Is it a bag of empty calories, coated with sugar or chocolate, to create a lot of activity but really making you sluggish?
Is it part of March Madness, a stage in a process of elimination?
In Sumter, thanks to a new superintendent with an interesting record, it's the new instrument being used to evaluate instructors and schools. It looks a lot like ADEPT, given all the "performance dimensions" and "teaching expectations," and given that these "dimensions" and "expectations" are all cross-referenced with ADEPT and the model promoted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
(Which makes me wonder: If teachers satisfy the "dimensions" and "expectations" of the "Sweet 16," which is cross-referenced with the evaluation model given to national board certification candidates, shouldn't these teachers collect the same state stipend that's given to national board-certified teachers? Just a thought...)
When a teacher in Sumter emailed to ask if I'd heard of this "Sweet 16" scheme, I was clueless. An education professional there shared the new administration's powerpoint -- a hefty, 33-slide monster larded down with tightly-packed text, which is precisely what experts say one shouldn't load onto a powerpoint presentation -- and I've read and re-read it carefully, leading to substantial eye-strain. I don't recommend it to others.
But I certainly understand now the consternation of education professionals in Sumter who will now be subject to it. To put it mildly, the Politburo couldn't have done a better job. For example, each "element" of each "performance dimension" "expects" each teacher to "exceed expectation." Might Joseph Heller have been consulted in its creation?
Shouldn't one expect a professional to "meet" expectation, and reward the professional for exceeding it? What's to reward if your expectation is that every professional exceed expectation?
As foolish as the whole thing sounds, I wonder if it actually represents a sinister motive. As I read the thing, there is an exceedingly narrow path to meeting all the dimensions, elements and expectations; there's only one way to get it all right. But there are innumerable possibilities to fail.
Demand that a professional juggle four balls, recite the Gettysburg Address, blink the lyrics to "Singin' In The Rain" in Morse code AND pedal a unicycle, all while standing on her head and smiling, and I suspect the professional may miss a letter or two of the Morse code when she gets to "I'm happy again!"
Candidly, it sounds like a plan invented by a middle-manager to subjectively fire teachers.
A natural question occurred to me: So where did this plan come from? That's when this became interesting.
Here's Mary Porter, who is not a teacher in South Carolina, but who sheds a little light on Sumter's new "Sweet 16":
I am a chemistry teacher at a low-income public school which has been horribly impacted by Broad's interference.
The "Broad" in question is California billionaire Eli Broad.
Although Broad admits he doesn't know anything about how to teach, the business model he imposes on public schools demands that his "trained" administrators come into our classrooms and force us to follow "standards-driven" teaching practices, supposedly to raise test scores. My district can't provide working heat, light, or running water for my under-equipped lab, but we pay hundreds of thousands to the consulting businesses he promotes. The real drive behind his manipulations is the marketing plan for the useless "services" and products provided (at public expense) by his for-profit entrepreneurial "partners."
Edu-business entrepreneurs hide under a layer of fake non-profits set up by "philanthropists" like Broad and Gates. Broad brags he's "not beholden to public opinion", meaning that, because of his wealth and the political power it buys, he is not accountable to the public. Believe me, Broad won't increase my pay at all. I get up at 5:30 every morning to dedicate my life, a day at a time, to teaching real chemistry. My students go to nursing schools, universities, state colleges and community colleges. When they enter the military, they do well enough on the ASVAB to qualify for specialist training. None of that is due to Broad's business model, though, and I won't promote his agenda. So my administrators have to decide that I'm not a leader.
Another educator, Michael Fiorello, notes the origins of Broad's fortune:
It's revealing that Broad earned the first of his many fortunes building gated communities and subdivisions in white-flight suburbs of Southern California. Originally named Kaufman and Broad, the company is now known as KB Homes, the stock of which is a major part of his foundation's endowment. So, a fortune created by federally- subsidized housing inequalities is then channeled into a tax-exempt foundation that funds the dismantling of the public schools and creation of a separate-and unequal education system. It's almost like a perpetual motion machine, as designed by Mephistopheles.
