Friday, January 31, 2014

CCSD Takes Common Core Dog-and-Pony Show to Community

At least the Charleston County School Board reduced the $15,000 that Superintendent McGinley proposed to spend on Common-Core community meetings by two thirds!

Let me predict how these dog-and-pony shows will go:

  • administration will pack the audiences with district employees who support the program;
  • the superintendent and/or her assistants will present a Power Point program touting the many benefits of Common Core, especially its so-called emphasis on critical thinking;
  • audiences will be encouraged to break into groups of six to eight facilitated by a member of administration to voice their concerns;
  • any questions for the superintendent will be vetted in advance and the time for them limited severely.
Let's see if I'm correct. McGinley claims she hasn't made up her mind on the Common Core.

Don't you believe her.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

CCSD Teacher Buy-Ins to Value-Added Measures Need Critical Thinking

Two Charleston County fifth-grade teachers heading up a teacher "workgroup" of introducing the BRIDGE program district wide had their say earlier this week on the paper's op-ed page. Here's part of what Samantha Blake and Erin Cymrot had to say:
"Perhaps the most controversial component of BRIDGE is the use of value-added measures (VAM).
Many media outlets contend that VAM is unreliable and demand that it be removed.
Currently when school report cards are published, the public gets a limited view of a school's achievement. This is based largely on the percentage of how many students passed or failed a standardized test.
What's missing is that, by evaluating achievement as pass or fail, we are not recognizing the hard work of students who make growth. VAM focuses on measuring student growth from one year to the next, no matter where that student starts academically at the beginning of the year.
The unique component of VAM is that it also accounts for factors affecting student learning, such as attendance, poverty or learning disabilities."

If VAM accounts for "factors affecting student learning" such as poverty, it's unlikely to expect more learning by poor students; rather it will expect less.

FYI: this idea used to be called the "soft racism of lowered expectations."

Despite these teachers' saying that "media outlets" are the negative influences on VAM, the really negative comments have come from academics and districts that have actually implemented the program. The idea of VAM comes from economic production. Students are not mindless products.

CCSD comes late to the party, late enough that results have already shown the uselessness of this fix-all.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Deficiencies of Common Core Geometry

Unlike most English teachers, I loved math, in fact double-majored in it. Analytic geometry was one of my favorite courses, and who can forget proving theorems? For most high-school students, it is their first introduction to logic. 

Now it turns out that the designers of Common Core standards for geometry think the latter is nonessential. Here's what Diane Ravitch reports in her blog:

Roy Turrentine writes:
I would like to relate my experience with Common Core. I am a classroom teacher in Tennessee. I have advocated more rigor in education for over thirty years.
In Geometry,which is my main focus, Common Core seeks to unite the Cartesian approach and the traditional approach to the topics studied. The unfortunate aspect of this approach is twofold.
First, the development of the traditional Euclidian approach to Geometry goes back to Euclid himself. His uniting of these concepts created a body of knowledge that has remained intact for centuries. Common Core essentially rejects topics that may only be approached in a Euclidian fashion. Not that they say this. To read the standards you wouldn’t think so. But all the testing depends on the Cartesian approach.
Due to this approach, and due to the nature of the testing, only topics that may be approached in the Cartesian manner are treated. Teachers will surely be teaching less, not more. This brings us to the second point. High stakes testing will restrict teachers to practicing in a very specific way. In our training in Tennessee,the emphasis is more on technique in the classroom than it is on what is to be taught.
Those of us who teach in high schools across America have long desired rigor. To go to meetings where people seem to feel that this rigor is their idea is nothing short of insulting to those of us who have been trying to unite the disciplines for decades. Every good teacher knows what the ideal is. We have been trying to do this for all of our careers. Having Bill Gates give me his opinion does no one any good. Having his opinion become national policy will not serve anyone.
Roy Turrentine
No doubt Cartesian (analytic) geometry is easier to test on computer. After, it's all about testing, right?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sick and Tired of CCSD Half-Truths in the P & C

Having read the story in Sunday's paper concerning payments to fired teachers in excess of $150,000, a person must assume that the reporter (or editor) desires for the elected Charleston County School Board to appear as slacker idiots. Nowhere in the article does she mention that it was CCSD administration's decision to defer hearings that began the "rubber room" salary status of five tenured teachers who were not given contracts.

