Sunday, May 31, 2009

CCSD Ignores Policy Regarding Buist Admissions

Policies that CCSD staff appear to have disregarded govern the admissions process to the magnet schools, including Buist Academy. Thanks to the yearly turbulence over those "winning" entrance to Buist Academy, especially those falsely representing themselves as living downtown in District 20, in January of 2007 CCSD codified a policy:
"Applicants must certify as follows: 'Under penalty of perjury I certify that, as primary caregiver of my applicant child: A) the residence, which is the subject of this application is my legal residence and my domicile, the place where I and the student actually live at the time of this application and that I do not claim to be a legal resident of a jurisdiction other than Charleston County...'"
[To read the full PDF document as adopted, go to Policy Assessing Legal Residence and Domicile on CCSD's website.]

If ever there were clear evidence that CCSD ignores its own policies, we have it this year. What part of the policy allows a Berkeley County resident participation in the application process to enter the kindergarten class at Buist for the 2009-10 year?

When contacted, CCSD's attorney John Emerson admitted no knowledge of such a policy: as he put it when contacted, "Dr. Gepford tells me you contend that policy requires that residence has to be established at the time of application to magnet schools. Can you tell me which policy you rely on?"

Pathetic, or what?

The response of the querying District 20 resident was as follows:
"It is unfortunate that community volunteers are required to show well-paid professionals in public administrative offices how to find copies of public policies that have been central to such a high profile issue. Or is this just another example of official obfuscation?"

"CCSD's unofficial policy seems to be designed just to stonewall the public with the hope they will simply go away. The magnet school admissions policies are clear." [see above]

"There is no excuse for what can only be described at best as administrative incompetence on CCSD's part. If this error is proven, considering the potential damage committed against the rights of others who depend on the admissions process involving Buist Academy and all other CCSD schools being administered fairly and equitably,
reprimands are in order."

"As for the school-based administrator who chose to shepherd this application,
considering this is the latest in an extensively documented pattern of abuse, termination is overdue."
Blame for this fiasco must remain squarely on the shoulders of Nancy McGinley and the administrators at Buist Academy that she supports.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SC "Weeding" and Waste in CCSD

What do these books have in common (besides the infamy of being dumped for recycling by media specialists at North Charleston High School? [See the P & C Watchdog's Books Found in Trash]
  • Words to Rhyme With--original copyright 1986; new edition 2006 costs $20.
  • The Encyclopedia of Mammals--original copyright 1984; new three-volume edition 2006 costs $325.
  • The Encyclopedia of Birds--copyright 1985; new copies available for $25.
  • Supernatural Fiction Writers--copyright 1985; two-volume edition 2002 "supplementing but not replacing" the first two-volume edition costs $265.
Each is more than 20 years old!

Why, we can't tolerate that here in South Carolina. Imagine our high school students trying to read books that are older than they are. What is this world coming to? Next thing you know, North Charleston High School will be on the Corridor of Shame.

Clearly to avoid contamination, yellowing pages, or outdated ideas we need to set up book-burning services. That way these noxious copies won't fall into the evil hands of (shudder) homeschoolers like Ranie Jordan. Is it too late to use the North Charleston incinerator? Call Fahrenheit 451.

The ignorant masses haven't yet learned what librarians (excuse me, media specialists) know from their training: old is bad; new is good. The process is called "weeding," since old books are equal to weeds.

So we must ask the question: if half the incoming class can't read beyond a third-grade level, is it better to replace 20-year-old books or to spend the funds elsewhere?

That is the real story. That these ended up being discarded inappropriately? Look at the described bureaucratic hassle set up after the last fiasco. Don't bet good money that no other still usable books received the dumpster treatment in CCSD this year.

Now, about that tax increase for the school budget. . . .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CCSD Budget Opaque as Usual

Transparency refers to an environment in which the objectives of policy, its legal, institutional, and economic framework, policy decisions and their rationale, data and information related to monetary and financial policies, and the terms of agencies’ accountability, are provided to the public in a comprehensible, accessible, and timely manner.
That's the definition posted on line by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). As you can see, by this measure the Charleston County Schools Superintendent, her policy-making and budget, and the CCSD School Board share an obvious lack of transparency in virtually every way!

