Defining concepts downward

See the headline on today’s front page?

Which is better —
insider or outsider?

It refers, of course, to the superintendent of education race. It’s an idiotic question, but I certainly don’t blame my colleagues down in the newsroom for that. They are reflecting the times in which they are editing. Today, such a question regarding the head of something as complex as our schools system is … perfectly "reasonable."

You see, we have defined "reasonable" down to an absurdly low level in our politics today. Even the use of "insider" and "outsider" to describe this race is misleading, because we’ve distorted those concepts as well.

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan ran as "outsiders," and both had been governors — Reagan was the governor of our largest state, which is larger and richer than most nations. They had been chief executives before; they had some clue what the job entailed. They were real outsiders because they weren’t part of the establishment. That establishment chewed up Carter and spit him out; Reagan triumphed over it.

Karen Floyd most certainly isn’t an "outsider" by those standards. She’s had limited administrative experience in the private sector during her job-hopping career, and none in the public. She doesn’t know anything more than a randomly chosen person off the street knows about education, and less than many you might find that way. She hasn’t been working on improving schools from the outside — running advocacy groups or participating in think tanks or establishing and successfully running private alternatives. Maybe she plays a leading role in the PTA, but if she’s touted that, I’ve missed it.

The bizarre thing is, by the usual standards of "outsider," Jim Rex is it. Most of his career has been spent in higher ed — both public and private colleges — working on improving schools from the outside. He’s found innovative ways to improve the teaching pool and training, and he’s got plenty of ideas — based on actual experience — for making greater improvements.

No, today, "insider" means "someone who has relevant experience of some kind" and "outsider" means, "doesn’t know jack about the job." And the latter, in our anti-intellectual, anti-expert, Reality TV-soaked society, has enormous appeal.

I don’t understand why. But then, I expect words to mean what they mean, and voters to behave rationally. So don’t mind me; I’m deluded.

30 thoughts on “Defining concepts downward

  1. Chris

    Your blogging, and the State’s coverage of this Floyd/Rex race is petty.
    Disgracefully petty.

  2. Lee

    I would like to see some detailed descriptions of the alleged reforms implemented by Jim Rex in his career. I am not saying that as a put-down; I genuinely think that if he has the resume for the job, he should elaborate on it with some real examples, and tell us why he wants the state office, and what he would shake up there, and how he would do it.

  3. Randy Ewart

    Chris, your posts and analysis has been petty. I asked you for data to justify your position on the state of SC education. Your reply was to cite a 5 minute talk you had with Floyd and your resulting belief in her as a leader.
    There are three problems with the voucher plan that have yet to be answered:
    1. What evidence is there that the SC middle and elementary schools are in such dire need of reform? DATA please (high school metrics don’t cut it).
    2. How will the behavior problems be handled? Private schools can expell students so they go back to public schools? Alternative schools for disruptive kids is a great idea, but Floyd DOES NOT propose this! Either she doesn’t understand the problem or she doesn’t see it as a priority.
    3. How will the poorest families pay for the difference between their voucher and the cost of private schools? The Midlands high schools cost more than the average public per pupil cost. AND, these private schools have foundations or religious affiliation for support. Also, what about transportation?
    Chris and others, spare us the hate and provide details!

  4. bud

    Who chooses the headlines for the State? We just ended October with the largest number of troop deaths in nearly a year. North Korea has agreed to 6 party talks. And we have a headline discussing a lawyers opinion about a case that happened 2 years ago and a petty discussion of a non-issue in the supt of ed race. Really, this is pathetic.

  5. Doug

    Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense and never served in the military.
    As far as I can tell from the scant details available on the web about Inez Tenenbaum’s career as a teacher, it lasted maybe two years back in the mid-70’s before she became a lawyer. Anyone have any more details on her teaching experience?
    Six more days for Brad Quixote to tilt at the windmills… at some point maybe he’ll realize that people simply don’t agree with his position on making this race all about vouchers.

  6. Chris

    Please, my comrade, please cease the tirades against me and my postings. You and I are thinking abut these issues on two different levels …and I seriously doubt you will ever graduate from the worker bee level.
    I am thinking of banning you from this blog.

  7. Lee

    The fact that half of those promoted out middle school are illiterate and/or drop out of high school is enough data that something is wrong with elementary and middle school education.

  8. Doug

    PACT Test Scores 2006 (all of SC):
    % Students Scoring Below Basic
    Grade English Math
    3 13.6 19.1
    4 18.2 21.6
    5 20.2 24.1
    6 30.9 21.4
    7 29.9 25.2
    8 27.3 34.7
    From the looks of this data, it would seem obvious that 1/3 of the students in this state are not ready to go to H.S. after the 8th grade. I would imagine that a high percentage of the dropouts come from this group.
    The numbers for Allendale are tragic. 46% Below Basic in English and 61% in Math. Only 7% Proficient or Advanced in English and only 3% Proficient or Advanced in Math.
    The math numbers for 8th graders have gotten worse each of the past three years.
    But, no, we’ll keep plugging away doing what we’ve been doing all along. We couldn’t risk someone from outside the school establishment to be given the same resources to try it a different way. Because, well, because it MIGHT work.

