Sunday, March 25, 2012

Zais insults students, schools receiving awards

Last week, local and regional newspapers trumpeted the announcements that various schools in their coverage areas had been recognized with Palmetto Gold and Silver awards for student achievement.

And why not? In South Carolina, where public schools are denigrated daily by ideologues who favor privatization, corporatization, segregation and elimination, the news that so many students and schools have earned a little recognition is wonderful news indeed. What a boost to students' morale, educators' morale, entire communities' morale.

And, in any other state, the state superintendent of education would have appropriately held a press conference, invited all the state's media and surrounded himself with cheering children and educators. Even better, a state superintendent worth his salt as an education leader would have spent the entire week on the road, repeating that spectacle for local media from Caesar's Head to Port Royal.

Not here.

We don't have an education leader in the office of state superintendent; we have Mick Zais.

Zais responded to the good news by insulting the achievement of every one of our hard-working students, educators, parents and administrators. He suggested that the high number of award recipients means the standards had been watered down.

What a maroon.

As usual, national education observers took note of Zais's bone-headed comments and showcased him as South Carolina's embarrassment of the week.

Veteran education reporter Sean Cavanaugh of Education Week published this note:

South Carolina schools are seeing a lot of gold and silver this year, but that sound you hear is the skeptical eyebrow of the state superintendent hitting the ceiling.

The state education department announced March 20 that 853 schools in the state were winners of the Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards handed out for strong general academic performance, or for closing achievement gaps, or both. Of that number, 354 received Gold Awards.

However, that means nearly 70 percent of the state's schools qualified for a Palmetto award of some kind, the state education department noted in a release today. It's not quite "everyone gets a trophy" but it seems like the kind of thing that would irritate Glenn Beck.

By contrast, two years ago, only 403 schools in South Carolina received Palmetto awards.

The department's release notes that this is the first year that schools could qualify for a Silver Award if their ratings were above a "School At Risk" rating during the most recent year. Such a school also has to achieve a certain score on the state's growth index for three consecutive years in order to qualify. This is the first year that three years' worth of such data on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards are available.

The department noted that under these new criteria, an additional 312 schools this year qualified for a Palmetto award.

"While congratulations are in order for many schools, it cannot be overlooked [that] the new criteria added by the Education Oversight Committee drastically increased the number of award recipients.

This issue should be corrected by the Education Oversight Committee so the public is not misled and those schools that made real gains in student achievement do not have their recognition diminished because of award inflation," State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said in a statement accompanying the department's release.

But the Education Oversight Committee Zais referred to never intended to dilute the awards, said Melanie Barton, the committee's executive director.

Barton told Shawn Cetrone of The Herald in South Carolina that the committee had to revamp the award criteria in 2008 in order to match the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, which were new at the time. (The Palmetto awards program began in 1998.)

"We had to get it up and running immediately," Barton said.

One other note: Of all the schools receiving awards, the vast majority (612) were recognized for general performance only, while only 39 were recognized only for their work in closing achievement gaps. The remaining 202 were recognized for strong ratings in both categories.

Is there no one who will yet offer themselves as candidate for state superintendent of education?

Surely there is a serious education leader who can bring sufficient organization skills and acumen to mount a reasonable campaign, in either major party.

Show yourself soon, and let's get back to the work of educating South Carolina.


  1. While I agree with your assessment of Zais as a moron, surely you can spell it correctly. Unless you meant "maroon," in which case the (possibly humorous?) connection needs to be spelled out for my Monday morning sensibilities. Thank you.

  2. Bugs Bunny illustrates the usage of the word here: