An idea that is, was, and always will be bad

Unfortunately, the “defund the schools” crowd was encouraged by the margin of the annual defeat of their execrable tuition-tax-credit proposal:

Nearly all lawmakers have their minds made up at this point on the topic, which repeatedly has surfaced since 2004 when school choice advocates, led by South Carolinians for Responsible Government, first introduced a school tax credit bill.

But advocates say they will continue the fight.

“We’re gaining ground every year,” said state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, a tax credit supporter. “This was the closest vote yet.”

The death knell for this year’s bill was its price tag, according to several lawmakers….

The price tag, of course, is not the reason why anyone with even the slightest sense of responsibility to South Carolina should vote against this thing. The reasons are… you know what? Never mind. I got fed up with repeating all the reasons why this is an awful idea years and years ago, really by the time I started my old blog. It’s just so totally without merit. And it’s dead for this year now, so why even bother looking up the links to when I said it all over and over before, much less repeating myself?

But I know that next year, we’ll have the whole ridiculous argument again. You know why? Two reasons:

  1. There’s a whole cottage industry of interest groups that are funded specifically to push this.
  2. The extremes of the Republican Party have begun to become the core, with recent gains by the Tea Party. Hence the close vote this time, several months after the Tea Party achieved its zenith.

So I’ll just gather up all the painfully obvious arguments against sometime between now and then. Might as well. It’s not like we’re ever going to spend serious time in the Legislature discussing anything that might actually improve the quality of education in South Carolina — like school district consolidation, or empowering principals to hire and fire freely, or merit pay.

No, we’re just going to keep having this same pointless, monotonous argument over and over, year after year. And getting nowhere.

92 thoughts on “An idea that is, was, and always will be bad

  1. Doug Ross

    Tax credits will not fix broken schools. Vouchers might but the education community is scard to death that they could so they rely on scare tactics and disinformation to protect the dropout factory monopolies. If a needs based voucher system helped one student graduate who wouldn’t otherwise, it woukd be worth it.

    Meanwhile, back to failure as usual.

  2. Doug Ross

    ” school district consolidation, or empowering principals to hire and fire freely, or merit pay.”

    This is one topic we both agree on. I’d like to see all three of those implemented. But guess why it won’t happen? Because we have too many non-term limited legislators in power. Until they go, those items will never happen.

  3. Doug Ross

    And don’t you think if we combined Richland 1 and Richland 2 school districts, there would be enough money saved to fund a bus system? I’m guessing the savings would be in the millions per year.

  4. Brad

    Tax credits are an even worse idea than vouchers, for reasons I’ve gone into over and over, but, as I said, don’t feel like repeating today…

    Sometimes it just feels like “Groundhog Day” in South Carolina…

    And Doug, it’s not because of lack of term limits. It’s because people like, say, Mark Sanford SAY they’re for proposals such as the good ones I cited — because, you know, they’re for “education reform” — but never lift a finger to make any of those things happen. They spend all their energy instead on vouchers and tax credits, which are about paying people to ABANDON schools rather than doing anything to make those schools better.

    So we have these titanic battles, every year, between the alleged “reformers” and the ones they style the “defenders of the status quo,” over vouchers and tax credits, and first thing you know, the session is over… again…

  5. Doug Ross

    So Bobby Harrell and Hugh Leatherman don’t make a move unless the Governor tells them to? Sorry, you have the dynamic reversed.

  6. tired old man

    The problem with vouchers is that the notion presupposes that various interests have claims on taxes they pay. So in this instance we have parents believing they have a right to determine where their children are educated.

    If parents have a right, then so do I, and I do not have children.

    Therefore, if parents receive vouchers, then why not (legally, constitutionally, morally) should not the entire class of taxpayers who are supporting education (in whatever form or locale)?

  7. KP

    Really, who can stand another minute of this ridiculous debate? Which isn’t even really a debate anymore, because tax credit supporters never answer the “painfully obvious” objections. They just want what they want.

    What’s kind of interesting is the response of the losers — a vicious attack on legislators and organizations who opposed the bill. When did you get to be a villain in this state for supporting public education, resisting government expansion, and opposing something wildly expensive and fiscally unsustainable?

    Hurray for the Republicans who actually read the bill, which made them realize it had nothing to do with conservative government.

  8. KP

    And that last comment, Brad, is the painful truth. We have done this every year for seven years (and we’ll do it again next year, as long as Howard Rich is alive), while we do nothing about things that we know would improve our schools.

    Speaking of that. I’ve heard that Mick Zais is eliminating the SCDE’s Office of Early Childhood Education and rejecting federal funds for prekindergarten programs, on the grounds that his agency’s mission is K-12. I haven’t seen it covered, but if it’s true, I wonder what it means for the equity lawsuit, and I despair at what it means for the children who need early services to do well in school.

  9. Greg

    In a perfect world, a needs based voucher system could help kids, but it wouldn’t “save the system”, or even fix it. The system is mostly broken because of the component the state can’t do anything about: the parents. I just wish we could help those parents who want better for their children, but can’t afford it….and can’t afford to move, either. Think Allendale County. They are trying to start a charter school there, and are facing lots of obstacles (some of which may be of their own making).

  10. Doug Ross

    Does anyone know the process for getting a ballot question added to the Richland County ballot maybe for 2012?

    I’d like to have the people vote on this “Richland County will combine the operations of Richland 1 and 2 school districts into a single entity servicing all schools located in Richland County”.

    If they won’t do it at a state level, maybe we can get it started at the local level.

  11. Steven Davis

    Brad, why don’t you become a lobbiest for the citizens of South Carolina? You obviously know what is best for us. I’m not defending the legislature, because yet again, just like every other year, they’ve finished the year accomplishing absolutely nothing.

  12. Brad

    I DO lobby for the people of South Carolina. I always have. As for your assertion that, “you obviously know what is best for us,” you could say that about anyone who engages in debate about public issues — which is something we are obliged as citizens to do.

    By the way, if someone were to construct a fair, neutral test of knowledge and understanding of SC issues and administer it to all South Carolinians — or at least to a representative sample — I would almost certainly score in the top 10 percent. I always do, on tests like that.

    So in that sense, yeah, I do know better. I doubt that’s exactly what you meant, but I thought I’d go ahead an confront your implied populist sentiment directly. Some people DO know better. For instance, most of the people who comment here would probably also score higher than average if such a test of knowledge and understanding of government and politics were devised.

  13. Doug Ross

    “So in that sense, yeah, I do know better.”

    You may know WHAT the issues are but that doesn’t mean your opinion on HOW they should be resolved is a) correct or b) reflects the opinion of the majority of South Carolinians.

    The fact that you don’t want vouchers doesn’t mean they can’t work. Ohio has a needs based voucher system for kids in failing schools that has been considered so successful that they are quadrupling the number of participants.

    There’s a difference between knowing an empirical fact and expressing a biased opinion.

  14. Steven Davis

    Lobbying only works if you can convince those with a vote to agree with you. Complaining to those here doesn’t really accomplish much other than maybe lowering your blood pressure.

    We all know you’re right, and we all know you are smarter than the rest of us.

  15. Brad

    “You may know WHAT the issues are but that doesn’t mean your opinion on HOW they should be resolved is a) correct or b) reflects the opinion of the majority of South Carolinians.”

