Sunday, October 01, 2006

South Carolina Superintendent of Education

In the coming weeks I am going to be concentrating more on the race for the South Carolina Superintendent of Education between Jim Rex and Karen Floyd.

My hope is to provide impartial commentary to help myself and other SC voters decide between the two candidates.

Obviously, I waste spend a lot of time writing and reading about education, because I believe that education reform is desperately needed in this country. Both candidates are trying to present themselves as reformers, but the key is exactly how and it what way would they go about this.

As far as I am concerned, the only difference between the two so far is their positions on school vouchers and Governor Sanford's "Put Parents In Charge Act". Floyd is for it and Rex is against it.

I am somewhat ambivalent on school vouchers. I do not believe that school vouchers by themselves will encourage public school reform, but I am not vehemently against them. I worry about funding, private school tuition inflation, and the attached strings that would be on private schools if they accepted government money.

I am strongly in favor of charter schools, and not just charter schools that replace existing public schools. I want to see every parent in South Carolina have a REAL choice as to what school to send their kids too. There is no reason why we have to continue with our one size fits all approach to education.

Measuring School Performance and School Choice

Ahhh... the great NCLB debate. The NY Times has another article comparing NCLB accountability standards with that of Florida's A-Plus plan, entitled As 2 Bushes Try to Fix Schools, Tools Differ

NCLB was a great start in providing a standardized accountability system. While it's helpful, NCLB has several flaws; the use of widely varying state tests as its measuring device (I am in favor of National Standards) and its AYP provisions that are almost guaranteed to eventually label every school in America as failing. I need to research Florida's A-Plus plan more, but this article certainly makes a great point on how it's plan and NCLB can look at the same school and come up with two different results:
R. J. Longstreet Elementary School here in Daytona Beach is an example. The tidy one-story building near the Atlantic Ocean has fallen short on the federal yardstick every year, but Florida has given it an A for five years straight.

It earned its latest A because on tests in spring 2006 tests 80 percent of students met “high standards” in reading, math and writing, and because 60 percent of students, and nearly 80 percent of the lowest-performing students, increased their scores. In August, the school received a $42,800 reward check.

“Congratulations on your outstanding performance,” Governor Bush wrote to the school.

But it fell short on 2 of 17 federal requirements, and that was enough to fail under the federal system. On a writing test administered to 55 fourth-grade students, 50 needed to show proficiency; 48 did. On math tests administered to 42 disabled students, 21 needed to score at grade level; 20 did.
It seems to me there are two different ways in which to rate schools: performance and progress. For example, consider the following illustration (assume the demographics are exactly the same):

School A has 70% of its students score advanced in (some random subject) at the beginning of the year. At the end of the year, 70% of its students advanced.

School B starts the school year with only 20% of the students scoring advanced and at the end of they year, 50% of the students are scoring advanced.

Which one is the better school? Which one would you rather send your kids to? If your child was already advanced, I suppose it wouldn't matter, but if your child started out as merely basic or proficient, then the choice is easy.

I don't think that a single letter grade can accurately sum up all schools. What we need as parents is more data. I want the before and after scores for every school, every class, every subject, and for each demographic. The more data we have as parents the more informed a decision we can make about our children's education.

I don't think that there is one model of school that is right for everyone. There are many arguments for and against school choice as it relates to market forces and school improvement, but I don't think that it should be the only reason for justifying school choice. Even in high performing districts, I believe that parents should be able to have the choice to make a decision as to what sort of education is provide to their kids.

One of the reason's our higher education system is envied in the world is because kids have a choice. They can choose between liberal arts schools, comprehensive public colleges, engineering schools, or any type of school out there. All types of institutions might provide an excellent education, but in different ways and in different areas.

Instead of having to choose between a high performing charter and a mediocre public school, wouldn't it be better if we could choose between two equally successful schools that stress different areas of expertise or different styles of learning.

Corporal Punishment

In Many Public Schools, the Paddle Is No Relic - New York Times

As views of child-rearing have changed, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Medical and Bar Associations have come out against corporal punishment.

“I believe we have reached the point in our social evolution where this is no longer acceptable, just as we reached a point in the last half of the 19th century where husbands using corporal punishment on their wives was no longer acceptable,” said Murray Straus, a director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Among adherents of the practice is James C. Dobson, the child psychologist who founded Focus on the Family and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders.

DuBose Ravenel, a North Carolina pediatrician who is the in-house expert on the subject for Mr. Dobson’s group, said, “I believe the whole country would be better off if corporal punishment was allowed in schools by parents who wish it.”

I am not exactly sure how I feel about this. I went to school in New Zealand until I was 10 years old, and corporal punishment was used there... I understood that if you crossed the line their would be consquences.

I recognize that there are benefits to corporal punishment, but unfortunately it has the potential to be abused.

My hope is that more effective instruction would reduce behavior problems and eliminate the need for it.