Here’s your chance to help

Our own Paul DeMarco is a member of the Equity Funding committee of Jim Rex‘s transition team. He wants our help. He’s looking for ideas — not arguments, not recriminations, but specific, practical ideas for how we should fund education going forward.

This is our chance to make a contribution to South Carolina, and along the way transform this blog into something more than a place to blow off hot air. To quote Elliott Ness in the movie, "let’s do some good." Here’s Paul’s request:


The Rex transition team Equitable Funding Committee is considering three basic questions:

1) How do you define an adequate education?
(actually the state supreme court set "minimally adequate" as the
benchmark, but let’s shoot a little higher). Only by defining what an
adequate education is can we address what an adequate funding level is.

2) What is the best way to collect money for education? HR 4449
passed in the last session shifted some of the burden from property tax
to sales tax. Is this wise? Are there other funding mechanisms the
state should consider?

3) What is the best way to distribute the dollars collected to fund
education? Is the current system in which funding varies widely from
district to district based on the tax base the best one? Some states
(i.e. Vermont) put all their education dollars in one pot and then
divides it so that every student receives the same amount of state
funding. Would a system like Vermont’s be better than what we have?

What I’m hoping for is ideas rather than commentary. Concentrate on
looking forward rather than into the past. One of our members said that
our committee would have to "give up all hope on creating a better

I don’t expect you to research your answers, but be as specific as
you can in the solutions you propose. If it’s a good idea, the
committee will research it for you.

So the focus is on adequacy, collection and distribution. Comment on
any or all. Also, there are four other committees 1) Choice (sorry,
Karen Floyd fans, but I suspect that’s primarily public school choice)
2) Innovation 3) Accountability (the focus is on PACT testing)
4)Teachers.  If you have any great ideas for Rex in these areas I will pass them along.

Thanks for your help.

129 thoughts on “Here’s your chance to help

  1. Lee

    Don’t assume that the schools and overhead activities need the same money they have now, much less more money. Only when the operations have been justified and a budget set, can anyone begin to ask HOW to raise the funds.
    The first step is to begin with a budget of zero.
    Prioritize every salary, and every expense and place a value on them of objective, provable, direct benefit to the children.
    Then place a subjective, not-so-provable benefit to children and to supporting the system.
    Right now, we have lots of sales tax increases that were sold to the voters as necessary for schools, being used on other activities of questionable value. Put all those sales tax revenues back to the schools, and we can probably abolish the property taxes and income taxes, and have enough money left over to pay for the rest of legitimate government.

  2. Spencer Gantt

    OK, I’ll bite. For what it’s worth, which probably “ain’t” much.
    1. An adequate education is one in which South Carolina students learn how to read, write and do arithmetic. Also, they learn real, true and honest South Carolina history as well as real, true and honest American history. All this begins in pre-school and continues every year from 1st grade through 12th grade. Throw in American and world literature in the higher grades. Include archaeology and the origins of man and all other species in the higher grades as well as creationism and any other theories. Forget social studies and political “science”; save these for college or other higher education venues.
    2. Collecting money for education. Continue as it is now, but graduate property tax. First 150K of ANY dwelling’s value is exempt. Everything above that is taxed at a reasonable percentage. Also, have some method for school taxation which “hits” everyone. Not much maybe, but some. EVERYONE in this state should pay SOMETHING for education. Said monies should be collected BY THE STATE. No counties, cities, towns or school districts should be allowed to or required to collect school taxes.
    3. Distribute the education money to each school at an equal rate of “X” dollars for each and every student ATTENDING. This should apply to ALL schools including private, parochial and home schools, but only for the courses noted above in (1).
    4. Not asked for, but here it is anyway. ABOLISH all school districts as they now exist and get rid of all the administrative and bureaucratic “flotsam and jetsam” that comes with them (including elected school boards). Let each school stand as a separate entity unto itself, run by the school administrators, parents and students. If we must have districts, let them exist only for scheduling extra-curricular activities.
    Always remember that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Therefore, I’m not hopeful we’ll see much, if any, improvement under Mr. Rex’s watch.

  3. Doug

    First, I agree with Lee regarding determing first what SHOULD be in the budget versus assuming that everything there right now is “just right”. There is huge waste in the elementary and middle school grades in many districts on technology that is barely used or else provides no measurable impact on the quality of education. We also spend far too much on building schools that are architectural wonders versus safe, functional, easily expanded and contracted campuses.
    On to the questions:
    1) An adequate education is one that prepares students for life after they leave school. The emphasis should be on heaviest on literacy, communication skills, practical math with real life application (finance, statistics, computer programming, , exposure to modern art and literature instead of the same old tired “literature”, a heavier emphasis on civics, government, community service. Use technology to teach not just as a means to eliminate handwriting. Provide more exposure to career education in high school. Find curriculums that keep kids in high school versus trying to make them learn stuff they will never use.
    2) The problem with using property taxes to fund local education is that there are really no controls on the spending and no real accountability. I support funding mainly from sales taxes and property taxes based on a flat PER HOME fee, not based on property value. There is absolutely no fairness in the current system of property tax funding. Why should an extra bedroom or bathroom or an extra .25 acre of land mean I should pay more for local schools than my neighbor? The only people who support that model are the people who are paying less than me. The per home fee should be capped at the inflation rate unless approved by 2/3 of the legislature.
    We also need a state-wide impact fee for new homes in areas that would be designated by factors like traffic patterns, school capacity, etc. Allowing developers to drop multi-thousand home developments all over Northeast Columbia has negatively impacted the quality of life. (I drove down Two Notch Rd. today at lunchtime and know of what I speak)
    3) I’m all for a standard per pupil funding amount. It won’t happen, though. That would be too easy. Some committee will come up with a complex formula that will be debated for years.
    I’d love to talk to someone about PACT testing. As a parent with three kids who have gone through it for years, I can tell you it has done nothing to improve the quality of their education and done more to harm it. The number of lost teaching days due to testing is at least 15 and the impact on how teachers teach has been apparent. I have firsthand experience with teachers who have told my kids they could not slow down to review material due to the testing requirements.
    Thanks for the opportunity to express an opinion.

  4. Paul DeMarco

    I think there is some support on the committee for a version of what you are proposing. We want to define exactly how much it costs to educate the “average” child by rigorously adding up line item by line item those expenses. Once you have that number (say $7500/year) then you know roughly how big the budget should be. Certain students (special needs, very poor, gifted) will require additional funding which you can budget.
    Of course, some people would want a no-frills education (say $5000/year) and some would want a luxury model (say $10,000/year). So getting to the final number would be a matter of consensus about what to include or exclude, but the committee is being guided by words like “adequate” and “reasonable.”
    Responding to your answer for #2: If we assume that we’re spending the right amount of money on education right now (an assumption that Lee, no doubt, would question) then as we decrease property taxes we must make up the amount in some other way. Are you proposing an even higher sales tax or an income tax to make up the difference (these would fulfill your desire to have a tax that hits everyone)?
    In your system are your willing to allow a district to levy a tax or fee if it wants a special program above what the state provides-for example a school orchestra or a course in graphic design. My concern would be that without that ability we would end up with cookie cutter districts with no ability to tailor their curriculum to their unique student body. Is that a concern for you?
    Do you have any specific examples about technology being underused or irrelevant-this was also brought up in committee. Also what technology do you feel is most important?
    The per home tax would likely result in significant revenue loss. Assuming the current level of funding (even if you don’t want to), how would you make up the difference?
    I like your idea about impact fees. The committee did not mention this but I will raise it at the next meeting. It does seem like an equitable funding mechanism in many ways.
    And please expound on your problems with the PACT. Rex seems open to scaling back the burden of PACT. Also, are you familiar with MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing which gives the child an immediate grade level assessment (i.e. you are a 6th grader reading on the level of 8th grade, 2 months) and uses that as a baseline for the next test? The tests are done individually so the teacher can still be teaching the rest of the class while one or two of the students are taking the test on a computer.
    (For info goto to their curriculum section)

  5. Paul DeMarco

    I have also heard good things about the New York system. I’ll see if the committee wants to look into it.
    I’m not sure how the transition team is going to address discipline but I’m with you in spirit. Education is a partnership that cannot work well without parental involvement and support. We are asking schools to do what should be done at home (teach manners, respect, work ethic, etc.) How we mandate or encourage parents to get involved is the age old question. I mentioned at the committee placing a surcharge on child support payments that would fund education (my rationale being that it would make up at least a small fraction of the extra cost to educate children that arises when they come from single parent families). And no I’m not saying that simply being from a single parent home makes you’re a worse student but as a group these students are at higher risk of underachievement, dropping out, drug use, etc.
    What are your ideas?

  6. Paul DeMarco

    Hey Herb, Randy, RTH, bud, Capital A, bill, Phillip, and Preston,
    I know it’s more fun to argue about the war in Iraq but I really need your help. Put in your 2 cents.
    Hey Mike C., where are you when we need you?
    Would any of your colleagues (Cindi, Mike or Warren) like to comment.
    And Mary, Mary, Belle of the Ball, it just won’t be right without you.
    Any takers?

  7. Spencer Gantt

    Ideas, I thought you said. IDEAS!! – not commentary. But, since you ask, a “school orchestra or a course in graphic design” are not part of an “adequate education”. These are over and above “adequate”. Once you allow each district to tax for this or that, then you have the same mess we have now. If, however, money follows the student, then each school has an equal, proportionate amount of money to spend on whatever it may wish to above and beyond an adequate education (3R’s, history, etc.).
    And, I believe those who have more SHOULD pay more. If you can afford a half-million or million dollar home, you can well afford to pay more for education than the common ditch-digger making $5 – $10 an hour.
    All these grand ideas and commentary notwithstanding, there will be NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE in South Carolina education nor funding of same because there will be NO CHANGE IN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM which “runs” education and all other facets of our government.
    Nice try, though.

  8. Lee

    Who says that $5,000 only provides a “no frills” education? If our new superintendant has spent years in the school business, he should be able right now to write down what he thinks is a frill, and what is not.
    Property taxes need to be abolished, as they have little relationship to the ability to pay taxes. The main reason we have property taxes is that the land is easy to tax, and it is a mechanism by which real estate brokers, who have no money of their own, can force landowners to sell the land to some huckster who will rape it for a quick buck.
    Just because you have a farm worth $10,000,000 to some developer who would cut it up into a trailer park, or something a bit more expensive per dwelling, doesn’t mean the owners can afford to pay any property taxes. They may not make $20,000 a year. They may make $150,000 one year and lose $100,000 the next.

  9. Spencer Gantt

    Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!!!
    What about some IDEAS??? Hmmmmmmmmmmm???
    Howsabout some answers for DeMarco’s three questions. Remember them?? What were they?
    How can we take advantage of our “chance to help” if we ain’t got no idears?????

  10. Randy Ewart

    If Rex wants to change education for the better, he has to start at the front line – in the classroom:
    Discipline – get the problem students out. Open more alternative schools. Use the public bully pulpit to focus attention on the issue.
    Accountability – hold students responsible for learning. Students who read at the 5th grade level or have taken “pre-algebra” in 7th and 8th grade but can’t do basic math should not be in the regular high school. Students shouldn’t graduate from high school without being able to read at the high school level.
    If a student fails either 8th grade math or English or the PACT then students either go to intensive remediation that summer or an alternative school or setting.
    Use the end of course tests. Currently, students are only measured by grades, which can be very subjective. These tests show what a student has learned.
    Teacher accountability – These tests are also effective measures of accountability for teachers. Currently, a teacher in high school is held accountable by a couple observations and how much students complain. There’s no measure of how much students have learned. Massage the grades with extra credit or curving grades and teachers and parents are happy and the teacher is a great teacher.
    Paul, equitable funding, “unleashing teacher innovation”, and public choice will do squat if the problems in the classroom aren’t addressed.

  11. Doug

    I’m very familiar with MAP testing… I’ve got three kids 13, 15, and 18. They’ve taken the MAP tests, we get a report in the mail, and that’s it. The teachers don’t have time to address individual needs because they are too restricted by the PACT requirements. The best thing about MAP is that it is quick and the results are known immediately.
    It’s ridiculous to test kids year after year, especially when they score proficient or advanced. What does that prove? If a class of 20 has 5 advanced, 5 proficient, 5 basic, and 5 below basic what does that tell us? It’s just a bunch of data with no meaning.
    My idea? Develop an English test and a Math test that can be taken in one day
    as close to the end of the school year as possible. Don’t bother giving the test to any student who has a B or better in all core classes. (I trust teachers’ grades more than PACT — they’re trained professionals, why not treat them as such?)
    Scrap the writing portion of the PACT. If our teachers can’t figure out which kids need help with writing before the school year is over, then what are we paying them for? And if a kid scores Below Basic at the end of the year, then what do you do?
    I guarantee you that someone could come up with a 100 question test for English and Math that would closely mimic the PACT test results. And I don’t care if you publish the test scores or not — all I want to see is that students who score Below Basic get the help they need. Summer school should be the first step, followed by a re-test, and then either holding the kids back or moving them to some type of transitional class if they are still struggling with the material at their grade level.
    On the technology issue, it’s a hot button for me. I’ve been working in the information technology field since 1983. It’s obvious to me that elementary school students don’t need it. I’d like to see any evidence that all those PC’s have made our kids any smarter. There is also a whole generation of teachers who are techno-phobic and do not use the technology.
    Other wasteful technology:
    $10K “smartboards” in every classroom. It’s cool, but wouldn’t the money be better spent on teacher salaries?
    Distance learning. Show me the numbers.
    How much does it cost and who’se using it?
    Is it that much of an improvement over watching a $25 DVD of the same instructor?
    The one area where technology could really be effective would be to replace all the textbooks with a single DVD. For poor kids, spend the book money on cheap PC’s that could be loaned out for the year.
    A PC model capable of reading a Word document or Adobe PDF file might cost $200 these days…
    Check out the backpacks of the kids sometime. It’s common for a 10 year old kid to carry between 20-25 pounds of stuff around every day. Wish I was a chiropracter twenty years from now…

  12. Herb Brasher

    Paul, I’m crammed with stuff to do; I’ll try to write something in the next day or two, if I can think of anything helpful. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from people like Annee, who even as a home-schooling mom seems that she might have some insight into at least the first question.