And Ms. Porter completes the picture:
The other half of his fortune came from his AIG stock - yes, he made another killing on those same defective mortgages, as AIG bundled them into derivitives. He donated most of his AIG stock at its peak to his own privately-controlled education foundation, which dumped the stuff. By the time the crash came, he was out and we educators are trapped under his billions. He also rebuilt New Orleans for Bush - you know how that went.
The housing stock is worse than underwater, now. He brought in cheap drywall from China for his developments, and the walls are now exuding toxic hydrogen sulfide gas which corrodes the wiring and poisons the occupants. The problem surfaced first in Florida, because of the heat and humidity. It's hard to say how many houses are affected, because of course he lies to evade responsibility, but the number keeps going up.
So Eli Broad, according to people who have considered his background, is a business tycoon who is successful at amassing personal fortune.
Is he an educator? No. Even he says he isn't.
Earlier, he’d explained his interest in the way school systems are run: “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that. But what we do know about is management and governance.”
“We’re often accused of having too much influence in education,” Broad said. “I’m not sure how you’d restrict that.”
Yet Broad is heavily involved in education through his nonprofit organization, the Broad Foundation, which trains school boards and administrators -- not in curriculum or instruction, but in management.
What does this have to do with Sumter's "Sweet 16"? We're getting to Sumter, but we have to stop in Georgia first.
With a student population of about 3,000, Pebblebrook High School is the largest high school in Cobb County, Georgia, located just northwest of Atlanta in the community of Mableton. It's home to the county's only performing arts magnet program.
But during the school year of 2004-05, a new principal and the high school's journalism teacher clashed over the school's student newspaper, an award-winning production managed by student reporters and editors. We know this because of what happened at the end of the school year, and because dozens of email communications between the principal and the teacher were made public.
The stories of the involved parties differ: The principal said he had to make budget cuts, and the journalism teacher said the principal had balked at the newspaper's content and at being questioned by students. A reasonable person reading the emails could conclude that the principal was clearly irritated that the newspaper didn't cast him, his decisions and the school in a favorable light -- they weren't "cheerleading" -- and that he delayed meeting with student reporters for as long as possible.
When things came to a head, the principal blocked publication of the student newspaper, cut its funding from the budget, and cancelled future journalism classes. In response, the student journalists opened a weblog, posted all of their content -- including the dozens of internal emails -- there, drew the attention of the Atlanta-area major media, and sought legal support from a First Amendment legal services organization in Virginia.
However, in June 2005, before that issue was resolved, that principal was appointed "Area Assistant Superintendent in the Cobb County School District, the second largest district in Georgia with over 106,000 students in 113 schools." In this new position, the former principal would oversee "17 schools, over 19,000 students, 1,500 staff members, and a $120 million budget."
The contentious former principal and powerful new Area Assistant Superintendent's name was Randolph Bynum.
Very soon, the Atlanta Board of Education was undergoing training in "leadership strategies" offered by a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, California. Its press release, dated June 27, 2006, announces that the newer members of Atlanta's board were among the 29 board members from 11 urban school districts across the nation trained by the organization. The focus of the training, the release states, was "how to improve school board governance in order to achieve dramatic increases in academic performance for all children." The training lasted six days and was delivered in Park City, Utah.
The organization that trained these school board members was the Broad Institute for School Boards.
The administration of Cobb County schools must have been satisfied with trainings delivered by the Broad Institute in 2006. In 2007, Area Assistant Superintendent Randolph Bynum attended the Broad Institute's separate training program for superintendents, called the Broad Superintendents Academy. Though it is not a degree-granting organization, the Broad Superintendents Academy announced that Bynum "graduated" as part of its "class of 2007."
Within a year, in August 2008, the Broad-trained Bynum was promoted again: This time, he became Associate Superintendent for High Schools in the Atlanta Public Schools, "a district with over 49,000 students in 103 schools." The Broad Superintendents Academy was so proud of its "alumnus" that it published a press release on the announcement.
