alarm goes off to improve education by increasing funding.

What can we do in the interim while building the structure for good families? Bring back recognition and shame.

Recognition should go to students who do well and their parents.

Public shame should descend on parents whose students fail to respect their school, its teachers and staff and under achieve. Yes, that may seem harsh, but it is less harsh than releasing unprepared students into the world.

The path to success is getting an education, getting a job, getting married and having children, in that order. It all starts with education and that starts with students striving to learn and parents setting expectations and following up.

Frank Leister
Archdale Street

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Attacking "Minimally Adequate" Wording Not a Fix for Education

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State Superintendent Molly Spearman wants to change the goal of South Carolina's education system to read more than "Minimally Adequate." We can change all the wording we want, but let's be honest: the system isn't delivering minimally adequate. If it was, there wouldn't be so many complaints.

Reality check: adequate IS adequate. What we're delivering now to too many students, especially the poor and black, is inadequate education. 

Yes, teachers need more pay. They certainly deserve better working conditions and more respect. 

Changing the wording may make us feel good. It will have zero effect on educational outcomes.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Want Diversity in CCSD? Simply Provide Busing for Charter Schools

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"East Cooper Montessori Charter School. . . ranks among the most segregated in the state, with 89 percent white enrollment as of last school year." 

Trying to imagine poor black parents getting their children to I'On for school, it's easy to see how that imbalance happened. Now that the district has done an about-face on allowing charter schools to use CCSD properties, the former Whitesides Elementary building presents less of a challenge, but what if you don't possess a car or if your job interferes with dropping off your child? What if you really don't understand this "Montessori" business anyway. 

The Charleston County School District is throwing money at this problem: "In a unique arrangement, the district kicks in about $216,000 per year to fund 32 seats in a prekindergarten program for three year olds. As a condition for that funding, East Cooper sets aside 40 percent of its 3- and 4-year-old seats for students from families eligible for SNAP food stamp benefits." The needle has moved from 1 percent to 5 percent black. The sending district is 38 percent black. 

That's too slow. Maybe in a decade the school will satisfy the state's law that "charter schools’ enrollment figures may vary from the racial percentages of their school district or 'targeted student population' by no more than 20 percent."

What a school called Midlands STEM did would help more. Its Board chairman "sent a letter to each of the 120 churches in Fairfield County asking permission to speak to their congregations. Of the seven that responded, six were predominantly black churches. . . He also knew transportation would be an obstacle for some. . . .Midlands STEM uses part of its per-pupil funding from the state to hire a school bus contractor. . . . [The Board chairman] went door-to-door at a largely black apartment complex in the county and now runs a bus there to pick up students."

You don't need much imagination to see that a similar plan would result in more diversity at the East Cooper Montessori Charter School. Time to get busy--and get busing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

#1 Those Pesky Statistics Reveal Charleston County Schools' Woes

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Remember the good old days? When reports put South Carolina at the bottom of some achievement list, we could always count on Mississippi and Alabama to bring up the rear. When it comes to educational achievement, we don't have them to kick around anymore.

What looks even worse for the Charleston County School District is the enormous gap that exists between its best and worst performing schools. The gap is yet another example of unintended consequences: acts done with good intentions that have unexpected bad effects. That pretty well sums up the forty or so years that the consolidated district has existed. 

Twelve months ago the CCSD Board of Trustees set three goals for the district: "ensuring every student reads by grade 3, developing and retaining talent, and more equitably distributing resources across the district." It offered up a damning statistic: "Our bottom five elementary schools have only 7 percent of their students reading on grade level." 

Just pause to think about of the consequences for the middle schools those students will attend. 

In response, Superintendent Postlewait began a push for diversity. She must believe that spreading out the 93 percent of students in the bottom five elementary schools who aren't reading on grade level is the way forward. Wouldn't it be simpler to gear up the buses and close those five schools? Then each of the remaining elementary schools would take its fair share. That's what Nancy McGinley did.

Yes, I'm being facetious. Still, it's unclear how diversity will cause those students to read on grade level. On the other hand, Meeting Street Schools' resources and methods seem to be doing just that. We were told that we needed several years of data before concluding that MSS was really working. Does anyone now believe that it isn't? So why hasn't the school board tried to replicate its success? Sour grapes?

Incentive bonus pay to teachers who teach in the failing schools? Principal shuffling? Image consultants? Nibbling around the edges.

It's past time to acknowledge that educating the "under-resourced" costs more than educating the "resourced." Attempting to equalize funds spent on each is a fool's errand. Just ask Meeting Street Schools.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

#2 Coalition for Kids Dashes Hopes for Radical Change in CCSD

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It sounded so promising. 

