HOW CAN YOU TELL A SCHOOL DISTRICT IS DOING WELL

As a former lobbyist for rural schools, I one time asked a state senator this question; why do you only determine how well a school is doing by a standardized test? He replied, “Because it’s easier.” There it is ladies and gentlemen, the perfect answer to an important question. How many state legislatures in the country do the same thing?

How about on the international scene? How can we compare countries on one test when the variable inputs are so different? It is the absolute comparison of apples to asparagus. There can be no comparison because of so many differences in the countries that are being compared. Can you really compare the United States to Iceland?

In reality, you cannot. The reason why it’s done is because it’s “EASIER.’ That is the sum total of our determination of how well an entity is doing locally and internationally.

How about this one? Almost all of the Presidents of the United States were born and raised in rural towns and areas. Of the 45 presidents, including the present one, only 5 were born in a metro area. The conclusion is therefore that rural people are smarter by far than metro people. It is “Easier” to look at it this way.

When Charles Murray wrote the “Bell Curve,” it stimulated me and others to take a look at what was being measured. The critics of the book seemed all to accept the notion that the value of a human being is measured by a test concocted by Louis Terman in the early 1900’s that measured how well someone would score on that particular test. There have been many studies based on the assumption that these tests actually measured something more than the ability to take a test.

It was up to J.P. Guilford in 1967 to take a serious look at intelligence and a careful look at Terman’s work creating the Stanford-Binet Test. The original work compared the 7 brightest and 7 dumbest (not my word) students in a local school of 500 students. He used some tests of him own making and others and concluded that there was a way of calculating intelligence using these measures. All of the tests correlated to his criteria, except for motor skills and creativity and inventiveness. However he did not correlate the tests to each other.

Somehow I wish that I could send every educator his book, “The Nature of Intelligence,” which would blow your mind (if you could stand reading a tome that is long and technical). It took me about 10 years to actually plow through it.

So, now we know that each governmental attempt at determining how well a school is doing is based on a paper and pencil test of someone’s making. Usually the company that makes these tests makes a pile of dough.

Have you noticed how colleges and universities are relying less on SAT and ACT for admission, but rather the GPA? Does that mean that we are relying more on human observation rather than tests. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if it was true?

Even in the NFL, prospects are given something called the Wonderlic Test. It I a snappy test of 50 questions in 12 minutes. It purports to measure intelligence. I must say that during a hiatus from education into the world of hustling bodies (employment agencies) that I used this test to determine something or other. I did tell my clients that they would be tested similarly when they were interviewed by a company.

This test has very little value to those interested in how to measure intelligence, unless you want to know that offensive lineman get higher scores than quarterbacks. Dr. Wonderlic and his family have made a bundle on this test.

The object of these references is to inform the reader that determining whether a school district is doing well or not cannot be measured by any of these tests. Comparing a rural economically disadvantaged county in South Carolina to one of the state’s wealthiest counties, is sheer nonsense.

Here is a simple example. Take Advanced Placement courses. From my own personal experience with rural school districts, I found that a very large group of those districts in Pennsylvania had no, I said NO AP courses. Those courses cost money to run and for teachers to be trained in the teaching of them.

This was a time, as sit is now in South Carolina that the PA was attempting to grade school districts with a composite alphanumeric. One of the variables was AP courses. You can guess what happened. The state eventually removed that metric.

There are so many opportunities that poor school districts do not have; SAT/ACT preparation courses, technology, adequate teacher salaries, number of teachers, counselors, aides, reading specialists, physical facilities, co-curricular activities, etc. A number of studies over the years have concluded that there is a positive correlation between active participation in co-curricular programs and grades.

How can we determine, using real measures of advancement, how well a school district is doing. Some states are using this kind of market basket approach to measuring the success of a school district. Here is a set of variables using a baseline. All of this depends on the stability of the administration, teachers, school boards, and Departments of Education.