Bynum had clearly landed a plum role in a significant location. During the past decade, Atlanta Public Schools had earned a reputation for stunning improvement in student achievement, reflected in tremendous gains in student test scores.
That was Atlanta's reputation, of course, until the spring of 2011. In the span of a few weeks, celebrated superintendent -- indeed, national 2009 Superintendent of the Year -- Beverly Hall announced her resignation, and state authorities announced findings of a massive investigation into a widespread cheating scandal. Two of its conclusions, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "A state investigation found former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides either ignored or destroyed evidence of test cheating across the district." And, "Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible."
It got worse.
Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.
For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
In the report, the governor’s special investigators describe an enterprise where unethical — and potentially illegal — behavior pierced every level of the bureaucracy, allowing district staff to reap praise and sometimes bonuses by misleading the children, parents and community they served.
The report accuses top district officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases.
The decision whether to prosecute lies with three district attorneys — in Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas counties — who will consider potential offenses in their jurisdictions.
For teachers, a culture of fear ensured the deception would continue.
“APS is run like the mob,” one teacher told investigators, saying she cheated because she feared retaliation if she didn’t.
The voluminous report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. More than 80 confessed. The investigators said they confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined.
The investigators conducted more than 2,100 interviews and examined more than 800,000 documents in what is likely the most wide-ranging investigation into test-cheating in a public school district ever conducted in United States history.
And just as Atlanta's meteoric test scores had attracted national attention, so did its scandal.
WLTX in Columbia reported this news:
The 55,000-student Atlanta public school system rose in national prominence during the 2000s, as test scores steadily rose and the district received notice and funding from the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation. But behind that rise, the state found, were teachers and principals in 44 schools erasing and changing test answers.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Atlanta cheating scandal, says the report, is that the district repeatedly refused to properly investigate or take responsibility for the cheating. Moreover, the central office told some principals not to cooperate with investigators. In one case, an administrator instructed employees to tell investigators to "go to hell." When teachers tried to alert authorities, they were labeled "disgruntled." One principal opened an ethics investigation against a whistle-blower.
"The [Atlanta] teachers, principals and administrators wanted to prove that the faith of the Broad and Gates Foundations and the Chamber of Commerce in the district was not misplaced and that APS could rewrite the script of urban education in America and provide a happy, or at least a happier, ending for its students," writes the AJC's education columnist, Maureen Downey.
The consolidated Sumter School District board has approved Randolph Bynum as the first superintendent the new school district has ever had.
"We want to have community schools in the farthest areas of the county to be along the same lines as mainstream Sumter schools," explains Ernest Frierson, a former board member and one of the residents at Monday night's meeting.
His concern was heard from others who stood at the podium, as well. Their meeting was held near Mayesville, a more rural area of the county. "One of the things that concerns us is that we have a lot of Pre-Kindergarten to 3rd grade children in that community who have to travel a long distance to be educated," Frierson says. He's hopeful the new superintendent will address those concerns.
Not all members of the board agreed on hiring Bynum, the final vote was five to two. But, it was a decision Chairman Larry Addison was pleased with.
Bynum is currently Associate Superintendent in Atlanta. Addison and others felt he's up for the challenge of bringing the two districts together. Of course, along with the help of those already in place. Says Addison, "We've got two good districts with a lot of good talent, a lot of good people."
The contract that the board approved will begin July 1st. It's currently a three-year contract with Bynum earning $175,000 a year.
Nice work, if you can get it. While other high-level administrators in Atlanta knew their secret activities were about to become public knowledge, Bynum had landed a choice escape from the taint of a cheating scandal -- and he happily told the Sumter Item of his glee.
Randolph Bynum was excited to learn he would be the first superintendent of the Sumter School District. "If you had been in the Bynum household last night, there were two people but it sounded like 50," he said Tuesday morning. "It's a fulfillment of a dream for me to be part of an outstanding community like Sumter."