    That is a true statement. Of course, to deal with b) first, it really doesn’t matter whether the truth reflects the opinion of a majority, if it is, as you say, correct. It’s helpful in a practical sense when the majority agrees, but it has no bearing upon whether something is true, or correct, or not.

    I would also assert that what I’m claiming — and something I think most here on the blog can claim — is something more than “knowing what the issues are.” What I’m claiming is a certain level of understanding how society actually works, and what the likely effects of this or that action might be. It doesn’t make me special. It’s just that, if someone spent his adult life studying, I don’t know, albatrosses or something, he would gain some understanding of the dynamics of how certain changes in the albatrosses’ habitat or food supply or whatever would be likely to affect that population. Yeah, we’re more complicated than albatrosses, which is why we have such a variety of opinions about such things with regard to humans, but I’m sure you follow my analogy.

    The problem is that you and I have SUCH a different understanding of these processes, which makes it hard for you to give me any credit for this understanding.

    FYI, when you talk about these experiments in vouchers for subsets of the population, as very specific strategies for dealing with very specific situations (if you can, for instance, come up with any situations in South Carolina where the challenges are anything like those faced in dense urban areas in Ohio), I don’t have a big problem with them. It’s like my support for charter schools (which “choice” advocates try to equate with tax credits all under the same banner, when the issues involved are wildly different). Experiments, understood as experiments, can lead to discovering useful things that can be more broadly applied if found useful.

    Here’s the problem, and it’s one I expect to have trouble communicating to you because you look at things the way an engineer does, and not the way I do in terms of context and overall political effect… I had a conversation or two with Mark Sanford on this subject in 2002, and he assured me that this was just one little experiment he wanted to conduct, among a small subset of the population. And I set it aside as a matter of little concern, and certainly not anything that should prevent us from endorsing him in that election.

    But then it turned out that this was it — this was his whole platform for education, a subject regarding which he had little other interest. Vouchers and tax credits, that was it. Those were his universal “solution” for South Carolina’s education challenges. That’s where he put all his effort; that’s all he spent time on. “Choice,” he insisted, was all we needed. Implement that, and everything would be taken care of. He changed the political conversation in South Carolina to be ABOUT that, using his bully pulpit to transform the conversation to where everyone rushed either to support or fight that initiative, and we haven’t had a useful conversation about actual education reform since. This has been enormously destructive.

    And the thing is, we have not yet moved beyond it, still. And every year, we have the same pointless fight again, and when it’s over the session is over, and nothing has been done to improve schools.

    We are far, far past the point at which we should have dropped this, and started talking about real reform — including things you and I could agree upon. And that is the point I make over and over.

  16. Karen McLeod

    The problem with going along with the majority is the one faced by the reflective lemming: should he march off the cliff with everyone else or remain at the top, alone? On second thought it may be worse, since these lemmings seem determined to drag the rest of us off with them.

  17. Brad

    Which is exactly what they would do. Because the world does NOT work the way they think it does. This is NOT some personal decision of theirs that does not affect other people. It makes them terribly indignant for us to assert our right to defend our interests in this, but we are right to do so.

  18. Steven Davis

    “What I’m claiming is a certain level of understanding how society actually works”

    While the rest of us just wander through life clueless…

    Brad, you have an understanding of how you want society to work, that doesn’t mean it’s the “right way”, it’s just the “right way” for Brad.

    What I would like society to be and what you would like society to be are probably 45 degrees from each other. For people like Dough and I we’re probably closer to 10 degrees of difference. For me and Jim Clyburn or Nancy Pelosi, it’s probably exactly 180 degrees off.

  19. Brad

    Steven, you just changed the subject. I was talking about the way the world is, whether I want it to be or not. And very often, what I’m describing is decidedly NOT the way I want it to be… just the way it is.

    For instance, I don’t like that we waste all this time fighting over this particular subject, which should have been dropped long ago. But we do. That’s just the way things are…

  20. Steven Davis

    Well, if you’d change then there wouldn’t be these long drawn out arguments. What you want is people to do things your way and everything in the world will be fine.

    What, for example, that a certain subject irritates you but is fine with someone else. Is “the way it is” in the grand scheme wrong? I think there needs to be term limits for every public office, there isn’t… but I don’t spend my hours complaining about it, I live with it and move on. I don’t think there’s much I can do about it, because the only people who can change this are the people in office and most if not all are not going to kick themselves off their gravy train.

  21. Doug Ross

    “(if you can, for instance, come up with any situations in South Carolina where the challenges are anything like those faced in dense urban areas in Ohio),”

    Uh, do you think there is considerable difference between downtown Columbus, OH and downtown Columbia, SC? I just spent three months in Columbus. It’s VERY similar to Columbia. State capitol, big university, homeless wandering the streets, midtown dead after 5:00 with pockets of restaurants/nightlife similar to the Vista and Five Points.

    There are failing schools in Columbia with plenty of kids who might benefit from a voucher. But I guess if we can’t save them all, we shouldn’t bother trying to save one. That’s how you end up with decades of doing the same poor job over and over.

  22. Doug Ross

    “For instance, I don’t like that we waste all this time fighting over this particular subject, ”

    But you seem to find it amusing that we waste time fighting over the state vegetable. And the fact that there IS fighting over tax credits and vouchers is because the citizens are not happy with the public school system in South Carolina. It’s a solution (a bad one when it comes to tax credits) being proposed to a major problem.

    And where is the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, Vincent Sheheen, in all this? A big part of the reason he lost was because he just didn’t seem comfortable coming out of the backroom of the State House to LEAD on an issue. And he hasn’t done anything to suggest he has the fire in the belly to change South Carolina since his loss. For all her faults (many), Nikki Haley will stand up and express an opinion. Vincent? I guess he’s still working on his website.

  23. Mike

    It surprises me that someone so rational and conservative (in the traditional sense) in his thinking like Brad continues to buy in to the same talking points that the NEA and Democrats use to demagogue this issue. If you really studied this issue and the various bills that have been introduced over the past several years in South Carolina, you would most likely come down on the side of school choice and competition. It’s a no-brainer once you understand the issue from all angles. Plus, as a practicing Catholic you should support this issue on a gut level.

  24. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ Doug Ross– GENIUS!!! I will get on it right away–there must be some way to fix this serious inefficiency, a legacy from the white flight era. Thank you for suggesting it!

    I don’t know about Lex-Rich 5. I’m guessing you couldn’t unpick that knot….

  25. Kathy

    Since most of you pro-voucher, anti-public school folks really want to end public education, just be honest about it. The push for Howie Rich’s experiment has been going on for so many years now that I doubt many intelligent people are being fooled at this point. I’ve been a public school student, parent, teacher, and administrator. Public schools are rife with problems: lack of parental support; students who think they’re supposed to be entertained 24/7; elected government officials who create mounds of paperwork and then browbeat the people hired to take care of that (mostly) nonsense; and on and on it goes.

    But to all of you people who are so sure that Howie’s experiment will work such wonders: When the public schools are dismantled and all those “incompetent” teachers and administrators are given their pink slips, exactly how, where, when are the great majority of children in this state supposed to acquire an education? How can you think that is going to help anyone?

    One of the things that sickens me the most is that South Carolina was chosen by Howie Rich because he knew we would be one of the places stupid enough to try his ideas. Electing Mark Sanford was our first mistake.

