Archives for category: South Carolina

A few days ago, I posted a letter that James Kirylo and his wife wrote to school officials in South Carolina to explain why they were opting their children out of testing. Kirylo is a professor of education; the letter laid out the reasons why standardized testing was wrong and provided a bibliography of research to support the parents’ decision.

But it turns out that South Carolina does not respect “parents’ right to choose” whether their children take tests.

Read Professor Kirylo’s harrowing account here, appearing as a guest post on Mercedes Schneider’s blog.

He writes:

“On the morning of the first test for my fifth grader, I received a call from the school, from a Dr. Chief Instructional Officer (I will withhold the name) from the Lexington 2 SC school system, informing me that my son was placed in the classroom, and that he was given the standardized test. I was shocked, to say the least.

“First, I never spoke to this Dr. Chief Instructional Officer before. But she certainly let me know in a quick second that she was “Dr. Important” from the school system.

“Second, I expressed my great displeasure, and said it was completely inappropriate for my son to be placed in the class, especially after I was given every indication by the school that accommodations would be made. Third, I said I was on my way to the school to talk further about the situation.

“When I arrived at the school, I saw two police patrol cars in front.

“They were there for me.”

James Kirylo, university professor and expert on the works of Paulo Freire, wrote the following letter:

James D. & Anette A. Kirylo
P.O. Box 8698
Columbia, SC 29202
985.956.0563 / jkirylo@yahoo.com

April 25, 2017

Dr. Nancy Busbee, Deputy Superintendent
Division of Accountability
State of South Carolina, Dept. of Education
1429 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29201

Greetings, Dr. Busbee,

As you can see, attached is a letter that I sent to my two sons’ school, Claude A. Taylor Elementary. In that letter, indicating I have one son in 5th grade and the other in 3rd grade, I specify that my wife and I are refusing to allow them to participate in taking the upcoming standardized tests, providing four broad reasons for our decisions.

Moreover, I make clear we have a tremendous respect for both our children’s teachers and the administrators, who lead the school. They are doing a tremendous job and I wish to continue to send my two sons to a school where they look forward to participating every day. Therefore, as I mention in my letter, please understand that our action is no way a reflection of our feelings toward the teachers, staff, and administrators who diligently work at Claude A. Taylor Elementary.

My refusal to participate in SC Ready and SC Pass is because I believe standardized high stakes testing in the current they are being used take away time from the instructional experiences my child might otherwise receive. I want more teaching and learning, and less testing! The state seems to believe that my child is obligated to participate in testing because the state or the policy makers demand it, when in fact the social contract of public schooling is grounded on the premise that the state and policy makers are obligated to the needs of children.

As you are aware, the U.S. Constitutional rights trump local school policies. Precedents that were set forth are grounded in several legal cases (see legal case descriptions at end of this document). Also, as you know, according to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35).

The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158) 5.

In closing, I understand that it is state and local policy to require all students to be evaluated for proficiency in various subject areas at each grade level. However, I believe that testing is not synonymous with standardized testing and request that the school and my child’s teacher(s) evaluate his or her progress using alternative (and more meaningful) measures including: projectbased assignments, teacher-made tests, portfolios, and performance-based assessments, to be determined at the discretion of the teachers and myself together.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Again, please see more detail in my letter to the school.

Sincerely,
James D. Kirylo

——————————————————————————————————————

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LEGAL PRECEDENTS FOR REFUSING HIGH STAKES STANDARDIZED TESTING

“Meyer v. Nebraska upheld parents’ rights by affirming “the natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life…” Clearly the preferences of the parents in educational matters outweighed those of the government. The court further emphasized, “The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right of the individual … to establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to his own conscience.”

Pierce v. Society of Sisters confirmed Meyer v. Nebraska and parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their children with regard to religions matters and to direct their children’s education. The decision in Pierce, struck down an Oregon education law which, required all children ages eight and sixteen to be educated in public schools. The Court stated: “Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children. The Pierce decision also upheld parents’ rights to protect their children from government standardization, making it clear that children “are not the mere creature of the state…”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Prince v. Massachusetts clearly admitted that parents held the highest responsibility and right to control the upbringing of their children, not the State. “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.”

