Saturday, October 21, 2006

Carolina School for Inquiry - Takedown

Carolina School for Inquiry

Lets take a closer look at this new charter school, the Carolina School for Inquiry. First of all, here is a bit of history from this article in The State.

When a group of Columbia parents considered expanding a popular private preschool and kindergarten program, they lit on the idea of a charter school. At first, they considered a partnership between the nonprofit Harmony School and a newly formed charter school.

"We realized you can't have a private board interfere with a public board and vice versa," said Jeannie Eidson, a Harmony parent and Carolina School planning committee member.

Plus, parents don't want anything to endanger Harmony's stellar program, Mandrell said. So the parents began planning a charter school separate from Harmony but based on its beliefs.
So many mistakes begin with the best of intentions. Poor rich people… a misguided set of parents who loved their private “inquiry learning” preschool and kindergarten, decided to create their own charter school based on the principle. I am sure they were a bit upset to learn that as a charter school they had to open up enrollment to the surrounding poor minority community. Of course I have no doubt they convinced themselves that “inquiry” based learning will work for everyone, and not just their high SES kids.

Of course, the private Harmony School knew that it might not be a good idea. From another article in The State:

Eventually, though, it became clear that yielding control of the charter school to a parent and employee-run governing board, which is required by law, was a bit risky for the intimate Harmony community, said Deborah Holmes, school director. "We don't know what conflicts could possibly happen," she said.
Gee whiz, what possible conflict could happen when you try and use an unstructured curriculum with poor urban kids… perhaps anarchy?

But not to be deterred, the Carolina School for Inquiry pressed on and opened its doors this year.

Now let’s see what sort curriculum they use at this new school. You guys are lucky that I love you, but I had to read through this drivel to extract some key points.

Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has worked in a way that discourages the natural process of inquiry. Students become less prone to ask questions as they move through the grade levels. In traditional schools, students learn not to ask too many questions, instead to listen and repeat the expected answers.
Straight away we can see where this is heading, anyone want to bet that they eventually say something to the effect that facts are over rated because they can change, and its more important to know how to learn.

Memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill in today's world. Facts change, and information is readily available -- what's needed is an understanding of how to get and make sense of the mass of data.
Damn I am good, so basically inquiry learning is constructivism on steroids.

Unfortunately, the website doesn’t let us know what reading/ELA curriculum they are going to use, but we can make an educated guess based on their math curriculum, Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.

Among their many hair brained idea’s.

They choose from a variety of concrete materials and appropriate technology, including
calculators, as a natural part of their everyday mathematical work.
That’s it; forget the multiplication tables, because they can just use calculators.

They find more than one solution to many of the problems they work on
Someone explain to them that while there may be more than one “method” for solving a problem, there is only one correct “solution” to any given math problem (K-12 math that is), and that some methods are more effective than others.

They express their mathematical thinking through drawing, writing, and talking
Of course they do, because you know actually doing math in math class is sooooo overrated.

They move around the classroom as they explore the mathematics in their environment and talk with their peers
Wouldn’t want the kids to get bored sitting at their desks learning.

In Investigations, homework is a vehicle for connecting school mathematics with students’ everyday lives. Homework is an extension of classroom work. Students are asked to work on problems that extend and solidify their mathematical understanding. Sometimes homework offers review and practice of work done in class, sometimes preparation for upcoming activities, and sometimes numerical practice that revisits work from earlier units.
The real secret to Investigations… send home homework so that the parents can teach their kids what they should of learned at school. Great for high SES kids, but a disaster for low SES working parents.

I think Mathematically Correct best sum’s it up:

There is nothing to recommend about this program. The use of this program in our public schools is a strong argument for vouchers.
Unfortunately, since this school just opened, we won’t get any test results for at least a year, but somehow I have a feeling that it won’t be pretty. Unfortunately, charter schools like this will only serve to give successful charter schools a bad reputation. Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about this charter school is that its an option and not the only choice that parents have.