One suggestion from a local observer deserves a look:
"If the board had its own administrator to run a small and efficient staff focused only on the board's work, one that was independent of the superintendent's office, preferably a competent attorney, it wouldn't be running into these conflicts. That's how county council does it. Every standing committee in the state legislature does it that way, too. I can't imagine the cost of this small but qualified staff being any more expensive than what the district is now paying out to outside attorneys and for other related charges associated with this problem."
Two other observations deserve attention:

  1. Why does a hearing take an entire day? Something is wrong with the process. Cindy Bohn Coats is in charge and should move the hearings along so that no hearing takes more than half a day.
  2. Board members need to know in advance that their election means many other meetings to attend than merely the twice-monthly Monday night ones. The amount of time spent on CCSD business is extensive. As comments from two or three present Board members reveal, the Board should be paid more or the self-employed will be discouraged from participating. At this rate, the time involved for representing the public points toward a board composed of retirees and millionaires.
The truth is that some non-attendees have missed more than 29 out of 30 meetings (our noblesse oblige Chamber of Commerce member, Chris Fraser, comes to mind).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

CCSD Solicits Input from Downtown Constituents? Maybe

Amazing but true.

The downtown schools (District 20) planning committee for the Charleston County School District has scheduled its community input meeting for Sunday, February 2nd. You can't make this stuff up.

What's that you say? Perhaps something is scheduled for that day that just might keep most of the community at home.

I wonder what that could be.

Moffly's Three Planks Make Sense for SC

Wishful thinking? In the continuation of the hard copy of  Thursday's paper, Elizabeth Moffly is labeled "ex-board member."

Perennial candidate Elizabeth Moffly runs again for the post of state superintendent of education. This is not an endorsement, but we could do worse. Moffly narrowly lost to Mick Zais last time around in the Republican primary.

  1. Eliminate the Common Core standards. These were adopted willingly by our last Democrat State Superintendent in 2010. The costs associated with implementation are horrendous, from teacher training to new educational  materials to development of new aligned testing on computer. CC is a boondoggle for the edublob. Developed by business interests and the Gates Foundation, it won't deliver what it promises.
  2. Provide a variety of diploma plans. Why do we go for one-size-fits-all? President Obama to the contrary, not every graduate should attend a four-year college. Think of all the outstanding student loans burdening non-graduates who cannot get a job. Many states already have several diplomas. Look at Texas; it has at least three. 
  3. Change the grading system. What is the rationale for the standard A = 93 to 100 when other states use A = 90 to 100. If you haven't dealt with the numbers converting to a four-point system, you don't realize how our system hurts students applying to competitive colleges out of state.
Let's see how the other candidates respond.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Governor (and Candidate) Haley on Common Core

From EdWatch:
South Carolina Gov. Haley Vows State Will Ditch Common Core
In a clear signal that the Common Core State Standards are in hot water in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley told a meeting of a local Republican Party women's club that she was determined to ditch the standards this year because, she said, "We don't ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children."
In a speech to the Greenville County Republican Women's Club on Jan. 16, according to theAnderson Independent Mail, Haley, a Republican who's up for re-election this year, said, "We are telling the legislature: Roll back common core. Let's take it back to South Carolina standards." She added that if Senate Bill 300 (introduced last year for the state's 2013-14 legislative session) reaches her desk, she "absolutely will sign it." In that bill, there's no pause, no mandated review period—just a straightforward move to remove the standards from the state.
A few days ago, my colleague Michele McNeil discussed how in his State of the State speech, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also a Republican, made remarks that seemed to indicate Indiana would be backing away from the standards. But he wasn't absolutely clear, and the state is officially undertaking a complicated review of the standards. There's no such fuzziness about Haley's remarks, and if you think the race to drop out of common core is a competition, then South Carolina might have just shot into the lead.
Back in 2012, South Carolina was one of the first states to actively and officially consider dropping common core, as my colleague Catherine Gewertz reported. That effort fizzled but didn't truly die, as it turns out. Remember, the common core was adopted in South Carolina in July 2010, before Haley was elected, so she doesn't have a real policy or political investment in the standards the way other governors do.
South Carolina state Superintendent Mick Zais, a common-core opponent, has decided not to run for re-election this year, but there's a decent chance that his replacement will also oppose the standards.

Now, where does Sheheen stand? 

Monday, January 20, 2014

What Would MLK, Jr., Say About CCSD?

If Martin Luther King, Jr., knew of the de facto segregation endemic in the Charleston County School District, what would he believe? Would he think it was deliberate? What would he say about the dismal records of students in downtown elementary and middle schools? Burke High/Middle? North Charleston High School?

The rich and powerful (including some minorities) have their good schools. What about the rest of Charleston County's residents?

It's not the buildings, earthquake-proof or not.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Where Do SC Political Hopefuls Stand on Common Core?

The field of candidates for South Carolina's State Superintendent of Education expands as the surprise of Mick Zais's announcement not to run for re-election sinks in. Inquiring minds want to know where Governor Haley stands on the Common Core as well. The latest Republican hopeful, Sheri Few, known for organizing opposition to the controversial program, has joined the fray for State Superintendent.

