Archives for category: South Carolina

 

Peter Greene has a rapier sharp wit, which he wields so deftly that the object of his attention has been beheaded without knowing what happened. If you want to see him at his best, read this mystery: Who is murdering Charter Schools? 

Teachers?

Unions?

Lobbyists?

If you live in the real world, the people fighting privatization are heroic defenders of the commonweal, protecting the public interest against the Waltons, the Koch brothers, DeVos, and other private interests.

Several weeks ago, I told the story of Arnold and Carol Hillman, who retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to South Carolina. Instead of living a life of relaxation and leisure, they threw themselves into volunteer work on behalf of rural schools and created clubs and activities for high school students in a nearby school. I named them to the honor roll of the Blog for their many acts of goodness.

I recently received this email from Arnold.

Diane,

Many wonderful things have happened as a result of your posting of our story on your blog. The most important one was that the chairperson of the House Education Committee called us to talk about what we are doing and how we could help her with rural schools.

We spent a couple of hours with her. She is the majority chair, a former school board member and someone who has traveled around the state to see firsthand what is happening. We can only say thank you.

Arnold and Carol Hillman

I wrote back, and Arnold sent me a photograph of the group of young men he sponsors, called the Jasper Gentlemen. They were wearing matching red blazers and were very handsome.

I asked how he paid for the blazers, and he wrote:

We have gotten donations from friends in PA and local organizations. We pay for any residual cost. We also can only meet with the Gents and the Diamonds and Pearls (young ladies) during lunchtime. We probably bribe them with pizza, Subway and wings. Carol and I pay for the food during the year. We meet with the groups about 3 times a month. We also arrange for an etiquette luncheon. We hire a woman from Georgia who does a great job. We pay for that with donations and sometimes ourselves.

We also take the youngsters to various colleges. Sometimes the colleges pay for lunch. Oft times, the kids pay for a fast food meal. If they don’t have the dough, either the teachers or Carol and I pay. We also give a $2000 dollar scholarship to a graduating senior. We are happy to do all of this “stuff.”

Note to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos: Goodness is its own reward. Learn from the Hillmans.

Dear Friends,

We are watching the ordeal of your region with concern.

The whole nation is watching.

We send you warm wishes for your safety.

At a time like this, we are reminded about why people need to work together, help one another, and count on their neighbors and communities. In times of crisis, everyone stands together, without regard to race or religion or economic status. It should be like that without a crisis.

We look forward to the day when your beautiful part of the world is rebuilt, restored, and revived.

Meanwhile, stay safe.

Diane

Arnold Hillman is co-founder of the South Carolina Organization for Rural Schools, with his wife Carol. They retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. But instead of relaxing, taking long walks, and fishing, they found themselves drawn to a new mission: helping the state’s underfunded rural schools. This is a good “retirement.” Some locals were amazed, seeing this couple throw themselves into helping local children and schools as volunteers.

They did not not fit the stereotype of retired Yankees,as a local wrote:

“Here’s the popular stereotype: they move here but for a long time still drive around with car tags from Ohio, Pennsylvania and such. They don’t change their cell phone numbers from 614, 309 or 315 to 843, 803 or 864. They walk around with sweatshirts from Ohio State and Michigan, not Clemson or USC…

“Well, I’d like to tell you about two Yankees I recently met and what they are doing here in South Carolina. In 2015, Carol and Arnold Hillman moved from Pennsylvania and re-located to the Sun City Retirement Community at Hilton Head. But unlike the stereotypes of newcomers who spend all their time playing golf and complaining with their fellow transplants about the locals, the Hillmans began to travel around the Lowcountry.

“One day they found themselves in Jasper County where they struck up a conversation with some folks about the schools – they had both been in education in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another and after some conversations with Dr. Vashti Washington, former Superintendent of Schools, they began volunteering at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School mentoring students.

“One can imagine the culture shock that followed. The nearly 100% African American students couldn’t understand why these old white folks from some place they had never heard of were hanging around asking questions. And the Hillman’s couldn’t understand the ‘cultural folk ways’ of teenagers in rural Jasper county – you get the picture.

“But the Hillmans were committed, “We didn’t care if the kids were good students or even if they were well behaved; all we wanted was to work with students.”