  9. bill

    Hey,bud,you forgot,SC isn’t part of the US.Why should The State depress us with such trivial news about that country.

  10. LexWolf

    funny how there is a pronounced general worsening trend to those numbers. It would almost make one think that our kids would be better off if they never went to public school at all. All they seem to get for spending 6 hours a day on the educrat plantation is that they seem to get dumber and dumber the longer they are stuck there.
    Let Randy spin that one!

  11. bud

    It seems that everyone in this education discussion is painting with much too broad of a brush. There are some very fine public schools in South Carolina and some awful ones also. And a private school, or even home-schooled situation does not guarantee success. Discipline problems are not properly addressed in public schools. That is where the big difference lies. Even if all families had a voucher for 100% of any private school they wanted to attend problems would still exist unless discipline problems are addressed. Right now private schools do a better job of that. I would start with tougher discipline standards, even if it costs a bit of money, for public schools and work from there.

  12. Doug

    In addition to tougher discipline standards, we need tougher advancement standards to keep kids from being pushed along even though the testing we have put into place shows they are not ready.
    If we’re not going to use the test results for any real purpose then scrap them altogether. Most parents would not care if we did scrap them.
    That’s why people like Brad who only want discuss a voucher program THAT DOESN’T EXIST IN ANY FORM end up taking the focus off of all the other problems that the next Superintendent of Education must address in order for us to see progress.
    The first step is admitting there is a problem. Second, start trying new ideas… maybe even from people who haven’t spent their lives in a classroom. For some kids, it cannot get any worse than it is now.
    There are actions that could be taken IMMEDIATELY – not next year, not after forming a committee to come up with a five year plan two years from now – that could alter the education opportunity for all SC students. But, just like Social Security is the “third rail” of national politics, education is the “third rail” of state and local politics. The entire edu-ocracry is politicized from the top down. And why is that? Because, as Willie Sutton said, that’s where the money is.

  13. Lee

    Doug, I am with you. No more PhD education consultants, blue-ribbon panels, and studies. It is past time to do something.
    The declining test scores from the 3rd grade on through the 8th are a strong indication that students are being promoted when they should not be. Eventually, they fall so far behind that they drop out.
    These average scores mask an even worse problem: there are very bad school districts who are much worse than the average. The game being played by administrators is to pass the buck, move the students out to the next school and let them fail there.

  14. Ed

    Randy loves to cite his “numbers” and tell us how well elementary and middle school students are doing in South Carolina, and based on that he thinks we need to leave public education alone. Telling me that grades one through eight are doing ok and building your house of cards on that is like telling me that the Titanic had a great kitchen staff. Who cares? The frickin thing ultimately sank, and took the great kitchen staff with it. Look Randy, first through eighth graders may look OK, but eighth graders aren’t the ones who enter the job market or begin contributing to (or sucking the life from) the economy. No matter how good eighth graders look, they ultimately do very poorly as twelfth graders in our state, and that’s really the metric we ought to be using isn’t it? Ed

  15. Doug

    Here’s a good one taken directly from the link above:
    What happens if a student scores Below Basic on a PACT test?
    The EAA (S.C. Code Ann. §59-18-500) (Supp. 1999) requires that schools develop individual Academic Plans for Students (APSs) for those students in grades 3-8 who score Below Basic on the PACT. Use the following link for more information about academic plans.
    So, supposedly, we should have literally tens of thousands of these individual academic plans floating around the system.
    Wonder what they look like? They can’t be working very well. I’m guessing the ones for 8th graders look something like:
    “Learn how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?'”

  16. Randy Ewart

    Chris, you’ve already “banned” logic in favor or myopic opinion from your posts so why stop there.
    But, no, we’ll keep plugging away doing what we’ve been doing all along. We couldn’t risk someone from outside the school establishment to be given the same resources to try it a different way. Because, well, because it MIGHT work. – Doug
    Yes, Allendale parents will try those car pools you use in Richland 2 to get to those new private school that will pop up through out their county. Oops, forgot, their median household income is about 1/2 of that in Richland County.
    Doug, you’ve digressed into the simplistic demogoguery persona again. The pro-voucher public school hater crowd pushes an OVERHAUL of the entire system. There’s no line item veto, so in the manner of our Governor, many educators who are open to reform feel compelled to veto this “plan”.
    You and I discussed targetted choice for the lower socio-economic students, especially in the poor rural areas. That’s a lot different that wide open vouchers for all.