  13. Randy Ewart

    It’s crazy not to go full force with technology in this “Flat World”. I took most of my USC masters classes ONLINE! I teach a USC stats class in which students download notes from a website and complete their homework on this site.
    These aren’t suggestions as much as examples which help direct us toward technology:
    I have students download an intro assignment before each chapter.
    I post quizzes or homework online.
    Students take a quiz on the text book companion site before each test. It gives them immediate feedback along with explanations.
    I use grade software to give weekly grade reports.
    Students use calculators to handle the time consuming grunt work so we can focus on interpretation and meaning.
    I show news clips, videos, prices, prices etc. from my computer projected onto a screen to show students real life applications.
    The list goes on. Teachers need some time and training to implement the technology. That’s where the problem is.

  14. doug

    I specifically mentioned elementary school
    as being where the technology is unnecessary. I don’t have a problem with it at the high school level… other than using $10K smart boards as glorified projectors (which cost $1.5K). There are many teachers who have them and don’t use them. Because they are paid for with tax dollars, there is no business case required to justify the expense. I wonder if the private schools have the same technology?
    They might… I don’t know.

  15. LexWolf

    Paul, I have to agree with Randy. We may be like cats and dogs usually but he’s right when he says that we need to address the problems in the classroom above all else. There would be no need for additional funding IMO, and probably even plenty of room for budget reductions, if we just got the classroom things right.

  16. LexWolf

    Randy at Dec 8, 2006 8:03:56 PM, that is.
    I don’t necessarily disagree with him about technology at the HS level but at ES level it’s a huge waste of money.
    “I wonder if the private schools have the same technology?
    They might… I don’t know.”
    They don’t, or at least Heathwood Hall at ES level doesn’t. No Smartboard, one or two Apples per classroom and they have “technology” class once a week. Yet they outperform almost every HS in the state on the SAT.

  17. Randy Ewart

    LOL, Lex wanted to be point out the exact post of mine he supports.
    Lex has made the point about disclipline before. Doug made points about accountability. Paul is a uniter.
    Paul, I think Rex should contract a state wide sample survey of teachers to determine what the issues are in the classroom that need to be addressed. Stratify by socio-economic levels of schools to find out what rural and poor urban school teachers think compared to upper level suburban schoosl.
    Do the same with parents and students.
    Find out what the biggest obstacles are and address those – bottom up versus top down as is already in place.

  18. Dave

    Paul, Here is one idea for starters on the discipline aspect and regaining control of the classes and hallways. A well defined set of do’s and don’ts should be published and placed on posters throughout the schools, given to parents, etc. These could pertain to the whole realm of dress code, disobedience, cell phone use, smoking, violence, etc. Each reported infraction carries a pre-determined penalty of varying levels. Examples: Cell phone or ipod in class – first offense, detention, second offense – student attends an all day Saturday class, third offense – you lose the Saturday and your school year gets extended by one full week. They sacrifice a summer week for misbehavior. And, while in the “punishment” time at detention, Saturdays, and so on, they would simply be in a study hall. I would be creative in that regard. As an example, they could watch Book Notes segments (recorded from CSpan) BUT have to pass a quiz on the session. If you flunk the quiz, you come back the next day until you pass one. Or the next Saturday. The possibilities are endless. Obviously repeat offenders must be channeled to counselors who need to get the parent(s) involved.

    For the truly violent and aggressive students, I agree with Randy, get them OUT of the normal environment and put them in a severe and punitive facility. I would equate it to what I call the boot camp scenario. AT these camps, they would NOT be going home after school, but detained inside the facilities until they show some signs of reform. Parents would have visitation rights on Sunday only.

  19. Randy Ewart

    Adequate education has to be defined. How can we assess our efforts if we don’t have a goal and related set of objectives (the SDE site has no definition)?
    We are a ship without a compass. We capriciously pick a star to guide us – placing great emphasis on SAT scores (for high schools) because it’s all we have. Ask 5 people for their take on the purpose of education and you’ll see little agreement.
    Adequate education according to Randy Ewart: ability to interact effectively in society and as a citizen with the basic skills to enter the work force or college.
    Objectives would include reading and writing at the high school level; competence in consumer math (calculate percents, balance a checkbook, compute gas mileage); ability to analyze information from sources such as newspaper articles, commercials, drug labels, and campaign ads; a basic understanding of the US government and laws; and a sense of self-discipline and the cause-effect relationship (late for work = fired).
    I don’t know if Brad remembers, but I submitted a guest editorial when reports cards were first coming out. I made the same point then, what is the purpose of education and will report cards adequately assess this?

  20. lakemurrayfan

    Maybe the real question is are we to support educating the child or support the education system?
    PACT needs to go away — there’s something wrong with a testing system that threatens a teacher with jail if they look at the test. There is no measurement in PACT that tells if the student is progressing — it is designed to rate a school. Every educator will tell you it’s worthless — as a parent I know it’s worthless but my children are judged by it for class placement.
    Where’s the business model review for this giant educational expense? Weren’t we told if we build it (the be-all end-all test) they (other states) will come and use it? How many people are now employed in the administration of this test whose jobs weren’t around 8 years ago? And are we hurting ourselves in the no child left behind funding game because we set our standards so high at the beginning that we are now aiming for levels no state could attain?
    MAP is much more beneficial — I understand what it measures and the results tell me about my child — which areas we need to focus on to help him improve. Goals for individual improvement can be set with MAPS — you can’t do that with PACT, particularly if the teachers can’t even look at the test (remember they could be arrested by SLED if they do) to see if it mirrors what they’ve been ordered to teach under state standards. They have to hope that the two are the same — if they don’t match, teachers have no way of knowing that but they are the ones being held accountable and are told they must be bad teachers because of their PACT scores.
    Folks we have children in this state who leave kindergarten and still can’t tell you which color on a wheel is green. Yet we promote them on an annual basis and hope that others in the system will do well enough on PACT tests so we can all sleep at night by saying, overall we’re doing an adequate job. Ideas, people, he asked for ideas! I think if you can’t read or write by 3rd grade you need to go to an alternative school system that’s year round until you can prove proficiency.

  21. Lee

    1) How do you define an adequate education?
    It is the ability to read and understand instructions and perform math well enough to work in a modern assembly factory at any level below engineering, without the company having to provide remedial education. That is probably an SAT score of 800.
    2) What is the best way to collect money for education?
    The state ran a dual school system with brand new schools for the black students, all paid for in cash without bond issues, on a 2% sales tax. Schools from the 1950s and 1960s, run on much less money, with no technology gimmicks, produced engineers who gave us all our modern fighter planes, the lunar landing, satellites, and modern medicine.
    3) What is the best way to distribute the dollars collected to fund education?
    Vouchers for the parents to select the schools which deliver results. Schools, private or public, which cannot deliver 85% of norm for students with the same IQs should perhaps be removed from the approved list.

  22. Mark Whittington

    I’m with Randy on the use of technology in education. Let me add that to me it makes sense to incorporate the teaching of at least one object oriented programming language (e.g., Java, C++) because if one is competent in a particular OOP language, then it’s not too hard to migrate to other languages. Also, I think it is a good idea to incorporate a graphical programming language to teach algebra level courses and above. Undoubtedly, the Internet has permanently changed the way and the speed at which we can now access information, so it would probably be a good idea to teach kids a methodology for using search engines.
    I came across this very important paper the other day. It’s time to learn how to make nanoshells and to implement advanced photonics my friends. We have the capacity to do this in SC today! We need to develop South Carolinians to do this kind of technological work (not just bring in a savior “creative class” from other geographic regions). We already have some very sophisticated manufacturing processes here. Why we don’t effectively use the people we already have is beyond me.

  23. Paul DeMarco

    Thanks for the response so far. I’ll try to summarize and refocus the issues:
    1) Adequacy: seems like we have some consensus here-the three R’s, Math, SC and US history, basic science and in particular knowledge that prepares children to live and work (see Doug’s initial comment (the third one in the thread) and Randy’s list in his post of 12/9/06 6:33:05 AM).
    Does that mean you want to give up foreign language, art, music, health, PE, etc. to concentrate on core subjects?
    2) Collection: State funding in SC has traditionally been obtained via the three-legged stool of income, sales, and property taxes.
    Lee suggests eliminating property taxes (implying that those funds are not needed). But let’s say they are (at least some of them). Are you willing to stomach another increase in the sales tax or state income tax to cover the deficit?
    3) Distribution: The tension between state vs. local funding has been raised. My sense is that in order for wealthy districts to allow their funds to go to the state they would want to retain local taxing/bond issue ability (for new buildings, special programs, etc.) Without that, I don’t think it would ever get through the General Assembly.
    But let’s suspend disbelief and pose the question: “Is local control of funding your school district important or would you rather see the state in control?”
    Other issues:
    Doug raised the issue of impact fees. What do you think of that as a way of mitigating the effect of new development on the existing population?
    Doug also raises the issue of a laptop for every student. Is there support for this? The exchange between Doug and Randy over technology was illuminating. I’d like to hear more about what technology works in the classroom. Our committee is using a “Three Box” system. A “Keep Box” for things we already do well, a “Lose Box” for things that we need to stop doing, and a “Get Box” for things that others do well that we want to start doing. You may want to organize your comments in this way.
    I know the issues of discipline and alternative schools are vital (as you know I am a strong advocate of parental responsibility and I know I have some company out there), but that’s not my committee’s focus so in order to try to keep some parameters on the discussion I’m going to table those for now.
    So to refocus the questions:
    1) Adequacy-are we advocating going back to the very basics without foreign language, art, music, etc?
    2) Collection-do we want to fund education as it is now with both sales and property taxes or do we want to eliminate property taxes altogether?
    3) Distribution: currently about 50% of school districts’ funding comes from the state and 40% from local sources (10% is federal money, mostly Title I (free lunch)). How do we want to alter that equation and do we want to eliminate local boards’ taxing authority?
    4) Are impact fees a useful tool for school funding?
    5) Should we give up textbooks in favor of a laptop for every student?
    I’ve enjoyed the discussion so far. Let’s keep it going. I’d like to hear in particular from teachers or parents. This thread might be a way to bring in new bloggers. If you blog vets know someone who has never contributed but whose voice is needed please ask them to join in.

  24. Ready to Hurl

    Paul, the state has already nullified the power of local school boards to raise taxes (except in a few instances).

  25. some guy

    Brad recently advocated a look into the idea of funding education TOTALLY at the state level.
    That sounds nice on some fronts: eliminating the much-hated property tax for schools, making funding totally equitable.
    But what about unintended consequences? You’re leaving education funding totally AWAY from local communities. ‘Tis true that education is a state responsibility. But aren’t public schools part of local communities? Aren’t the part of the infrastructure of individual towns and counties?
    Brad talks a lot about supporting public education. That’s something folks at the state level need to do, I’d say, so I agree with Brad there. But public schools that have strong support have strong support from their own communities, most of all. If you want to undercut support for public education, I think a great way to do that is to tell local communities that have no funding control over their own kids’ schools.
    Do we need more equitable financing? Surely. Is it reasonable to tell wealthy counties that they’ve got to help balance things out? Sure.
    But to tell people whose kids go to well-funded schools that, sorry, your school is losing money and will be forced to cut programs because we’re taking away local funding and there’s nothing you can do about it….well, that’s fraught with all sorts of problems, it seems to me.

  26. Lee

    Impact fees are means of short-circuiting real reform – making developers pay the entire costs of infrastructure: roads, water lines, sewers, power, and schools. Then the cost would be built into the price of the homes, which would reflect the real costs building, without taxpayer subsidies for sprawl.
    Instead of rich investors buying income tax-free municipal bonds which pay interest income from property taxes, they would buy mortgage-backed bonds, and pay income taxes on their interest income, while property taxes would be no longer necessary.

  27. Lee

    Laptop computers are useless to students who can barely read and write, and not perform basic arithmetic. That describes half the students who exit our public schools.