Of course, the opacity of CCSD's budget process and result is hardly new, as anyone attempting to follow the process has already discovered. Despite promises to the contrary, including promises from new board members, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."[the more things change, the more they stay the same.]

The budget about to be unveiled to the public does not include the school level breakout requested (and promised!) for many years. Neither School Board members nor others can see to compare utility costs, administrative positions and transportation costs between comparable schools. There is also no coherent representation of these figures from previous years for each school.

Now we have a line item identified as "parochial, private and charter school" distribution. No doubt the new Catholic Bishop will be puzzling over that one, not to speak of the headmaster at Porter-Gaud! CCSD's charter schools are public schools; they are not parochial or private. If charter schools are so different from "regular" public schools, let's be consistent and use a similar breakout for magnet schools in Charleston County.

To add insult to injury, apparently Superintendent McGinley will ask the board to support creating an additional senior administrative position with this budget. Yes, you read that correctly. Another $100,000-per-year in salary and benefits for an educrat. In light of all the cuts to the classrooms countywide, is it wise to be adding administrative staff?

Finally, the combined millage being requested for the General Operating Fund and Capital Fund is the largest figure ever proposed in the history of CCSD. Further, as CCSD nears the end of its five-year capital fund cycle, its actual budget's exceeding $600 million represents a nearly 20 percent cost overrun from the original budget of $508 million.

Fed up yet? Call your School Board members to complain.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Need to Educate P & C Reporters Revealed

Sunday's article on what may have been the first memorial day dedicated to civil war soldiers [see The First Memorial Day] should pique the interest of all history-loving readers who realize that knowing the past is invaluable. Brian Hicks' article on the event taking place on May 1, 1865, in what is now Hampton Park may very well chronicle the first Memorial Day celebration ever, although most history books give that award to an event in New York one year later.

Hicks carefully documents that early Decoration Day while summarizing what happened after:

"A tradition began. Within 20 years, the name of this holiday would be changed to Memorial Day.

"In 1868, Confederate Memorial Day got its start. The two holidays were kept separate, allegedly because Southerners did not want to celebrate a holiday to honor Union soldiers. [allegedly?!] Blight [a Yale history professor] said the tradition of remembering soldiers and decorating their graves likely began during the war, when women visited battlefields after the fighting had ended.

"For the rest of the 19th century, Decoration Day and Confederate Memorial Day existed as separate holidays, perhaps a symbol of the country's lingering divide. The two holidays were combined and designated a federal holiday in the 20th century."

Someone needs to give Hicks (and presumably the editors of the "South's Oldest Daily Newspaper") a history lesson. You don't need to be an expert to know that in South Carolina, while both sides celebrate Memorial Day this weekend in remembrance of the valiant dead of all wars, the State still recognizes Confederate Memorial Day on May 10. Maybe Hicks doesn't read the papers.

More than that, in his history of the holiday's development, Hicks completely ignores another significant event in Charleston, memorialized by one of the most famous poems to originate from the Civil War, written for the June 1866 decorating of the graves of Confederate dead at Magnolia Cemetery on the Charleston Neck, not very far away from those graves at the race track. Henry Timrod's "Ode on the Confederate Dead" is still printed in high school American literature books, bowdlerized though they be. A line from Timrod's poem even graces the South Carolina monument at the Gettysburg battlefield: “There is no holier spot of ground than where defeated valor lies, by mourning beauty crowned.” The line refers to the laying of wreaths of flowers on the graves in Charleston, although it certainly applies to Gettysburg.

I'm also not sure what Hicks means by "Southern gentility was long gone" in May of 1865. Union troops were in control of the city, but not every Confederacy-supporting Charlestonian was dead or even removed from the city.

The article rightly provides a true example of the "richness" of Charleston's history, but let's tell all of the story.

