Thursday, June 01, 2006

... but some people live in the twilight zone.

A recent letter to the editor, Candidates out to sabotage education ( last letter at the bottom), makes you wonder what state the writer lives in.

The writer is seriously irked by what she feels is out-of-state money influencing the election for Secretary of Education. Well OK, she has a right to her opinion.

She said, "South Carolina needs good public education for all children." Almost no one would disagree with that.

She continued, "Thanks to our current superintendent of education, we have among the most stringent state education standards." Well, at least our current superintendent is a strong advocate of high standards, and SC's are among the highest in the nation.

But then she fell off the turnip truck. "Most schools are high-functioning." Most schools are well functioning? Can she be serious?

Here's an interesting Power Point analysis of public education by Fredric J. Medway, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University Of South Carolina. You can see he's no radical opponent of public education, yet he observes the following facts:
  • Only 48% to 53% (depending on the measure used) of South Carolina ninth graders graduate from high school. The United Health Foundation (2004) places South Carolina at 50th of 50 states in comparative graduation rates.
  • Only 33% of South Carolina’s ninth graders enter college within four years following high school graduation, and only 20% are still enrolled for a second year.
  • While African American students comprise 35% of the South Carolina elementary and secondary school population, they are only 22% of the state’s four-year college population, a statistic that reflects the relationship between college access/retention and individuals’ race and income (Carey, 2004).
That is almost the polar opposite of, "Most schools are high-functioning." The reason public education polarizes people so much, is there is such a fundamentally different opinion of the depth of the public education crisis we face.

Bill Gates is right that American high schools are obsolete and need to be reinvented. Incredibly, some live in the twilight zone and refuse to accept reality.


Olivier Blanchard said...

There's a research program going on at Furman University right now that is looking into the state of SC schools, and it is going to be a pretty solid (and erhaps grim) benchmark. (I can hook you up with some contact info if you'd like.)

Anonymous said...

Ok, you are saying some people live in a twilight zone and I would have to agree but do you have any ideas on how to remedy the situation? I don't have the answers. I would like to see a study of the effects of school choice. I am not sold on that as an idea but would open to it. Maybe the problem is much deeper, maybe we emphasize sports too much. I would like to hear ideas.

Swamp Fox said...

Yep. Look here.

Anonymous said...

I read the article about the school in NC that issues the teachers cell phones. Interesting idea but do they pay their teachers more to respond to these? Growing up with a mother who taught for 34 years in public education, I know the dedication that most teachers have... and I know the horrible pay and long hours they have to endure also. To me, the problem is not the teachers but with discipline and lack of parental involvement.

Swamp Fox said...

I agree with you that the world would be a wonderful place if every child had two affluent, educated parents who were highly involved in their children's education.

Unfortunately, that isn't reality, and we're not going to make it reality by repeating the mantra over and over that public schools would be better if parents were more involved.

I think you are referring to the KIPP schools. This is a great example of the kind of innovation in public education that we need.

Rather than starting with the paradigm that public schools can only be successful with involved parents, KIPP schools begin with the reality that some students have parents that can't support them like affluent, middle class parents can. So an entirely different model is created where the school provides 100% of what is necessary for students to succeed, without relying on parents to do algebra homework at night.

This is an entirely different culture for the students and the teachers. If the teachers buy into the culture, then being on call with the cell phone isn't a big deal. If it is a big deal to a teacher, then a KIPP school probably isn't the right culture for them.

Finding a place that fits who you are is a large part of the value that choice brings to students, parents, and teachers.