  28. Annee

    Alright, let’s give this a try – I’ll try to address number one – what is an adequate education – so here goes. The absolute essentials that I see that education must accomplish
    1. Literacy by teaching phonics
    There are still too many children in highschool who are reading at an elementary school level. I don’t propose to know ALL the reasons why, I do think the main reason is that we’ve turned away from teaching phonics to whole word recognition – I think the research proves that phonics is still better all the way around. Kids that have learned to read via phonics can pronounce and spell words they’ve never even seen before. I’m not a teacher, I don’t have a degree in education, but I’ve taught my son to read using a simple phonics based method and he is now reading on a 3rd and 4th grade reading level (he is 6 years old). It is a delight to see him pouring over history books, science books, and verociously reading everything in sight. If that is all he ever learns, he’s still further ahead than most children in the world today.
    We all know that if you cannot read, you will accomplish very little. Martin Luther e.g. understood the necessity of literacy – to help the populace understand the tyranny or the church at that time.
    2. Morality
    We MUST educate our students on morality – I don’t see any way around it. I’m coming at this from a Christian perspective myself- but even “pagan” societies understood the necessity of morality and justice. Take Hammurabi’s code of laws – while not all of them would be considered just in our eyes today, there was still the general understanding that laws/morality/ justice was necessary to create a civilized society in which individuals could live in freedom. I see disrespect and immorality as a huge problem in trying to educate our children today. We need to be teaching truths that are absolute and teaching them with conviction – it is wrong to steal, it is wrong to lie, it is wrong to copy homework, it is wrong to….I stand here unabashedly, I guess I’m just old fashioned…
    3. Attention span
    How to do this I’m not sure. But I believe a major problem today is with the lack of attention span in kids. The attention span of my children is precious to me – and I try to work on lengthening it – to where even at their age they can sit for long periods of time and look at books that have few pictures, concentrate on a math problem etc. I think a lot (not all, but a lot) of issues that have been diagnosed as ADHD are misdiagnosed as children who have (from an early age) been brought up to look at TV programs where the camera focuses on one image for no more than 3 seconds.
    Get rid of the TV’s in the classroom. Sorry – again I’m oldfashioned I guess. But I see absolutely no need for a TV in the classroom. I grew up without it (I’m not that old ok! 🙂 and I see no reason why we need them other than perhaps every now and then in a science or history class as a documentary to explain something visually that we cannot explain otherwise. 9 times out of 10 I think they are a distraction and there are other and better methods of teaching.
    Create an atmosphere that is quiet and peaceful and encourages concentration. Do what it takes – but work on helping kids increase their attention span.
    4. Logic
    We need to be teaching our kids logic – most kids cannot argue from a logical standpoint anymore – everything is based on how they feel about a certain subject rather than sound logic.
    5. Rhetoric
    Kids (in highschool at the latest) need to learn how to accuratly, logically, convincingly and professionally express their ideas and deductions in an oral and written format. I think this should be a part of every single subject, from English to History to Math. Make oral examinations a part of every subject, speeches, whatever, you name it. Few kids in their late teens today can express their thoughts convincingly and well.
    In short, I still think the best format of education is a classical education as outlined in the bestseller “The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer, including other proven, excellent methods of education like Charlotte Mason’s approach on which the English school system was originally based (and has long since walked away from).
    I feel like I’ve hardly even skimmed the issues, but it’s a start.

  29. Randy Ewart

    Paul, let me interject one last comment about discipline. I see your committee and what the super does in the next few years as M.A.S.H. triage. Hawkeye can perform elaborate surgery to save some patients but others will die waiting. If the discipline issues and student accountability are not addressed funding, innovation, public choice are moot. These issues will not change the major problems I see in the classroom daily.

  30. Randy Ewart

    Art, foreign language etc. are important but we are talking priorities. If a student can’t read by middle school, the focus should turn from comprehensive education to a narrow and intensive focus of literacy and basic skills. Adequate means making some tough choices and not ivory tower choices.

  31. Spencer Gantt

    Good stuff by REwart, lake murray, someguy, Annee and others. Great to see a post from Mark W. This site has really “loaded up” since yesterday with many great stuff to read.
    PeeDee, you’re getting lots of ideas, points and avenues to consider. Something new! Something different!! Maybe some of these will work. Maybe the Bwarthen bloggers are actually “driving toward a solution or consensus on a specific issue” as you once said. Solution would be better.

  32. Dave

    Secty. Rex, like Secty Tanenbaum, will skirt the discipline issues. Rex owns the black constituency and he knows they will look at any measures to increase discipline as racially based. So, other than some sloganeering about discipline, don’t expect much action. Paul can correct me if my premises are misguided.

    Related to funding, property taxes should be eliminated. I would like to see the state budget for TEACHERS ONLY, and then the local school board would budget for all of the administrative support and management positions. The local board would have to find a way to raise money to fund facilities and admin. Because they would be taxing themselves and their neighbors, we may see some sanity in regard to the dream school buildings and featherbedding of admin staff. I would be willing to bet that some local schools would administer with volunteer retired or just plain volunteers. With this approach, teacher salaries could actually be increased with the savings from the reduced admin costs.

  33. Paul DeMarco

    Thanks all,
    I agree that local districts’ taxing ability is being assumed by the state-is that, IYHO, a good thing?
    I’m intrigued by your comment “impact fees are means of short-circuiting real reform.” I’m not sure what you mean by that. What “real reform” are you looking for?
    Thanks for your enlightening insights on Question #1. Want to take a stab at #2-5?
    Randy and Dave,
    Alright, alright let’s talk about school discipline. But I need specific, reasonable suggestions. Shipping all the disruptive students to alternative school would create a parallel, inferior universe for those children and that would be very expensive and not clearly beneficial. Most kids who get sent to alternative school don’t graduate. It’s also difficult to find good teachers who have the heart and strength to hang tough with these kids.
    Are you willing to spend millions to create a state-of-the-art alternative school system?
    I know keeping these kids in regular classes also presents problems. My daughter is an 8th grader in public school and as a school board member for her district, I am responsible for approving the alternative school transfers (we’ve had two boys bring knives to school already this year who were, of course, sent to alternative school). So I have a personal stake in this matter.
    Or we could just expel them all which would postpone the bill that we would eventually pay for prisons, welfare, public housing, medicaid that these children would cost us as unprepared adults.
    Believe me, if there are some carrots and sticks out there to encourage/coerce parents to be responsible for their kids (which is the problem in a nutshell) I’m willing to advocate fro them. And there is some momentum building on this issue, mostly supplied by Bill Cosby.
    But give me specific ideas, things I can use. I can’t just walk into the meeting and say we need to solve the discipline problem. We all know that. I need some specific direction on how we solve it (in politically possible terms).
    BTW, what do you think about my idea of a surcharge on child support payments of absent fathers (i.e. they pay a little extra each month which goes to fund education)?
    Herb, hope to hear from you.
    Mary, baby, don’t make me wait any longer. I’m tempted to call you a bad name because then I know you’d respond but that wouldn’t be very gentlemanly now, would it. Come on, be a sport. Use that keyboard as a plowshare and not a sword.

  34. Ready to Hurl

    Thanks for asking, Paul.
    I pointed out the fact that the legislature has taken the power of taxation from local school boards (subject to approval by county councils in most cases) because I find much of this exercise incredibly frustrating.
    Almost absolute ignorance of the subject runs rampant in these suggestions.
    You will certainly need to winnow Lee’s chaff from Randy’s wheat. (When Lee advocates pre-Brown v. Ferguson funding methods my resistance to barfing is severely tested. His family and friends should be grateful that stupidity and ignorance aren’t contagious.)
    I agree with Randy’s suggestion to survey teachers and administrators to find out their take on the top five problems in the classroom. This should absolutely be the first step.
    I’m cynically amused when people advocate taking the power to tax away from the elected representatives closest to the taxpayers. This movement is really just a reactionary push-back by luddites, anti-public education forces, and the wealthy class that want to “evenly” underfund public schools throughout the state.
    Why on earth would we entrust the funding of all the state’s school systems to a corrupt bunch of idiots who’ve actively resisted repairing the “corridor of shame” schools? The only answer is that reactionary anti-tax groups recognize an easily bought or co-opted road block for actually spending tax dollars to bring our schools into the 21st Century.

  35. Herb Brasher

    More later, Paul, but just for the moment: Foreign languages, art, and music, should be a part of school curriculum. So should basic phys. ed. To paraphrase a line out of Mr. Holland’s Opus, “pretty soon these kids are not going to have anything to write about.”
    Learning a foreign language, if done right, opens a person to a whole new world beyond themselves. It also helps one understand English, culture, and a whole lot of other things, because you get a vantage point outside of your own experience in order to look at your little world. Sort of like being able to go to the moon and look back at earth.
    What doesn’t have to be a part of education are expensive sports, like football. Put them outside of the classroom–separate clubs that finance themselves.
    Of course, I have a European model in front of me when I write this. Another item of interest is the school cafeteria. The schools our kids attended in Germany didn’t have any. School started at 7:00 a.m.(a bit later for 1st and 2nd graders), and was finished by 1:00 p.m., at least until high school. At the high school level, there were a couple of afternoons of classes, which meant that if they wanted lunch, they had to take it, or buy it locally.
    Maybe the cost of cafeterias isn’t an issue at the state level, since it may be federally funded (I’m willing to show my ignorance here–a risky thing on this blog)–but hey, you want ideas, so I’ll throw out a few. And maybe school cafeterias are needed for some kids to at least get one decent meal a day–but I’d be interested whether they are really effective in doing that, or not.
    And no, don’t fund education with an increase in state sales taxes. That unfairly hits the poor. Same with state income taxes, unless some kind of earned income credit is in place at the state level.
    Revenues should be equalled out among school districts, so I am interested in learniing more about Vermont. I remember how long it took Texas to force oil-rich communities to share revenues. Before that, there were West Texas high schools in towns of 600 people with first class high school facilities, a huge new football stadium, in-door swimming facilities–stuff that even suburbian Dallas schools couldn’t hope to afford.
    I keep reading about the school bus situation–has there been any study on the cost involved in maintaining a fleet of school buses vs. outsourcing this to private companies? That’s generally the way it’s handled in Europe. There are no yellow school buses–not green or purple either. But then there are probably a lot more buses in Europe than here.
    Sorry to use out-of-state illustrations, but my SC experience is too limited for me to comment much.
    As I said, more later, if I can think of anything else.

  36. some guy

    In addition to finding ways to equalize funding WITHOUT taking all funding control away from local communities — taking such control from locals seems a sure way, in my opinion, to undercut support for public education where it’s needed most…in the local community — here are some other suggestions:
    — Overhauling teacher training: By creating hoop after hoop after hoop to jump through, we’re making it more difficult — not DIFFICULT, exactly, but certaily more of a HASSLE — to get certified to teach. We’re not emphasizing true quality, in my opinion, and we’re not giving our schools the best chance possible to attract the best young teachers possible.
    A lot of sharp young people go into teaching at private schools. Why? In some cases, it may be because they didn’t get certified in college and don’t want to spend two years in school, going into debt, to get certified. We need to correct this. I surely think that anyone headed to teach in a public school classroom needs some training and real experience — but we need to streamline the process greatly, in my opinion.
    And in the process, the state might actually save money….a lot of it.
    — Alternative education: Some mentioned that we shouldn’t have a two-track system where troubled youngster are in an inferior setting. Alternative schools don’t HAVE to be that way. They can potentially reach the needs of certain kids far better than the regular school. And it’s certainly important to give the regular schools as good a chance as possible to have strong discipline and good learning atmoshperes. I’m not saying this is easy, and I’m certainly not saying it won’t cost money. But I think a good analysis of the whole deal would make a great deal of sense.
    — Intensive focus on literacy in elementary grades: This almost goes without saying. But it’s apparent that there are still kids who get to middle and even high school without adequate reading skills. I think it’s somewhat tough to blame the elementary schools altogether, because they’ve got to make way for the next group of students every year. But I believe we need to look at some system in which students who are significantly behind by, oh, third grade can get FOCUSED help with reading. Really intense support. If it means taking them aside for a year and putting them in a special one-year academy for reading where that’s about all they do, that might be the ticket.
    — After-school programs: This is important for several reasons. After-school hours seem to be a time many kids get into trouble….drugs, crime, gangs, pregnancy….If we can keep them occupied during those hours, we may cut down on a lot of societal problems involving teenagers.
    Also, there is a real opportunity to get the community involved, to harness the energy and talent of college students and other volunteers. Why can’t talented college students carry out simple activities that support our state’s academic standards….they can leave the heavy lifting to the teachers, but could still manage certain activities to support the class lessons. There are also lots of opportunities for character education, arts education, leadership experiences, etc.
    I think that doing positive things — both academic and social — with kids during after-school hours should be a real priority. Again, we’re not talking about something that’s cheap, but with the right community partners, I think a great deal can be accomplished.

  37. Herb Brasher

    Some Guy mentions after school activities, and that is a good point. I notice that some churches are getting involved in after-school tutoring at the elementary school level; I’ve heard of more than one. That sort of thing needs to be commended and encouraged. I met a pastor down in a rural school here who is giving piano lessons (free of charge) afternoons. Only a few students helped, but every little bit makes a difference.

  38. Herb Brasher

    Which brings up another point. Driving around a city like Columbia, one of the first things that strikes a visitor is the number of churches there are.
    We’ve already stated that discipline and appetite for learning begin, and are largely shaped, at the family level. Given the number of churches, there must be a large percentage of school kids, including those from single-parent families, who are members of, or at least associated with some church. Is there any way that Rex and others, perhaps even the governor, can encourage leaders of churches to reach out and help families in their communities? Pastors to preach more about family life? Maybe to help parishioners and church members to see the importance of sitting down and having at least one meal a day together (eating together is a biblical concept, part of the covenant–look it up). I want to remember that there was a study done years ago which showed that kids from families that ate at least five meals together as a family had 30% better grades in school–though I can’t remember whether the study proved the link between the two things, grades and meals–it may have been due to other factors.
    In short, I think the education community is going to have hit the bully pulpit and “outsource” some things. They can’t really substitute for the family, apart from the odd teacher here and there who is so involved with their kids–and free from personal family responsibilities– that they actually visit the kids’ homes. (Reminds me of “Crazy Joe Clark” in Lean on Me.) But they can encourage other institutions to do more. And do more, we must.

  39. John Walsh

    Here’s a solution that splits the difference between the “public school only” crowd and the “school choice now” crowd.
    It’s called “the 100% solution.”
    Every child takes a proverbial “backpack” and the “backpack” has the funding for the child in it. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds get more funding. The parent can send the child to any public school that he/she chooses. Schools are funded based on how many children they get.
    There’s no public-vs.-private issue because private schools are ineligible.
    Meanwhile, public schools have to compete to see which ones can satisfy parents the most. Public schools that can’t satisfy any parents–because they perform so poorly–will suffer.
    Finally, it’s progressive. Poor children get more funding since it requires more resources to get them up to grade level.
    For more information, go to the website.
    Now that we’ve fixed school funding, are there any other simple problems that could use my attention? Abortion? Gun violence? If you give me an hour or two, I figure that should be more than enough.