  26. Brad

    Mike, you’re right — I AM rational and conservative… in the traditional English meaning of the term, not the way it’s used today. So many “conservatives” today are revolutionaries of one sort of another, or style themselves so at any rate. They embrace tearing down. (What kind of conservative wants to identify with a bunch of guys who dressed up as Indians and destroyed other people’s property, throwing it into Boston Harbor? I’ve always been more of a John Adams type than a Sam Adams type.)

    I value our society’s critical institutions. I recognize the indispensable role of public schools, and see a great duty to work to make sure they do their jobs. That means defending them AS institutions from those who despise the very idea of public education (and if you doubt me, listen to the rhetoric of the “choice” advocates), because those people would do great harm to our society. And it means striving constantly to improve the schools and address any problems that prevent them from doing their jobs as well as possible. That means embracing REAL reforms that would actually improve the schools, not undermine them.

    My position is eminently rational, and intrinsically conservative.

    When a real conservative sees problems in a critical institution, he wants to fix it, because he understands how important that institution is. I don’t know what you should call people whose reaction is to abandon such fundamental infrastructure, and take resources upon which they depend and cast them to the four winds, with no thought to accounting for what happens.

  27. Tim

    There already was a lot of time before there were any school districts, and a time before there was any public education. What was that like?

  28. Brad

    It sucked. Unless, of course, Daddy was a plantation owner or something and could hire — or buy — you a tutor…

    Seriously, depending on the precise time and place you’re talking about, either life DID suck from the total lack of economic opportunity, or you happily muddled along through life at just above basic survival level, and didn’t mind being illiterate because everyone else was, too.

    In most such times, there simply was a lot less wealth, distributed a lot less evenly, than has been the case over the past century. And a certain level of universal literacy and basic education for the working classes has played a significant role in that. And of course, now it’s nearly impossible to make any kind of a living without some book-learning. Or laptop-learning, as the case may be. In the past, you could have fed yourself by hiring out your labor to a farmer. Good luck with that now.

  29. Brad

    Of course, people often had a better grasp of their surroundings in the past. They didn’t need to know as much. And things seldom changed.

  30. Doug Ross

    As usual, Brad comes down on the side of the theoretical nirvana known as public education and doesn’t wallow in the mud where the facts lie.

    There are very few people who DO NOT support public education. What many of us don’t support is the implementation in South Carolina. Other states do a better job and spend less per pupil… but most states are on the same path driven by all sorts of factors: single parents, disinterested parents, too many distractions for the kids, too much standardized testing (thanks, GWB!), not enough discipline in the classroom, teaching “character education” instead of literacy, overspending on fad technology that doesn’t offer any additional value. There’s a whole host of problems that will not be solved by the government no matter how much of other people’s money you want to spend.

    Save the kids who want to be saved.

  31. Steven Davis

    “I recognize the indispensable role of public schools, and see a great duty to work to make sure they do their jobs.”

    Ask any public school teacher who runs the classroom. Your answer will go in this order – Students – School Board – Administration – Teacher. I think I know more people who used to teach than I currently do who do teach.

    Until parents are held accountable, teachers can gain control back of their classroom and Administrators can actually enforce rules without the threat of termination from the School Board nothing will change. It used to be if you got in trouble at school, the punishment you got at school was nothing compared to what you had waiting for you once you got home. Now if a teacher so much as tells a student to wake up during class or to stop disrupting class, the parents are on the phone with the school board threatening discrimination lawsuits against their precious ADD son or daughter. If a teacher or administrator escorts the student out of the classroom and actually touches the student their job is in jeopardy.

    I remember seeing a coach and principal carrying one student to the principals office when he refused to leave the classroom, three day suspension for the student, an apology from the parents and student to the teacher, coach and principal and he spent those three days in his bedroom (before cable television, before internet, before cell phones) studying. Now everyone involved would be involved in a lawsuit and would be automatically terminated probably unable to teach again.

    Bring back the paddle, and allow the principal a couple practice swings.

  32. Scout

    Doug you say, “If a needs based voucher system helped one student graduate who wouldn’t otherwise, it woukd be worth it.”

    I’m curious as to why you are willing to give such latitude to a voucher system and not to the work the public schools are currently doing? I guess you think public schools have a 0% success rate, then? Yea, we are not where we need to be, but individual teachers are making differences with individual students every single day. These don’t count to you?

    Yet if any one voucher makes a difference for one child – it is golden?

    Why the double standard?

  33. Scout

    Just what if public school critics have misjudged the problem causing poor educational results in SC. What if the problem is not the quality of the education system but the scope of the challenge of educating in SC.

    Doug says other states get better results. Do these states have the same degree of challenge? Are you comparing the relative efficacies of a doctor who treats primarily minor maladies to a doctor who treats primarily cancer patients?

    Poverty has an insidious effect on the efficacy of educational measures.

    I’m not saying we can’t do things better. But the conversation that just blanketly disparages anything that is happening in a public school without any regard for the scope or nature of the challenges faced is not helpful.

  34. Scout

    Brad, the problem for me with giving Principals the power to hire and fire at will is I’ve yet to have a Principal who truly understands exactly what my job is (speech language therapy) and how it relates to supporting educational objectives and what the requirements of IDEA (special ed law) are in relation to it. It is possible for a speech pathologist or special ed teacher to be doing a good job for their students, following best practices, and keeping the school legal under IDEA, and have a Principal who just doesn’t get it and wants to try to make them do things differently or penalize them. I’ve seen it happen. So I wouldn’t be much in favor of them having more power over that which they don’t understand, especially when it affects the outcomes for the children I serve and advocate for.

  35. Mike

    Brad, all you are doing is repeating cliches and talking points. You should re-read The Conservative Mind and see if your thinking lines up.

    You act as if these very basic, incremental steps towards greater parental choice would somehow “drain needed funds from society’s greatest institution” or whatever cliche you use. You need to actually look at the numbers to realize that is not the case at all.

  36. Ralph Hightower

    Hey! I want a freaking tax break myself! My wife and I don’t have any kids. We didn’t use “the system”, so we deserve a tax break just like those that want to, and can afford, to send their kids to private school!

  37. Ralph Hightower

    I don’t mind if school vouchers were passed, as long as there were income limits imposed.

    But this is a tax break for those that can afford to pay for private schools.

    It won’t help anybody in Allendale County beccause no private schools exist in Allendale County. Getting students to schools is the biggest problem. Will private schools operate their own bus service to pick up students? I don’t think so!

  38. Barry

    I am against vouchers, against tax credits for private schools.

    I have 1 child in private school, 2 in public school, and a wife who teaches in private school – but use to be a public school teacher – and will likely be a public school teacher (science) again in a few years.

    I’ve studied this issue as much as anyone. I use to be for them- but I am firmly against them for a whole host of reasons.

    oh by the way- I also volunteer a good bit of my time at my son’s elementary school, and my daughther’s private school.

  39. Brad

    That’s interesting, what Barry said. I’ve been known to make a similar point about my experience of school.

    From K-12, I went to about 14 different schools, in quite a few different states. I attended three high schools (in SC, Florida and Hawaii), and my graduation ring is NOT from the school I graduated from, thanks to the idiotic practice of having kids order them in their junior year. But at least the big “R” on it is relevant, since it works for either Robinson (Tampa) or Radford (in Hawaii, where I met ol’ Burl).