  • Graduation Rates
  • Attendance
  • Discipline rates
  • Stability of staff
  • Going on to post- secondary rates
  • Post-secondary graduation rates
  • Success in later life (yes, many schools track that)
  • Staff development
  • Percent of teachers certified in subjects they are teaching
  • Retention rates
  • Dual enrollment

These are just a few of the variables that might be used. Most of them can be codified. There are other, much longer lists (see John Hattie’s work on Visible Learning- he identifies 258 variables). As a person working in education, you can think of a number more.

Just for the heck of it, let me ask you this question? How would you go about improving some of the above variables by consolidation, state takeover, further reliance on high stakes testing, or grading school districts? Those are extant solutions to improve “failing” school districts.

 

 

 

 

 

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CAT HAIR IS ONE OF OUR KITCHEN’S CONDIMENTS

Yes, we have three black cats. All of them were humane society’s habitués from which we got them. The stories of how we get them will be left for another time, or did I tell you already. This story begins and ends with the May 1st birthdays.

We got all of our cats at different times of the year. However, we saw that most of their birthdates were either in May or around May. So May 1st is their yearly birthday.

I go to the pet store and pick out some treats for them. Unfortunately, they all have different taster buds. Random Numbers (age 19) only likes those tidbits that have some chicken tasting stuff in them. P.S. (age 12) will eat anything that is not glued down by super glue. Boo Radley (age 7) is the dairy king. If there isn’t milk, cheese, ice cream, or yogurt in it, he walks away.

When we have company, we put them into our “office” with their food, water and litter box. However, we learned our lesson when we had guests who wanted to see the cats and Mr. Boo Radley decided to be a pal to a gentleman who was severely allergic to cats. He had not taken his Zyrtec. By the time he left, his eye was closed. Fortunately, his wife could drive in the dark.

Whenever we have guests, these days, we do ask if anyone is allergic to cats. If they are, we do a fast housecleaning with a special sponge to get the hair off the sitting places. However, we do have one problem. People ask us if we keep the cats off the tables and the counters in the kitchen. We certainly do (but we don’t). We have traded our cat’s lack of scratching anything, their ability to eat out of one bowl and expunge in the same litter box. They spend little time in the warm weather scurrying around the kitchen or the dining table.

We have had cats and dogs all of our married life (mostly when our kids were young). We know that they are aware that we don’t restrict them on most ways. In the evening they sometimes gravitate to Carol and fall asleep on her lap. They do not seem to enjoy my lap that much. However if I am working at the computer or making out checks, they are right there. Have you ever made out a check with a cat nose resting on the tip of your pen?

 

 

 

 

 

WHY ARE YOU AN ANTI-SEMITE?

I am sure that many of you have asked of those people who seem to despise Jews for no particular reason, why do you hate Jews. For most non-Jews that question arises from time to time. For Jews, it is a daily question. It appears that Europe is beginning to awaken to the happenings in Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, and other countries that anti-Semitism is on the rise.

Right wing political parties seem to pick up that thread and feed it to their constituents. The bad part is that it seems to find a willing set of ears. There are open platforms of these parties that clearly echo some of the most dastardly sayings of the NAZI regime. Add that to the Middle Eastern anti-semites and you have a reasonable large chorus.

The establishment of Israel was certainly a creation of the Allies after World War II. They felt they owed it to the Jewish people to give the Jews their own piece of property. The Middle East was not the only place that offered refuge. The Soviet Union has offered a slice of an inhabitable part of their empire. There was even a place in Africa that was offered by Great Britain in their Ugandan territory.

The Jews were insistent on Palestine as their ancestral homeland as described in the Torah. Palestine was then divided into the Palestinian country and Israel.

Irrespective of the partitioning of the country by the U.N., the Arab world rebelled and tried to destroy Israel. They did not. The friction in that part of world went way beyond hating Israelis; it became a tinder box for the past 70 years.

Hatred for Jews is also entrenched in parts of the world that have nothing to do with Jews. How about China and Russia and a number of African countries.