“Carol was soon meeting with a group of 10 girls. They talked about everything from the difference between credit and debit cards to how to choose a good college and the benefits of going into the military. They met right after the students ate lunch and Carol provided snacks. “Sometimes we weren’t sure if they came for the milk and cookies or to learn something, but we figured, ‘whatever works,” Hillman laughed.

“Carol’s story about one girl is truly inspiring. “Lauren (not her real name) explained that she was 16, had a baby with cerebral palsy and was living with her grandmother who had raised her. Grandma had cancer and Lauren was trying to take care of her, care for her baby and go to school. By now she was crying. It seems her greatest desire was to graduate with her class in June 2017, but she had missed so many days in the past year that she was failing too many classes.”

“All summer long Lauren and Carol stayed in touch by email as Lauren did not have a cell phone. “When she was down, I would remind her that she was smart and capable and that we would both be ecstatic when she graduated on time. When she was happy, I’d celebrate with her and remind her of how proud I was of her. She passed both of her summer school classes! Here it is, October of her senior year and so far, she is coming to school on a regular basis. I’m delighted to report that Lauren is on track to reach her goal of graduating on time.”

“Meanwhile, Arnold set up a program called Jasper Gentleman, 10 senior young men who could use some mentoring and who in turn helped younger students in fourth and fifth grade. Arnold explains, “Each of the young men were enthusiastic about doing the mentoring. They were also very interested in what was happening in the world and how they might achieve their goals. We spent months talking about colleges, the military, job possibilities, community happenings and how they might improve the high school. We took a trip to the branch campus of the University of South Carolina in Bluffton, arranged for an etiquette lunch (which turned out to be lunch without etiquette) and concentrated on the next steps in their lives.”

“Carol and I attended 11 basketball games, both home and away. A number of the Gents were on the team, but it was the community that encouraged us to go to the games and later on to community events. You see, rural people have been taken advantage of so many times across our country and are naturally suspicious of outsiders. Sometimes, Carol and I were the only snowflakes in the gymnasium. We became fixtures and the folks seemed to welcome us. Sometimes, at away games, they even saved seats for us. They are wonderful people, as are their children.”

“The Hillmans met with State Superintendent Molly Spearman about how their work in Jasper could be spread to other rural districts around the state. Spearman was encouraging to the Hillmans and they have since established the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools to help others learn from their experiences. Go to their website http://www.scorsweb.org and see how you can get involved.”

Are the Hillmans amazing or what?

As I read the story above out loud, I started crying. Why? I was moved by their goodness. Just two educators helping kids.

Arnold writes here about the misguided national narrative of teacher-bashing and public school-bashing.

He emphasizes the crucial role that public schools play in the lives of the state’s poorest children.

“Public schools are for everyone. They do not have the capacity, as to private schools and now even some “public”charter schools, to throw children out for whatever reason. They must deal with whoever walks through those school doors. Their job goes on even in the face of governmental obstruction, mass shootings, or the reduction of funding.

“Public schools still turn out the overwhelming number of American Nobel Prize winners. While other countries select their most talented to take international tests, we include everyone, and suffer for it. While media make fun of public schools by having characters say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I went to public school,” public schools still turn out the best and brightest.

“Public schools have taken generations of immigrants to this country and have taught them to be contributing citizens. When you hear a critic say, “Why didn’t the schools teach these kids . . .,” you might step back and ask, how many more things do you want the public schools to teach?

“Having traveled around South Carolina to visit our rural schools over the past 2 years, we have seen how educators are coping with the burdens put on them. There is not a moment in their day that they don’t put forth massive effort to help their students reach their potential. If you have not seen that effort, then you have not been in one of our rural schools.

“For all of their Herculean efforts, they do not complain. Once in a great while, you might see them stand up, as they did in the Abbeville case, or pleading with the legislature to provide them with the proper resources for their students. However, their primary goal is to teach the children and they do that so well.”

These two good people are definitely on the blog honor roll.

Betsy DeVos loves virtual charters, but they have dreadful records. Even her like-minded Choice zealots Are backing away from this money-making machines.

In South Carolina, the state agency in charge of charter schools refused to allow some Virtual charters to change authorizers, which would enable them to restart the time clock on failure.

“Following months of political tensions and a contentious public hearing, the South Carolina agency that oversees 39 of the state’s charter schools has signed off on the requests of five charters seeking permission to transfer to a new sponsor. Another four, though, including three online schools, are in “breach” status because of persistently poor performance and will not be allowed to leave.

