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.