Griswold v. Connecticut, emphasized that the state cannot interfere with the right of a parent to control his child’s education, and that the right to educate one’s child as one chooses is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The Court further stated that this right was applicable by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In 1972, Wisconsin v. Yoder upheld the Pierce decision by declaring: “This case involves the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the state, to guide the religious future and education of their children. The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring tradition.”

The 1996 decision in M.L.B. v. S.L.J. firmly voiced that the choices about marriage, family life, and the upbringing of children were ranked as “of basic importance in our society,” again emphasizing that the rights sheltered by the 14th Amendment against the government’s “unwarranted usurpation, disregard, or disrespect.” This particular case involved the State’s authority to permanently sever a parent-child bond. The Court’s decision unequivocally upheld parents’ rights in general.

The Supreme Court in Reno v. Flores in 2000 states: “There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests, there is normally no reason or compelling interest for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their children,” and Troxel v. Granville, “The state may not interfere in child rearing decisions when a fit parent is available.”

In 1978, Congress enacted the Protection of Pupil Rights Act, which gives parents the right to inspect educational material–ALL educational material, which would include anything used in the course of providing instruction to our children……A parent has the right to remove a child from objectionable classroom instruction and/or activity. Three clauses in two different amendments lay the solid foundation for these constitutional provisions: the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses.

The First Amendment Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses s, combined with the Fourteenth Amendment’s fundamental liberty interest of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children, form a strong foundation upon which parents can assert their right to opt their children out of objectionable school material or activities. The higher the degree of coercion on students to participate in, or otherwise endorse the classroom activity, the stronger the constitutional argument in favor of a parental opt-out right.

“in the final analysis, the power of God is God” gustavo gutiérrez

The attached letter reads:

James D. & Anette A. Kirylo
P.O. Box 8698
Columbia, SC 29202
jkirylo@yahoo.com

April 24, 2017

Claude A. Taylor Elementary School
103 Ann Lane
Cayce, SC 29033

Greetings, Ms. Garrison and Mr. Siedschlag:

I am writing to inform you that my wife and I are refusing to allow our two sons, Antonio and Alexander, to participate in taking standardized tests. It is my understanding, that in the case of Alexander (3rd grade) that would be the refusal of the SC Ready test, and for Antonio (5th grade), the SC Ready and SC PASS. I assume you will have other types of educational activities for my children (and those of others who also refuse their children to participate in testing) during the respective testing periods.

The following are four broad reasons why we are refusing to allow our sons to participate in testing:

1. Narrows the Curriculum
First, the emphasis on testing has extraordinarily narrowed the curriculum, coercing teachers to simply focus on prescribed areas of certain disciplines that will be tested. As a consequence, the arts in all its forms have greatly been deprived; social studies and the sciences have received less attention; and, especially for the very young, the idea of play and recess has been dismissed as frivolous. Moreover, a climate of testing is creating a teaching and learning environment of fear, in which students and teachers resist in taking risks and exploring deeper on a respective theme, for fear of deviating from the set curriculum (Solley, 2007).

And those that are affected the most with this narrowing of the curriculum are largely poor and minority students who are reduced to minimal options and opportunities in order to be drilled and skilled to prepare for testing, all in an effort to “measure” their “growth.” Regarding that phenomenon, Kozol (2005) explains it this way:

As damaging as the obsessive emphasis on testing often proves to be for kids in general, I believe that the effects are still more harmful in those schools in which the resources available to help the children learn the skills that will be measured by these tests are fewest, the scores they get are predictably the lowest, and the strategies resorted to by the principals in order to escape the odium attaching to a disappointing set of numbers tend to be the most severe. (p. 110)

To be sure, this entire effort has led to the dumbing down of the curriculum, dulling the entire schooling experience (Solley, 2007; Sacks, 1999).
Driven by the thinking of the NCLB Act, the Race to the Top Program, and the current Trump Administration is the mistaken notion that the ability to measure schools is equated with fixing them (Darling-Hammond, 2004). As Rose (1989) asserts,

We are a nation obsessed with evaluating our children, with calibrating their exact distance from some ideal benchmark. In the name of excellence, we test and measure them—as individuals, as a group—and we rejoice or despair over the results. The sad thing is that though we strain to see, we miss so much. All students cringe under the scrutiny, but those most harshly affected, least successful in the competition, possess some of our greatest unperceived riches (p. xi).