  17. Randy Ewart

    Randy loves to cite his “numbers” and tell us how well elementary and middle school students are doing in South Carolina, and based on that he thinks we need to leave public education alone. Ed
    Ed, either you are semi-illiterate or you only see what you want to see. Let’s go through this slowly for you…
    People use data (numbers to you) to make informed decisions, other wise these conclusions are OPINIONS. Look up Deming and see why Japanese autos are about to take over the market – he used data analysis to boost quality control which is common. W uses data analysis to analyze phone records. Insider trading is detected with data analysis. etc.
    I read hate posts from chris, ed, lexie, and doug about how the system needs an overhaul. I ask a pretty reasonable question, “why?” These guys respond “because are schools are bad…I see it for myself.” Then these guys use a lazy and scripted reply that I’m for the status quo. In other words, they are arrogant enough to suggest their solution is the ONLY reform that is acceptable.
    I am for reform. If I was a status quo guy, I’d be championing Rex. I don’t. In fact, I’m for more accountability for teachers, believe in limited choice, and think there are terrible problems in the system. BUT, I don’t see vouchers solving the big problems I as a teacher face daily so I am not drinking the kool aid ED, I am not so lazy that I read a simple plan for a terribly complex problem and think “ya, that’ll work”.

  18. Doug

    In what way would my postings reflect “hate”?
    The numbers are what they are. Do you see something positive there that I am missing? Our middle schoolers across the state are scoring progressively worse at each grade level. Allendale students get 30% more funding than average and the results as measured by the PACT scores are getting worse, not better. It’s not just about carpools so please drop that non-issue. It’s about dramatically changing the way those kids are taught rather than following a path that has not ever worked.
    What do you think we should do for Allendale students specifically?

  19. Randy Ewart

    Doug, there’s a big difference between characterizing a whole system as failing and identifying problem areas even if those areas are numerous. I think Mike Campbell, out of all the candidates I’ve seen this year, captured the real essence of the problem. He suggested the the suburban schools are not the problem – it’s mostly the poor rural schools.
    Take a look at Columbia. Richland 2 schools, Dreher, Flora, Lex 5 schools, Lex 1 schools, and some of the other Lex schools are doing fine. Yes there are problems at these schools as well, but not to the level of needing an overhaul.
    Doug, at times you seem to fall into the routine of using a broad brush to paint the entire system. You point out falling PACT scores. I posted the NAEP NATIONAL data that shows our middle and elementary schools scored at the median or higher on 5 out of 8 tests. Clearly the entire system is not as bad as is claimed. Are the declining PACT scores an indication of problems? Yes. Are there problems in many schools? Yes. Does the ENTIRE system need to be overhauled? Yes…according to the demagogues, but not the those that are willing to take a closer look.

  20. LexWolf

    “I am for reform. If I was a status quo guy, I’d be championing Rex. I don’t.”
    That’s great, Randy, I’m really glad to see that you are for reform, finally. Now would you mind telling us exactly what reforms you are advocating? You admit that there are numerous problems so how precisely would you fix them? Stay away from the platitudes but give us some real solutions! Be specific.
    Define at what level of incompetence and failure an overhaul is needed!
    (I won’t even mention your alleged NAEP data which I have yet to see proven, but knock yourself out)

  21. Doug

    I’ve never said that the entire system has to be changed in the same way. Each district has its own issues that need to be addressed specifically. For failing districts like Allendale, a possible solution might be some type of voucher system that would provide incentive to private entities to try new methods. That won’t fix all of the social and economic issues that impact that district, but it’s better than doing the same thing over and over. For districts like Richland 2, the issues are not related to classroom instruction. In my view, Richland 2 could be even better if it addressed the discipline problems, the uncontrolled growth, and wasteful spending of tax dollars on technology. Not doing something about the first two will more than likely lead to lower performance overall down the road.
    I’ve never said change the entire system.
    Each district faces its own challenges. I doubt that Karen Floyd (actually the legislature) is going to implement any state-wide change that reduces the performance of the state’s best districts.

  22. Randy Ewart

    Doug, I think you make very astute and important points, but you also take jabs about educators not trying something different “because it might work”.
    Lexie, are you still having trouble navigating a simple website to find data? You are the one crying about the state of our system but can’t provide any data. What about those extremist sites you keep using? No data there?
    Not only can you not justify a need for your “plan”, but you can’t explain the details of this “plan” other than “the market will make it work”. You have not shown any credibility on this issue.

  23. Randy Ewart

    Lexies, I’ve posted suggestions. Because I didn’t blindly drink the koolaid you offer as a “plan” you dismiss any suggestions as supporting the “status quo”. That’s woefully simplistic of you.
    I agree with Doug regarding holding students accountable, e.g. if a student can’t pass PACT, don’t socially promote them. In lieu of keeping them in middle school, create an alternative setting until they catch up. Also, I believe in more alternative schools for behavior problem students.
    I think there should be different diplomas which reflects the course of work. Students who graduate with AP credit and are going to Harvard shouldn’t have the same sheep skin as a student with a 1.7 gpa in low level courses. This approach includes more vocational opportunities.
    And yes, I like the idea of limited private school choice for low socio-economic students. But, the same effect may be possible with charter schools.
    Finally, I like end of course exams. This tests if students have really learned the material in individual courses and provides accountability for students.

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