“We don’t feel that’s taking care of our fiduciary duties,” Don McLaurin, chair of the statewide South Carolina Public Charter School Board, said of the underperforming schools’ request to leave. “That’s just not how you improve education.”

“The three virtual schools — the Cyber Academy of South Carolina, the S.C. Virtual Charter School, and Odyssey Online Learning — all contract with the for-profit, publicly traded K12 Inc. for services ranging from day-to-day operations and instruction to curriculum. The fourth, Midlands STEM Institute, is a technology-focused “bricks-and-mortar” public charter school located near the city of Columbia.

“Separately, the state’s Office of the Inspector General is examining data the schools submit to the board that raise questions about enrollment and attendance at the four schools whose transfer requests were denied. Early in the hearing at which the transfer requests were heard, board members were told the auditors have found nothing so far that should factor into their decision.

“Other states and charter school authorizers that have attempted to shutter poorly performing online schools with for-profit operators have found themselves waging wars of attrition, with the companies spending lavishly on lobbying and donating to sympathetic elected officials.

“South Carolina, where 10,000 of the state’s 26,000 charter school students attend virtual schools, is shaping up to be no exception. According to public disclosures analyzed by The 74 in a previous story, the for-profit schools and their representatives have spent nearly $1 million in the state since 2010. In 2015 the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, better known as CREDO, found that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on student growth.”

K12 Inc. is great for profits, not very goood for students or taxpayers.

Paul Thomas summarizes the long conservative tradition of racism and classicism in South Carolina, once the property of the Democrats, now the domain of Republicans.

The politicians never wanted to spend money on black and poor children. Even the judiciary says it’s time to stop throwing money at schools, which has never happened.

“SC public schools (and public universities, in fact) exist in 2017 as a bold middle finger to everything promised by a democratic nation. But despite the political rhetoric, SC has failed its public schools; public schools have not failed our state, whose political leaders care none at all about poor, black, or brown children being currently (and historically) mis-served by K-12 education….

“Political and judicial negligence in SC—a microcosm of the same negligence nationally—remains entrenched in commitments to ideology over evidence, hard truths neither political leadership nor judicial pronouncements will admit.

“First, and foremost, one hard truth is that public schools in SC are mostly labeled failures or successes based on the coincidence of what communities and students those schools serve. Schools serving affluent (and mostly white) communities and students are framed as “good” schools while schools serving poor (and often black and brown while also over-serving English language learners and students with special needs) communities and students are framed as “bad” or “failing.”

“This political lie is grounded in the three-decades political charade called education reform—a bureaucratic nightmare committed to accountability, standards, and testing as well as a false promise that in-school only reform could somehow overcome the negative consequences of social inequity driven by systemic racism, classism, and sexism.

“The ironic and cruel lesson of education reform has been that education is not the great equalizer.

“Education reform is nothing more than a conservative political fetish, a gross good-ol’-boy system of lies and deception.

“Second, and in most ways secondary, another hard truth is that while education is not the great equalizer, public schooling tends to reflect and then perpetuate the inequities that burden the lives of vulnerable children.

“In-school only reform driven by accountability, standards, and testing fails by being both in-school only (no education reform will rise about an absence of social/policy reform that addresses racism and poverty) and mechanisms of inequity themselves.

“Affluent and white students are apt to experience a higher quality of formal schooling than black, brown, and poor students, who tend to be tracked early and often into reduced conditions that include test-prep, “basic” courses, and teachers who are early career and often un-/under-certified.

“Nested in this hard truth is that much of accountability-based education reform depends on high-stakes standardized testing, which is itself a deeply flawed and biased instrument. Tests allow political negligence since data appear to be objective and scientific; in fact, standardized testing remains race, class, and gender biased.

“Like school quality, test scores are mostly a reflection of non-academic factors.”

Bottom line: racism and classism.

This is a heartbreaking story.

A young man appeared at a playground in Townsville, South Carolina, where first-graders were playing. He opened fire. A child died. The shooter, it turned out, was not a man. He was 14 years old. He stopped when his gun jammed. He was captured.

There are states and cities that think the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers. Given the speed of this shooting, no one could have stopped it. Twelve seconds. The teachers, if they were armed, could have shot him, but the child would still be dead.

This is madness.