2. Creates a Stressful Environment
Second, an emphasis on high stakes testing has created a schooling environment that has cultivated stress and pressure, not only negatively impacting the lives of teachers and administrators, but naturally those of children. With respect to the latter, children are led on a path of confusion.

On one hand, teachers routinely share with students to work carefully, take their time to think through their work, and to focus on critical thinking, but when it comes to standardized assessment instruments, all of the latter becomes artificial musings when students are forced to respond within a prescribed standardized test time. Moreover, a results-orientated climate clearly undermines process, which not only creates havoc on a forming self-concept, but also causes great confusion in forming that self-concept (Solley, 2007; Perrone, 1991).

Cizek and Burg (2006) argue that the notion of test anxiety is not a new happening, but in times past, the manifestation of that anxiety in a school setting was collectively a mild response to taking tests of any kind. However, in an era of high-stakes testing, the appearance of anxiety has not only notably risen, but is also acutely experienced with younger and younger children. Test anxiety naturally creates a stressful schooling environment, which is manifested in students in a variety of ways.

For example, consider the following:
General Effects of Test Anxiety on Students

Effect Relationship(s)
Stress Test anxiety can induce symptoms of stress,
such as crying, acting out, verbalizations

Attitude toward tests and testing Test anxiety can diminish effort or increase
student apathy towards testing

Attitude towards self Test anxiety can reinforce, induce poor self-
esteem or poor/inaccurate self-evaluation (“I
can’t do anything,” “I am so stupid…”)

Test behavior Test anxiety can prompt cheating (e.g., sharing or copying of answers obtaining/using illegal copies of “secure” materials, etc.)

Academic motivation Test anxiety can decrease student motivation to learn in general

Motivation (future) Test anxiety can be associated with dropping out of school, grade retention, graduation, placement in special programs/classes

Test anxiety Effects of test anxiety can “cycle back” to result in successive poor test performance, leading to increased levels of test anxiety

(Cizek and Burg, 2006, p. 31)

In addition to the above, a high-stakes testing environment has had a remarkable anxiety-inducing effect on teachers as well, receiving pressure from administrators and parents, not only adversely affecting teacher morale, but, as earlier mentioned, simply reducing them to teach to the test (Cizek & Burg, 2006). In short, for teachers, our preoccupation with testing “…is one of the most demoralizing, energy-draining forces in education today” (Graves, 2001, p. 80).

3. Dulls Motivation and Ignores Appropriate Practice
Third, with a focus on “results” and “scores” or extrinsic measures, the consequence of such focus dulls intrinsic motivation to learn, not to mention the joy of learning in itself is greatly reduced. Clearly, an environment of testing has resulted in an approach that focuses on low-level skills in order to assure the possibilities toward working to mark the best answer (Solley, 2007; Sacks, 1999).

There is scant evidence in which the overuse of standardized testing has substantively improved learning; in fact, learning has been greatly reduced in such a way that developmentally appropriate practices have been largely ignored, yielding, as earlier mentioned, to skilling and drilling, particularly affecting those young people who have been historically disenfranchised. What obviously gets lost are children and their excitement about learning and their natural curiosity to discover and inquire.

Particularly for primary level children, these tests are extraordinarily inappropriate. As Perrone (1991) puts it, “These are years when children’s growth is most uneven, in large measure idiosyncratic; the skills needed for success in school are in their most fluid acquisitional stages. Implications of failure in these years can be especially devastating” (p. 133). Indeed, these tests from very early on have subjected youngsters to unnecessary labels, determining whether they get accepted in certain programs, whether they should pass a grade or not, whether they are “slow” or not, and a host of other labels that not only harm children, but also have no substantive educational benefit (Perrone, 1991).
As if that were not enough, teacher professionalism in making judgments and decisions have been undermined in this entire process, all of which has forced them to teach in such a way that counters what they know that best addresses the needs of their diverse student population (Solley, 2007).