The current administration in Washington D.C. claims to be pro-Israel. However, our President was quick to point out, in the Charlottesville debacle that there were nice people among the anti-Semitic, white supremacists, Nazis, and others. Are you kidding? Anti-Semitism is on the rise, on college campuses, in rural areas and even in the halls of congress. Is there no end to this? Do we always need a scapegoat in our lives? Why is it that Jews were picked out by God to be picked on by everyone else? Maybe Jews have been too nice. Maybe the answer is clear. When anti-Semitism raises its ugly head, we should answer in kind.

 

 

IN WHOM DO SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS CONFIDE?

A couple of us have been school superintendents. We sometimes talk about our experiences during those times. One question that seems to come up more often than one would think is, did you have someone with whom you could confide. We dredged up a bunch of answers that would come to mind, besides your family.

The interesting part of the list is that it is very small. Having spoken to a large number of school superintendents over the years, it appears that there is a paucity of confidantes along the way.

There are cautionary tales about confiding in school board members. Not that there are none in that class that would hold onto confidences. However, most believe that it really can’t work because there is a line of demarcation between boards and their superintendents. The professional relationship seems to put a crimp in the personal relationship.

Staff in the school is even a smaller number. You may have some social occasions in which you fraternize with staff, but there is always a case for not fraternizing. Others might look at that and describe the relationships as favoritism. That does not have any long time advantages.

How about people in the community? If these folks have children in school, you run afoul of getting a call from a neighbor complaining about something or other. “Do you know what Principal Smith said to my son?” That is not the beginning of a friendship. We have experienced that in triplicate.

So when you really need someone to talk to, who it? Some supes rely on their state organizations. A call to them sometimes gets you a willing ear and maybe an answer to your problem.  It is often surprising to find someone at that level who has run across that very same problem and may have an answer.

There are a myriad of other possibilities- school district solicitors, legislators, department of education staff, ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, and others.

The last group of people, and not in any order, is other school superintendents. Your confreres most often give you a willing ear and may have some solutions because they have gone through the same thing. Many superintendents are hesitant about asking their peers. Sometimes don’t want to admit failure. Young superintendents are more likely to seek out a mentor. However, those who have been in the saddle for a while play things close to the vest.

As you have surmised, it is a mix of people who might be of help to you. The superintendency is a very difficult job. It is now so much more public than it had been in previous times. The pressure seems to grow daily. Not sure what the average tenure of a superintendent is in SC, but it is less than four years for rural superintendents.

The most frustrating thing of all is what happens when you are either canned, or retire. One would think that the brother/sisterhood would flock around you to offer their shoulder for you to cry on (we do know that superintendents don’t cry). This is sometimes true even when you are in a problem that makes its way into the media. How many times do you get a call telling you that this is something that can be worked out and an offer of help? This happens very rarely. If you do have supes who do that, hold them close.

 

 

 

 

 

HELLO AGAIN RACISM

 

You knew it was roiling under a thin surface. It is now as blatant as can be. The garbage pile of racism has now flowered under the umbrella of populism, nationalism and that crapwagon of old anti-globalism. It happens with frequent regularity every couple of decades and usually ends in some kind of war or other conflagration.

The newest poster boys for this sort of hatred is Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and now our good buddy Vladimir Putin. If you have not kept up with Bannon, he is fiercely rebranding himself as the chief racist across the globe. Although his brand was blemished here in the U.S., he has popped up in Europe at a gathering of Marie LePen’s ultra right party in France.

His new slogan is, “Wear your racist badge proudly.” Whatever his goals are, they are antithetical to most human beings on earth. He talks about freedom in a way that coddles dictators and the lowest form of humanity. His vision of history is so skewed that it could be played on the Sci-Fi channel as proto history. He probably is delighted with films that portray what would have happened if the Nazis would have won World War II.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a racist, no matter what his family or apologists say. His comments after Charlottesville that there are good people on both sides of a racist gathering is mind boggling. His attempts to diminish all ethnic groups, and other religious groups, save evangelical Christians is clearly documented. His pronouncement to a group of Jewish businessmen that all Jews are skilled at making deals is an obvious rewording of a medieval view of the Jewish people. Not sure how people like Sheldon Adelson, Gary Cohn, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Ivanka and her children can tolerate him.