Friday, May 22, 2009

CCSD's McGinley's Glass Half-Empty

To make up for its truth-telling on the illiteracy rate in CCSD's upcoming ninth graders, the P & C has exercised its right to put the best spin possible on the Charleston Teacher Alliance's survey of its teachers. [McGinley praised in teacher survey]

Here's the lead: "Some Charleston County teachers say Superintendent Nancy McGinley is doing a far better job of leading the school district than her predecessor." See what I mean? In other words, teachers see McGinley as an improvement over Goodloe-Johnson. Well, who wouldn't?

According to Kent Riddle, chairman of the Alliance, "McGinley has done more to reach out to teachers and let them know what's happening, and it's important to teachers to feel as if they're being treated as professionals." That's right. Public relations.

Riddle thinks that "She likely could have even higher scores if she did more to explain the way teacher input affected her decision-making." Easy, Kent, it doesn't!

Let's face it: what contact do most teachers have with the Superintendent? Not much. However, they do have contact with her emissaries, the Associate Superintendents. These important links in the chain of command are McGinley's choices. And what do teachers say about them?
"Associate superintendents, the liaisons between principals and the superintendent, received worse marks from teachers this year, and their scores continue to be among the lowest for any leadership group. Thirty-four percent said their associate superintendent was an effective leader while 40 percent said they weren't sure."
Given the survey's questions, teachers clearly were not asked to make the connection between McGinley's choice of these administrators and the teachers' poor estimation of their competence. Look at McGinley's response to their concerns: these aren't poor administrators; the teachers have a "perception issue regarding associate superintendents."
That calls for better public relations, of course.

Buried at the end of the article are two disturbing statistics:
"Riddle said areas of concern included the 29 percent of teachers who feared retaliation from the principal if they disagree on an issue or report a concern, and individual schools where less than 50 percent of teachers surveyed believe their school had a positive climate and working environment."[boldface mine]

McGinley plans to hunt them down: "
she promised to look closer at schools with low-approval ratings for their leaders."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Water-Is-Wet News: Buist Shenanigans Redux

Just when you thought it was safe to think that Charleston County's only countywide magnet school for K-8 was back on the straight and narrow in its admissions comes the latest outrage--selecting a student from another county from the District 20 list! Yes, that was no rumor.

Said student, whose parents live on Daniel Island in Berkeley County, was allowed to participate in this spring's lottery for next year's kindergarten slots. He must have been entered on the countywide, failing schools, and District 20 lists--why not? And he "won" a seat with the latter.

If your child were first on the waiting list and you actually lived in District 20, wouldn't you be just a tad upset?

Since the news has gotten out, the parents claim that they own an apartment downtown in District 20 that is at present rented out. When its lease is up in August, they plan to move in. Buist Academy will observe proper admissions policies, and pigs will fly.

Here we have an example of flouting of state law. After Buist's admissions policies made the national news a couple of years ago, CCSD put Doug Gepford in charge of oversight of admissions to all magnet schools. Gepford confirms there is a Berkeley County resident who is registered to attend Buist next year using a District 20 slot. According to one interested party,
"When asked what he plans to do about it, he said he couldn't do anything but monitor the situation. He said his hands were tied, as this was a 'board policy,' and until the board changed its policies, existing rules would allow this admission to take place. He further said he couldn't do anything about it this year, but the board might address this for 'future applicants' to attend Buist who might be admitted 'after next year.'"
What law is broken? "Any exception to extend rights to the other cannot result in the displacement of a rightful and true resident. The promise of future qualification by a non-resident still displaces a current resident." Add to that a presumption of financial leverage to facilitate taking of someone's place in line, and you have an additional problem.

We can all agree that this is just another example of why there is so little confidence in the administration's integrity and ability to lead.

Will the P & C follow up on this story? Too bad we can't get the national news to return.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What CCSD Does Well: Public Relations

It's true. That's why CCSD has five Red Carpet schools [Five Local Schools Get State Education Awards].

In fact, public relations takes up most of Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley's time. Take, for example, the latest public relations meetings on the school budget. Now, we know that they aren't named for their purpose, but what would be the fun in that?