Anonymous said...

We have Investigations at our daughter's school. It is a joke.
Oak Norton has a good website about the curriculum. Also, Linda Moran hosts the "beyond terc" group on yahoo. Terc is another word for the Investigations curriculum.

TurbineGuy said...

I happen to stumble across both blogs today. On friday I made a trip to my childrens schools to see if they were using the TERC program... thankfully they weren't.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in the country in southern Indiana. I went to a consolidated school with very little money, and got a quality education. Two Shakespeare plays a year through high school, Chaucer, Hawthorne, Conrad. Four years of math, two years of chemistry, and two years of Latin (yes, it was a public school; that should give you an idea how old I am), and two years of French.

I don't see any socioeconomic difference between South Carolina and Indiana. I see no reason why it wouldn't work there.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that you are very passionate about this issue. I have never blogged--I've never seen the need--but I had to write and extend/redirect at least one point within your comment now.
I am a Language and Literacy doctoral student at USC. I know many of the people who opened the Carolina School for Inquiry and professors who support it from USC. Without getting into the theoretical issues to explain why this school is a wonderful idea (see book reference below), I must defend the "intentions" of the people who opened it.
The people you speak of are more than “misguided” parents with good intentions. They are in fact educators themselves who have taught students of every SES for years. They opened this school on sound theory AND practice and purposefully planned on reaching lower SES students to debunk the myth that "those" children cannot learn, and more importantly that they cannot learn in ways that higher SES students(along with lower SES students)do at schools such as the Center for Inquiry in NE Columbia--which is and amazing school. There is a waiting list to get into the Center for Inquiry which many criticized at first based on the same arguments that you are trying to make. The school is a model for learning for educators through connections to USC and through professional publishing (see Mills, H.; O'Keefe, T. & Jennings, L. (2004).Looking closely and listening carefully: Learning literacy through inquiry. Urbana, IL: NCTE.) It is in this spirit that the parents/educators/PhD. students who opened the new Carolina School for Inquiry did so.
So, before you are "Sure that they were a bit upset to learn that as a charter school they had to open up enrollment to the surrounding poor minority community," why don't you ask them? I can get you their numbers, an interview, a visit to the school perhaps, and then you can be sure.



Anonymous said...

Thanks Cindy! Your words are thoughful and true and I appreciate you speaking up for the many families that Mr.Hester has dismissed with his lack of understanding.

To you, Mr. Hester I would say that it is always smart to go to the source to make sure your comments are based on fact rather than select bits and pieces of articles, etc. that would seem to serve your purpose.
As one of the founding members of the Carolina School for Inquiry and a parent, teacher and Curriculm Coordinator in the school it is my pleasure to invite you Rory, to visit our school. Come and take time to get to know the people that worked so hard to create another choice for exemplary teaching and learning in Richland One. Take time to thouroughly investigate that which I and others invested a great deal of their professional and personal efforts to bring to fruitition. Take time to talk to our paretns, grandparents, aunts and uncles who are thrilled that their children are passionate about learning and don't want to miss school even for a day. Talk to them about how amazed they are to be part of an educational setting where they are vauled, honored and respected for the funds of knowledge they share with us every day.
Rather than make assumptions about what you THINK is happening in our school, just take time to find out for yourself.
My number is 691-1250 extension #25 and my email address is
Please take time to know us before you judge us!
Stacie Mandrell

TurbineGuy said...

Thank your for your response Cindy and Stacie.


Unfortunately the Center for Inquiry doesn't have any disaggregated test data I can view. I did find the data for Forest Lake, which includes the Center for Inquiry and I am not to impressed. My local elementary does a much better job and its also has a large minority and subsidized meal population.

As to the book you referenced, it doesn't even come close to being valid research. I found its description and it is nothing more than a puff piece.