  40. Paul DeMarco

    Excellent use of the word “luddite”- that’s a doozy and has a great etymology. But remember, on this thread you’ve got to play nice, so go easy on your opponent’s character. Would you support a Vermont system (all money to the state then distributed per pupil) with the ability of local districts to raise funds for extra programs?
    Thanks for the Uberperspective from Germany. I think a partnership between church and school is a natural fit and would like to see the State Department of Ed encourage it.
    I like your idea of trying to lure young people into teaching in the public schools. What do you think of a required year of state/national service after high school with one of the options being a teacher’s apprentice?
    I think weighted student funding has merit. However, it’s not a panacea, particularly in rural areas where distance prevents children from having any real choice in schools. For those poor, rural schools I think the best hope is to make it attractive for good teachers to relocate (bonus pay, higher retirement, increased autonomy) to poverty districts. Currently the incentives are in the reverse. Marion loses teachers frequently to our sister county, Horry (which has a much lower poverty rate), because as soon as they cross the county line their salary goes up about $5000.

  41. Ready to Hurl

    Paul, the Vermont plan sounds reasonable but the reactionaries have cut you off at the pass by taking away the local option to raise taxes.
    How are the 49 other states funding education? Are they all taxing by individual school district based on property value? Are there any other taxation schemes that might work better?
    I’m sure that these questions have been studied exhaustively, yet we don’t seem to see results mentioned anywhere in the media. Maybe when Cindy Ross Scoppe takes Brad’s job we’ll see some change.
    I think that the real question is how do we tax wealth. In the 18th and 19th Centuries real property were indicators of wealth. The basis for graduated taxation is that the wealthier residents not only have greater ability to pay more but also have gained more from such government services as courts, schools etc.
    Perhaps we should do exactly the opposite of what our loopy governor wants– we should tax income (from any source) to underwrite the state’s share of education funding. Then the voters of each district could decide how many “extras” they want to pay through local property taxes.

  42. Herb Brasher

    RTH is right. We’ve got an abundance of perspectives (49 of them) to look at SC from. Let’s turn the lens on our state with their telescopes. And a little bit of foreign perspective can’t hurt either. Maybe we don’t want their tax systems, I don’t know, but Asian kids sure seem to be getting a better education at the high school level, in some ways, than ours. At least there sure a lot of them that end up in our graduate level programs.

  43. Mark Whittington

    Here is an excerpt from an interview conducted with Nicholas Lemann, the author of The Big Test-The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. I encourage everyone to obtain a copy of Mr. Lemann’s book because it is one of the few sources that explains why and how psychometric intelligence testing came to determine “merit” after the war. The SAT was developed as an IQ test, and it has been used extensively since WWII.
    “The first group to use this meritocratic system to make it were the Jews. And Jews were rising very fast through the system, particularly in the immediate post-World War II decades.
    And then starting around 1980, the action shifted, and the rising group that was outperforming where they were in the society tended to be Asian-Americans–in particular, Chinese-Americans. Now why does that happen? There’s a whole lot of reasons. One reason is just people are hungry and motivated, and they see this as an arena of opportunity.
    But there’s a more particular reason which applies in different ways both to Jews and to Asians, which is, given what the system is, given how the system defines merit, it basically defines merit as studiousness, and ability to get good grades in school. And it tremendously glorifies book learning and study. In both Jews and Asians, you have people who come from long cultural traditions that are already in that place that American society got to in the late twentieth century…Within the ethnic culture there’s a tremendous value put on studying, learning, scholarship, in the case of Asian-Americans, specifically on testing.
    For well over a thousand years, there’s been in various Asian countries starting with China, systems of distributing prestige and rewards on the basis of how you do on exams. So this stuff is really rooted culturally, and people who grow up in the culture tend to be unusually well-equipped to sort of deal with the American meritocracy.”

  44. Dave

    Paul, the societal costs of not developing good citizenship and establishing good behaviors at the grade school and middle school levels far outweigh the costs of nipping the path to a criminal life at the early stages. Yes, alternative schools would be horribly expensive and legally difficult to impose, politically also. But look what happens now. The discipline problems for the most part drop out, head to criminal activity, and then we fill up the prisons. It may be a case of pay now or pay later. And I do understand your committee isn’t charged with this aspect, but if you have a voice with Rex, I know you will use it.

    Also, it would be interesting to know why home schoolers are so successful when they dont have the fancy facilities and massive resources of the PS system. Something could be taken from those successes. Work calls so back to this later.

  45. Herb Brasher

    Mark, can you explain that to me a bit? I think you’re saying that we don’t and shouldn’t want to learn from Asia, but I’m not sure.

  46. Doug

    The proof in the pudding will be what specific measures and programs Jim Rex puts in place by the start of the 2007-2008 school year.
    Seven months should be ample time to do SOMETHING that demonstrates his campaign claims.
    A major revamping of PACT would be a good start. Right now, 15 school days are lost due to PACT (the 5 before, the 5 during, and the 5 after). There’s no logical reason why PACT cannot be given much closer to the end of the school year.
    And, Paul, I think we’ve seen several comments about linking PACT performance to advancement. Do you agree with that belief? If not, can you explain what purpose PACT serves then?

  47. Lee

    There lack of respect for life, human, animal and plant, among Asia cultures is one thing we don’t need to adopt. We need to spread western ideas of environmental stewardship to their cultures.

  48. Paul DeMarco

    I can’t speak to other state funding plans directly. According to other states seem to be having some of the same conflicts we are. 45 states have been defendants in school funding equity lawsuits, the majority of which have been won by the plaintiffs. I’ll certainly raise this in committee.
    Home schoolers by nature have a nurturing home environment so they start out ahead. Also very few special-needs students are educated at home. Remember, public schools take all comers. I wonder if there is a way to bring the expertise of home school parents into the public system-perhaps by offering them and easy way to become credentialed as public school teachers if they want to continue to teach once their children are grown.
    PACT was mandated by the Education Accountability Act of 1998 and its purpose according to the State DOE website is the “improve the curriculum and instruction in SC schools.” Your question “what purpose does it serve? is a valid one. It fulfills the legislative mandate but I don’t think it is the best instrument we could be using. As you point out above, MAP testing offers some advantages. Rex has indicated he thinks we test too much so I’m hoping we see less cumbersome and more focused testing in the future.
    Wow! Great article. I got goose bumps as I read it. The transformation that occurred at Gaston College Prep is exactly what’s needed in my school district and I’m sure many others. It’s simply a matter of the right leadership and a will to succeed. Many teachers I know already stay after school helping with homework or directing extracurricular activities. I think we could convince most of them to teach a longer day if they believed it would generate results for their students.
    What do others think about Gaston Prep and the KIPP (Knowledge is power program) school philosophy?

  49. Mark Whittington

    I wasn’t implying that we don’t have anything to learn from Asia. I was trying to point out that there is a reason why some ethic groups have more success than others in our educational merit system. As Lemann observes, students from certain parts of Asia come from cultures where similar educational merit systems have already existed for a thousand years. In America however, the system doling out opportunity based on test scores is rather new in its implementation, though not in its origin. Thomas Jefferson suggested the idea of a “natural aristocracy” of virtue and talent in his famous (infamous?) letter to John Adams in 1813. Adams’ response to Jefferson was quintessentially American. Adams noted that since they had just overthrown an aristocracy, it would therefore behoove them not to create another. It wasn’t a matter of having a natural aristocracy vs. an aristocracy by birth-it was the idea of having any kind of aristocracy at all that bugged Adams. Of course, in the democratic system, merit is determined through the democratic process rather than through any kind of psychometric testing.
    Most people have no idea who James Conant, Henry Chauncey, Carl Brigham, and Clark Kerr were. Most people have no idea how the Educational Testing Service (a quite profitable, “non-profit” organization) went behind closed doors with state legislatures and universities to get the SAT implemented. James Conant, the President of Harvard University, and Clark Kerr of the University of California (and ETS board member) were the main players in getting the SAT implemented. Conant was heavily influenced by Jefferson’s natural aristocracy idea, and ironically, he really thought that implementing intelligence testing would break the hold of the East Coast elite to create a classless society. Man, was he wrong.
    Incidentally, Jefferson’s natural aristocracy theme reoccurred in two important books of the early nineties: The Bell Curve (Murray and Herrnstein) and In Defense of Elitism (William A. Henry III). These books were real harbingers of the things to come with the neo conservative/neo liberal movement.
    I was aware of Jefferson’s correspondence with Adams long ago, and I knew that there was some relationship with what had happened in my lifetime and Jefferson’s idea, but the beauty of Lemann’s book is that he describes in detail what happened behind the scenes. Amazingly, Lemann gained access to the ETS archives and therefore to the correspondence among the major participants. These people were elitist to their cores and they made sure that their idea was never publicly debated. They wanted to replace the aristocracy of birth with an aristocracy of talent-the thought of universal secondary education never crossed their minds. Their plan backfired-we now have one of the most class segregated societies on the planet.
    So, what’s the moral of the story? You can’t replace an aristocracy with another aristocracy and then expect democracy to flourish.

  50. Herb Brasher

    Interesting, Mark. Thanks very much. I’d put perhaps more emphasis upon the “hungry and motivated.” Again, the issue starts at home. Upbringing will determine a lot in what kind of appetite kids have for learning, and whether they have the kind of respect for authority that makes that possible. I wondered why Westerners were so keen to go teach in China until I realized the extreme respect that the Chinese have for their elders.
    So again, since we can’t necessarily create that through the public school alone, we have to “outsource” it to others who have some leverage, I think. Rex needs to inspire churches, clubs, and any other insitution that he can think of to encourage families to nurture kids, and it needs to start with pre-schoolers.
    I guess I’ve just said the obvious, but I’ll post it, anyway.

  51. Randy Ewart

    Paul, the Gaston school example is important but not for the reason Lee suggests. The success is mostly a function of a motivated and willing student body with supportive parents.
    This example actually reinforces my whole point about discipline being the key to success. As you stated, we have to take all comers including the students who do not want to be there. So, how do we handle the discipline problems?
    Rex should use the bully pulpit to make discipline a priority. Channel state funding in this direction for alternative schools and alternative programs within existing schools. Your point about the stigma surrounding attending such a school is a price problem students will have to pay which is better than the alternative of undermining the education of students who want to learn.
    The alternative schools can focus on behavior and the basics so students don’t fall behind in English or math. Increasing the number of seats at such a school can be a deterrent to students who are boderline problem students.
    An example of an alternative program is self-contained classes or enhanced in-school suspension. Students work on lessons and spend the day with a supervising teacher in a single classroom. They eat lunch together at a different time separate from the general population.
    This can also reduce out of school suspensions which can magnify the problem. Trouble makers who serve a 3 day suspension are expected to do the extra work to catch up? This is almost a mandate to cause more trouble.
    This emphasis has to trickle down to school board members. In Richland 1, we had students with TEN suspensions still in school because the board wouldn’t boot them. The argument made in Richland 1 is we can’t kick the students out because they’ll be on the street. In effect, teachers are working as social workers in addition to actual teaching. With alternative schools or programs funded by the state, this social work can be accomplished outside of the classroom with more focus on academics.
    Paul, I have seen first hand problem students create turmoil in the best high schools in the Midlands. It happens more than you realize. Many teachers often do not deal with the problem because they get dragged into parent conferences in which they are blamed for the problems. For example, I once had a SENIOR cleaning out her purse during lecture. When I addressed the problem she began arguing aloud in class. I spent a lunch period and a planning period in conferences about the problem.
    How is choice, innovation, teacher recruitment, or equitable funding going to handle problems like that?

  52. Doug

    Couldn’t we all just stop being politically correct and admit that there is a certain percentage of kids (5%, 10%, ??) who will NEVER succeed regardless of how much money, time, and other resources we throw at them?
    Three strikes and you’re out… you’ve just graduated to a life in prison.
    We need to stop worrying about saving every kid and worry about providing the best environment for those who want to be in school.
    At some point in the past two decades, the process of education began a transition from teaching kids to trying to raise them.
    Put the soda machines back in the schools. Stop worrying about developing Johnny’s self esteem. Stop giving every kid a prize for doing what is expected of them. Stop giving schools awards for doing what they are supposed to be doing anyway. Stop the PR machine at the district and state education level and just do the job of teaching kids to read, write, and think.

  53. Paul DeMarco

    Interesting stuff but what I’m looking for is specific, practical ideas. I know that you believe we should adopt a socialist economy and that the workers need to rise up, but until that happens how should we best fund education in the capitalist framework we have now? Who knows, if we fund education well and our workers get well educated, maybe they’ll see the need for that proletariat revolt you envision. Or better yet, maybe we’ll have a burgeoning middle class.
    Yours is the kind of comment I’m looking for: detailed with specific suggestions for improving the current system (I’ll ignore the fact that it doesn’t address the original question about equitable funding which seems to have gotten lost in the weeds).
    The egg analogy is useful here. Once you drop a 10 cent egg on the floor you have created a problem that no amount of money or expertise can fix. There’s not enough know-how at NASA or enough money in the US Treasury to return that egg to its intact state. It can’t be done. OK, maybe it could be done but it would take lots of time and lots of dough. So, be careful with your eggs.
    Children are a lot like eggs. Although more resilient, there are some deficits in a child’s upbringing (i.e. lack of respect, dishonesty, inability to delay gratification, lack of work ethic, lack of curiosity, etc.) that cannot be overcome or require more resources to overcome than even the most generous system can provide.
    This is the fallacy of No Child Left Behind. Some children start school having been left so far behind by their parents that there is no hope in catching them up. School for them is a confusing, hostile and uncomfortable place and so they react accordingly.
    I agree that the State DOE would be well served to devote more resources to this area. I agree that in-school and after school suspensions make more sense than putting kids on the street. I wonder if we should offer a public alternative boarding school as an option for school districts with disruptive students who are salvageable. Perhaps we could use an existing facility at one of the state’s military bases and try it as a pilot program.
    Question for the night. What, if anything, can be done for the districts which have experienced white/middle class flight so that the district is composed almost entirely of poor black students (these include Allendale, Bamberg 2, Clarendon 1, Hampton 2, Lee and Williamsburg)?