Except that, strangely enough, this time out of the box McGinley seems to see these meetings as useless. She's not showing up. One interested constituent writes,
"I've attended the county's budget "hearings" so far at North Charleston Elementary, Baptist Hill HS, St. Johns HS and James Island Charter, [. . .] missing only Mt. Pleasant and McClellanville. All are carefully scripted dog and pony shows with Mike Bobby in the center ring. It seems odd that the CFO is being left to address everything from how increased class sizes won't hurt academic achievement to the value of seismic studies to be performed by "experts" from California."

"Superintendent McGinley attended only [one of the four]--the St. Johns meeting [. . .]. Even then she arrived late and left early, staying less than an hour of the hour and a half allotted. Her most memorable comment was to reassure those in attendance (half of whom were CCSD employees) the new programs proposed to address illiteracy in the schools would be as successful as other CCSD programs like MGAP. She didn't say anything about the A-Plus or CEP programs."

"[Here's] a well-intended but misdirected welcome sign that appeared at Baptist Hill. The Superintendent didn't see it. She wasn't there."
In other words, let CFO Mike Bobby take the heat. I'd like to think she's busy applying for other jobs, but probably she's just hiding in her bunker.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good Education News: We're Not at the Bottom

At last a measure of education that gives South Carolina a C instead of an F! Of course, that does not mean that CCSD was not dragging down its scores.

Three cheers for"the report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Battelle and the Biotechnology Institute. [. . .] South Carolina was listed with 10 other states in a third tier labeled “middling performance.”

Thanks to the Charleston Business Journal.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CCSD Students' Failure to Thrive

Can you hear me now?

Maybe what CCSD has done over the last 40 years should be prosecuted as a criminal conspiracy.

Believe it or not, some of us 40 years ago knew that social promotion, elimination of "tracking," and "special education"[note: I don't mean for those with true disabilities!] plus lax discipline promoted by the education establishment and swallowed wholesale by liberals on school boards would fail to teach a portion of students in any effective way. We just didn't know how bad it would get.
The P & C finally used its clout with CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley, forcing her to calculate grade-level equivalencies for the mysterious (to parents and the public) reading scores achieved by students on standardized tests, in this case the MAP--Measures of Academic Progress exam. (See Putting Focus on Literacy in Sunday's edition).

McGinley called the results "eye-opening," after she "initially said that looking at students' reading abilities in this way on a district level wasn't important." That's because it wasn't eye-opening to her; it was eye-opening to the rest of the community! If McGinley really didn't know in advance that the results would look as they do, she's even more incompetent than I thought.

One aspect the newspaper does fudge is the definition of "functionally illiterate." According to the article, that is "defined as reading below an eighth-grade level." Assuming that definition, would it not be appropriate to know what percentage of eighth graders read at grade level? After all, the standard high-school curriculum does not include reading classes. True, some high-school materials are available for the sixth-grade reading level; how many more of the remaining students will be unable to read those either?

Critics will shout that we don't have the same school population that we did 40 years ago. Who will disagree? However, look at the numbers again for non-reading incoming high school freshmen-- 46% at North Charleston HS; 39% at Stall; 43% at Burke. What do these schools have in common? It's the poor and black that are short-changed. They've been short-changed by their parents first and the schools second. What the article doesn't state, but what must be true is that almost all of these students are classified as "special ed."

Classifying someone as a special education student when he or she has no disability except a poor environment at home should be criminal. Laws and policies need to be changed. Once he or she is classified, discipline frequently dissipates, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed. Now imagine a class at least half-full of mainstreamed 14 and 15 year olds who cannot read and cannot be disciplined. Must be something like the tenth circle of hell.

No doubt McGinley will try to convince taxpayers that the solution is more tax money. She has already begun, if you read her comments carefully.

Also, "Some local school district officials said they never had looked at numbers [this] way because they hold little value for the district in terms of improving instruction." Not true.

What should happen now is retroactive number-crunching of MAP scores to see if reading rates have improved during McGinley's time as Chief Academic Officer and Superintendent. Why do I think this analysis isn't going to happen?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Dramatic" Step into the Past in CCSD

What seemed completely normal 50 or 60 years ago has returned dramatically: single-gender education. Now that virtually all schools at every level are co-ed, even the Citadel, the federal government has deemed that we may once again separate the sexes. [SeeMorningside Middle to Pioneer Dramatic Single-gender Program] I suppose that in another 50 years people will be pushing for co-ed education.