4. Promotes Teacher Turnover and Cost Prohibitive
Fourth, testing has resulted in many excellent teachers exiting the profession not only because they are more and more viewed as simple functionaries subjected to overcrowded classrooms without support, but also—to reiterate—our fanatical focus on tests, scores, and results has created an enormously stressful working environment.

The median teacher turnover rate is 17 percent nationally, but that rate jumps to 20 percent in urban settings. Within three years into the profession, it is estimated a third of new teachers leave, and after five years, approximately 46 percent of them are gone. With respect to recruiting, hiring, and attempts to hold onto new teachers, this “revolving door” has translated into an estimated annual cost of $7 billion (Kopkowski, 2008).

Finally, schooling that is focused on an unhealthy competitive environment that is more interested in comparing and contrasting numbers, ratings, and scores instead of the welfare of human beings has not only shortchanged precious instructional time, but also has come with a monumental price tag. For example, based on a recent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) study examining a midsized undisclosed school district in the Midwest and one in the East, the cost and instructional time spent on standardized testing has increased from NCLB to the Race to the Top program.

The breakdown per annual pupil spending in the Midwestern district was as follows: K-2 grades (approximately $200); 3-8 grades ($600 or more); and, 9-11 grades ($400-600), and the breakdown per annual pupil spending in the Eastern School district was as follows: 1-2 grades (approximately $400); 3-5 grades (between $700-$800); and, 6-11 grades (more than $1,100).

In addition, the report stated that one district not only administered 14 different assessments annually to all students in at least one grade level, but also other assessments were administered at various times during the year in other subjects, tallying to 34 different times tests were annually administered. And the other district administered 12 different assessments that comprised of 47 different times they were annually administered.

The report also stated that on average test preparation in the targeted testing grades can annually take anywhere from 60 to more than 110 hours. To put another way, with testing preparation and testing days combined, one district used 19 full school days, and in the targeted testing grades in the other district a month and a half was used. Lastly, while in one school district if testing were discarded, 20 to 40 minutes of instruction time in most grades could be added to the school day, the other district could add nearly a whole class period to the school day (Nelson, 2013; Strauss, 2013).

To be sure, this AFT report is simply indicative of the tip of the iceberg regarding the time and cost given to standardized testing all over the country; consider NCLB which emerged in 2002, the price tag of annual standardized test went from $423 million to approximately $1.1 billion in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2014.

Conclusion
As you likely know, major educational organizations, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA), National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), International Reading Association (IRA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), American Evaluation Association (AEA), Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI), National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), American Psychological Association (APA), and others have either written position statements or resolutions regarding the overuse of standardized tests.

Moreover, as you also may know, according to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35). The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).

Finally, to be sure, we have a tremendous respect for both our children’s teachers and you, the administrators, who lead the school. You all are doing a tremendous job and I wish to continue to send my two sons to a school where they look forward to participating every day. Therefore, please understand that this action is no way a reflection of our feelings toward you all and the teachers at Claude A. Taylor School. Our issue is with high stakes standardized testing and the harm it does to children and our public schools.

References
Cizek, G. J., & Burg, S.S. (2006). Addressing test anxiety in a high-stakes environment: strategies for classrooms and schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2004). From “separate but equal” to “no child left behind”: The collision of new standards and old inequalities. In D. Meier and G. Wood, Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging our Children and Our Schools. (pp. 3-32). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Graves, D. H. (2001). The energy to teach. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Kopkowski, C. (2008). Why They Leave: Lack of respect, NCLB, and underfunding—in a topsy-turvy profession, what can make today’s teachers stay? Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/12630.htm

Kozol, J. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Nelson, H. (2013). Testing more, teaching less: What America’s obsession with student testing costs in money and lost instructional time. American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/news/testingmore2013.pdf

Perrone, V. (1991). On standardized testing. Childhood Education, 67(3), 132-142.