Legislators in South Carolina must have been following an ALEC script when they authorized Virtual charter schools to enroll students and take money away from their underfunded public schoools. Or maybe they were paid off by lobbyists. There is certainly massive evidence, even from charter advocates, that virtual charters get terrible results. Yet no matter how much they fail, they are never closed or held accountable.

Consider this report in the “Post & Courier” in South Carolina:

“Online charter schools have grown exponentially across South Carolina and the nation — and questions about their effectiveness are growing, too.

“Today, the state has five virtual charter schools that together enroll roughly 10,000 students, up dramatically from about 2,100 students nine years ago when the state’s first cyber schools opened. A 2007 bipartisan bill fueled their growth by authorizing the state’s virtual schools program, and since then, taxpayers have footed the bill to the tune of more than $350 million.

“Despite this hefty investment, online charter schools have produced dismal results on almost all academic metrics, according to state and district data. On average, less than half of their students graduate on time. At one cyber school, nearly a third of students dropped out last school year. Data from the S.C Public Charter School District, which oversees these schools, shows just one in two virtual students enroll for a full year.

“Supporters of online education, including U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, praise virtual schools for their flexibility, innovation and reach. For struggling, home-bound or bullied students, advocates argue, these schools are lifelines.

“But critics contend state taxpayers have spent tens of millions of dollars lining the pockets of the for-profit companies that manage these schools at the expense of their flailing students.

“It concerns me,” said Don McLaurin, chairman of the S.C. Public Charter School District Board of Trustees. “Right now, for a variety of reasons, the virtuals are having performance problems, at least some of them. … We may have more than we need.”

The online charters have a graduation rate of 42%, compared to the state rate of 82.6% for public schools.

But, says DeVos, we need more failing virtual charters because parents choose them.

This story appeared on the blog of Patrick Hayes’ EdFirstSC.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Principal Jake Rambo was ordered to evaluate his teachers based solely on the test scores of their students. Not multiple measures. Standardized tests.

He refused.

He was told that he was being transferred to another school because of his school’s test scores.

He said he didn’t want to leave his school.

He was told to tell the school community that he requested a transfer.

He said he wouldn’t lie.

He resigned rather than lie.

Dear Ms. Darby and CCSD Board of Trustees, Ms. Belk and District 2 Constituent Board,

It is with a heavy heart and out of a sense of moral obligation that I write to share with you my concerns about our District, its students, the James B. Edwards community, and specifically the events that have occurred over the last month. Alongside my wife, I have prayed about the decision to compose this letter and have acknowledged my fear continuing to work in a district that seems to often misrepresent the truth and punish those who question anything about its direction. It is my hope that you are truly unaware of what’s occurring in CCSD.

On the evening of April 24, I received a call from the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community, informing me that although I would receive a “Principal” contract for 2017-18, it would not be at JBE. I was shocked, as my tenure as principal of the school began less than two short years prior.

Not one time throughout this school year has any CCSD administrator, including the Superintendent, the Associate Superintendent of Schools, the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community, or the Director of the Elementary Learning Community visited our building. Neither had any leader shared with me a single concern about my performance, the performance of our teachers, or the performance of our students. Not one time, if it existed, were any community concerns conveyed to me, and not one time was even the “threat” of a potential move shared with me privately, publicly and/or in a group setting.

I was devastated, as I love our community, its parents and most importantly, its students. While we have lots left to accomplish, during my 1 ½ years at the school, we have increased student enrollment, put community programs in place to close the opportunity gap, increased physical activity opportunities, and improved parent, teacher, and student satisfaction.

The following morning, April 25, I met with the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community. The first thing he did was take a torn half-sheet of paper on which several rows of numbers were scribbled, handed me the paper and said, “Pick which scores are yours.” After asking for further
clarification about his request, I identified JBE students’ winter MAP scores. He then said, “That’s why you’re being moved.”

Perplexed again, I remained silent. My study of the NWEA website suggests that the intent of MAP is not to penalize students, teachers and/or principals. Instead, its purpose is to be used as a formative tool to help teachers know in what areas they need to focus their instruction throughout the following semester to grow students.

I sat silent, much as I had less than a month earlier on March 29, after being told in a principal allocation meeting that I should use testing data to place educators on improvement plans. I later spoke honestly to the teachers at JBE about my hesitation to do this and indicated that I would never use
student test scores in isolation to place teachers on improvement plans. Make no mistake: teachers and principals welcome accountability, but they want it to be fair, consistent, and student-centered.