    Among those were probably four different private schools. I started the 4th grade in SC (for about a month) continued it in Maryland (for another month or so) and then finished out the year with a private tutor, down in Ecuador. It was either that, or fall a year behind, because I arrived there in November and the school year there (in those days) started in April and ended right after Christmas. Then I spent two years in the Colegio Americano, where half of my classes were taught in Spanish (history, science and of course Spanish) and half in English (math, and English, and I forget what else).

    My five children had a variety of school experiences as well — they attended Catholic schools in three states, and finished up in public schools, mostly here. My youngest, just like her Dad, attended three high schools — one here, the Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville, and a public school in Pennsylvania where she was studying dance.

    My kids are all smart people, but they had every kind of academic experience, from top of the class to struggling to graduate — because THEY were all different, so their interactions with school were different.

    I’m beginning to see a similar pattern with my grandchildren — the reason we went to England earlier this year was so my granddaughter could spend a few months with her Dad, who is doing graduate work at Oxford, and attend part of the school year there.

    So bottom line, when I talk about public and private education, it’s from a pretty broad perspective on a personal level…

  40. Doug Ross

    Have any of you had kids who attended schools that are considered failing by the standards established by the Department of Education?

    Tomorrow will be my last day as a parent with kids in public schools. 13 years times 3 kids in Richland 2. Based on my experience with what are considered good to very good schools, I shudder to think at what goes on in the worst schools. Even the good schools are doing a half-assed job of preparing students for the real world. So much time is wasted on unnecessary cookie cutter curriculum. (Raise your hand if you’ve done anything that required algebra in your adult life).

    I support vouchers for low income students in failing schools for one simple reason: it can’t be worse than what they have now and it might be better for some of them who have parents who are willing to make a little effort. I started looking at this issue in 2002 when I ran for school board and haven’t changed my mind. Nothing has been done to fix broken schools despite more and more spending. You want to spend more on public education? Show me the results.

  41. Brad

    Every time Doug says even if it says one kid it’s worth it (which I think he said earlier on this thread; if not, he’s certainly said it elsewhere), I think of this line from “Saving Private Ryan:”

    “Private Reiben: You wanna explain the math of this to me? I mean, where’s the sense of riskin’ the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?”

    As for what Doug said just now: This discussion isn’t about spending more on public education. It’s about not spending less.

    And to go to your point about failing schools: If we have a “failing school,” it’s our obligation to fix it, or close it. Doug would pay one enterprising parent to take his or her kid out of a “failing school,” and leave the other kids behind to rot, just because they have parents who are clueless or uncaring or whatever.

    It is contrary to our interests as South Carolinians to have a failed school anywhere in the state. All of our energies should be devoted to making every school as good as the best ones in the suburbs.

    Does that mean we’re going to have equal results from all? No. Kids from upper-income households where they live with both of their parents, both of whom are college graduates, are always going to have a leg up on kids whose parents didn’t finish high school. The key is to give those kids the best chance you can to succeed like the yuppie kids. If you manage to do that, you don’t have any failing schools. That’s the goal.

    And you’re NEVER going to get there if your focus is on paying some parents to withdraw their kids from the schools you’re concerned about. And you’re definitely, most assuredly never going to get there if that’s all we ever talk about with regard to school “reform.”

  42. Doug Ross

    If Brad was in charge of loading the lifeboats on the Titanic, he would have rather seen everybody drown while trying valiantly to fit everyone in a boat than save as many as possible.

    Noble efforts in the pursuit of impossible results only serve to make the pursuer feel better.

    And why do you speak of spending less when it isn’t true? More has been spent over the past two decades with no measurable success. There is no evidence that more money fill fix failing schools. Those schools are a result of the culture of the community… a symptom, not a cure.

  43. Doug Ross

    And where did I say I would pay any parent? The voucher goes to a school just like the tax dollars do to the public school. The recipient is the entity responsible for educating the student. The difference is the public school doesn’t have to earn the right to the money… The money keeps coming in no matter what the results are.

  44. Brad

    Bad analogy, Doug. I’m trying to make sure that there will continue to be lifeboats, and that there be enough lifeboats for everybody. You’re trying to remove money from the lifeboat line item, and hand out checks to individual passengers, as the ship is sinking, and tell them to go buy themselves a nice lifeboat. And THAT analogy works, because someone who lives in a poor, rural district has as much chance of finding an excellent private school that their child can get to every day and that will take their child as that passenger does of finding a lifeboat dealer in the vicinity of the iceberg. And meanwhile, you’ve guaranteed that there wasn’t enough money to fix up all the lifeboats for everyone.

    Oh, and if I were in charge of the boats on the Titanic, it would be women and children first (then adult male passengers, then foremast hands, then officers and lastly the captain). Which would probably cause an argument today.

  45. Brad

    Once again, if a PUBLIC school is failing, we have the obligation to fix it, and not turn away from it. Because there will always, always, ALWAYS be kids who have no other option but that school. And they — the ones who depend on the system — are the ones to whom we have the greatest obligation, for their sakes and for our own. If a family has the means to seek other arrangements, that’s up to them. It does not reduce their obligation as citizens to support the public system that exists to serve us all — not just the kids, or their families, but ALL of us, because the point of universal education is that it is essential to having a well-functioning, economically viable community. A save place for all of us to live, where our property has value, laws are enforced, there are doctors and businesspeople and police and fire departments and all sorts of people who are prepared to perform their part of making a complex modern economy work. NONE of us can have decent, modern, economically secure lives outside that context, because without all that, we’re living in Somalia.

    And you know, I could go on explaining this for the next thousand years, and I don’t think my libertarian friends would ever take it in…

    The bottom line is, it’s not about selfishness vs. being other-centered, even though it’s often framed that way. It’s actually in the selfish interests of each and every one of us to provide this kind of infrastructure and make SURE it’s working, and fix it if it’s not. It’s just that too few people understand that, which is maddening…

  46. Doug Ross

    ” A save place for all of us to live, where our property has value, laws are enforced, there are doctors and businesspeople and police and fire departments and all sorts of people who are prepared to perform their part of making a complex modern economy work”

    Doesn’t that exist already for most people? And the reason it doesn’t exist for others is because of choices they make individually and as a community. Allendale will never be Lexington no matter how much money you take from Lexington to give to Allendale.

    You think it is my responsibility to fix Allendale. I think it needs to start with Allendale deciding to fix itself first. Then let’s talk about sharing the wealth.

  47. Brad

    Yeah, I always have to remember that about you, Doug — you don’t think of yourself as living in the same community as downtown Columbia, much less feeling responsible for Allendale.

    Have you visited Allendale lately — like, since about the time the Interstate passed it by and it ceased to be on main tourism routes (long, long after cotton collapsed)? I have. It’s one thing for you to say you don’t care, and don’t want to help Allendale. But don’t pretend that the resources exist in that community for it to turn itself around without outside involvement.

    And here’s the thing… once again, the dichotomy between selfishness and altruism, between being concerned about me and mine (the libertarian view) and one’s neighbor (and I take the Christian view of “neighbor,” which includes the folks from Samaria and beyond, not just people in your subdivision), is a false dichotomy.

    If you actually understand how the world works and how interconnected it is, you understand that YOU can’t afford to let places like Allendale wallow in their problems.

    Allendale and places like it are the main problem with the measurements you see regarding public education. Theirs are the lowball scores that pull down the averages. That not only feeds into the perceptions that you and other critics of our public schools have, it affects the perceptions of people elsewhere (or even people from here) who might be deciding whether to invest in South Carolina. You might live in a neighborhood where the public schools are everything they should be, but the aggregate metrics are pulled down by the Allendales. And that has real-world effects (not the least of which is the internal political phenomenon of egging on people in SC to disinvest in public education, worsening the situation, and on and on in a downward spiral).