Of course, CCSD would not be making the effort without the threat of state takeover. NCLB strikes again!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers Are People in Literature

On this Mother's Day, as I contemplate all the ways in which I have been formed by my mother's love, I also think of some fascinating mothers from literature. Some ring true-to-life but are not so admirable; some are amazing. For example:
  • Gregor Samsa's ineffective and weepy mother in The Metamorphosis
  • Quentin Compson's whining, self-centered mother in The Sound and the Fury
  • Santha Rama Rau's dignified mother in "By Any Other Name"
  • that air-headed, dithering mother in Pride and Prejudice
  • mother Anna Karenina's desertion of her children
  • "esmiss Esmoore's"becoming a Hindu goddess in A Passage to India; and
  • who could forget mother Nora's door slam in A Doll House?
I'm sure many more interesting portraits belong on this list!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sham Scholarship Totals a Cautionary Tale

Congratulations are in order. Thanks to the Army's ROTC scholarship program, after graduating from Burke High School Sharnay Green will enter the Citadel with her college expenses fully paid. It's a wonderful accomplishment, but does it merit banner headlines above the fold of the P & C? [Half a Million in Scholarships] Of course not.

In their on-going PR campaigns, school districts all over the country participate in deceptive accounting practices. They lump financial aid and scholarships from all college financial aid packages into a meaningless total; then they multiply it by four (for four years of college) in order to impress numerically-challenged parents that their schools are doing a great job. If Green had applied to 16 ROTC programs instead of eight, her total would be even more impressive, but would it prove that she was a better candidate for college or that Burke High had better prepared her? Of course not. If she had applied to only two programs, you would be reading about another student!

The Charleston County School District's fooling around with numbers and the P & C's reaction should be a cautionary tale about numbers emanating from CCSD.

Friday, May 08, 2009

School Choice: Worth 1000 Words

At a Washington, D.C. rally for school choice.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Burke AP Academy = Honors Track

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

In this case, however, the name is reputation. In an effort to "rebrand" Burke High School, present Principal Charles Benton committed to an "AP Academy." [See AP Academy at Burke High School] and CCSD committed $250,000 to develop it. However, "The Charleston County School Board initially budgeted $250,000 for the new program, but the school received only a portion of that, which was enough to hire two extra teachers and provide bus transportation for its students."

Is there some reason why the P & C couldn't report how much of the original amount was spent this year? Well, Benton hoped for 100 students, so the budget must have assumed $2500 per student. Since only 30 enrolled (and 25 are left), at the same spending rate the program would have cost $75,000. It seems unlikely that two teachers and bus costs were that inexpensive, but maybe.

Frankly, I applaud the reinstituting of an honors track at Burke; I just don't see why it has to be a special program. I find it hard to believe that Burke didn't already have teachers who could teach at pre-AP level.

But $2500 per student!

Mr. Benton, how about your students (and you know you have them) who can't read? Where are the priorities?

Rescued? Can They Read?

Stupid or illiterate? Take your pick: 2 Teens Rescued from Breach Inlet.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Fluid" CCSD Budget Encourages Cynicism

Oh, wow! Look! Magically, the $28 million projected deficit in the Charleston County School District has become just $11 million, less than half of what it was two months ago. In case you think that the federal government has come to the rescue, let me assure you that playing with numbers to fool the taxpayer is all that's been going on here.

The P & C reports that CCSD's chief financial officer realized that errors were made in initial shortfall estimations used to hammer home the closing of five schools in the district. [School Budget Outlook a Little Brighter], or as Bobby puts it, "There's a tremendous amount of fluid information."

Nonsense. "Officials" made a calculated decision to pump up the deficit by deliberately underestimating tax revenues. That old game wasn't invented under Mike Bobby's watch; it's been going on for years. And Superintendent McGinley & Co. now trot out their dog-and-pony show with "eight budget hearings across the county this month to give an overview of next year's budget and to solicit feedback on what should be their top priorities." Oh, yes. They want to listen to you. Well, some of you.