After my meeting with the Executive Director on the morning of April 25, I met with the Superintendent later that day, per my request, after which I was more stunned than ever before. She indicated that the school’s data supported I did not have experience working in a “low income” school and said, “You are a young guy. You’ve not had experience working under a strong principal leader, have you?” Raised to respect authority, I did not respond that the principal underneath whom I worked for several years and who mentored me is currently appointed by the Superintendent herself as the Interim Director of Administrator Hiring and Leadership Development for CCSD.

I shared with the Superintendent that no one had visited our school or shared with me any performance concerns throughout the school year and that I was baffled why all of this was occurring. She indicated that because I received a principal contract and wasn’t being “demoted,” this wasn’t an issue. I remained silent. I was shocked to hear that such could actually happen in a school system where due process, best practice, and mentorship should exist for all teachers and administrators.

I changed the subject and shared with the Superintendent that I believed my work at JBE to be unfinished. As a result, I indicated that my community would likely be upset when it learned of this decision.

She then responded, “Your future in CCSD depends on how you handle this situation.” I sat silent.

She continued, “You could either play the victim, or you could tell your community it was your decision to leave JBE and that you’ve been ‘called’ to lead a school with students who need you more.”

Stunned it would be suggested I misrepresent “my” intentions to a community I love because of what appeared to be student test scores, my speaking out against a plan to put teachers on improvement plans, and my inexperience as a leader-I quickly explained that while I would “always respect my employer, I would not lie.”

She then said, “This is your truth to tell.”

On Thursday, April 27, I met with the Associate Superintendent of Schools. She confirmed the reasons I was being moved as student test data and a lack of diverse experience. During this meeting, she discussed the timeline with me for sharing this information with the JBE community. She approved the letter I had written to send to parents with the exception of a few sentences that identified the reasons for my move as student test scores and level of experiences. She requested that I remove those lines as “people don’t need that much information.”

I complied with her request and removed the information.

It was at this time that I made the one special request I’ve made throughout this process to the Associate Superintendent of Schools, to allow my 7 year old son to transfer from JBE and be placed at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School for 17-18. I explained that his remaining at JBE would be too hard
emotionally on him and our family as the school community and its teachers are very special to us all. This would also relieve a hardship on my wife and me in regards to transportation, as my sister is a teacher at the school.

The Associate Superintendent of Schools quickly and confidently approved this request, indicating it “would be no problem at all.” Afterwards, I spoke to the SIES principal and arranged the transfer.

I then notified my community of the transfer. When parents began sharing concerns with the Board of Trustees and district office, I received a call from the Associate Superintendent of Schools, indicating my 7 year old son would no longer be approved for a transfer and able to attend SIES. Instead, she indicated, “He’s been placed on the waiting list.”

Since then, parents and community members have been told by the Superintendent and Board members that it is because “of an outstanding skill set” that I’m being moved and that it has nothing to do with the aforementioned reasons. They even told a select group of parents in a closed-door meeting
that my transfer was unequivocally not about test scores.

If this decision was indeed based on an “outstanding skill set,” which would benefit students at another school, why could it not benefit the students at JBE, the most diverse elementary school in Mt. Pleasant? Who is advocating for all of these children in our community?

When the Associate Superintendent of Schools visited JBE for the first time this year, Friday, May 5, to meet with the faculty without me present, she, once again, informed staff that this decision was not about test scores. After the meeting, she said to me, “The Superintendent is NOT happy with this.”

Meanwhile, all of our students sit silent and wait. They wait for us to value them over test scores. They wait for us to value things like learning through play and physical activity. They wait for us to value real-world experiences over test preparation. They wait for us to empower their teachers to be creative and engage them in meaningful learning. Most of all, they wait for us to value doing what is right.

After nearly 10 years in CCSD, it is apparent that I now have a fundamental, philosophical difference with its leadership. Therefore, please accept this as my official letter of resignation, effective June 30, 2017.

Sincerely,
Jake Rambo
Principal
James B. Edwards Elementary School

I now place the name of Jake Rambo on the blog’s honor roll for his principled resistance to unconscionable policies that harm teachers and students.

In the South, rural schools tend to be neglected, impoverished, and forgotten. A group of educators have created a new organization to advocate on behalf of rural schools.

It is called the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools. If you live in the state, reach out and learn more or get involved.