Now we come to the piece de resistance. Vladimir has finally announced to the world what we all really knew. He is a pure racist. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” Putin told NBC’s Megyn Kelly. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

Vlad, do you have any idea what you have said about your own country. Evidently, the only real citizens of Russia are ethnic Russians. That ought to please all of the other ethnic groups. Since there are only 146 million pure Russians and the others are just hangers on, the puries could not have done this meddling. Come on Vlad, you said you are far away from the U.S. so that it would be impossible to meddle. You also claim that the U.S. meddled in your elections. I believe you have not taken your medications yesterday in your interview with Megyn Kelly.

Let’s take a look at Russian Ukrainians which represent 1.4% of the population and Tatars which represent the largest ethnic group. So let’s see since there are a total of 185 identified ethnic groups in the Russian Federation, he mentions the two largest and the Jews.

Nice touch Vlad (the impaler), get everyone on board with the other Jew haters and anti-Semites in other countries and identify them as non-card carrying real Russians and alongside of the 600 lb. person lying in a bed who could have done the meddling. Or, was there meddling done by the secret governmental organizations.

Great to see all of these real patriots parlaying ultra nationalism, anti- governmental coalitions like the EU, with the Nazis, anti-Semites, populists, KKK, and others in a brotherhood of hatred.

Right Vlad, you really don’t know anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A TEACHER, A COACH AND AN INSPIRATION

 

Nykierra Scott and Ashiana Scott (not related) are 8th graders at the Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School, and they are winners. They are both on the school’s Honor Roll and have been for the past 3 terms. They play on the middle school’s outstanding basketball team, the Lady Canes (short for Hurricanes).

 

According to Coach Wes Estock, “ The Lady Canes completed a successful 2017-18 campaign. They capped off a perfect 16-0 season with the I-95 Championship, defeating St. George Middle School in a 43-32 victory. The team was also crowned the Colleton County Christmas Tournament Champs for the second time in three years and I-95 Regular Season League Champs.”

 

So far as I can tell, there are four reasons why these girls and the other members of their team: Farrah Doe, Janiyah Chaneyfield, Kayona Deloach, Lataye Walker, Daisy Taylor, Nia King, Deanna Douglas, Tatyana Heyward, Jalasia Polite, Mikaila Darien, and Makayla Fields are winners.

 

First, Coach Estock, who moved South from Pennsylvania three years ago, teaches history at the middle school. He is a terrific motivator, setting high standards and enforcing them. He and one of his assistant coaches, Angel Spencer, decided three years ago when they started coaching, that they needed to establish a winning culture. Their mission revolves around Faith, Family, Education and Friends. Estock is always on the lookout for athletic girls in 7th or 8th grade. He does not limit himself to girls who are already successful in school. When he sees a girl who might benefit his team, he takes that girl aside and talks to her about playing. The overwhelming number of girls on his teams have never played basketball before.

 

Nykierra Scott admits, “After the second day of tryouts I went up to Coach Estock’s room and told him that I quit. He talked to me for about a half hour about everything but basketball. He even told me if I didn’t want to learn to play, I should not try to join the team because you can only be a good player if you love the sport enough to work very hard. After that, I decided I didn’t want to let Coach down, so I stayed on. He works us really hard at practice and that’s why we win. My first year, when we were in 7th grade, we didn’t know how to play. We were 3 and 11, awful! But now we are champions.”

 

Estock keeps after his team. He checks their grades almost every day and uses his planning periods to tutor anyone who is not doing well.

 

In addition to coaching the Lady Canes, he coaches a Travel Team (AAU – Amateur Athletic Union) that spends many weekends during the off-season, from February to July, playing teams from all around the South. The parents help with the driving and Estock makes sure when they play on a college campus, that everyone tours the college. When they play in a city, like Nashville, he takes all the families into town and shows them around. Estock knows how important it is for his girls to have new experiences.