  54. Paul DeMarco

    I hadn’t read your comment when I wrote my latest. I agree with you about admitting that some children’s needs overwhelm the system and that they will never be successful in school.
    And I agree that the kids in this group that are disruptive need to be in an alternative setting to preserve the educational environment for those who want to learn.
    However, I don’t think resigning ourselves to their committing three crimes and then spending the rest of their lives in prison is a good strategy. Who knows, you or I could be the victim of one of those crimes.
    Prisons cost lots of money. Why not invest some of that money up front in trying to teach these difficult students some life skills and a trade at a tech school? The world needs good nursing aides and phlebotomists and carpenters and brick masons and plumbers and mechanics.

  55. Doug

    What you see in those counties will become the norm if something is not done about discipline. Isn’t it telling that people will pay for something they can get for “free”?
    There are pockets of similar trends occurring in the middle of Richland 2.
    The population around Spring Valley is
    changing dramatically.
    Just wait… by 2015, I expect most of the schools around Decker Blvd to either be transitioned into Richland 1 or a new Richland district 3 to be started with everything north of Spring Valley.
    That’s what happens when you allow unfettered sprawl to grow faster than the ability of the schools to recruit good teachers and strong principals.. and when you allow the inmates (bad kids and threatening parents) to run the asylum.
    The trend will not reverse until we remove all of the bureacracy that prevents teachers from teaching and principals from enforcing discipline. Why should discipline issues go before the school board? Give the teachers support and principals authority and a big pay raise when they do well, not just based on years of service… then step back and let the
    PROFESSIONALS do their jobs…

  56. Randy Ewart

    Paul, the same suggestion applies. Even low socio-economic students, schools, and districts have a certain proportion of students who want to learn and achieve. The question is how to separate them from the negative influences.
    Next, the standards have to be established and rigorously upheld. I have seen first hand how students will make the effort once they realize they will be held accountable.
    For example, I had an African-American freshman at Flora who had a D in algebra 1 after a few weeks and cried to her mother that she wanted to drop because she couldn’t do the work. I explained to her mother that I had not yet seen her make a valid effort and to keep her in the class. She stayed in the course and made a B.
    Get a solid teacher in front of a class of students devoid of trouble makers. Focus money on getting the trouble makers out and better teachers into these schools. Focus on the front line – student and teachers.

  57. Mark Whittington

    Our educational system is in its current sorry state precisely because of the capitalist framework that we have now.
    I am advocating an updated form of Democratic Socialism rather than Marxism. I’ve neither envisioned nor advocated a “proletariat” in “revolt”. My ideas for the most part are based on Christianity (i.e., the teachings of Jesus Christ) and Western philosophy. Socialism anteceded Marxism and capitalism (with scientific divisions of labor) by about two thousand years.
    Regardless of what I say, you are going to cherry-pick the ideas that you want anyway. However, other people may be interested in seeing things in a different light. For example, some people may be interested to know that regardless of how the educational system is arranged, the distribution of wealth will remain the same given the same effective tax rates. So, it is pointless (or should I say impractical) to hope that an improved (however “improved” is defined) educational system will eliminate or even assuage the effects of poverty as a relative measure within the framework of capitalism. Genuine improvement of the educational system will require, in my opinion, a revamping of the notions of divisions of labor, teamwork, and responsibility, etc. You want to keep the argument within the framework of capitalism-I want to look beyond capitalism. You want to tweak the system-I want systemic reform of the system. We just have divergent views and goals. Why do you assume that you can represent me and many thousands of other South Carolinians? I didn’t vote for you. You can no more represent me than I can represent you.

  58. Doug

    I don’t want this to come off negatively, but I would be interested in hearing how changing tax rates would impact behavior.
    The worst aspect of capitalism is that greed tends to promote behaviors in some people that are not in the best interests of everyone. The best aspect of capitalism is that it can reward hard work, risk, and creativity. The worst part of socialism to me is that it tends to promote laziness in some people who allow others to do the work when there is no incremental benefit to working any harder.
    If you are advocating higher tax rates based on income or wealth, I can’t say I’d agree. I’ve done pretty well in my career and I’m the first one in my family tree to attend college. My grandparents were the first generation born in the U.S.
    Whatever wealth I have accumulated, I have done so through my own efforts. Why should I be “punished” for that?
    I’m not opposed to sharing the wealth. I think Bill Gates has been a perfect example of how to both accumulate wealth and distribute it (as he chooses). Besides his personal wealth, he has created literally tens of thousands of jobs directly and hundreds of thousands of jobs indirectly. He’s reaped the benefits of luck, innovation, hard work, and taking risks. And now he’s going to give it all away where he thinks it can do the most benefit globally.
    Using the government and its inefficient, convoluted, and bureaucratic methods as the vehicle to redistribute wealth equitably will never work. There is too much greed and lust for power built into the system.
    Sorry for the tangent… but it also reflects my opinion on education — reward hard work (both by the teachers and students) and remove the barriers that stifle creativity. Pay teachers on performance and pay them very well.
    Hey, I’ll even throw in an idea that might help our educational system – expand the LIFE/HOPE scholarships to every high school graduate regardless of SAT scores or class rank… and make it cover the full cost of tuition at a state school (but prevent schools from increasing tuition more than inflation). Have you noticed how the tuition cost at USC and Clemson have “magically” increased over the past four years to pretty much wipe out the LIFE scholarship value?

  59. Spencer Gantt

    On PD’s five points above plus one.
    1) An “adequate education” includes the three R’s, SC/US & World history, American & World literature. Anything above and beyond this would be in the form of electives (9th grade & above) and funded locally. I.E., foreign language, art, music, archaeology, creationism, the Bible as literature (why not?), and the Torah, Koran, etc., as well. ELECTIVES.
    2) Keep property taxes and make them graduated as are income taxes. Don’t let The Rich and The Haves off the hook by eliminating these taxes. The Not-Rich and the Have-Nots make their contributions via sales and other taxes (i.e., entertainment).
    3) Distribution of monies. “Adequate education” courses are paid for by “state money” and elective courses are paid for by “local money”. Of course, to paraphrase Geo. Wallace, “there’s no such thing as government money, it’s all money taken from the people”.
    4) Impact fees are useful and should be imposed on the price of any new house, especially expensive ones. Why should new residents get a free ride up front?
    5) Don’t give up text books for computers, but make use of and access to computers part of the “adequate education” courses.
    Somewhere above, someone mentioned tech schools. There used to be a Murray Vocational School in Charleston (50’s/60’s?) where all the tough kids and non-learners went. Sort of the “blackboard jungle” types. Every “child” is not capable of getting an “adequate education”, nor do many of them even want to.
    Mr. DeMarco, this post is getting very long and cumberson. Lots of good stuff here. When will we, the bloggers, know what you will take to The Committee and when, and what they will do with it?

  60. Doug

    Amen, Mr. Gantt, on vocational education. It can be done very well. My two brothers and I are all products of an excellent vocational high school in Massachusetts.
    In fact, my two nephews and niece are now second generation alumni of the same school.
    Check out:
    They have a new pre-engineering program along with intensive career training programs in auto body, auto mechanics,
    culinary arts, drafting, computers, and many more.
    From their website:
    “Assabet students choose a technical program in which to specialize after completing exploratory experiences in a variety of areas in their freshman year. Time in school is divided between the technical programs and a rigorous academic schedule. Required academics at Assabet include four years of core subjects (English, mathematics, science, and social studies), two years of physical education and health, and electives in art, business, music, world languages and the core areas.
    Graduates can receive an academic diploma and a certificate of proficiency in their career and technical areas. Assabet graduates enjoy both college and career placement services, including a co-op program that allows highly qualified students to begin their careers during their technical program time of their senior year.”
    Attendance in no way limits a student from pursuing higher education. I went to Purdue, my nephews are at Penn State.
    Paul – I hope Mr. Rex looks at schools like these. If he’s interested in contacting any of the faculty or staff, I’d be more than willing to make the arrangements. The principal is one of my old gym teachers and the superintendent is my old track coach from 25 years ago.

  61. Paul DeMarco

    I wish you well my friend. I’m not trying to “represent” you, just to elicit some meaningful dialogue. I think we understand where the other is coming from and we disagree which is OK. And I’m not averse to discussing the big ideas. But right now I’m hoping to help make concrete changes in how we educate our children, the fruit of which I’d like to see in my lifetime.
    It’s an easy out to say that all would be well if we only completely revamped our economic approach because we all know that’s not going to happen.
    It allows you to preach but recommend no specific action.
    Hey, I’m sorry it’s getting cumbersome for you but I’m still learning and I think I’ll keep posting a few more days. As to how I’m going to use this information, I think I will use it thusly
    1) I will direct my fellow committee members to this thread on the blog so they can read the raw data.
    2) I will select the most interesting ideas I’ve heard here such as:
    -impact fees
    -Vermont system
    -retaining local taxing authority
    -eliminating PACT, replacing it with MAP
    -Technology that works, not just there for show
    -laptops for every child
    -looking hard at alternative schools; do we need to invest more here
    -utilizing tech schools for those who don’t succeed in the academic track
    -surveying teachers for their input
    -involving the churches in partnerships with schools
    -the Gaston Prep school example
    There may be a few more-I’ll have to reread the thread carefully to make sure I haven’t missed any.
    I’m not endorsing all of these but they seem to be some of the most promising ideas we’ve come up with.
    This to me is blogging at its best. Take a question, toss it around and use the collective brain power of the participants to examine it from many angles and come up with possible solutions/approaches.
    So the question for the night: What do you think of the list in #2? What would your list of improvement to our public school system contain?

  62. some guy

    Some great ideas, Spencer.
    I agree with the idea of defining “adequate” and having the state pay for that. And letting communities pay for extras is sensible.
    And the emphasis on vocational (and I would add alternative) education makes sense.

  63. Spencer Gantt

    Paul D,
    I’m not complaining. Just noting that there is a tremendous amount of good info here that I hope doesn’t get ignored. And, I agree with you on this being “blogging at its best”. No name calling that I’ve seen nor “flame throwing” which is the usual fare for Bwarthen’s Blog Site, unfortunately.
    The only thing I’d be careful of is “picking and choosing” those ideas or suggestions which only you think are best. Not that you are not a very capable and learned man. But, brainstorming has a serious flaw if every idea, thought or suggestion is not considered by the entire “deciding body”. Maybe that will be taken care of by your fellow committee members actually reading this blog. When someone offers a suggestion and a “decider” says that’s dumb and we won’t consider it, then you lose the thrust of the idea solicitation method. And, folks may not want to participate further if their suggestion is discarded out of hand.
    As for your “bullets” in #2 above, I don’t see anything about an “adequate education”.
    (And here I go adding to the cumbersomness of this subject. Sorry.)

  64. Randy Ewart

    Paul, I think you have lots of good ideas and the dialogue on such an important topic is great stuff.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see a whole lot that will affect change UNLESS the you have accountability and discipline.
    Rex is starting some sort of tour to promote his campaign initiatives; innovation, downsizing PACT, public choice etc. These efforts simply will not address the problems I have seen daily in the different schools at which I taught.
    Here’s another example. A parent of a freshman in a class I taught explained that her student would make Ds and Fs on quizzes and tests throughout previous courses but make a C and move on to the next course. She was furious that her son wasn’t “passed on”. This is the accountability issue Doug highlights. I simply don’t see how Rex is addressing this and discipline issues.
    Regardless, thanks for you effort Paul.

  65. Ready to Hurl

    My eighth grade son came home with several “D’s” on his report card. He maintained that he was “passing” the course. I told him that a “C” was “passing” but that his mother and I expected him to earn at least a “B” because he was really capable of making straight “A’s.”
    Imagine my surprise when I found out that the school district actually allows a student to move up with “D’s!”
    Promoting students who can’t show that they’ve learned at least 70% of the subject matter is a recipe for disaster. I don’t care what individual parents say.
    Students who don’t have the skills and knowledge taught in previous grades are, at best, wasting the the curent teacher’s time with remedial efforts. At worst, the student becomes a disruptive discipline problem and actively impedes teaching his/her classmates.
    Promoting “D” students is a disservice to the individual students, his future teachers, and future classmates.

  66. Ready to Hurl

    Paul, I was at a meeting the other night where it was pointed out that if we improve the educational system enough to retain most of the current drop-outs then we’ll have to build a lot of new high schools.
    Building new schools is expensive in the currently accepted manner.
    Perhaps your committee could think outside the box a little. For instance, consider creating four or five standardized designs thus saving architect’s fees for each new structure. You could design one school for a smaller footprint to go in urban settings; another school for suburban settings; another school for rural districts etc.
    Also, has anyone ever investigated modular construction for schools? I’m not talking about glorified trailers but sturdily constructed modules built in a factory and shipped to the site to be consolidated into larger buildings.
    Naturally the designs would have to include a lot of input from all concerned stakeholders. The designs would have to be rigorously tested and improved with feedback.
    To some extent form will follow function so some standards will have to be adopted, i.e. class size, school size etc.
    This will be a way that the state could start standardizing better educational practices such as smaller classes and smaller schools.