CCSD officials believe they can bamboozle the public once again, and they probably will, due to what I would call "number fatigue"--the way CCSD presents its arcane budget is deliberately constructed to confuse all but the most conversant with accounting practices and accounting sleight-of-hand. William Safire calls this a "MEGO"--as in "My Eyes Glaze Over." Take, for example, the following observations by one watcher of the numbers:
"In a word, the CFA, just like the one before him, has presented erroneous data within a misleading context in order to prepare the public for a 5 mill tax increase. My charges are serious and they go to the heart of why our public institutions have eroding public trust. [. . .] CCSD officials have long counted on the public not being able to make heads or tail out of the budget. They are depending on the public wanting to support anything that sounds like it's good "for the children". I'm long past that when there has been no change for well over a decade."
"[Bobby was] using a lower 4% assessment when saying how low a "typical" taxpayer increase would be if the 5 mill tax increase [CCSD wants] is approved. Almost 2/3 of all properties are assessed at 6% including all rental properties. No 4% properties pay GOF school taxes. So why else would he have used a 4% calculation unless it was his intention to deceive the public? He had just explained the recent changes to state law diverting GOF taxation away from owner-occupied homes, so mis-statement was no accident."
Should we give Bobby the benefit of the doubt and assume that he must keep his job in order to feed his family? Otherwise, well. . .

Monday, May 04, 2009

Unnamed Schools Feed Alice Birney's Problems

Pardon me if I seem to harp on the effects of NCLB testing and ratings, but the reading program at Alice Birney Middle School touted in Monday's P & C would not be in place today if it were not for the school's multiple years of failing grades. [See You Can't Believe They Can't Read.', the second in a series on illiteracy in Charleston County.] CCSD would be going its merry way, mostly satisfying the middle-class suburbs and ignoring the poor.

The efforts of Principal Carol Beckmann-Bartlett and school psychologist Amber Brundage to remedy a train wreck in the making are admirable. According to the school, "Some Birney students can read only 20 [words per minute]. Some students don't know the difference between consonant or vowel sounds. Others concentrate so hard on understanding individual words that they don't understand what they've read at the end of a passage." That the two agreed the nonsensical approach of ignoring the obvious must end is to be applauded; however, why weren't such efforts made earlier in the education of these students?

The article misleadingly quotes national statistics on proficient readers to show that the school's problem is a national one. We're not dealing with proficient here, just satisfactory! If the problem is so widespread, let's see the statistics on Cario Middle.

Annoyingly, Courrege's article neglects to name the elementary schools that feed into Alice Birney. Is that too sensitive? Why wasn't it appropriate to go back to those principals to ask what happened to reading in their schools? Were they informed that students must be administratively promoted? Is that going to be the next installment? It should be!

Again, we have students who have been labeled as learning disabled who simply have an education deficit. Are you angry yet? And who believes lack of money is the problem?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Education Deficit Is Not a Learning Disability

It reads well. Has great human interest and good details. What I'm referring to is the first in a promised series of articles on functional illiteracy in Charleston County. [See Failing Our Students in Sunday's P & C.] This one addresses the plight of one student who attended Mitchell Elementary, Rivers Middle, Burke Middle, and Burke High School before dropping out. Because the article shows CCSD in such a poor light, Superintendent McGinley received an advance copy, one supposes, so that she could prepare her response [District Enhances Reading Instruction by Acting Early] for the same issue, a privilege apparently reserved for special friends of the paper's editors.

The truth is that readers never would have heard Ridge Smith's name (the student followed in the story) without the efforts of Pam Kusmider, recently chairman of the District 20 Constituent Board, not because she voted against the majority sending him on long-term suspension but because she cared enough to discover the poor reading skills that had affected his behavior. Kusmider should be lauded for her efforts to help Smith overcome his problems, but, judging from the battle she went through to do so, CCSD and McGinley probably wish they'd never heard her name.