The fact that it is supported by the USC School of Education holds no sway over me. Education schools are notorious for having biased and frankly quite wrong views of education pedagogies. the school.

I do agree with you about the myth that lower SES students learn differently than high SES students. Inquiry learning is as ineffective as teaching high SES kids as it is teaching low SES students. Without adequate content knowledge, inquiry learning is nothing more than a hit or miss way of teaching, and is terribly ineffective.


Thank you for your offer for me to visit your school. That is very kind of you. I am pretty sure that a tour wouldn't change my views, but I will consider your offer.

Perhaps my comment about the motives and intensions of your schools parents was unfair. I imagine that the majority of your parents just want their kids to have a education regardless of the demographics of the school

I am interested in your schools test scores.

I am also curious as to how much home tutoring goes on in your kids homes.

To both of you, I am interested in your opinions of the results of Project Follow Through in the 1970's that showed Direct Instruction was by far the most effective school reform model.

My last question is this. Can either of you point me towards a single low SES school that uses inquiry learning and/or constructivism ,that is open enrollment, and that has raised the performance of low SES students to that of middle class students?

TurbineGuy said...

p.s. I realize that my last comment could be taken as dismissive, and I don't mean it like that.

My concern for my kids and for every kid is that they get the absolute best education available.

So far, every bit of hard valid research I have seen points out to "direct instruction" as the most effective teaching pedagogy, especially if it implemented correctly.

I have yet to run across a single large scale study or even a single example of constructivism or inquiry learning that shows the sort of results the Direct Instruction reform model has with low SES students.

If you can convince me that inquiry learning really is the best method with empirical data, I will convert instantly and become inquiry learning’s biggest supporter.

Of course in turn, I would hope that both of you would change your views if studies and experimental results showed that Inquiry Learning wasn't as effective as other pedagogies.

Anonymous said...

The Center for Inquiry in NE Columbia is housed at Summit Middle School, so you need to look at those scores. The district is Richland 2. My kids were at another charter school, the Center for Knowledge.

You'll note not many of the kids are getting subsidized meals.

This link will go to the Center for Inquiry 2006 PACT scores:

TurbineGuy said...


The Carolina School for Inquiry is a different school than the Center for Inquiry. I am not a big fan of either one.

The "inquiry" method of instruction is well suited for upper middle class parents who want to feel good about themselves and their kids.

Their children are bright already and would learn at the worst school in the country.

Anonymous said...

As the parent of two children that attend CSI and a professor of early childhood education I couldn't disagree more with your statements dismissing inquiry based learning. I challenge you to examine the NAEYC guidelines as the principals of developmentally appropriate practice, all supported by brain research at the top university laboratory schools. Additionally, many local private schools are abuzz with the 'Understanding by Design' philosophies created by McTigh which embrace a similar inquiry-based teaching technique. I myself sat through one of the teacher workshops on the subject with 200 other local private school teachers.

My children are learning the concrete mathematical schools via hands on approaches that appeal to all learning styles at CSI. There are no drills, only applications. My kindergartner is doing 3 digit addition problems and double digit subtraction. I assure you she is receiving a quality education.
That being said I agree whole-heartedly with your statements regarding the elitist private school families being resistant to the addition of poor minority children to their school population. Having taught in local private schools that are so lily-white one would almost think that the children of color were brought in only for brochures, I can imagine the looks of horror the idea of their little Madeline and Parker attending school with "those kids" must have provoked.
School in SC are still very much segregated by both class and race. Schools like CSI level the playing field.

Unknown said...

Mr. Hester,

I am curious as to your opinion on CSI now that it is in its 5th year of educating students. Do the test scores (highest scores for 6th grade in Richland 1) or the fact that it has successfully met AYP or the success stories of individual students make any difference in your argument?

Just wondering...

Anonymous said...

This is a terrible school. I had to pull my child from this school because of the major bullying problems. This is not a school of inquiry, it is a school of injury.