  67. Ready to Hurl

    Perhaps vo-tech high schools could be administered by the SC Vo-Tech system in conjunction with local school districts.
    For instance, tech programs that require high capital investment but can’t be justified by the demand in a single school district could be centralized in a facility which would serve multiple districts.
    Maybe these facilities could be modeled after Doug’s Assabet alma mater.

  68. Doug

    Sadly, the firestorm that would erupt if students were not promoted would be more than most politicians and school administrators could cope with.
    I can envision the cries of racism, the threats of lawsuits, the wailing of school administrators about not having space to deal with those who were held back, etc.
    It would be brutal. We need to accept the fact that the standard method of operation in public schools is “move ’em up and move ’em out”. As long as students who are unqualified to advance are not held back, there’s no sense talking about how to improve education in SC. Anything else is lip service – including the useless PACT testing which COULD be used as the gateway to advancement.
    I’d be interested in knowing what the rules are for promotion. Is it based on grades? PACT / MAP scores (doubtful), teacher recommendation? Are statistics available on the number of students held back? I’m guessing it’s less than 1% in our district (although I do know one 8th grader whose parents held him back so he’d be able to play an extra year of varsity high school baseball… funny how that was allowed)

  69. some guy

    Doug — The promotion issue is, indeed, a tricky one. A few posts ago on this thread, I think (if I remember correctly) I made a suggestion or two about how things could work better.
    Holding back tons of kids just isn’t really feasible in many cases. Talking about disorder and discipline and bullying problems! To have a crowd of 13-year-olds in a fourth grade classroom would be a disaster.
    But I would suggest we look at alternative programs at certain stages — perhaps after 3rd grade, after 6th grade, and after 8th grade — for students who have failed to meet grade level standards, especially in reading. Those students could be taken aside for one year and given INTENSIVE instruction in reading….everything else, almost, could be ignored (not actually, but reading would be by far the main thing on the agenda).
    Depending on the student’s gains, he or she could either return to school with his or her age group or with the kids one year behind…The latter scenario would, in other words, be the equivalent of getting “held back” one year, but in a specialized setting.
    For some kids, on the other hand, staying back one year works great — they develop maturity and skills needed for success and do just fine. But for those who are CLEARLY strugging mostly in academic terms, I think a specialized situation focusing hardcore on reading skills would make sense.

  70. Ready to Hurl

    Two more suggestions:
    (1) New teachers should serve a two year apprenticeship under specially trained and chosen Master Teachers. Start the new teacher off at 85% of the bottom rate and tie progressive raises to semi-annual evaluations by the Master Teacher and administrators. The two years would be a trial period during which the new teacher could be terminated at the discretion of the district.
    (2) Take this suggestion with a grain of salt. Randy can comment, perhaps. Cease assigning high school teachers a particular classroom which sits idle when he/she isn’t teaching. Give them offices and let them teach in whatever classrooms are available as university profs do.

  71. Doug

    My voke-tech alma mater draws students from seven different towns. That’s the typical model for all the voke-tech schools in Massachusetts – they are regional. The school has its own school board with a representative from each town.
    Also, regarding your idea about modular construction and standard designs, I agree 100%. I have it on good authority that in Richland 2, even if they re-use a design, the architect gets paid 50% of the original fee. Seems like someone should negotiate transferring ownership of the design to the county as part of the original deal.

  72. Randy Ewart

    Doug is absolutely right about the lack of improvement if we don’t deal with the accountability and social promotion. In the words of Pink Floyd, “if they don’t eat their meat, how can they have any pudding?”
    Some guy makes a good point, mass retention of 8th graders would result in chaos. The Chicago School District tried it in the late 90s. I believe the first year they had 85% of kids retained. It cost $100 million for the extra year of schooling and summer school. It was seen as a tremendous failure.
    This is why I proposed what some guy does, an alternative setting with INTENSIVE remediation. We are forever locked into the debate between the lesser of two evils, retain the students who are too big and old to be in middle school or socially promote them. Why?
    Paul, Rex doesn’t even touch this issue, yet as Doug explains this will minimize any reform efforts. It’s like a cancer patient continuing to smoke.
    Someone else pointed out (RTH?) that Ds are acceptable. A kid can get a freakin 50 in his sleep. So he only needs to learn 20% of the material and he passes.
    This requires school board members, the legislature, and Rex to act because this is a political issue.

  73. Randy Ewart

    RTH, in many schools there are floating teachers who use up the otherwise empty rooms. Another problem is that unlike in a college setting, we have alot more papers and materials to use during class. Your idea is sound and is the reasoning behind year long schools. One approach is to divide the school year not into semesters but into quarters with a course lasting one quarter. Most students would have classes in 3 of the 4, thus reducing the active student population by 1/4. That’s less books, less teachers, less everything.
    What you must keep in mind is that many of these decisions are based not on educational priorities, but societal. For example, we are starting two weeks later next year because parents want the two weeks available for vacations (and Horry County wants revenue). Of course, they will have two less weeks at the beginning of the summer, but I guess the hot August months are the preferred travel months. I will have two less weeks to prepare my students for the AP exams and the calendar was already tight.

  74. Paul DeMarco

    The Rex Equitable Funding committee had a meeting today which I attended. As you may remember from the item that begins this thread we are one of five committees on the transition team: the other four are
    1) Teachers
    2) Accountability (i.e. PACT)
    3) Choice (public school)
    4) Innovation
    It’s a high-power committee that includes folks like Fred Sheheen, former commissioner of the State Commission on Higher Ed, Liz Patterson, former US congresswoman, Ken Clark, former state representative (a Republican from Swansea), and Ed Sellers, CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
    The chair of the committee is Steve Morrison, the lead attorney who argued the school funding equity lawsuit (brought by the “Corridor of shame” districts) against the state.
    It has been quite an education for me. Perhaps because of my experience on this blog, one of my roles has been to urge the committee to be realistic in our suggestions. As we weigh ideas, one of my thoughts has been, “How would this sound if I posted it on the blog? Would it pass muster with Lee, RTH, or Herb?” (who I conceive as representing right, left and center).
    Rex has charged us to think big so we are in a “wish list” mode, but when we receive the first draft of our report (which will be written by Steve Morrison based on our comments in three meetings over the past three weeks) I plan on keeping what’s doable front and center. Politics is the art of the possible and in my mind we shouldn’t waste too much time dreaming.
    I brought a copy of my last blog post summarizing the major themes covered in our discussion to that point and shared it with the committee today. I also invited them to visit the blog and read the thread for themselves.
    In a room with a number of visionary thinkers the discussion can become a bit rarefied. Reading this blog will be a good reality check.
    As for the substance of the meeting, I want to highlight one point. Ed Sellers, not surprisingly, made the point that economic development and education are inextricably linked. Question for the night: What are your ideas about how to best prepare students for the jobs in the 21st century? We had some discussion about WorkKeys, a skills assessment to help direct student into vocations that suit them well. Has anyone had experience with WorkKeys?

  75. Ready to Hurl

    Here’s a couple of complementary ideas concerning financing new schools.
    (1) Create something akin to the infrastructure bank that now exists in SC. (Maybe even just expand the current organization.) I’m not familiar with the infrastructure bank so this is really “blue sky.”
    Devise a system where financing schools for districts is subsidized on a sliding scale. The poorest districts would get the most generous subsidies.
    Perhaps this “bank” could negotiate better interest rates on bonds than individual districts. That savings would be passed along in reducing the cost of building new schools.
    (2) Bring in one or two modular factories with incentives into the areas of the state with the highest unemployment. Guarantee them business building schools. Try and lure three companies so they will compete with each other. Negotiate apprentice programs with each for local voc-tech students.
    (3) Generate some excitement with a big campaign like the space race of the 60’s. Set goals and create incentives.
    For instance, divide the state into, say, five areas. The first district in each area to graduate 95% of the students who start high school would get a million dollars. The students in the graduating class would get something, too– maybe laptops or free room and board at an SC college, university or voc school.

  76. Doug

    I checked out Workkeys on Mark me down as a skeptic when it comes to using a test to determine a vocation. I would be concerned that students would be pigeon-holed early on. I guess I’d be surprised to see many kids have an “Aha! I should be a doctor!” moment.
    Exposing kids to various careers and letting them decide what looks interesting would seem to have a better chance of success. In the voke-tech model, a freshman would typically spend a month
    learning about a particular field and be given a chance to choose one at the end of the year. In my case, I took electronics, carpentry, graphic arts (printing presses), computer programming, commercial arts (camera work/design), and sheet metal.
    I quickly learned that I would be paying someone else to do all my carpentry work for the rest of my life 🙂
    I’d rather see more career day events and exposure to real jobs in high school than see my kids take a test.
    My daughter is in the culinary arts program at Blythewood H.S. and that experience has been instrumental in influencing her plans for the future. Not sure she would have got that from a test.
    I’d like to see some statistics on how effective the Workkeys tests are in placing students in the right career path.
    Or just have the kids read Studs Terkel’s book “Working”… although it’s from the 60’s, it’s a great book to learn what people do and what they think about their jobs.

  77. Ready to Hurl

    Doug, if we keep agreeing then your reputation may suffer.
    Apparently, the trend is to force students to “declare a major” when entering high school. What are they supposed to base this decision on?
    It would serve the students far, far better to expose them to a variety of vocations. Perhaps an aptitude test could point them towards the types of jobs that they would be best suited for. Then they could get an idea of the difference between, say, being a court reporter and a dental hygienist.
    The schools are already making an effort in this direction with “shadowing days.” However, the current plan is far to ad hoc and unstructured. It depends on the person being shadowed being willing and able to give an overview of their job that addresses the student’s interests. And, in my kids’ cases, finding the person to shadow was entirely left up to the student and parents. We’ve been lucky but it was entirely due to our own initiative and the kindness of the “shadowees.”

  78. Spencer Gantt

    Several lifetimes ago here in SC, students in some schools could “declare” what sort of courses they would wish to take over a five year period. Three types of diploma were available: classical, scientific and general. Add to that vocational avenues and kids could make a reasonable decision at about age fourteen and then go their chosen path. They could also change course, it would seem, if they wanted to and not lose any ground.

  79. Paul DeMarco

    Thanks for the insightful commentary re: building new schools. Several ideas posted here by RTH (infrastructure bank, standard school plans that could be slightly altered to fit different sites (without having to hire an architect and pay a big fee each time a school is built)) were discussed in committee.
    Regarding the education/vocation nexus, the new Education and Economic Development Act (EEDA-passed in 2005) requires eighth graders to essentially choose a major (“career cluster”) with the help of a guidance counselor. It also suggests that students will be given the opportunity to have real-world experience (although it does not specifically mention shadowing).
    Here’s an excerpt from a Summary of the EEDA:
    “To effectively implement Personal Pathways to Success the EEDA mandates a variety of supporting initiatives, including:
    High Schools That Work
    By 2010 all South Carolina high schools are to be reorganized on the High Schools
    That Work (HSTW) model (or a similar approved model). More than 60 South
    Carolina schools have already adopted the HSTW model, which provides a closely
    monitored framework of goals and key practices to accelerate learning, including
    rigorous academic standards and out-of-classroom learning opportunities.
    Regional Education Centers
    These centers, managed through a partnership of Workforce Investment boards,
    tech-prep consortia, one-stop shops, and instructional technology centers, will
    coordinate educational and workforce services for lifelong learning. Centers will
    provide career planning services for students and adults, professional development for
    educators, and workforce education programs.
    Individual Attention for Students
    High schools are mandated to hire more guidance counselors to achieve a ratio of one
    counselor for every 300 students, and counselors specializing in career guidance will
    help students plan their educations. Students at risk for dropping out will be identified
    early and models will be developed to help these students graduate.
    Protection Against Tracking
    EEDA includes provisions that protect students against being steered into pathways
    that do not fit their best interests. Parents or guardians review their children’s IGPs (individual graduation plans) at least once a year and can designate someone to represent them if they cannot participate. An appeals process will be created to resolve disagreements and ensure that every student has equal access to educational opportunities.”
    This last paragraph is interesting. Certainly there is a tension between pigeonholing kids too early vs. keeping kids in academic tracks that can’t do the work and would be better served in tech prep courses. Sometimes this tension is also fraught with racial overtones
    From a distance, my suspicion is that a number of students who would be better served in tech prep stay in college prep courses because of the stigma associated with tech prep. Unfortunately those kids languish in courses that are over their heads and then head off to community college where they are not prepared and often drop out.
    The “career cluster” model may be a way to successfully mitigate that tension.
    Does anyone have any experience with schools that use similar systems to integrate school and work?