We can all bemoan the lack of a father present in Smith's home, his grandmother's death, his mother's inability to focus on what happened to him as he moved from grade to grade. These are factors that made him a student at risk. They are also factors that no school system can remedy.

McGinley points out that's she's been Superintendent only for two years. True, and she was Chief Academic Officer for three years prior to that, during the time period when "Ridge left Mitchell Elementary School for Rivers Middle School as a seventh-grader in the fall of 2004. [. . .] He saw fights every day, and classmates brought guns to school." Wouldn't it be interesting to research McGinley's public comments regarding Rivers Middle at the time?

In her capacity as Chief Academic Officer, McGinley must have been involved in 2005 when "school officials recommended that he repeat seventh grade. His seventh-grade report card shows him being held back, and the school principal sent his mother a letter that said he would be held back.But Ridge was promoted to the eighth grade." Huh? Who made that decision?

When CCSD "moved Rivers Middle School students to the Burke High School campus in the fall of 2005, Ridge was part of the eighth-grade class involved in the change." And we all know how that one turned out--promises about A-Plus that were never fulfilled and the chaos that reigned--under McGinley's watch as Chief Academic Officer.

Ridge Smith does not have a "learning disability," although that's what officials must label his problem in order to get him assistance. To most of us, learning disability suggests that some innate defect in the student is the problem. This one is not innate. He has an education deficit. If you read between the lines of Courrege's article, it seems that at the end of fourth grade, thanks to caring and dedicated teachers, Smith had indeed made major strides towards remediation of his initial difficulties. As his fourth-grade teacher recalled, "

"More than halfway through Ridge's fourth-grade year, his reading skills ranked at an early third-grade level and his comprehension skills ranked at a late third-grade level. He could identify nouns but had trouble with verbs, adjectives, verb tense and subject-verb agreement. Wingard remembers Ridge reading fluently but struggling with comprehension.He thought Ridge's academic goals were attainable. Ridge always did what Wingard expected of him, and Wingard thought Ridge had a good, successful year. Ridge was administratively promoted to fifth grade."

What happened? Fourth grade is the point where, if reading skills have been mastered, knowledge of content begins to play a larger and larger role in comprehension. What we do know is that "He had academic plans [IEP's, as they are called] in fifth and sixth grades. Ridge was promoted to seventh grade." If the article is to be believed, Smith's reading progress stopped in the fourth grade. That lack of progress cannot be laid at the door of his grandmother's death. The buck stops with Mitchell's fifth and sixth-grade teachers, whom I suspect were inundated with students also reading at the third-grade level. How else to explain his eighth-grade science teacher's comments:
"He appeared self-conscious and uncertain as he read aloud in class, and he didn't understand what he read. Still, he didn't stand out from the class. Most of her students read on the same level as Ridge."
For sure, Burke Middle School was not an environment conducive to Smith's educational advancement. Ridge Smith is not alone in his failures and in the failure of CCSD to provide an environment that encouraged his advancement. I can well understand why his mother, a drop-out herself, assumed that "if he couldn't read, the school system would not have passed him from grade to grade." She trusted those more educated than she to do what was right.

Getting a GED is no walk in the park. Ask any student who has dropped out and attempted to get one. One hopes that Smith is motivated to do so for the sake of his son.

That brings up another point, one that the article glosses over. Smith is not married to the mother of his child. Why not? How old is she? Is she still in school? Will this sad story turn out to repeat itself with a single mother scrubbing floors and an absent father?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Water-Is-Wet News: Reading Important in High School

It is amazing what they discover these days. Take a gander at Reading Called Top Priority in Saturday's P & C. Reading comprehension is important in high school, so now the mandate goes out that high schools must fix students' reading problems.

I've no doubt that at least half of my reluctant readers (definition: will read only when life and/or passing-for-the-year is in danger) have poor reading comprehension. I've always done what I could to address their deficiencies, but, let's face it, high school is not the place to fix them. If it is, high schools have just become reduced to elementary schools!

Let's try teaching core knowledge as well as reading strategies in earlier grades. For the first two centuries or so of public education, that worked.