More Questions for The Post and Courier: “Necessary Data” or Press-Release Journalism?

Back-to-back editorials at The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)—Bolster efforts at rural schools (18 June 2016) and Make literacy No. 1 priority (19 June 2016)—offer important messages about the importance of addressing South Carolina’s historical negligence of high-poverty schools, especially those serving black and brown students, and the folly of cutting funding for literacy initiatives in Charleston.

However, reading these two editorials leaves one well aware that good intentions are not enough and wondering if the P&C editors even read their own editorials.

In the 18 June 2016 editorial, the editors argue: “Acting rashly without necessary data would be misguided. But taking baby steps while one class after another misses out on an adequate education is a continued waste of valuable time.”

And the very next day, we read:

Still, parents should expect their children’s reading skills to improve noticeably.

And it’s fair for parents of the youngest students to expect significant improvement in their children’s reading by the end of the school year — if the new approach works. Of course, parents also can make a difference by reading to their youngsters every day at home.

If Dr. Postlewait’s plan doesn’t succeed, the school board must find a way to pay for programs that do.

Those programs exist. At Meeting Street Academy private school, and now at Meeting Street @ Brentwood, entering students score well below average on literacy tests and quickly catch up to and surpass the average. All Charleston County students deserve the same opportunity.

This praise of “programs [that] exist” is the exact “acting rashly” the P&C rightfully warns about the day before.

So what about “necessary data”?

We have two problems.

First, we do not have a careful analysis of data by those not invested in these schools about the two praised school programs. The fact is that we do not know if successful reading programs exist at these schools.

Second, we do know that “only 1.1 percent of high-poverty schools were identified as ‘high flyers'” (Harris, 2006). In other words, we now have decades of data refuting the political, public, and media fascination with “miracle schools.”

As I have repeatedly warned: “miracle schools” are almost always unmasked as mirages, but even if a rare few are outliers, they cannot serve as models for all schools because they are not replicable or scalable.

Therefore, the P&C editors are right to warn about acting rashly and without the necessary data as we reform public schools and bolster literacy among our students.

But the P&C is wrong to continue press-release journalism that contradicts that mandate.

One comment

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    Most children who are born into a family that doesn’t read books, magazines and/or newspapers, and the parents or guardians did not start reading to their children by at elast 2 will start behind in school and often stay behind. That has been documented in study after study.

    Then the ignorance and misguided Op-Ed piece said, “Of course, parents also can make a difference by reading to their youngsters every day at home.”

    Those parents are the single most significant factor in a child growing up to love reading, and becoming a life-long-learner. Teachers play a secondary role to improve a child’s ability to get complex meaning out of context but most teachers can’t replace the parent in a normal school setting with a crowded classroom full of students. The teacher is responsible to teach all of those students and the idea that the teacher can replace the parent is ludicrous and wrongheaded.

    There is no miracle program to teach children to love reading if the parents are not involved in the process. A perfect example of a failing parent comes from a film that was the total flop propaganda film, “Won’t Back Down” (2012). The world msut have spread fast that this film was a piece of crap propaganda for the autocratic, for-profit, opaque, fraudulent, and often inferior corporate charter school movement, because it only earned $5.3 million for its lifetime gross. The average ticket price for going out to see a movie was bout $7 then. That means about 757,000 people saw this film in a country with a population of more than 300 million and a monthly movie going audience of 56 million adults.

    The critic for the Philadelphia Weekly summed it up best in his review: “Funded by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz and released by right-wing overlord Rupert Murdoch, it attempts to fashion a feel-good family-friendly triumph of union busting and privatization.”

    Anyway, I digress. In the film there is a scene that inadvertently reveals that the public school bashing, teacher blaming mother is a lousy parent when it comes to her daughter’s education. The scene takes place in her apartment after her young daughter comes home from school. Instead of reading or doing homework, the daughter plops down and watches TV and the mother does nothing. Case closed. The mother in this film is like far too man parents that expect teachers to do their job as a parent for them. Parents are part of a child’s education. It is the parents that must say no to TV, video games, mobile phones, texting, and hanging out with friends after school instead of the child doing homework and reading first. It is the parent that is responsible to make sure their children eat a nutritious died and get enough vital sleep every night.

    And the evidence convicts 70% of parents as lousy parents when it comes to the education of their child and the child’s literacy level and lack of a love of reading.

    “More than 70 percent of children ages 8 to 18 have TVs in their bedrooms, according to the University of Michigan Health System. More than 35 percent have cable or satellite-TV access. Criticism of the effects of TV on children is documented. … In 2009, the Nielsen Co. reported that children’s television viewing had reached an eight-year high. Children ages 2 to 5 watched TV for more than 32 hours a week. Kids ages 6 to 8 spent 28 hours per week in front of the tube, most likely because they were in school, explains Nielsen. The Kaiser Family Foundation also conducted research on the media habits of children ages 8 to 18. Kaiser found that on average, this age group spends 4½ hours each day watching TV in various forms, including on their mobile phones and the Internet.”

    http://www.livestrong.com/article/222032-how-much-tv-does-the-average-child-watch-each-day/

    Imagine what would happen if that 32 hours a week for children 2 to 5 was replaced with 32 hours a week of a parent reading to their child and later setting aside the same number of hours to read as a family every week where the parents and child are reading together as a family instead of watching the stupid making TV.

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