Respectfully, it strains credulity to suggest that one who had been an associate superintendent in one of the nation's largest school districts at a time when it outshone the nation in improving test scores had "dreamed" of becoming superintendent in a much poorer district with a much lower profile, many fewer students and fewer schools, and where
The median income for a household in the county was $44,167, and the median income for a family was $48,970. Males had a median income of $41,083 versus $37,162 for females. The per capita income for the county was $45,657. About 13.10% of families and 16.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.60% of those under age 18 and 16.40% of those age 65 or over.
We might speculate that part of the excitement was knowing that the Sumter Item has a fraction of the resources of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, so the wattage of media scrutiny of its schools superintendent is naturally much dimmer.
Bynum wasted no time announcing his resignation to the Atlanta media, who noted the coincidence of his leaving alongside the Atlanta superintendent and other administrators.
Atlanta Public Schools has lost another high-ranking official: Randolph Bynum, the city district's associate superintendent for high schools, was named this week as the new superintendent of schools in Sumter County, S.C.
Bynum officially starts July 1. APS's deputy superintendent for instruction, Kathy Augustine, was picked last week as a lone finalist to lead the suburban DeSoto Independent School District in Texas. Both of their departures coincide with that of Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall, who will leave the district June 30 after a 12-year tenure.
And just that quickly, the cheating scandal in Atlanta broke wide open, and news of the state's findings reached Sumter, leading the Item to publish this note:
The Atlanta Public School system has been making headlines for a cheating scandal, which led some Sumterites to ask if the new superintendent of Sumter School District was involved.
Randolph Bynum said neither he nor his two new cabinet members also from that school system, Cassandra D. Dixon for chief teaching and learning officer and Lisa M. Norman for chief curriculum and accountability officer, were involved.
It's a brief note, not quite the same as hard-hitting investigative reporting, but let's look at it carefully.
The Atlanta Public Schools enrolled 55,000 students, making it smaller than our Greenville Public Schools (70,210 students) but larger than Charleston County Schools (about 42,000 students). Students enrolled in the newly-consolidated Sumter school district totaled about 16,400 as of its December 8, 2011, report to the state Department of Education, which means that the Sumter consolidated district is comparable in size to Lexington-Richland District 5, which ranks 16th in the state by student population.
If Dr. Penny Fisher, superintendent of Greenville's schools, has a "Cabinet," I cannot find mention of it on that district's website, although she has an organizational chart that certainly reflects the needs of a 70,000-student district. Likewise, I cannot find any evidence that Dr. Steven Hefner, superintendent of Lexington-Richland District 5, claims to need one; nor can I find evidence that a district of Lexington-Richland 5's size needs a detailed organizational chart. Maybe it has one, but it isn't advertised online.
Yet Bynum has not a "leadership team" or even "administrative team," but a "Cabinet." That's fine. People use different words to mean the same thing. Presidents and governors have Cabinets and superintendents have administrative teams, but what does it matter that a superintendent likes to call his administrative team a Cabinet? It's word choice. It's a small thing.
And does it matter that Bynum differentiates between a "Senior Cabinet" of seven administrators and an "Expanded Cabinet"? Of course not. Still, the words are there on the superintendent's organizational chart, prominently placed on the district website.
Which was established and circulated on July 11, ten days after his arrival.
And which includes the names Dixon and Norman, who are presumably the Cassandra D. Dixon and Lisa M. Norman named in the Sumter Item, the two Cabinet members that Bynum brought with him to Sumter as media scrutiny illuminated the cheating scandal of that city's school system.
Further, they are presumably the same Cassandra Dixon and Lisa Norman whose names appear on the title slide of the administration's powerpoint presentation co-introducing (with Joan Sagona and Cornelius Leach, respectively) the complex new evaluation tool called "Sweet 16" to Sumter's classroom teachers.
It would seem that Sumter's recent consolidation and need for a new superintendent, and the willingness of Sumter trustees to hire the new superintendent's Atlanta staff alongside him, were fortuitous circumstances indeed for a new superintendent and two of his seven "Senior Cabinet" members. Can it be that the district office on Wilson Hall Road has a "Cabinet Room" now?
And did the Atlanta Public Schools use "Sweet 16" before the new superintendent and his aides brought it to Sumter? Is it a product of the Broad Foundation, in part or entirely?