    The plight of rural school districts has caused me to change my mind over the years about local control. I used to think it trumped all, especially with regard to education. Now, while I still don’t think there should be a federal department of ed, I’ve come to conclude that the right governmental leverage point for improving schools is probably at the state level. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that I don’t think local school boards (especially with as many as there are now) are politically accountable enough compared to the power that they have. (The whole time I was editorial page editor, I WANTED to pay more attention to school boards in the endorsement process so as to empower readers to make more informed choices in electing them, but it was impossible. With all these districts in Richland and Lexington alone, it would have more than doubled the number of candidates we would have had to get to know, and we were already stretched beyond the bounds of our available time, to where I was less and less satisfied with the quality of scrutiny we gave the ones we did write about.)

    Then, there’s the lack of resources in those rural communities. And I’m not just talking money. I’m talking human capital. The core of the middle class — the managerial and professional people, the college-educated — basically pulled out of public education in those towns when real integration came in 1970. That meant a big cut in the investment of time as well as money that the middle class was willing to invest in the schools. Most of those districts have not recovered.

    So when you say those communities need to pull themselves up, are you referring to the portions of the communities (in that strict, very local sense of community) that are still involved in public schools, or are you saying the folks who have disengaged and sent their kids, their money and their volunteer efforts to the seg academies should be forced somehow to re-engage?

    How do you see that working?

  48. Doug Ross

    “Theirs are the lowball scores that pull down the averages. That not only feeds into the perceptions that you and other critics of our public schools have,”

    Don’t put words in my mouth. The lousy schools in South Carolina are lousy schools of their own accord. The good schools are good of their own accord as well. There is no such thing as an “average” South Carolina school.

    The difference between my view of the world and yours is that you find altruism in seeking a third party to do the heavy lifting (and spending) to fix the problems that others may have.

    I will help people who a) ask for help and b) make an effort to help themselves. Providing aid to people who don’t earn it just establishes an alms race to the bottom. It creates dependency and lowers initiative.

    It’s sort of like walking in a breast cancer awareness fundraiser but not raising any money versus the person who volunteers to donate $100. Who’s the altruist in that scenario?

    It’s really sad to think that altruism starts with the government in your mind.

  49. Brad

    I don’t know where you get that “third party” stuff, Doug. When I say WE need to do something, I mean WE — not some guy down the street.

    And speaking of putting words in people’s mouths: “It’s really sad to think that altruism starts with the government in your mind.”

    Where do you get that? It’s all the same to me… whether I am acting privately or as a citizen together with other citizens (participating in the debates that bear on the actions of our representative democracy), it’s all one to me. Apparently, with you, altruism STOPS when it involves acting — together with the community as a whole — through public means. And that makes no sense to me.

    It makes sense to people who think of themselves as over HERE, and the government as some alien thing over THERE, but seeing as how I’m an American and all, living in the country with the longest history of continuously function self-government, I don’t think of it that way. And I really don’t get why other people do. It is you and me and everybody, and I cannot escape responsibility for what it does and does not do…

  50. Brad

    And speaking of all that heavy lifting… small town South Carolina used to have no problem sharing that load.

    I attended Bennettsville High School (which my mother had graduated from, but which no longer exists now) for the 9th grade in 1967-68. The whole community was involved with the school. Leading citizens taught in it, and everybody went to the ball games (it was a little like the atmosphere of the movie “Hoosiers”). Academically, I recall noting at the time some ways in which the curriculum was more advanced than back in the suburban New Orleans district where I had attended 7th and 8th grades. I THOUGHT the school was integrated, because there were some black students — in my homeroom and PE classes, anyway. (What I didn’t realize was that these were the brave few who dared to say they wanted to go to the white school when they filled out their “Freedom of Choice” forms each year.)

    Then, in 1970, real integration came. When I went to USC for a semester in 1971, I ran into several white kids who had been at BHS when I was there four years earlier. They had all graduated from the seg academy…

    A very dramatic, tsunami-like change had occurred in small-town and rural public education in South Carolina. And what we’re fighting over today are the effects of that change…

  51. Tim

    I don’t know, but I suspect (dangerous) that many of the modern school districts probably arose out of the white flight era.

  52. Steven Davis

    So, what you’re saying is that back in the 1970’s schools in SC were good, then they integrated, which is the reason for the problems we’re having today.

  53. Doug Ross

    There is a big difference between volutary altruism and government directed mandatory redistribution of wealth.

    And what exactly prevented those people left behind by the white flight from following their own path to success? And that was decades ago anyway… Look at your post about the correlation between attitude and the economy. Maybe the same applies to education. You can either give up or try. Many people quit trying even when given plenty of assistance.

  54. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I think the Allendale problem is like the people who still say New Orleanians should have all evacuated before Katrina (and the levee-breaks) hit and thus deserve what they got, without factoring in that some 80,000 had no vehicles. Most everybody with any gumption has abandoned Allendale. The people who remain are largely those with nothing.

    I did an incentive deal for a factory locating in Allendale. At the time, some 5 years ago, there was no taxable, owner-occupied residential real estate. The millage rate was almost .5 as opposed to Lexington’s .23–which means a property of the same assessed value and type in Allendale paid twice the taxes–and that just to provide the kind of bars-on-all-the-windows services Allendale has…..

  55. Brad

    I’ll let others address Steven’s remark.

    Doug, regarding your “big difference between volutary altruism and government directed mandatory redistribution of wealth”… the only difference between personal charity and the actions taken through the public sector in the common interest is whether you, personally, get to decide all by your lonesome with no input from anyone else. When YOU write a check to a charity, no one else is involved. When you act through government, there has a been a collaborative process through representative democracy. Your own personal, exact view may not be prevail in the decision that is made — sometimes your view loses the argument — but you have an equal opportunity and obligation to participate in the process as a voter. It is NOT something imposed on you from without.

    Yep, you have to do your part if you want to live in a civilization. You don’t like it, move to Somalia or some other place with far less government.

    The only way that YOUR will can be perfectly expressed through government is in an absolute monarchy in which you are the monarch. Most of us consider living in a republic to be a pretty good trade off to not always getting our way.

    Contributing to common efforts through government is closer to acting through your church or other organization than it is to personal charity. You don’t always get to pick the charitable cause that the church addresses or how it gets involved, but your resources — time, talent, treasure — go into the effort.

    Now here comes the libertarian argument that “I CHOOSE which church to belong to.” Yep. And if you live in a civilization governed by laws, you don’t get to choose which taxes you pay or which laws you obey. That’s just the way the world is. If you don’t want to accept that you will have to live under and obey laws that you disagree with because OTHER people sometimes win the public argument, you either have to accept consequences or go somewhere else.

    I’d be interested in hearing your ideas of what an actual, civilized community that allowed each and every citizen to decide whether or not to pay the taxes or obey other laws would look like. I’m having trouble picturing it.

  56. Brad Warthen

    And Kathryn, you’re ignoring the obvious truth that children should have better judgment than to be born into such a place, and to such parents…

  57. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    My school, in Aiken, was integrated in the 1967-68 school year. Poor Nora Dicks–what a brave girl she was. When I was in said schools, we always said thank God for Alabama and Mississippi–since we seemed to be 48th in whatever rankings were good, even then.

