Monday, January 23, 2012

Richland's Ford disapproves Zais's labels proposal

Superintendent Mick Zais's alternative to No Child Left Behind -- a waiver application that includes a proposal to label schools A through F for performance -- isn't collecting many supporters among veteran educators. In Richland County, school board member Vince Ford has become the latest to question the Zais model.

Richland One School Board member Vince Ford explains: "It's really about taking an adverse population of children black, white, male, female, those with special needs, those who speak a different language and every year you want to see those children make adequate yearly progress."

South Carolina's elementary and secondary education waiver basically outlines four principles for student achievement: All students must be college and career ready; there needs to be accountability for student success; effective instruction through teacher evaluations and reducing unnecessary duplication and paperwork.

"It's attainable," says Ford. "Some of the measures are tough but we all want a rigorous system."

Ford agrees that students should be held to higher standards. But he disagrees with how State Superintendent Mick Zais would label each school. They would be assigned grades A through F based on performance.

"If a community is labeled 'F' what is that going to for the children in that school?" questions Ford. "What is it going to do for housing prices? What is it going to do to try to recruit teachers to try to come to that school?"

Ford says identifying a school that needs improvement is fine, but the way it's done matters. Ford also thinks human and financial resources are needed in the schools.

Ford hits the nail on the head. We can hem and haw about policy matters 'til dark and dawn, but committing to provide quality education to every child takes resources, and until the resources are made available, it's all just a little bit of history repeating.

In fact, a reasonable person could conclude that all the time and effort spent on these policy questions is subterfuge, mere distraction from the core question: Do we, as a state, commit to providing quality public education to every child?

A proposal to exchange one bad school-labeling policy for another bad school-labeling policy is evidence that we don't.

"To put a label on it and then suggest things are going to get better, that's not going to happen and it's not only going to have an impact on that school but an impact on the larger community as well."

Ford says if the state superintendent accepts more federal money, pays teachers well and increases student expectations, then communities should see a better outcome.

"If we get a waiver, if we don't get it, if it doesn't change the attitude of those in a leadership position -- i.e., our state superintendent who won't even take money from the federal government."

And Ford hits another homer. Until we have an advocate in the position of state superintendent, South Carolina's 700,000 schoolchildren are at a supreme disadvantage.

Do I hear Ford for State Superintendent? Anyone?

A big point of contention: the waiver gives the state superintendent the right to put someone else in charge of a low-performing school, convert it to a charter school, or change the overall program structure.

Notice that none of the options reflect strengthening the public school from within. The only available options further dismantle public education as a viable system for South Carolina's public schoolchildren.

No wonder educators and parents aren't flocking to support Zais in his waiver application.

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