Rose, M. (1989). Lives on the boundary. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Sacks, P. (1999). Standardized minds. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Solley, B. A. (2007). On standardized testing: An ACEI position paper. Childhood Education, 84(1), 31-37.

Strauss, V. (2013, July). How much time do school districts spend on standardized testing? This much. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/25/how-much-time-do- school-districts-spend-on-standardized-testing-this-much/

Paul Thomas reacts to an editorial in the Charleston (S.C.) “Post and Courier,” which recommended closing a high-poverty school with low test scores and turning it over to private operators.

Thomas asks a few questions:

So there are actually some very important questions that the editors at the P&C are failing to ask:

Why have some students been allowed ever to languish in school conditions that are subpar when compared to vibrant schools and opportunities for other students in the same city? Burns Elementary with a poverty index of 96 is but one school that represents a long history in SC of how negligent we have been as a state in terms of providing anything close to equity in the opportunities poor and racial minority children are afforded.

Why does any public school board need a private partnership to do what is needed to offer these students the sort of school all children deserve? If what is needed is so obvious, and so easy to do (which is a subtext of the editorial), the truth is that the school board simply does not have the political will to do what is right for some children.

And this is very important: What third party, not invested in the Meeting Street Academy, has examined the claims of academic success in the so-called “successful” schools that are being promised as fixes for Burns? I cannot find any data on test scores (setting aside that test scores aren’t even that good for making these claims), but I have analyzed claims of “miracle” charter schools in SC—finding that these claims are always false. Always. I do not trust that Meeting Street is going to prove to be the first actual miracle school in a long line of those that have been unmasked before.

He notes that politicians are easily bamboozled and follow the crowd, without asking where they are going.

SC political leaders have pushed for school choice, charter schools, VAM evaluations of teachers, ever-new standards and high-stakes testing, exit exams, third-grade retention, and now takeover policies for so-called “failing schools”—yet all of these have no basis for policy in the body of research refuting the effectiveness of each one.

For the editors of the P&C, as well as our political leaders and the public, the real questions are why do we persist in ignoring the stark realities of our inequitable society, why do we then continue to play politics with our schools that are just as inequitable as our society, and then why do we refuse to consider the evidence about addressing social and educational inequity directly in our policies?

Why do politicians continue to push for policies that have failed elsewhere, again and again? Because they don’t care. Because they are happy to maintain the status quo. Their eager embrace of “school choice” and other failed policies is a smokescreen. They know such policies will change nothing.

Closing schools, renaming schools, shuffling students—these are the practices of those who are invested in the status quo regardless of the consequences for “other people’s children.”

Paul Thomas of Furman University spent 18 years as a teacher in South Carolina. He now prepares teachers and writes articles, posts, and books.

 

He writes here about South Carolina’s reaction to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Politicians and editorialists say there must be no back-sliding on accountability, that the state must recommit to holding teachers, students, and schools accountable.

 

But he notes that South Carolina’s dedication to testing and accountability started thirty years ago, and the state still lags far behind other states. So-called reformers say that the answer is to double down on failed strategies. Wouldn’t you think that thirty years of failure is enough?

 

Thomas writes:

 

The greatest education challenge, then, facing our state is addressing poverty and racism in our society so that education reform has a chance to succeed. Without adopting policy that deals directly with stable jobs with adequate pay and benefits, healthcare, childcare, and an equitable criminal justice system, our schools are destined to continue to struggle.

 

Next, we need to reconsider entirely education reform—not based on accountability but on equity of opportunity.

 

Labeling and ranking our schools—whether we use more than test scores or not—has been harmful, and it is past time to consider another process. As Bruce Baker, Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, and researcher Gerald Bracey have argued often, educational rankings tend to reveal more about conditions outside of the school’s control than about the quality of education. Overwhelmingly in all types of educational rankings the greatest predictor of high or low rankings is wealth or poverty.

 

However, The State actually hits on a better alternative: “But the focus must remain on the core function of the schools: providing all children in this state the opportunity to receive a decent education, of the sort that will allow them to become self-supporting, productive, taxpaying citizens.”

 

Equity of opportunity must replace accountability in SC—although this doesn’t mean lowering expectations or absolving schools or teachers from their responsibilities to students and the state.

