"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 02, 2012

Education and Ranking: More Lessons from South Carolina

Mike Klonsky tweeted (follow ) the other day about a ranking of the worst schools in the U.S., noting that the list included many schools from South Carolina as well as quite a few charter schools.

First, this list of "worst" schools comes from a real estate site—which exposes one of the many problems with ranking anything in education: What credibility is there in a real estate site judging school quality?

Next, the inherent flaws in ranking to make evaluations in education have been the source of considerable debate throughout the past few years, focusing often on PISA (See "It's Poverty Not Stupid" and the unmasking of Amanda Ripley by Jersey Jazzman [follow ] also regarding PISA).

But this list of "worst" schools is egregious for its labeling and unforgivable for its (mis)use of data out of context.

I want to focus only on my home state of SC, but let's look at the ranking of those SC schools with some context—the SC Poverty Index for the schools being smeared:

Neighborhood Scout Ranking
SC Poverty Index (2011)
93.75
2 MORNINGSIDE MIDDLE North Charleston, SC
97.99
3 GREG MATHIS CHARTER HIGH North Charleston, SC
98.94
4 CHARLESTON DEVELOP. CHARTER Charleston, SC
91.96
94.19
6 ALCORN MIDDLE Columbia, SC
96.99
7 CHOICES CHARTER Florence, SC
92.73
8 BRENTWOOD MIDDLE North Charleston, SC
95.96 (2009)
11 W A PERRY MIDDLE Columbia, SC
100
61.44
13 LAKEVIEW MIDDLE Sans Souci, SC
98.71
17 BLENHEIM ELEM/MIDDLE Blenheim, SC
95.47
18 RIDGELAND MIDDLE Ridgeland, SC
93.65
19 ST STEPHEN MIDDLE St. Stephen, SC
98.75
20 BENNETTSVILLE MIDDLE Bennettsville, SC
96.32
21 ALLENDALE-FAIRFAX MIDDLE Fairfax, SC
97.93
22 WHITLOCK JR HI Spartanburg, SC
96.19 (2010)
23 CHESTNUT OAKS MIDDLE Sumter, SC
96.32
25 BEREA MIDDLE Berea, SC
92.31
26 HAUT GAP MIDDLE Charleston, SC
82.53
27 PHOENIX CHARTER HIGH Paxville, SC
87.5
30 ESTILL MIDDLE Estill, SC
93.25
31 W G SANDERS MIDDLE Columbia, SC
87.06
34 BLACKVILLE-HILDA JR. HIGH Blackville, SC
94.12
35 GIBBES MIDDLE Columbia, SC
97.08
100 (2010)
37 NEWBERRY MIDDLE Newberry, SC
89.14
38 SCOTTS BRANCH MIDDLE Summerton, SC
99.03
40 HYATT PARK EL Columbia, SC
98.74 (2010)
41 LAKE CITY ELEM Scranton, SC
98.82 (2008)
42 BLACK ST ELEM Walterboro, SC
97.04 (2008)
43 R D SCHRODER MIDDLE Adams Run, SC
96.85 (2009)
44 BRITTONS NECK ELEM Gresham, SC
99.69
45 WEST LEE EL Bishopville, SC
99.04
46 MT PLEASANT MIDDLE Bishopville, SC
96.09 (2009)
47 WEST ASHLEY MIDDLE Charleston, SC
89.43
48 JOHNSON MIDDLE Timmonsville, SC
95.83
49 FAIRFIELD MIDDLE Winnsboro, SC
94.09
51 BURKE HIGH Charleston, SC
95.63
52 J V MARTIN JR HIGH Dillon, SC
94.86
53 MAYEWOOD MIDDLE Sumter, SC
97.79
54 HENDERSONVILLE ELEM Walterboro, SC
96.91
58 MCCLELLANVILLE MIDDLE Mc Clellanville, SC
97 (2009)
60 CAINHOY ELEM/MIDDLE Charleston, SC
97.74
61 TAYLOR ELEM Columbia, SC
97.51 (2008)
62 FAIRFAX ELEM Fairfax, SC
96.44 (2008)
83.22
68 FRASER ELEM Charleston, SC
97.73 (2008)
69 KINGSTREE JR HI Kingstree, SC
95.53
70 EDMUND A BURNS ELEM North Charleston, SC
99.31
71 CARVER JR HIGH Spartanburg, SC
95.83
72 COLLETON MIDDLE Walterboro, SC
93.12
75 SOUTHSIDE MIDDLE Florence, SC
76.99
76 MARY FORD EL North Charleston, SC
97.77
93.67
78 DENNIS INTERMED Bishopville, SC
98.19
79 MANNING JUNIOR HIGH Manning, SC
86.8
80 CLEVELAND EL Spartanburg, SC
98.93
81 Z L MADDEN CTR Spartanburg, SC
N/A
83 CREEK BRIDGE HIGH Gresham, SC
97.29
84 FOREST CIRCLE MIDDLE Walterboro, SC
84.8
88 HOPKINS MIDDLE Hopkins, SC
89.28
89 BROCKINGTON ELEM Timmonsville, SC
85.39
90 LUTHER L VAUGHAN ELEM Gaffney, SC
99.4
91 HARDEEVILLE ELEM Hardeeville, SC
93.38
92 HOLLY HILL-ROBERTS MIDDLE Holly Hill, SC
97.74
93 NORTH CHARLESTON ELEM North Charleston, SC
96.88
94 MALCOLM C HURSEY ELEM North Charleston, SC
93.47
95 ROSENWALD ELEM/MIDDLE Society Hill, SC
100
97 MILITARY MAGNET ACADEMY North Charleston, SC
92.42
98 NEW HEIGHTS MIDDLE Pageland, SC
89.35
99 WOODMONT MIDDLE Piedmont, SC
80.47
100 WOHALI CHARTER ACADEMY Travelers Rest, SC
93.33 (2010)