  80. Randy Ewart

    10 years ago we instituted this great new concept of Tech Prep which did away with the general track. It provided a focus for students not in the college prep track – prepare students for a highly technical work place. This was done despite the fact that the fastest growing industry is service, but that’s another Pandora’s box.
    Tech prep courses are general track courses with a new name. It was mandated that we name math courses Tech Prep I, II, III, IV. E.g. Tech III aka Geometry Tech is stinkin general geometry. Lexington HS renamed their course levels “concepts” and “theory” to avoid the stigma. I forget which one is the high level. We are changing Math Tech I and II back to algebra 1 part 1 and part 2 (which we used back in the 90s).
    Now there is a push to end the tech prep and push all courses to the cp level. I believe this is tied in with High Schools That Work – I’m not sure because I can’t keep track of all the initiatives and reforms and mandates. In my 13 years of teaching, I have been charged with incorporating literacy, SAT prep, differentiated instruction, service learning, and character education into my “math” classes.
    While we adults change bell schedules (block, skinnies, AB, traditional …), names of courses, intiatives, try to boost SAT scores (with courses at school and SAT state competitions), and integrate technology (Doug’s favorite) many of our students strive for that 69.5 average, beg for extra credit, cut classes, and wait for social promotion. The focus is on changing the student environment in lieu of the students themselves.
    I had a student from Afghanistan in my freshman class one year. He spoke little English and had exactly 1 month of formal education. He came to us in May of his 8th grade year and was grouped with kids his age. He had to start with multiplication tables. 3 months later he’s in ALGEBRA 1 with me. He wasn’t a genius, but did EVERYTHING I asked, like paying attention, using his notes, and doing his homework. He made an A! This is especially impressive because I use TONS of word problems. Middle class English speaking college prep kids in this same class cried that they couldn’t do the work, even though they would not use their notes nor do the homework.
    This is where we should start, in the classroom holding students accountable.

  81. Randy Ewart

    BTW, alot of this top down reforming comes from the legislature which is why I take such issue with the criticism towards “educrats”.

  82. Lee

    If you think the state has the authority to spend money for education, you have to expect the legislature to define the standards and the purposes.

  83. Ready to Hurl

    Randy’s post about his experience with the Afghan student backs up my suggestion that the FIRST act of the committee should be to at minimum systematically and scientifically survey the people who work in the system: teachers and administrators. Other stakeholders (like parents and employers) should also be surveyed.
    I sympathize with Randy and his fellow educators. It must be very discouraging when your career and working conditions are at the mercy of so many powerful, misguided, ignorant and careless forces.

  84. Steve

    >> High schools are mandated to hire more
    >> guidance counselors to achieve a ratio
    >> of one counselor for every 300 students, >> and counselors specializing in career
    >> guidance will help students plan their
    >> educations.
    You gotta be kidding me. The first thing we should do is can half of the existing guidance counselors. They do NOTHING. It’s one of the greatest jobs in the education industry… zero accountability and nobody really knows what they do besides fill out schedules and college applications.
    Can anyone relate a positive experience with a guidance counselor?

  85. Paul DeMarco

    I really appreciate your sticking with this thread. Your perspective is extremely valuable to me (and I suspect to many others here). Your ability to bring the rest of us into the classroom with you has helped anchor the discussion where it ought to be-centered around teachers and students.
    Like you, I am very interested in both parental and student accountability. You mentioned several ideas above about students who drag classes down by being disruptive or lazy (alternative schools, intensive summer remediation).
    I would like you (and anyone else who wants to take a stab at it) to talk more about that. Take us through what you think ought to be done for students:
    a) With chronic discipline problems
    b) Who choose not to give necessary effort/attention to their work.
    The example of the boy from Afghanistan was instructive. Other examples from you or anyone else of particularly difficult situations or success stories would be helpful.
    I serve on a scholarship committee for the University of Virginia and one of the applicants several years back was a girl from South Korea who came to America in the 8th grade knowing no English. After a very difficult first year or so in the Sumter public school system spent overcoming the language barrier, she eventually graduated as the valedictorian of Sumter High. This is proof positive that our system can educate students, even those who come to school with significant obstacles. as long as they are motivated.
    Lee, my brother,
    Are you advocating for the total elimination of the public school system in favor of a completely private system? Are there any developed countries that have such a system?

  86. Randy Ewart

    Paul, thanks for the nice words. Obviously this is one of my passions.
    I had a Chinese girl in an algebra 1 class. The sum total of English she knew was “Hi Mr. E”. She made an A as well. I have a copy of a word problem with her perfect solution which I show students.
    Contrast her and the Afghan student with an HONORS student I once taught. A year after he was in my class he came back to see me and shared that he was finally “following my advice”. He was actually using the examples in the book and notes to do his homework! He was a JUNIOR when he had this epiphany. His case is common place (not the following my advice, lol, the not following examples).
    Regarding suggestions for chronic discipline: I’ll stick with the alternative settings and schools. The students with the utter lack of respect for authority (like the student who walked out of class because he refused to tuck his shirt per school rule) need a different setting to set them straight and to allow others to learn.
    As for student responsibility, hold kids accountable for real learning. End social promotion by putting teeth into PACT tests. Tie performance in the state end of course exams with passing a course. Make a passing grade an 80.
    Paul, I had 85% of my 34 AP stats students pass the AP exam last year. The state rate was 51%, the national was 60%. A major part of my approach was to give the students RETESTS on EVERY test – mostly during their own time. My point is the focus was on LEARNING. Too often students fail a chapter and there’s no effort or incentive to go back and learn what was missed. Create a mastery system in which students demonstrate a level of competence versus squeaking by with a 69.5 as is the status quo. In lieu of failing a course, students remain in the course until they pass it. I have some suggestions I can share later.
    My point in all this is to put the monkey where it belongs, on the students. After all, when they go to college or get a job, that’s where it’ll be.

  87. Paul DeMarco

    Let’s continue to work through this. If we do suddenly require discipline and mastery of material, I suspect many students would respond. But I suspect that many others would not (20%?, 50%? I’d like to hear your estimate).
    You gave the example of the expense and upheaval that the Chicago school system endured when social promotion was prohibited. How would we avoid that with your plan? In my brief research on this area I came across a University of Chicago report (written in 2004 after studying the Chicago school plan since its inception in 1996) which stated unequivocally that retention did not help low achieving students. Is there anyone out there with experience with a retention program that worked?
    In SC, we’d likely have thousands of students who would be assigned to alternative school settings. How would we handle that? Are you recommending we build a whole new alternative system for these children or divide schools so that an entire wing might be occupied by the difficult students? Neither of these seem like workable solutions.
    Some guy (not just any guy, but our own “some guy”) outlines in his posts of 12/10/06 2:57 PM and 12/14/06 11:56 AM holding students back at specific points in their school career (i.e. 3rd, 6th, and 8th grade) if they are not mastering rudimentary skills and placing them in a intensive program to drill them in basics (perhaps taught by college students or new grads who would not have to be fully certified). This would be an expensive and complex undertaking (and not unlike what Chicago did).
    And this plan would still not address the pure discipline problems who would be placed in yet another alternative setting.
    I am moved by your call for better discipline and higher motivation; I want the environment in your classroom to be conducive to learning. But the source of the problem, the home environment, is not readily amenable to alteration. I think our money might be better spent on prevention: for example, school programs to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy (which often results in unstable homes) and efforts to make clear the risks of single parenthood.

  88. Paul DeMarco

    Is there any way to number the comments on a thread? It would make referring back to previous comments easier. Thanks again for the opportunity to engage in this discussion. I’ve told my transition team committee members about it and also emailed Jim Rex about it. There are some good ideas here that should inform Jim’s thinking on statewide education policy

  89. Ready to Hurl

    Paul, maybe the Chicago experiment was failure– but, not because of the reasons that might be assumed.
    Were the Chicago students given the “shampoo treatment?” You know: “Lather, rinse, repeat.” Perhaps, repeating the same material with the same teaching methods in the same locations didn’t yield different results.
    At least one poster on here suggested intensive remedial efforts for students who failed a grade.
    Apparently we can identify the “at risk” students. I recently heard a middle school principal and an elementary school teacher claim that they could fairly accurately identify the students who would fail in future grades.
    Too bad there wasn’t a mechanism in place to forestall these failures for the approximately 119 Irmo High School 9th graders who failed last year. That’s about 20% of the freshman class.

  90. Randy Ewart

    RTH provides an important statistic, freshman failure rate which is universal. The kids simply are not used to being held accountable. So the freshmen get the rude awakening.
    Paul, any serious improvement to the system will incur a major price – monetarily and otherwise. There’s no diet that let’s you eat all you want and still lose weight. There’s no reform that is painless.
    Here’s an analogy. At Spring Valley High School in the 90s we passed a rule of no wearing hats in the building. Many students kept wearing hats. We’d tell them to take it off and it was on 60 seconds later. Later we started keeping hats worn in the building until the end of the school year. Suddenly there were no more hats on in the building. The students test the boundaries and if there’s no consequence they ignore the rule. Currently, many have no fear of failing classes.
    Paul, we have to break out of the retain or socially promote paradigm. Students who fail 8th grade or the PACT should be put in an intensive remediation setting – alternative school or a program. The earlier the better. How can a student make it to high school with a 4th grade reading level or have no clue how to do fractions or integers then suddenly catch up in high school?

  91. Mark Whittington

    Let me get this straight.
    Basically, the students are the problem, so in effect we need to create a two-tier public education system in order to reform or jettison the bad apples.
    I’ll bet my paycheck that the best predictor of the bad apples will be the economic status of the students’ families. So, people who are mostly in the top fifth concerning wealth (owning 80% of the wealth) are the ones who are going to make the decisions about the suitability of students mostly from families in the bottom two-fifths (owning 0.3% of the wealth).
    Since we are precluding any discussion about seriously reforming capitalism (Paul said so), then it only makes sense to follow your reasoning. After all, a two-tier educational system would serve to facilitate a two-tier economic system. Your reasoning begs the question as to why bother educating these slackers at all-they will never meet your standards, and they are holding the good apples back. Should we get rid of 20% or 50% of the students you ask? Based on your philosophy, my advice is to go for the whole enchilada so to speak. Just eliminate all the students from families below average wealth (the bottom 80%) and your problems according to your worldview will be solved!
    If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.
    How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

  92. Randy Ewart

    Mark, what are you suggesting we do with students like the guy who refused to tuck in his shirt and walked out of class – not an isolated event? The girl who screamed at her mom in the school hallway when we discussed her 10 tardies to class? The boy who won’t do his work in class and talks excessively, even after I’ve called home and changed his assigned seat 5 times? The girl who repeatedly puts her head down or writes notes to friends then starts arguing out loud in the middle of class when I address the problem?
    While you share some of your solutions, please demonstrate your expertise and cite which of these students I used as examples come from low income families. I’ll be honest and let you know if you’re right. (Hint, not all of them do).

  93. Doug

    Why not have a two-tier system? Especially if the only “barrier” preventing movement from the lower tier to the upper tier is based on attitude and effort – not income level.

  94. Dave

    If Mark thinks that badly behaved people don’t come from money, he needs to take a look at the Kennedy clan. Drugs, addiction, rape, academic cheating all from a family with more money than you or I can count.

  95. Lee

    Since even “the poor” are wealthy by world standards, and wealthier than most Americans were until 1946, how does “being poor” suddenly become an excuse for not trying?
    How did all those poor immigrant Jews, Germans, Italians and Irish succeed in one generation? Chief Justice Thomas and Thomas Sowell were as poor as anyone in America, yet they ascended to the tops of their professions.

  96. Dave

    Of all magazines, Time has published a real indictment about public school systems in the USA. To paraphrase, the writer cleverly mused that Rip Van Winkle, were he to awake today, would notice people with antennas walking down the street, electric cars, microwaves, etc, but when he walked into a public school, he said, “The only thing that changed was the blackboards are now green.” Pretty clever. Paul, your entire committee should read that article. It’s all about change, teaching and motivating. Take a look.

  97. Paul DeMarco

    I didn’t say we couldn’t discuss seriously reforming capitalism. As you can clearly see, I have tried to exercise some guidance of this thread (which, you may remember was about school funding) to little avail (although overall, I think the discussion has been worthwhile). So if you want to hit us with another treatise about the evils of capitalism, go ahead. I think most of us understand the problems with capitalism and the inequality of wealth it can generate. But it rewards hard work and ingenuity and creativity in a way that no other system does (and therefore encourages all those things). To paraphrase Churchill, capitalism is the worst kind of economy, except for every other one that’s been tried.
    And, as others have pointed out, being poor doesn’t equate with being stupid or immoral. Most poor people in my county have access to the tools to bring them out of poverty-the most powerful of which is a decent and free education (but including free birth control at the health department, housing assistance via the housing authority, food stamps, etc.). And I’m certainly willing to help them; I’m a long-time supporter of Habitat for Humanity because home ownership is one of the important steps out of poverty.
    I think your politically incorrect but penetrating question, “Why not have a two-tier system?” goes to the heart of the matter.
    I think a two-tier system would be a return to a “separate but equal” approach which would be detrimental to all. But I think I understand why you and many others are calling for it.
    Essentially, this was the central debate in the State Superintendent campaign. In Floyd’s rhetoric and acceptance of vouchers I read the following:
    “We’ve spent enough on public education and we are unhappy with the results. And the primary drivers of the cost (choose one: poverty, failure to understand the importance of education, single parent families) seem to be increasing inexorably. Let’s cut our losses. We can divert some public funds to private schools where our children go (or would have a chance to go) and those who stay in public schools will just have to get along.”
    I think, in a sense, the campaign was about compassion fatigue. I think Americans are the most generous and compassionate people on the planet. Barn-raising and missionary zeal are part of our heritage. But the public schools strike many as a money pit. As the family structure crumbles, more and more of what was the province of the home has become the province of the school (feeding, monitoring dress, inculcating discipline, developing study habits). I think many taxpayers feel like dogs pulling a sled that is becoming progressively weighted down.
    We look back from our harnesses, grunting from the increasing drag, and gnash our teeth as we see more and more dogs resting on the sled we’re pulling (flashback to the scene of a smiling Max, the dog with reindeer horns tied onto his head, riding on the sleigh rather than pulling it from the Grinch cartoon).
    If 50 fathers abandon their children who then become discipline problems, they have created the need for a new alternative school which will cost my district several hundred thousand dollars to run. And next year 50 more. And next year 50 more. At some point, even the most compassionate say, no mas. I fear that we are perilously close to that moment.
    I have that issue of Time on my coffee table but haven’t read it yet. I think all of us should read it and then we can discuss it here.