Hold everyone's feet to the fire to make each take a position on Common Core implementation in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Ravitch's blog reports more disturbing news regarding alignment of testing with the program:
According to a report by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, Maryland will spend at least $100 million for Common Core testing.
The testing is wreaking havoc in states like Néw York, where absurd failure rates have outraged parents across the states. Now we learn that the cost of all-online testing are likely to cause fiscal strain, larger classes, and cuts to necessary programs and courses. Los Angeles alone has committed $1 billion to buy iPads for Common Core testing even though class sizes are growing and the arts programs have been decimated by previous budget cuts. 
Who had the brilliant idea that all testing had to be online? The vendors? Ka-Ching.
This may turn out to be the innovation that ate American education.

No doubt the Bill Gates Foundation, one of the major players behind Common Core, finds such developments just dandy. Wonder where SC will find its $100 million.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Common Core's Killing Kindergarten; CCSD Next

Here's a response via Diane Ravitch from a kindergarten veteran (of 20 years).

These comments were posted by a kindergarten teacher in response to a post about the Common Core English language arts standards:
"I teach kindergarten. The five year olds have an incredibly tight schedule to keep in our county: an hour of math, hour of science, 2 hours of language arts, half hour of social studies. We kindergarten teachers have had to sneak in rest time and social centers (such as puppets, blocks, housekeeping, play dough) which are so critical to their development.
"My class has 13 out of 16 ELL students (Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Arabic & a dialect from India are all represented). Ten of them are free or reduced lunch (aka low socioeconomic). Two of them never went to preschool at all, and two are on the spectrum, one severely so. All of them have to read by the end of the year. All of them have been required to participate in two close reading activities which required writing sentences.
"Both of my formal observations were done during the first 60 days of school. I was criticized because my students don’t do “turn & talk” correctly (they didn’t respond to their peer by telling them why they either agree with or disagree with them). I was evaluated as “lacking in pedagogy” because I asked them to give me facts from a kindergarten level book on stars and they repeatedly tried to tell me what they knew/thought. I was told I require action in pedagogy because the book I used to sing and act out verbs also included several words (such as jump, paint, swing, march, & slide) that were also nouns and because my students could not do charades without my assistance (which I gladly gave but caused that part of the lesson to go on too long). Apparently, my pedagogy went mysteriously missing over the summer, as I’ve never been criticized for that in any of my previous 20 years of teaching experience. 
"They have been forced to sit through the two close readings that go on for three days each and require them to write notes and then sentences to explain what they learned. My poor babies turned in papers with sentences made of fragments from our fact chart we had made, but they hung their heads because they couldn’t read the sentences they’d managed to write. I hugged them, told them they were great, and gave them chocolate. Then I reported that only 4 of my students passed….another poor reflection on my teaching.
"If this is happening in kindergarten, I can only imagine what is happening in later grades. My school is set in a high socioeconomic neighborhood and has been an A school for 12 years now; I shudder to think how this affects the less fortunate schools!"
What the Charleston County School District plans to implement fully next year. Good luck.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

CCSD Shill for Charleston Chamber of Commerce Brags of Noblesse Oblige

Imagine you had a job to do that required several meetings a month a distance from your home. Your only compensation was $25 per meeting. Would you bother to fill out the paperwork to get your expenses paid? Or would the money mean so little to you that you couldn't be bothered?

Chris Fraser, the place marker for the Charleston Chamber of Commerce on the Charleston County School Board of Trustees, brags that he doesn't need the money, so he doesn't file. Fraser reveals himself squarely in the rich man's corner--those who need reimbursement should feel embarrassed for taking the taxpayers' dime. In fact, from Fraser's point of view only people who don't need money should serve on the Board.

Maybe some day Fraser will live in the real world. 

Meanwhile, Brian Hicks remains more than willing to share Fraser's bragging while inserting snide remarks over Elizabeth Kandrac's reimbursement for training sessions--and Kandrac left the Board some time ago. 

Hicks still bristles over the thought that a white teacher had the nerve to sue CCSD for racial harassment, won her day in court, and then voters elected her to the School Board. 

Neither Fraser nor Hicks reveals that Fraser frequently absents himself from meetings. If he asked for reimbursement, a record would reveal how often he doesn't bother with attending. Maybe we need a member who's more dedicated who takes the $25.

NJ Broad-trained Superintendent Runs Amuck--McGinley Should Take Notice

Those familiar with Montclair, New Jersey, know it as a beautiful suburb of New York City with an excellent, well-integrated school system, hardly what passes in the minds of most as "urban." Nevertheless, some wiseacre school board hired a Broad-trained superintendent whose actions have set the whole town on its ear.