    My high school classmate, and friend, Gwen Mines, was in the second co-ed class at Annapolis. her older sister Janie was in the first. They are African-Americans. I graduated from high school in 1977.

    Aiken had far better schools than it paid for because it got the wives of Savannah River Lab employees who were well-educated elsewhere and had few job alternatives. It also benefited from the children of the rocket scientists out at SRL/SRP. Genetics and a rich home environment made up for a lean school. Almost none of my fellow DuPont brats still live in Aiken. Several do live in Columbia, though.

    If you are a kid in Allendale, you will not be lifted up by the tide of scions of genius as Aikenites could be.

    Public schools can’t pick whom to educate–except by slicing off a school district–I’m looking at you, Richland Two.

  58. Scout

    Steven, I think what was being said is that the schools are in fact not yet truly integrated because an important segment of the population left the conversation circa 1970 and has never come back. And that is a big part of the problem.

  59. Steven Davis

    Scout, so the fact remains that because of integration, public schools in South Carolina have declined to the state most are in today.

    Wasn’t there a recent study done where a school was segregated internally and students in both classes tended to do better than a fully integrated classes? Same type of study was done with separating female students from male students.

  60. Doug Ross


    So if the white people stayed, the schools would be fine now?

    My son graduated from Blythewood H.S. yesterday. It’s a school that is 60% black. Out of 483 graduates, they recognized about 30 with highest honors. Out of those 30, 2 were black females and 0 black males. These are all kids who have moved through what are considered excellent to above average elementary schools and middle schools. 13 years of opportunity and not a single black male achieved highest honors.

    You think Allendale can be fixed with better schools? Good luck.

  61. Doug Ross


    Let’s not forget that the libertarian view of government is probably shared by less than 5% of the population. So the government we have now IS the one you want. A mix of conservative intrusion into personal liberties and liberal programs to redistribute wealth. And how’s that working out for you?

    I know it scares you to think about a world where individuals are governed by a personal moral code and work ethic. Imagine what it would be like if people were honest, fair, hard working, charitable on their own. Scary, huh?

  62. Doug Ross

    And how is the government we have now so ideal when your major themes are related to COMPREHENSIVE tax reform and Government OVERHAUL?

    Sounds like it’s far from ideal in your view as well. So why don’t you move to Somalia?

  63. Doug Ross

    I’m posting this again because it is easy to miss in all the other discussions… I am really interested in hearing how we can fix failing schools considering the following real life example:

    “My son graduated from Blythewood H.S. yesterday. It’s a school that is 60% black. Out of 483 graduates, they recognized about 30 with highest honors. Out of those 30, 2 were black females and 0 black males. These are all kids who have moved through what are considered excellent to above average elementary schools and middle schools. 13 years of opportunity and not a single black male achieved highest honors.

    You think Allendale can be fixed with better schools? Good luck.”

  64. Doug Ross

    And some data:

    Blythewood H.S. (2010)

    Dollars spent per pupil $7,014 Up 8.9% from 2009

    Allendale H.S. (2010)

    Dollars spent per pupil** $10,887 Up 7.8%

    And here’s a scary number:

    Graduation rate: 2009 = 68.8% and 2010 = 56.5%

    Wonder where Brad gets the idea the schools are spending less when the data from the Dept. of Ed says otherwise. So they spent 50% more in Allendale per high school student over Richland 2, spent 8% more than the year before, and saw graduation rates drop 12 percentage points. Maybe I’m missing the point of spending more when all these facts keep getting in the way.

  65. Doug Ross

    You want to see the problem with South Carolina education in a couple lines of data? This is from the SC Dept. of Ed. 2010 state report card:

    8th grade Reading
    % at Each Achievement Level


    Below Basic: 21
    Basic: 45
    Proficient: 31
    Advanced: 3


    Below Basic: 48
    Basic: 42
    Proficient: 10
    Advanced: N/A

    Do you REALLY think those differences are a result of insufficient funding for schools? Even in the face of evidence that more spending hasn’t shown any results?

  66. Steven Davis

    But Doug, how many of those 28 white kids got athletic scholarships? Sure those other kids may have to go through the “special admissions committee” to get accepted into college, and if their professional sports career doesn’t pan out they can always fall back on that Sociology; Sports Management or African-American Studies degree they’ll “earn”.

  67. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Folks, It isn’t about white and black–it’s about poor and not poor–and in this state, a legacy of Jim Crow is that black often means under-educated and poor, but hardly always. It’s really about parental education levels, frankly, which correlate strongly with income levels, alas.

    How else are we going to deal with poor parental education levels other than through extra effort, which costs money, at the schools?

  68. Doug Ross


    But I’m giving you a real example of the results achieved by excellent / very good schools leading up to a good high school. And I showed the data that compares the 50% additional spending at the worse school with abysmal results. How much more will it take? 100% more? 200% more? What’s the magic number where achievement improves?

  69. Doug Ross

    What will improve those schools is people making it a priority, parents being held responsible, students that are held to basic standards of behavior, and a curriculum designed to focus solely on literacy. Forget about algebra and geometry and Shakespeare and Beowulf for these kids. 48% of the black 8th grade students in this state cannot read at a basic level. 48%! They are doomed already by the time they hit high school.

  70. Brad

    Doug, I don’t even know what you’re driving at. You keep talking about these statistics, and demanding to know why we think “more money” will fix it, when no one here has said that. I haven’t even thought that. The issues are complex as all get-out.

    I do know that vouchers aren’t going to do a thing for those poor black males. Not a thing.

    So what I say is, what are we going to do? If the schools aren’t able to overcome the cultural and economic barriers in the cases of those kids, how do we change the schools so that the DO get the job done?

    That’s what I always ask. And the one thing I’m sure of is that abandoning the schools — or rather, paying people to abandon them — is definitely not going to fix the problem.

    Surely you’re not suggesting the truly mad idea that I hear sometimes in favor of vouchers that the “competition” will make the schools try harder, which is based in the absurd idea that the schools aren’t trying with all their might NOW.

    Here’s what will happen with vouchers and tax credits — a few parents (the ones with a lot of initiative, who are really involved in their kids’ education) will pull their kids out of public schools. God knows where they will send them in thinly populated poor areas of the state — probably to something set up hastily by businesses created for the sole purpose of getting voucher money.

    And then the public school they left will be more bereft than ever, without those few kids whose parents really were on the ball (the kids who would probably have done OK in any school). It will be like White Flight II.

    My question to you, Doug, is — what IS your proposal for helping these kids who you say have a demographic predisposition to fail? What’s the plan? Really? Surely it’s not to throw a bunch of money up into the air — which is what vouchers and tax credits are about.

  71. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    yeah, Doug–so what do you think we should do–throw up our hands and abandon these kids because they cost a whole lot more than Blythewood kids to educate?

  72. Doug Ross

    I have plenty of ideas on what might be done to improve failing schools. The problem is that none of them could make it through the rules and bureaucracy of the Department of Education. I would throw out the standard curriculum and focus solely on literacy. Sports teams would not exist until the high school graduated 80 percent of the students. Although it may not help, I would institute single gender schools across the board except for students who test proficient. Those kids would be taught in portables in a location away from the high school. I would go hardcore from first grade on teaching kids that the dumbest mistake they could ever make would be having a baby while in school.