 

The second ingredient necessary for success is family. Both girls come from families that value hard work, good grades, being responsible, being respectful and making the most of opportunities. Families tell the girls they are proud of them and make their children’s success a priority.

 

When I expressed concern about the expense of playing on the Travel Team, where parents must pay for gas, food and even hotel rooms, Estock explained that, “For the most part families pay their way and if a girl can’t afford the travel costs, that’s where our fundraising kicks in.” He smiles and shrugs when he adds, “That’s what my tax refund goes to, but these people have become my family.”
The third ingredient is making the connection between your own effort and your own success. The Lady Canes are not afraid to get dirty, sweaty or even hurt on the court. They’ve been scratched, shoved and even, on one occasion, bitten. Ashiana and Nykierra agree that many of their classmates want to be “pretty girls” who care deeply about their hair and their nails. They don’t want to get sweaty and dirty. “The Lady Canes are pretty girls, but not when we are playing basketball,” the two insist.  They continue, “When you are wearing that shirt with your name on it and your number on the back, people expect more of you and you don’t want to disappoint them.”

 

I asked the girls how they react when they feel a referee has made a bad call against their team. They explained, “We are there to play the best basketball we can. We are not refs and we can’t do anything about the refs. Our job is to play good ball.”

 

The last ingredient in becoming a success is very hard to define. It’s that special something- a mixture of determination, pride, talent and courage. It’s a willingness and maybe even the strength, to try something new and work at it until you master it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a little good luck.

 

THIS IS A POLITICAL THING, REMEMBER I WARNED YOU- THE FINAL PART

Since Jim was a friend, we never stood on ceremony. If he needed me for something, he never hesitated to call on a moment’s notice. If I ever needed to use the office for anything, it was mine. There were many times, when Jim would just want to talk about things. One day he called me and sounded very upset over the phone. He said (not asked) for me to come over immediately. I could not fathom what was wrong.

When I got to the office, he grabbed me by the arm, placed me in the elevator (and I mean placed) and took me down to the capitol garage to get into his car. We drove northeast towards his hometown of Mahanoy City and stopped at a closed diner along the way. We got out and he knocked on the closed diner door. The proprietor, and asked to come in and have something to eat. Both of us had not had any food since breakfast.

When we sat down, I said, “Come on Jim, what is this all about?” He lowered his head and asked, “Am not a conservative? My colleagues tell me that I am too liberal to be a conservative.” I paused and said, “Let me give you the test. Are you anti-abortion?” “Yes, said.” “Are you for small government?” “Yes I am” he intoned?” “Are you in any way interested in gun control?” “No I’m not!” he exclaimed forcefully.

I asked him four or five additional questions. “Jim you are most certainly a conservative.” Now that we are through with that, I told him, the answer to your question is that your colleagues, who make these pronouncements are not really conservatives, they are reactionaries.

I cannot tell you that the look on his face was beaming, but he seemed to be satisfied. His work in pre-school legislation and school funding over the years of his chairmanship exemplified at willingness to make things right for rural schools and all school children. Even today, the legislature and the Governor have no idea how he did it, not why. The money is still there for rural schools and has been grandfathered. I really miss the guy. Though he is no longer with us, the things that he did are still there.

(As an aside)I cannot conclude without pointing out that there were and are still Republicans who have a feeling for rural kids. One happens to be the woman who represents the area in which our family lived. Her name is Donna Oberlander and both she and her husband went to high school with our children. Yes, Donna is a Republican, and a pretty powerful one.

I know that Paula Hess will read this and I have to turn to her and say that she and Jan Bissett{god rest her soul}, a Democrat, while Paula is a Republican, kept education together in the House of Representatives for many years. They worked behind the scene to calm waters and get clean legislation together for the benefit of all children in Pennsylvania.