Sumter is truly a wonderful place to live and work. Unless, now, you're an education professional who teaches, and you're now subject to "Sweet 16."
The Sumter Item, understandably supportive of its new school district and hopeful for its new superintendent, published an introductory message from Bynum on August 14. After re-reading the email correspondence of Bynum and the Pebblebrook High School journalism teacher in Mableton, Georgia, from 2005, one can't help but imagine that Bynum would have appreciated the same acquiescence from student journalists then that he's receiving from Sumter's mainstream media today. In it, he did not mention "Sweet 16."
The Item did publish a note on September 16 announcing the introduction of "Sweet 16."
SWEET 16 is not a birthday party Sumter School District is planning.
Systematic Way to Ensure Effective Teaching 16 is an instructional audit system aimed at improving professional development by observing 16 elements of classroom teaching. According to paperwork in the board packets, the "framework enhances the skills of classroom teachers to direct the new work of standards-based learning in order to lead the state in improving student achievement."
Let me translate: No Child Left Behind taught teachers to "teach to the test," no longer to teach to educate. Since the implementation of NCLB, however, new research (especially by an analyst named Robert J. Marzano, whose work is now the flavor-of-the-year in several states) has shown that "an effective teacher enhances student learning more than any other aspect of schooling that can be controlled."
So the new goal, thanks to NCLB, which is still in effect, and the work of Marzano, is that we have to make every teacher fit a predetermined definition of "effective," then make that teacher teach to the test.
Voila! Improved student achievement -- accomplished by tough-as-nails administrators with minimal resources and a teaching workforce judiciously weeded and beaten into submission.
Except that, as classroom educators understand, that isn't how children learn.
Google "Sweet 16" and "teacher evaluation" and you'll discover that the program exists only in Sumter County, South Carolina.
Google "Robert J. Marzano" and "research" and you'll find that Marzano himself, underneath all the gobbledygook, only identifies nine "essential instruction strategies for effective teaching."
In market economics, buying a nine-piece product and repackaging it as a 16-piece product is called inflation; this is a concept that business tycoons understand, which suggests that there's a thick slice of Broad Foundation philosophy sandwiched together with Marzano's strategies in "Sweet 16."
Are Sumter County's teachers about to suffer under a hyped-up evaluation system that the board of trustees didn't know they were buying, and don't really understand?
This is a lot of information to digest, but here are some questions to ponder:
What kind of influence will the Broad Foundation and Broad-trained administrators seek to impose on a developing rural and suburban district like Sumter?
Did the selection committee of the board of education know all of the information that is publicly available and easily accessible on the internet about the new superintendent before choosing him? If so, how did they plan to respond when the baggage from Mableton and Atlanta arrived on their doorstep?
Should those who cover education for the Sumter Item get in touch with education reporters from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to better understand the new superintendent's history and style? And to better understand who was imported alongside him?
Should a fuller discussion of a complex and unique new evaluation tool be conducted in public before it's implemented, especially if it's designed to replace existing evaluation systems and subjectively remove educators from their livelihoods?
Should Sumter's classroom professionals and parents find out more about the Broad Foundation's philosophy and history in public schools, and about their new superintendent and his Cabinet, and about the origins of "Sweet 16," the complex new teacher evaluation tool that their board of education has agreed to impose on them?
Should educators and parents in other school districts pay close attention to what's happening to their counterparts in Sumter, to be prepared when the same phenomenon occurs under a different label in their own communities?
NOTE: For educators who've arrived at the post for the first time, a follow-up to it is found here.
To those who have posted responses and who have wanted to post responses, be aware that you're not alone -- and that educators across South Carolina, and now outside the state, are becoming aware of your circumstances. The best solution will come when educators feel free to organize themselves, supported by parents and community leaders, and take charge of our education professions, as is the case already in many other states.
Teaching is the most important job in America, and our state and communities should move heaven and earth to ensure that the knowledge, experience, commitment and passion of education professionals is respected, supported and rewarded, every day.