 

What I propose is transparency about the opportunities to learn that all students are receiving in the context of social programs that help every student enter the doors of those schools on much more equal footing than they have historically or currently.

 

Those equitable opportunities must include for all students access to experienced and certified teachers, open door policies for challenging courses and programs (such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate), and equitably funded schools and facilities across the state. As well, we must end inequitable disciplinary policies and outcomes, tracking, and harmful current policies such as third-grade retention based on reading scores.

 

But grading and ranking schools must end as well.

 

Will we waste another generation of children by holding onto failed strategies?

Over a number of decades, some fabulously wealthy right-wingers and the think tanks they support have determined to convince African-American families that privately managed charters and vouchers would “save” their children from “failing” public schools. If you are very rich and you don’t want your taxes to become outrageous, then it makes sense to persuade people who have little that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. Forget about poverty. Why should our society invest hundreds of billions of dollars in restoring our infrastructure and creating good jobs for everyone willing to work, when it is so much less costly to get people angry at teachers and public schools? Who cares if we spent two trillion (with a T) on war in the past dozen years? Why waste time imagining what half of that would have done to reduce income inequality in this country? So the right-wing think tanks adopted the views of their founders and their funders, which was that the 1% are job-producers, and they must not have higher taxes. Nope.

 

This is the background to the nasty confrontation between teacher Patrick Hayes and Dr. Steve Perry of Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Perry brought his message about how poverty doesn’t matter, how kids are hurt by their teachers, and how they should be in charter schools and they should get vouchers to get away from teachers’ unions. South Carolina doesn’t have teachers’ unions, but that is beside the point. And of course, he talked about the miracles at his school in Hartford.

 

It is somewhat startling to think that African American families in South Carolina might take up the cause that once belonged to White Citizens Councils in the South, supporting vouchers to avoid desegregation.

 

Here is an audio file of the event.

 

Patrick Hayes had the effrontery to challenge Dr. Perry. Dr. Perry referred to Hayes as a Satan and a blogger (yes, a blogger!).

 

Well, read it for yourself. And ask yourself what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., might say today about those who say that poverty doesn’t matter, that vouchers are necessary to escape public education, and that unions are the enemies of oppressed minorities.

 

Someone has been hoodwinked. But let’s not talk about hoods in South Carolina.

After a career in education in Pennsylvania, Arnold Hillman and his wife Carol decided to move to Hilton Head, South Carolina, after their retirement. They spent 35 years advocating for children in rural schools.

Here are some unsettling first impressions, which Arnold wrote for this blog:


SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY ?????

This will be the 10th week that Carol and I have lived in South Carolina. It just seems like we have been getting settled in, which means unpacking boxes, buying new furniture, reordering our medications and going to copious doctors. The travel through the medical esplanade has been an awakening. We have concluded that the medical care here is superior to that which we received in Harrisburg.

It appears that docs here use the most advanced technology. It is difficult to conceive how much more we will find out as we run through them all. I am now enthused about how I might take the age spots off my hands, or eliminate the need for specs. I was even happy that I will now be able to eliminate some of these pesky growths on my arms and head without having them frozen off. In some ways these are positive things. You can figure out why they might not be.

We are living in a dream world. The community was built starting in 1995. It has every amenity you can think of. It has encouraged us to get into good physical shape. It has so many activities that some people have to take tranquilizers just to keep up. We will not be doing the club circuit as yet. We are more interested in what is going on outside the gates of the community than inside it.

What we found is rather sad. We understood when we moved down here, that Hilton Head Island is an extremely wealthy community. The first bizarre item is that there are tons of thrift shops. I guess when the wealthy change their home décor; they must get rid of their former furniture. It is also a place that houses many older people. That means when they pass (a southern expression) the items in their homes become grist for auctions, so that relatives can turn them into cash. There are even booklets with the names and locations of most of the thrift shops on both Hilton Head and Bluffton (where we live).