Here is a letter to the local paper that complains about some of Broad's policies. The complaints should sound familiar [reported by Diane Ravitch].
Ira Shor wrote the following letter to the editor of the Montclair Times to complain about the influence of the Broad Foundation in Montclair:
Dec. 29, 2013
Is Billionaire Eli Broad Running Our Schools?​
Why is the District refusing to release items regarding the Superintendent’s relation to the Broad Foundation? On October 31, 2013, I filed a request under NJ’s Open Public Records Act(OPRA) for documents regarding Supt. MacCormack’s financial disclosure that she received “more than $2000” in 2013 from the Broad Foundation. We need to know how much “more than $2000” Broad is paying her and for what services. Contrary to OPRA law, Mr. Fleischer, her COO, provided no requested documents and did not explain why he refused. OPRA requires district officers to meet legal requests in 7 business days or explain in writing why not. Mr. Fleischer had 35 days but provided no Broad items and explained nothing.
What is the Superintendent hiding? Who does she work for--Montclair’s families or billionaire Eli Broad and his campaign to standardize public schools? She attended the unaccredited Broad Academy whose “grads” follow Broad’s playbook, imposing one-size-fits-all curricula, endless bubble-tests, and high-priced consultants and testing technology. We have a right to know if she answers to Broad or to us.
The Superintendent and our Board have recklessly disrupted our good schools and squandered taxes on ridiculous subpoenas, while refusing to spend yet another huge surplus on things our kids need: smaller classes, foreign language, aides in all classes, librarians in all schools, instrumental music, and after-school mentoring for at-risk kids. Listen to our over-tested kids reporting fear and stress; listen to our under-supported teachers at monthly Board meetings; then, you’ll agree we should roll back the Broad agenda and its assessment train wreck. The refusal of my OPRA request joins other illegal refusals from Mr. Fleischer and the Supt.’s office. Stop hiding from those you should be serving. Open your books and files.
Ira Shor
302 North Mountain Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043

Monday, January 06, 2014

Friends in High Places for Newest CCSD Board Appointee

For the second time in a row the Charleston County legislative delegation has appointed a new school board trustee who has absolutely no knowledge of the school district. Maybe they think that's a good qualification?

Tripp Wiles III may very well turn out to be an effective member, but he's got a steep learning curve before that becomes true. It's encouraging that he's a Citadel graduate, but the truth is that he's lived in Charleston for only about the last six years and has no school age children. Presumably he's spent most of his time on his legal career.

Maybe he's hoping his slot on the Board of Trustees will guarantee entrance for his four-year-old into Buist Academy, as it did for Toya Hampton-Green's children. Maybe he's genuinely in favor of charter schools and actually knows something about them.  Maybe.

All we can know for sure is that Wiles has a good friend in Paul Thurmond, and Paul Thurmond owes one to the rest of the delegation. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Raise CCSD Board of Trustees' Pay Gradually for Future

Superintendent of Charleston County Schools Nancy McGinley's salary tops that of Charleston's Mayor. The district's operating budget must be the highest in the county, with the possible exception of Boeing's. If the job of CCSD's Board of Trustees is to oversee the Superintendent, which it is, the compensation of $25 per meeting appears truly out of proportion.

Why should anybody care? Compensation as now configured presupposes that elected Board officials are mere dilettantes, spending little time on their roles. Or it assumes that members taking their duties seriously must be wealthy or retired. If a single meeting takes even one hour to prepare for and merely two hours in session (and how often is a session that short?), that amounts to a minimum of three hours of work for $25, not much more than the minimum wage.

Why does Dorchester District 2 pay its Board members $600 a month and its Board Chairman $750? Why do other districts in this state pay much more than that? 

It's all very well to talk about noblesse oblige and "giving back." Board members whose compensation amounts to two or three lattes must be more vulnerable to other forms of bribery than those who are compensated well. Not long ago, Louisiana had one of the lowest salaries for its governor, but then he was expected to steal the rest. Think of Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. Human nature doesn't change.

Let's match DD2's compensation for the next round of school board elections. The amount of money involved is chump change in a district flowing with millions in operating and capital expenses.

Such a raise would be a step forward in honesty in government.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Autocrats at Charleston's Breakfast Table: Budig and Heaps

The op-ed commentary appearing in Thursday's paper purports to pinpoint the errors of today's attempts at educational reform as seen through the eyes of a former university president and a former College Board vice-president. Basically, Gene Budig and Alan Heaps complain that efforts are too disparate and too messy because so many voices contribute to the national discussion. 

What our two "experts" really hate is the democratic process. As they succinctly put it, "In most countries, policy is made by a central authority." They decry the American process: "Here, school policies are made by a wide array of actors, all with their own ideas and agendas: federal, state and local governments, public and private schools/universities, unions, think tanks and foundations, book publishers and test makers, and student and parent groups." Imagine. Even bloggers express opinions.

Golly. If only Budig and Heaps could control reforms in education, its problems would be solved.

The writers do not mention the Common Core, but, given its supposed standardization of what students learn, they must favor its implementation. After all, the College Board is positioned to gain millions from changes in curriculum and testing that Common Core demands.

Apparently we need an educational Stalin in this country to set us all straight.