What are the patterns here? The schools are burdened by enormous poverty; the schools tend to be middle and elementary schools (but the ninth grade campuses also appear—where students historically quit just before dropping out).

What does this careless ranking not explain? Let's consider some of the unspoken facts behind this ranking—things never mentioned by the corporate/"no excuses" reformers because that evidence contradicts their simplistic and misleading narratives:

• South Carolina has the ninth highest percent of people living below the poverty level (2008 U. S. Census data) in the U.S. These are rankings political and business leaders avoid—as SC has historically fallen in the bottom quartile of income, poverty, and equity throughout the history of the state, data that parallel the historical bashing of the state's schools as failing.

• South Carolina has a history of inequitable school funding, resulting in pockets of poverty (funded by a state minimum) and pockets of affluence (supplemented by local school districts). This inequity has been examined in Corridor of Shame, a documentary addressing a court case between the underfunded school districts in the state and the state itself.

• South Carolina is a primary target of libertarian/neo-con Republicans, often funded by out-of-state money and generally driven to dismantle public education through voucher and choice initiatives. Think-tanks, such as SCRG, also drive distorted and simplistic rankings as well as the South Carolina Policy Council issuing flawed "reports" that receive a free pass in the SC media.

• South Carolina charter schools—and charter schools across the U.S.—represent the re-segregation of students by race and class (See Miron, Urschel, Mathis, & Tornquist, 2010).

• South Carolina is a right-to-work (non-union) state where teachers do not negotiate through a union tenure, pay scales, and academic freedom . In fact, during my 18 years as a public school teacher, I witnessed subtle and direct pressure put on any teachers who discussed or joined SCEA/NEA. There is a profound culture of silence in SC education that keeps teachers quiet and un-empowered.

Neighborhood Scout's ranking is inexcusable and misleading, but this list is simply one snapshot of a wider pattern of misinformation being driven by corporate/bureaucratic "no excuses" reformers who point their fingers at schools and teachers in order to keep the public's eyes away from the great social failure that is being perpetuated by corporate America through the merging of that corporate elite with our federal and state governments.

Are these schools slandered as the "worst" 100 schools in the U.S. actually the worst schools? No.

But they are disturbing evidence of the true failure in U.S. public education: Our schools are the most stark mirrors of our social inequity, an inequity of opportunity and income that is both tolerated and perpetuated by the exact leaders who have gained their privilege on the backs of those living and working in poverty all across the U.S. while their children attend neighborhood schools that are as burdened as the families by that poverty.

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