When Charleston's Coalition for Kids announced its plans last July, its powerful, wealthy, and politically-connected members promised to bring serious change to the Charleston County School Board. Its director Josh Bell promised the purpose of the group was to "enact real, transformative change in the Charleston County School District." Former principal Liz Alston promised to look for "more members who have experience as educators" who are knowledgeable about our schools.

Then in the fall, the Coalition endorsed the incumbent Board members running for reelection. 

The Coalition's early support of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers should have been a warning that the group formed to (a) support Gerrida Postlewait; and (b) continue business as before. 

In hindsight, former Board member Chris Fraser's remarks bear repetition: “'By its very nature we have people in the room that are not cohesive, if you will, with moving the ball forward.'” You see, Fraser wishes the Board to cohere, if you will, to whatever the superintendent desires, with little blow-back. That was his goal when a member not so long ago. Fraser wants people who think like he does. His worst nightmare would be actual experienced educators from the district such as Paul Padron and Jake Rambo, who might know enough about what really goes on.

The Coalition for Kids stomped all over the opposition with its deep pockets. In fact, more money was spent on re-electing the incumbents than has ever been spent on a CCSD school board election before. I'd like to think that some of those who signed on to its initial mission have become disillusioned, but they're not talking.

We can expect this gorilla to throw its weight around during the next round of school board elections as well. How can single candidates ever prevail against this "deep state" money machine?

Friday, January 11, 2019

#3 Time to Ditch the Charleston County School Board?

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The Medical University and Joint Base Charleston employ by far the largest number of workers in Charleston County. However, the number employed by the Charleston County School District is only slightly smaller than that of number three, Boeing. Probably the Charleston County School District doesn't have the fourth largest budget in the county, but its spending has a major impact on our economy. That's why the district needs proper supervision, just as the aforementioned already enjoy. 

Who supervises the superintendent of the Charleston County School District? Who approves the budget proposals of that superintendent? Who has the authority to hire, evaluate, and fire if necessary that superintendent? Here in Charleston County the answer to all those questions is, the elected Board of Trustees, or school board. 

It's not working. It most likely hasn't worked well since the seventies when the consolidated district was formed. We have more than forty years of failure to address serious deficiencies in local education, the result of myriad decisions made by hundreds of elected school board members. As it exists today, the system rots at the core.

The following have gutted the power of the elected board to supervise effectively:

  • no qualifications required to serve
  • no vetting by party, political or otherwise
  • members elected on a countywide basis
  • no remuneration for long hours of work
  • no investigative coverage of candidates by local media
Maybe this system worked well in the era of the one-room schoolhouse, but in this era of multi-million-dollar football stadiums, it is about as useful as the pot-bellied stove.

Unfortunately, the result is that the rich and powerful carve out their own agendas. Special interests see to it that their interests are met. The superintendent encourages flunkies to run for election. The so-called district representatives don't represent the needs of their districts. When presented with financial budgets, the typical board member who knows nothing about finance or reading a budget must kowtow to the chief financial officer and superintendent. The superintendent is more than happy to view a board that knows nothing about education or handling millions of dollars. The board's yearly evaluation of the superintendent becomes a joke, with the board's handing more and more power to the superintendent. 

Who supervises the superintendent? No one. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#4 in CCSD: The Principle of Principal Shuffling

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In an attempt to appear proactive, Superintendent Postlewait chose to shuffle Charleston County School District principals as though they were a deck of cards. She's still feeling the repercussions and ill-will her ill-advised actions stirred up. It was not a tempest in a teapot, nor will it be forgotten. 

Maybe Postlewait didn't like the principals she inherited, but changes in principals is yet another reason that teachers leave. She should know that. Once upon a time, a principal would stay in the same school until retirement, earning the love and affection of decades of teachers, parents, and even students. Such was the case with E. Bernard Hester, long-time principal at St. Andrews Parish High School. Every principal has faults, but his strengths produced a cohesive and proud student body. 

Imagine if the superintendent had transferred him to, say, the High School of Charleston! You think the French Revolution was bad?

Famously, Jake Rambo refused to leave his post and then quit the district. We don't need to lose good principals like that. In another ridiculous move, Paul Padron, who worked wonders at Haut Gap was kicked upstairs to an administrative position at the Taj, from which he retired. Another great principal lost. 

But we grieve for Sanders-Clyde. We could grieve for Sanders-Clyde on so many levels, but enduring five different principals in seven years is just adding insult to injury. Not one was at the helm long enough to provide stability with serious change. When its community spoke up in favor of Rashon Bradley last May as he completed a successful first year, the superintendent rejected their calls for his continued leadership.  Instead, Janice Malone, former Dunston principal, took her seat on the merry-go-round. Is it merely coincidence that the Marvin Gethers fiasco took place under her supervision?

What we do know is that each shuffle costs money, about $30,000. We also know that schools need stable leadership to prosper. Evidently, our superintendent either doesn't care or doesn't know. 

Apathy or ignorance, take your choice.