Carol and I are pretty much convinced that what we know as “Southern Charm” is just a cover name for racism. The county that we live in is next door to a very poor county. The kids in the schools there – they have county school districts, are 85% minority. In 2010, the graduation rate for the high schools in that county was 39%. Can you believe that, 39%? The well to do and mostly white county, in which we live, serves 21,000 students and is growing at a rate of 500 more students per year. Its schools are either new or are well turned out. Some of the elementary schools that have some poverty seem not to be as well resourced as some others.

The animosity of the community in the poor county can be viewed at every school board meeting. Most of the time, the white board members are attacking the school superintendent. She is African American. She is also very talented and has raised almost every major educational marker since she came here 5 years ago.

Because of her desire to improve the education of the children, she has embarked on a journey that has improved the district as a whole, but has angered those who enjoyed the fruits of a dilapidated system. Things like nepotism had run rampant. The hiring of those without the proper certifications were daily occurrences. School district economic issues were handled behind closed doors. People in the business office were not professionals and budgeting was helter skelter.

This appeared to be o.k. with a board that had seen significant turnover and co-terminus with superintendent turnover.

When the new superintendent arrived from being an assistant in a large city in South Carolina, she began to do away with nepotism. She dispensed with the uncertified staff and got rid of some of the employees that were there only because Uncle Louie insisted on their being hired. This began a minor conflagration with those whose reason for being on the board was to somehow influence the district to send business to them or their friends and family members.

As things started to improve, those who see African Americans with education as “uppity” wanted this all to stop and wanted to put her in her place. This all has a familiar ring to it. At the last election, most of the new board members had a beef with the superintendent. One new member wanted to have her daughter be the homecoming queen, even though she had lost. The mom wanted the superintendent to declare her daughter the winner.

Another member was a longtime volunteer from the wealthy side of the community. He worked at the high school and presented information he had gleaned there to make public presentations about how things were going so poorly. He was asked by the teachers to please leave.

I believe that South Carolina is the only state that buys its buses for all of its school districts. The buses that they purchased are usually used ones and last time they were those from Tennessee. Of the 30 some odd buses in the county, 20 of them are over 20 years old and have over 300,000 miles on them. This puts pressure on rural schools, because you might have some dough to lease other buses, but if not, you are stuck with the ancient ones. If you buy your own buses, the state removes THEIR buses one for one.

Some of our neighbors here in Disneyworld for adults, have never seen or experienced racial bias. I was forced to tell them that they did not look like the people who were being discriminated against. It is our experience that African American women are more likely to tell you what’s going on than African American men. I believe that is because it falls on their children to battle the forces that want to keep them in their place. The moms know what’s ahead for their children and have their feelings on their sleeves.

Carol and I may have some small understanding of discrimination. We have felt it as a result of living in rural communities where there were few or no Jews. There were a few incidents in the schools they went to. They were taken care of by the principals. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent of schools. Even the principals began to understand.

We went to a specialist for Carol’s issues in Savannah. Some of the preliminary testing was done by an African American woman in her forties. As the test was quite long, we were able to strike up a conversation with her. I guess, as patients, we were not anyone that she would have to worry about. She was quite frank with us about how the color of your skin meant more to people than what your skills were. She did not complain about having been passed over for a job. She explained that the kind of discrimination that goes on in the hospital must be seen with a wider eye.

Her view was that most of the jobs in the hospital, including physicians and nurses, were the province of those that controlled things. The city itself was set up so that only certain people were permitted to rise to the top. Even with an African American as mayor, the system was always the same. There was kind of a glass ceiling that everyone was just supposed to obey.

There was little of the outward prejudice that one might think was there, but it is more insidious and much less on the surface. Greetings with the terms, ma’am, sir, and so on are plentiful, but the real lack of respect is what happens after the introductions.

“The Corridor of Shame” was a documentary about the schools along rte. 95 in South Carolina. It extends from the North Carolina border to the border of Georgia. It is rife with poverty and schools with insufficient funds. It was also the subject of a lawsuit based on the Abbeville School District that began in 1993 and was concluded just last year. The Supreme Court of South Carolina voted 3-2 for the legislature to produce adequate funding for its schools. The legislature was given to February 2016 to come up with a plan.