  98. some guy

    Paul —
    You raise some good questions in that last post — how much is society willing to pay to deal with the effects of poverty and family disfunction on children?
    I don’t think there is any easy answer. But I think America is still coming to terms with the modern concept of public education. My theory goes something like this:
    In the old, old days (50+ years ago), it wasn’t expected that everyone would be educated. In the South, black students were part of a different system and were never expected to play much part in the mainstream professional society. White students who dropped out could get work on a farm or in a factory — and I would guess that many leaders in our economic system were happy to have the cheap labor.
    At the same time that integration was coming into full play, the federal government started getting into the business of helping fund education. Integration made it impossible for white society to ignore the plight of black students, while more money in education made taxpayers take notice of how money was being spent, results or lack thereof, and so on. All this spawned the accountability movement and, in general, more scrutiny of public education.
    Still, until the early- to mid-1980s, high school dropouts could generally find work in factories. It wasn’t until the last 10–15 years that we’ve gotten to the point that a more sophisticated education has become truly necessary for getting along in our economy. So, I think we’re still grappling with the changes in our society and economy and what all that says about expectations for our education system.
    What I think public schools have decided is that if they’re going to be mandated to get results, then they’re going to HAVE to pick up the other tasks that lead to success….the nurturing of children, recreational opportunities, after-school support, going the extra mile with discipline, etc.

  99. Dave

    Bill Gates and his foundation realize that the days of sitting kids in straight rows, have them listen to a canned lecture, take notes with a pencil, and then move to the next class have to be changed. In that Time piece, they show how math, science, music, and art are being used in combination to create successful new enterprises. Google is one, You tube another. Kids in 1st grade who already know how to use powerpoint. Interesting thoughts and ideas.

  100. Randy Ewart

    Paul, we are preparing these students for the real world. The students I teach are less than 4 years from this world – most less than 2.
    We’re not talking about 20% of the population relegated to the “lower tier”. We’re talking about maybe 5%. These kids are self-selected, not by skin color nor socio-economic level. It’s also done to protect the rights of the students who want to learn.
    I wrote in a previous post of a student who wouldn’t tuck in his shirt and walked out. Another day he was smarting off to me then destroyed some of my property in my classroom. He had multiple write ups. How are we more concerned about “separate but equal” treatment for him than the other students who miss out on instruction as I deal with such behavior?

  101. Mark Whittington

    There is hope. Dave and I agree on something. (Note Dave’s paragraph directly above).
    Now let me get this out of the way:
    Is it possible to eliminate poverty as an absolute measure using capitalism? Yes.
    Is it possible to eliminate poverty as a relative measure using capitalism? Yes.
    Is it possible in any economic system to eliminate wealth inequality? No. Why not? Because any kind economic system would involve monetary exchanges, and monetary exchanges necessarily produce an exponential distribution of money and wealth.
    Will improved education among the populace (i.e., the entire population) reduce (or increase) wealth inequality? No. Education has no effect whatsoever. Taxes on the other hand have a big effect on wealth inequality.
    Can improved education among the populace eliminate poverty as an absolute measure? Yes, if it improves divisions of labor to the point where you have a fantastically wealthy upper class so that enough trickles down to the poor.
    Why isn’t wealth normally distributed? Because monetary exchanges produce an exponential distribution, and then on top of that rides return on investment. That’s why the wealth distribution looks like a 1/X hyperbola rather than an inverse normal distribution.
    What is the primary cause of wealth inequality? Return on investment is by far the primary cause of wealth inequality.
    Will increasing the rate of monetary exchanges reduce wealth inequality? No, because the rate of monetary exchange depends on capital investment.

  102. Randy Ewart

    Mark, you haven’t demonstrated your ability to discern the behavior of a low income versus middle income students (see challenge posted in my earlier post).
    Education most certainly has an effect on the distribution of income. Everyone receiving the same increase of education, as you imply, is a moot point because it won’t happen. Most high paying jobs require education. Advancement often involves education or atleast advanced training.
    The main reason a distribution of wealth is not normal is the boundary of income. The lowest income is $0 while the highest is theoretically unlimited. This skews the distribution. I read in that the distribution is a power or exponential model. I don’t know about the hyperbolic model, unless you are transforming it.

  103. some guy

    I think the idea is that if we catch kids early enough — really REALLY hammering home basic reading skills when they show signs of falling behind significantly — we won’t have a two-tier system of haves and have-nots.
    As I mentioned before, I think that successful remediation in elementary grades may require pulling children out of the regular setting for a school year — at least in some cases — rather than “holding back” students. But if we do it right, I think the needed impact can be made.
    And I think Randy’s right: Alternative schooling for high school age students shouldn’t be for 50% or even 20% of the kids….more like 5%, or, I might say, 8%. But proper interventions at the early grade levels should bring those numbers down among high school students.
    I’m also interested in the idea of giving middle school students far more exposure to careers. I think giving them the chance to be involved in some pretty hands-on technical work would make sense. For many, by the time they get to high school, they don’t know what they want to do and just kind go around aimless, it seems to me, or they simply lack the math skills to do some of the higher end technical education courses. Giving them more involvement with all this in 7th and 8th grade could make a difference, I think.

  104. Paul DeMarco

    I was underwhelmed by the Time article. The authors describe four “21st century skills”:
    1) Knowing more about the world
    2) Thinking outside the box
    3) Becoming smarter about new sources of information
    4) Developing good people skills.
    First of all, that same list could have been compiled in 1906 and entitled “20th century skills.” Those are all attributes of an educated person in the modern world.
    And one of the best ways to acquire the first three is to read voraciously, a low-tech but critical skill. Want to “know more about the world?” Try reading the newspaper.
    The fourth skill is best taught at home. Kids who participate in lively but civil discussions around the dinner table will be good communicators in school and will likely have good people skills.
    The end of the article confirms that employers still want the same skills they wanted in the last century (and will in the next)-the ability to be “punctual, responsible, and work well in teams.”
    Certainly, students need to be adept at keyboarding, Word, Excel, Power Point and know how to find good information on the Internet, but I am skeptical that changing the look of the classroom is seminal. Remember the open classrooms of the 70’s-that was a fad.
    My sense is that some of the desire to jazz up the classroom is to entertain children with ever shrinking attention spans. I’m not sure to how much of that impulse we should capitulate. After all, we’re trying lengthen attention spans. I’d like to hear some opinions on that.
    My amateur opinion is that the key to being a successful student/citizen today century is to develop the basic skills and amass as broad a fund of knowledge as possible. That makes you a good problem solver.
    The essential question is “What technology is really essential to the 21st century student? Doug and Randy shared their thoughts on this early in the thread (12/8/06 at 8:06 and 9:04)-you may want to review them. Any other thoughts on this question? I had one in rereading Randy’s comment. He uses web-based resources for his students (including an on-line textbook site where students can take practice quizzes). However, I have seen estimates that about one-third of households don’t have internet access. Many students in my district don’t have internet access at home and many others who live out in the country only have access to dial-up service. This digital divide generally follows the present achievement gap and may serve to exacerbate it.

  105. Randy Ewart

    Paul, I’m teaching a course for the SDE Virtual School. There are students without internet at home so they work on the course at school. Students in my class could work on the online quizzes during lunch or after school.
    Having said that, I agree with the disparity. But what happens to them when they get out of school? The haves used the internet for school and go into the real world with that invaluable skill set. I’m not suggesting we give the homeless laptops like Newt once did, but do we hold back on technology because it’s not available to all or do we make accomodations?

  106. Paul DeMarco

    What has your experience been with the Virtual Class? Could you describe how it works for us uninitiated. What are the pros and cons of traditional vs. virtual instruction?

  107. Mark Whittington

    I’m happy that you have at least considered what I have said. Admittedly, the notion that education plays no role in shaping the wealth distribution seems counterintuitive to almost everyone. Education however does play a significant role in determining where one falls within the distribution. The long-term distribution of wealth is always the same: it has a name and it can be described by a function. Re-distributive taxation can flatten the distribution, but the distribution itself is always the same.
    I’m guessing that the piece you mention is the one by Jenny Hogan (Why it is Hard to Share the Wealth) in which Pareto (power law) distributions are discussed. Moshe Levy of the Jerusalem School of Business also wrote an excellent paper on Pareto distributions and how they imply that success in investing is independent of differential ability. Victor Yakovenko of the University of Maryland proved the existence of exponential Boltzmann-Gibbs distributions in monetary exchanges (he’s wrong about wealth not being conserved though-at least in the short term-and no, it doesn’t take “Stalinist” tactics to reduce wealth inequality-it takes only re-distributive taxation to reduce wealth inequality).
    A few years ago I decided to create a computer based model economy using a new idea: to set statistically equal investors, producers, and consumers in motion within simulated capitalism using stochastic programming methods. I generated the first distribution in the summer of 2003. Once I had the correct distribution, it took me quite a while to find the name of the curve that represented the distribution. About a year and a half ago, I started paying closer attention to the Pareto part of the distribution (the upper wealth range) because of near quantum jumps that my program economic entities made into apparent shells. I had a lot of data on stock market capitalization, so I went back and I noticed the same shell behavior concerning market capitalization. First, I tried atomic shell structure to see if market cap and personal wealth followed this scheme, but the shell structure didn’t match. Then I tried nucleon shell structure-and bingo!
    The wealth distribution can in its entirety be described by the Woods-Saxon potential. The log of wealth vs. the number of economic agents ranked in order of wealth from richest to poorest can be accurately described by the Woods-Saxon potential.
    Thanks for reading this.

  108. Randy Ewart

    Perhaps you can enlighten us where the students I described earlier fit in this model. You professed a degree of expertise in this area.
    I think this will provide an interesting exchange between thought experiments and the daily reality many of us encounter.

  109. Mark Whittington

    In answer to Paul’s query about rural internet access, I would like to suggest the following:
    Create a light based communications network with modulated, isotropic light sources (above tree top level) that anyone within sight can access by putting up their own light source and receiver. Everyone’s computer on the network would act as a router for other stations until the signals reached a server in an urban area. There are several advantages to doing this:
    1. The traditional frequency spectrum is already crowded by other forms of communication. More importantly, the traditional frequency spectrum is limited by the frequency of transmission itself. Using near infrared light however, the amount of information that can be transferred dramatically increases because the limit depends on how fast an electronic switch can modulate (cut on and off) the light. When I worked in the fiber optics industry, we achieved a modulation rate of 40Gb/s using NIR lasers.
    Today, it shouldn’t be too hard to find laser diodes to act as isotropic light sources, nor should it be too hard to find the optical detectors to decode the light signals. The electronic/computer technology already exists to do something like this.
    2. Today, highly selective optical filters exist so that light sources could be separated by only 2 nanometers and yet be distinguishable from each other. That way, when a network ran out of bandwidth, another network could be established using a slightly different wavelength of light.
    3. Since the light sources would be isotropic, there wouldn’t be a need for each station to point its light source directly at another station, thus saving time effort and money.

  110. Randy Ewart

    Paul, I think it would be easier if we teleport the rural students to a computer lab in Columbia, taking care not to enter the space time continuum in which case students may face their alternate universe being and blow up.

  111. Mark Whittington

    I hate to break it to you Randy, but modern fiber optic communication networks already work in much the way that I have described. I am suggesting that for rural people, the government should allocate bandwidth in the NIR band because of the high rate of data transfer possible using these wavelengths. I’m also suggesting that the government allocate the NIR band for use in free space rather than just for fiber optic communications.
    Laying either cable or fiber would be prohibitively expensive in rural areas. The HF, VHF, UHF, SHF, EHF, and microwave bands are already crowded, and they have severe bandwidth limitations because of the way information has to be modulated using these carriers. High-speed Internet access isn’t feasible over satellite on a mass basis either-again because of bandwidth limitations (and expense). If rural people are going to have any chance at all of obtaining high speed internet access, then the NIR band in free space (or possibly, visible light) is one of the few realistic options available.
    If all of this seems like dreamy eyed, futuristic nonsense to you, then let me suggest that you study one of the many good sources available over the internet concerning telecommunications and photonics.

  112. Paul DeMarco

    I think we’ve done what we came to do. Thanks for all your input. Next week I will receive the first draft of our committee report on school funding authored by our chair, Steve Morrison (the completed report will be submitted Jan. 9th). The committee members are encouraged to send comments on the initial draft. I expect there will be statements in the report that will spark questions worthy of debate here, so check this thread next week if you are interested. re i.
    Merry Christmas.

  113. Capital A

    Mark, thank for teaching more than a few things in just a few minutes. I learn more from and am inspired to research topics by your posts more than from those of any other.
    I know I’ve said it before, but once again and a year later, you get my vote for annual Blog MVP.
    Heretoafter referred to as The Whittington…
    Let it be.

  114. Lee

    Lots of rural dwellers in SC already receive high-speed Internet access and television over their phone lines or by satellite dish.

  115. Lee

    Ford Motor Company got a new CEO the same time as SC elected a new Supt of Education.
    Ford already has a plan that is being implemented to cut cost, reduce numbers of models, increase parts commonality.
    How far along is the new bureaucracy in SC?

  116. Ready to Hurl

    Uhm, Lee, Rex was just installed in his office yesterday, 1/10/07.
    Since you like comparing apples and grenades… perhaps his plan should be to close all underperforming schools; fire teachers whose class grade average was below failing; and, arbitrarily fire half of the district administrators.
    What a joke you are.


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