    And you know what? It still would not work for most of them. Change can only come from within. I don’t live in the dream world of No Child Left Behind. There will always be failures in society for any number of reasons.

  73. Scout

    This is about 2 days delayed because of the storm and loss of internet…sorry…

    Doug Ross says:
    June 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    “Have any of you had kids who attended schools that are considered failing by the standards established by the Department of Education?”

    Doug, have you ever actually visited a “failing” school? Are you familiar with the criteria that deems a school failing? Have you met, seen, observed teachers and teaching methods in a ‘failing’ school? Have you met, seen, observed the students in a “failing” school? Have you compared the efficacy of a ‘failing’ school and an achieving school for a given socio-economic class? What if the difference between said schools is not the quality or the efficacy of the teaching but simply that there are greater numbers of harder to educate students in the so called ‘failing’ school? Could the achieving school do any better with these students if they had them? Could a private school do any better with these students if they had them? I’m not at all sure.

    “So much time is wasted on unnecessary cookie cutter curriculum. (Raise your hand if you’ve done anything that required algebra in your adult life).”

    My hand is raised. Are you advocating doing away with Algebra? Or standards for that matter? (I assume by cookie cutter you mean, the same for everyone…. i.e. standards. ) Everybody is bound to think something in the curriculum is unnecessary, but surely you can see it would not be wise to let individual teachers and parents excise bits of the curriculum here and there at their own whim. We have to have common ground. The standards give us that. And Algebra is important.

    “I support vouchers for low income students in failing schools for one simple reason: it can’t be worse than what they have now and it might be better for some of them who have parents who are willing to make a little effort.”

    I don’t think you can know that “it can’t be worse than what they have now.” Private schools don’t have to hire certified teachers, teach challenging standards, or provide individualized services for students with disabilities. If a student with a learning disability uses a voucher to go to a private school that does not use certified teachers or have special education teachers and that teaches a dumbed down curriculum compared to the SC curriculum standards – I think it could be worse. They might send home a feel good report card since there won’t be a standardized test to contradict it and some people might be snowed into thinking everything is hunky dory – but I don’t buy it.

    June 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Brad said,‘A save place for all of us to live, where our property has value, laws are enforced, there are doctors and businesspeople and police and fire departments and all sorts of people who are prepared to perform their part of making a complex modern economy work’

    Doug said, “Doesn’t that exist already for most people? And the reason it doesn’t exist for others is because of choices they make individually and as a community. Allendale will never be Lexington no matter how much money you take from Lexington to give to Allendale.”

    I think this is the crux of the difference between your view and mine. You honestly believe this is a result of individual choices. I believe people are often embedded in cultural norms and systemic trends beyond their control that affect their options and their outcomes in deep subtle ways. I suppose you also think your success is based on the choices you have made. Certainly choices play a role, but I also suspect the resources and cultural norms you were born into which shaped your thinking and communication potential and ability to make use of the resources that abounded around you because of where and who you were born to, played a role as well.
    Next you will probably ask why we should continue to spend money on public education in impoverished places if these are the parameters of the situation. And I would answer because I believe we are making differences, sometimes in things we aren’t even measuring, and because we are laying the groundwork to change the trends – it just is not something that happens quickly. Kathryn is right – it has a lot of to do with parental education levels. In truth we only really began to pay serious attention to education a brief 25 or so years ago, circa Dick Riley. Check out this pdf developed by Walter Edgar for use in the Abbeville law suit, that gives a kind of historical overview of educational conditions in SC. It is a lot to overcome. We are making progress, though I guess you will never see it.

  74. Doug Ross

    “We are making progress, though I guess you will never see it.”

    So the data that showed a 12 point drop in graduation rate for Allendale from 2009 to 2010 after a 8% increase in spending – is that part of the progress you are speaking of?

    You can cherry pick all the statistics you want to show “progress”. The bottom line is how many students are graduating from high school?

    Spending 50% more hasn’t helped. How much more do you want to spend?

    As for luck and the advantages I was born into, I have related my personal history before. My mother was born in 1933 the day after the banks closed in the Depression. She was born to my grandmother, a first generation U.S. citizen who only attended school thru 3rd grade and whose parents immigrated (legally!) from Finland. My grandmother’s husband died while she was pregnant with my mother. She spent her entire life doing manual labor including spending 8 hours a day putting plastic tubes on a machine that sealed them. She had the scarred hands to show what she was willing to do to raise her daughter alone. Single parent, little education, an economy far worse than today’s,
    no welfare, no food stamps. But a work ethic and a moral code… something the government cannot produce.

    You keep pushing to save those people in Allendale. As long as you measure progress in millimeters per millenium, you can keep claiming success. But until the people of Allendale as a whole decide to change the culture, you won’t see any real change in your lifetime.

  75. Doug Ross


    As for your question about being in failing schools, the answer is No, I have not been in a failing school. When I ran for school board in 2002, I visited most of the schools, including Conder Elementary which had dropped from an Average rating to Below Average at the time. That wasn’t because of the teachers (who worked as hard or harder than any in the district) or the principal. It’s because the of the parents of the students. And you will never convince me that a public school can FIX parents.

    I’ll give you another perfect example. All three of my kids attended Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary school from 1994-2003. Here’s a link to the first school report card from 2001-2002.

    Excellent rating for 2001 and 2002. Dollars spent per student: $5733

    Now look at the most recent report card for 2009-2010:

    The rating for the school has dropped to Average for at least the past three years. And the dollars spent per student has jumped to $8686, a 51% increase in less than a decade.

    Should I blame the teachers for the performance drop? Most of them were there for the entire ten year period. Since my wife worked at the school until five years ago, she retains close relationships with the teachers. You know what they say the problem is? The kids have no discipline and the parents don’t care.

    This is the real world of education – the one educrats won’t discuss. They are scared to point the finger where it should be pointed, not at the taxpayers who have paid more for less, but at the parents.

    Your comments reflect those of someone deeply embedded in the public education system. Are you able to objectively comment on where the Department of Education has failed or can you only toe the party line?

    Did PACT succeed in raising the educational performance of students?

    Are there ineffective teachers who have been in classrooms for several years? Do you personally know teachers who should not be in front of a classroom?

  76. Doug Ross


    Oh, and can you please give me the example of the algebra equation you used recently and the real world context it applied to? How about raising a number to a negative power? Or do quadratic equations? Do you get to do that a lot in your job?

  77. Mark Stewart


    Your concern about parental involvement being critical is correct. It’s your “solution” that makes no sense. You would rather tear down public education than try to overcome the parental malaise that is out there. It seems as though you would rather have all parents who care send their kids to “private” (subsidized) schools, and then just give up on the rest. That will never end up being less expensive for the taxpayer, if that’s your primary driver.

    Algebra is important. Learning things that we never use directly is important. Critical thinking is important. I am quite sure that you use the skills developed solving algebraic equations ever single day – whether at work or otherwise. A computer programmer is dissing the logical rigorousness of mathematics? What has the wolrd come too?

  78. Steven Davis

    Doug – I figure if we raise the spending another $20,000 at Allendale, there won’t be anyone left to graduate.