The legislature has said that it had no intention of fulfilling that order.
88% of those school districts children are minority. Looks like another victory for Southern Charm.

The director of a charter school in Lee County, South Carolina, was sentenced to jail for 3 1/2 years after she was convicted of diverting $1.56 million to sham accounts.

“A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former charter public school director to 31/2 years in prison for stealing $1.56 million in federal money that should have gone to help educate low-income children in poverty-stricken areas of Lee County.

“She was supposed to help children who were needy children, who had a lot to gain from a good education,” U.S. Judge Terry Wooten said just before pronouncing sentence on Benita Dinkins-Robinson shortly after 6 p.m., near the end of a nine-hour hearing at the federal courthouse in Columbia….

“During her investigation, Dinkins-Robinson had refused repeated FBI requests to produce invoices to show how she spent money, telling the FBI that her companies were private businesses and she didn’t have to tell federal investigators what she did with the money, Bitzel told Wooten.”

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/news/local/crime/article32398251.html#storylink=cpy

The Post and Courier in South Carolina discovered that school choice leaves the neediest students behind. Its investigation of North Charleston High School describes the flight of the most able and advantaged students to “choice” schools. The students with the greatest needs are left behind.

“The school, which should house a diverse group of 1,141 students from across its attendance zone, instead enrolled just 450 this year — and shrinking. Nearly 90 percent of its students are black in an area that’s more than a quarter white, and virtually all left are poor.”

The largest department in the school is special education.

This story, one of a five-part series, focuses on Maurice Williams, a freshman who nearly died because an infection in his brain that led to a blood clot. Maurice lives with his half-sister. No car, no job, little money, no choice. Left behind.

Competition has drained the top students out of North Charleston Hogh. Those who lacked the means are left behind. With fewer resources in a highly segregated school.

A situation caused by a law ironical led named No Child Left Behind. Call it a landmark in resegregating our public schools and leaving behing those children with the greatest disadvantages.

Politicians are lining up in agreement that the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds and placed in a musem. But doing so requires a supermajority vote of the Legislature and then a waiting period. It could be months before the flag is removed, if the Legislature agrees to do so.

One lone activist decided to engage in civil disobedience. Bree Newsome scaled the pole near the Capitol building, unhooked it, submitted to arrest, and walked away reciting the 23rd Psalm, with her police escort. She has been released.

Newsome has a website with a few videos. She describes herself as an artist and an activist,

The poet laureate of Columbia, South Carolina, is Ed Madden. Does your city or town or village have a poet laureate? It should.

Madden read this poem at a rally on Saturday. There is nothing like a poem to get to the heart of the matter.

“When we’re told we’ll never understand”

Someone says a drug-related incident,
someone says he was quiet, he mostly kept to himself,
someone says mental illness,
someone says a hateful and deranged mind,
someone says he was a loner, he wasn’t bullied,
someone says his sister was getting married in four days,
a newsman says an attack on faith,
a relative says his mother never raised him to be like this,
a friend says he had that kind of Southern pride, strong conservative beliefs,
someone says he made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that you don’t really think of it like that,
someone says he wanted to start a civil war,
he said he was there to kill black people,
the governor says we’ll never understand.
*

He is not a lone wolf,
he is not alien,
he is not inexplicable,
he is not just one sick individual,
he is one of us,
he is from here,
he grew up here,
he went to school here,
he wore his jacket with its white supremacist patches here,
he told racist jokes here,
he got his gun here,
he learned his racism here,
his license plate sported a confederate flag here,
the confederate flag flies at the state capitol here,
he had that kind of Southern pride,
this is not isolated this is not a drug incident,
this is not unspeakable (we should speak,
this is not unthinkable (we should think),
this is not inexplicable (we must explain it),
he is not a symbol he is a symptom,
he is not a cipher he is a reminder,
his actions are beyond our imagining,
but his motivation is not beyond our understanding
no he didn’t get those ideas from nowhere.

mental illness is a way to not say racism
drug-related is a way to not say hate
loner is a way to not say one of us
we’ll never understand is a way to not say look at our history

Look away, look away, look away [to be sung]

Ed Madden
20 June 2015