  79. Scout

    Doug, I really appreciate this conversation. I don’t by any means approve of everything the department of ed does. My perspective is really much more one from down in the trenches. I don’t understand who gets to be administrators and how they make the decisions they make. I don’t know that I always tow the party line except that I do really feel strongly that vouchers and tax credits are not the answer for all the same reasons that Brad gives (he usually articulates them better than I do.) If I seem defensive about it, it is for fear that the criticisms you raise will fuel arguments to abandon public schools through these routes. I would like it much better if we could have an honest discussion of these types of criticisms that would fuel improving/reforming the system, not abandoning it. The thing that is most frustrating to me is how convoluted all these measures are – they fill the conversation with misinformation that just complicates and distracts from what we really need to be talking about. Your comment about how Nelson Elementary’s rating has dropped is an example of this. That was the point of my asking if you knew the criteria they use to come up with the ratings. NCLB is progressively moving the finish line each year, so all schools, even excellent schools, are going to eventually have their ratings drop because like it or not – that bell curve thing is true – and some kids are just not going to make the standard no matter what schools and parents do (even if it is everything right). The end trajectory of NCLB is a school fails if every one of it’s kids does not pass on grade level, even those with serious disabilities. It’s just seriously not a realistic measure of reasonable success. And yet, who in the public knows that – they hear that a school is a failing school and they assume the worst about the faculty/administration/district etc. My point is that the ratings tell us nothing about the actual relative quality of the schools themselves. The sad thing is there certainly are differences between faculties and if we had real measures then we could do a better job making meaningful improvements. What we’ve got now is a system where teachers who work very hard feel maligned and unappreciated constantly, which just doesn’t help morale, which just makes the already hard job harder.

    The thing about the money is – more money won’t necessarily make it happen, but not enough money will definitely not let it happen. If we allocate the money and then remain diligent about having the right conversations to drive reform/efficacy, that to me is the best situation, but I don’t know exactly how to get there. We certainly aren’t there now. It might help if we measured the right things so that taxpayers could actually see the progress that teachers on the front lines see. A lot of our kids come in so far behind on developmental skills that are below where the standards even start in domains like social-emotional functioning and oral language skills – if we had measures of where they start and where teachers get them to, even if it is short of the standard, people might appreciate the work that is being done. Right now we get – you didn’t make the standard – you fail, end of discussion.

    Last time I looked, I think we were showing slow steady progress on improving NAEP scores up until the recession cutbacks in spending – whether or not that is attributable to anything to do with PACT, I don’t know.

    I certainly am aware of teachers who appear from my perspective to be less effective. I am not really in a position to judge though as I haven’t spent a lot of time in their classes observing their actual teaching, getting to know their students, and looking at the data. I know teachers who my first impression is I would rather them not be in front of a classroom but like I said, I’d need a lot more information before I could really conclude that. It is a low number that I have any reservations about like this.

    I find myself needing to devise simple equations to solve for a single unknown occasionally. I admit it’s not so much about quadratic equations. I’m still glad I know about that stuff though. I’m horrible at thinking of specific examples, but some contexts have been analyzing classroom data, rearranging furniture in a room, cooking, etc. I’ve been known to do things like draw a scale model of a room and cut out scale models of furniture and see how they can fit, and then when it looks right on my model, I have to calculate how many actual feet that is in the real room which involves making a simple equation and solving for X. I think that counts as algebra. I really do that sort of thing in my adult life, which was your original question. Having had all the math I’ve had to have does help me in my job on a regular basis interpret things like percentiles and standard deviations on standardized tests. That’s not exactly algebra though.

    Anyway, I wish we could all be on the same page talking about the real problems. Thanks for listening.

  80. Tim

    Don’t know if it matters or not, but I googled the unemployment rate in Allendale. In the last decade, it went from 4% to 21% in 2010 (fortunately seriously trending downward to 16% in the last 4 months). Is it possible that as the amounts that parents can’t contribute increases (property taxes, pay for lunches, breakfasts, school supplies not captured in Per Pupil Spending), the state and feds are asked to pick up the slack? I don’t know… just asking.

  81. Brad

    Yeah, I’ve occasionally set up VERY simple equations to solve for x for real life problems — stuff that was probably covered in the first couple of weeks of Algebra I.

    Everyone who is not a mathematician or an engineer can identify with the Kathleen Turner character from “Peggy Sue Got Married” who finds herself transported back 30 years into high school, and in Algebra II tells her teacher, very authoritatively, “Well, Mr Snelgrove, I happen to know that in the future I will not have the slightest use for algebra, and I speak from experience.”

    Aside from that tiny bit of Algebra I that I took at Bennettsville HS, I have used a little of what I learned in Geometry. Beyond that, I have used nothing I learned in:
    — Algebra II (in Tampa)
    — Algebra 5 (in Hawaii, they went by semesters — for instance, Algebra II was Algebra 3-4… am I remembering right, Burl?)
    — Analytical Geometry
    — Intro Calculus (I think — it was the third of three one-semester math courses I took my senior year of HS)
    — Honors Calculus at USC

    Can’t even remember whether I passed that USC calculus course — that 1st freshman semester was a disaster for me. When I transferred to Memphis State they let me test out of all math (and all foreign language, thanks to having lived in Ecuador as a kid), so it didn’t matter. I just had to spend my last couple of years of college acing everything to bring my average up to a 3.0.

    But it helped me learn to think, right? I mean, I think that’s what we’re supposed to say… It also got me a very good SAT score, which people seem to set a lot of store by…

    Looking back, it would have been cool to have substituted a couple of courses in areas I never got to study at all in place of those math courses. Astronomy, maybe. Or Greek. Or auto mechanics.

    But I don’t regret the math I took.

    The point is, school should make you a well-rounded person prepared to take your place as a citizen, not program you in some rut aimed at a particular career. There’s far too much of that in college…

  82. Doug Ross


    So you can’t find any examples of where the math you learned was applicable in your adult life but it made you a more well rounded person having gone through it?

    Sorry. You just wasted a lot of time.

    I’d rather have kids know who their senator was, how the tax system works, how to assess the pros and cons of a fixed versus variable mortgage, etc. Those types of activities would produce well rounded adults.

    There are students who should learn advanced math. But there are far many more who should be learning more important things.

  83. Doug Ross


    ” A computer programmer is dissing the logical rigorousness of mathematics? What has the world come too?”

    It has come to reality – there is no need for any higher level math for the majority of IT jobs. Why would there be? Do you seriously think the majority of computer programmers are solving calculus equations?

    Somehow I have been able to have a very successful career in IT without ever even doing a square root.

    Now, statistics would be a far more valuable math skill to focus on than algebra. Or even teaching computer languages (even if it was something simple like Excel macros or VB Script). Those types of activities have some meaning in real life.

  84. Steven Davis

    I don’t think I’ve used anything that I’ve learned in English/Language class since the 5th grade.

  85. Steven Davis

    I used Algebra I just the other day, I was calculating what X was. I knew the answer and the 2nd variable, but not the first one.

  86. Tim

    I have recently begun to believe that Home Economics should be a requirement. It was always fobbed off as a ‘girls course’, but think it should be required. Really, what do we spend most of our time worrying about in real life other than the economics of running a household?

    Also, I think music education should be beefed up. Kids who play music do far better in school (I

  87. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    We need to expose kids to a wide variety of subjects. I think Home Ec, psychology and mental wellness — basic stuff like how to keep on an even keel and when to seek help– basic life skills all around–because so few seem to learn them elsewhere.

    I do believe my math studies were very helpful in training my mind. The ability to reason, to see things abstractly–certainly helps in the law. I have never needed to use Excel or write a VB Macro–I’m not sure Professor Fenner can do these things, even.

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