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Column: The EOC agenda

Posted: January 18, 2018 3:23 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Last year, I wrote a column about the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and why this superfluous group needs to be fundamentally reformed, or even better, eliminated completely.  I haven’t changed my position.  

Just to refresh everyone’s memory ... The EOC came into being along with the Education Improvement Act in 1998.  At that time, there was a great deal of conflict between legislators and the governor versus the superintendent of education, which was a major factor behind the establishment of the EOC.  It’s disheartening to see the extra and costly (about $2 million per year) establishment of bureaucracy because of political bickering. No wonder so many problems continue to fester in our state.      

According to the EOC website, the EOC “is an independent, nonpartisan group made up of 18 educators, business people and elected officials who have been appointed by the legislature and the governor to enact the South Carolina Education Accountability Act of 1998.”  The website further states that the “EOC provides regular, routine and ongoing review of the state’s education improvement process, assesses how our schools are doing and evaluates the standards our schools must meet to build the education system needed to compete in this century.”  Sounds good on the surface, but in most states, a state board does this without another seven figure bureaucracy.  

When you read that the EOC is made up of 18 members including educators, business people and elected officials, it sounds pretty fair and balanced on the surface.  In practice, this isn’t actually so. I have attended a number of EOC meetings over the past 10 years, and it is clear that business people and elected officials pretty much control the agenda.  When push comes to shove, elected officials will on the EOC generally side with business people, perhaps because business people are more inclined to write campaign contribution checks.  You scratch my back ... I’ll scratch yours.  State-level politics as usual.

A few months ago, the EOC approved an accountability system that to call “flawed” would be generous. The new system is highly dependent on one-shot, low-bid, standardized bubble tests and guarantees that 30 percent of the state’s schools will be deemed below average or unsatisfactory, regardless of their performance or improvement.  The passing cut scores to meet or exceed expectations for the tests that will drive this system are set above legitimate grade level achievement expectations and are among the highest in the country.  Because of this, our students will continue to look like they lag badly behind the rest of the country, even though the passing scores for standardized tests in the rest of the country are a lot lower.  The whole thing is a stacked deck, on purpose.   

What is most disappointing about this system is that it does little or nothing to measure the attributes listed on the “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate,” a document that was actually adopted by the EOC, in addition to the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, the South Carolina State Chamber of Commerce and other groups.  This very forward-thinking document provides a very comprehensive picture of the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that graduates need to be successful in adult life. 

Unfortunately, there is very little in the new accountability structure that measures areas included in the profile like creativity and innovation, collaboration and teamwork, problem solving, the arts, perseverance, work ethic and other areas that computer-scored bubble tests will never touch. The EOC made a very big deal about how much stakeholder feedback it received in developing the new accountability system. I can tell you that stakeholders advocated very strongly for a balanced system that measures more than what is measured by multiple choice tests. The “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate” provided a strong framework and rationale for doing so.  The EOC largely ignored both the feedback received and the spirit of the profile.  The question is, why?    

I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but I do have a theory.  (Almost 43 years in this profession has made me realistically cynical.)  I believe the EOC’s agenda was to put public education in a no-win situation to set the stage for vouchers.  A few years of this stacked system will give the EOC and its political cronies ammunition for public funding of private schools.  That way, the EOC can help subsidize parents who will never use public schools anyway and defund public schools that are now funded $500 per student less than state law requires.   

Interestingly, I wouldn’t have that big a problem with the concept of vouchers if private schools benefitting from public money weren’t permitted to limit admission and were held accountable to the same tests as public schools.  Voucher proponents would fight this tooth and nail against such provisions.  Transparent accountability and open access are only for public schools.  

I had a voucher proponent tell me recently that accountability for private schools is based on parent satisfaction.  I wish public schools could get that kind of deal.  Most, if not all, survey data done over the past 20- plus years indicate that an overwhelming majority of public school parents are quite satisfied with their schools.  Most any dissatisfaction is with the incessant bubble testing mandated by agenda-driven, politically-motivated bodies like the EOC.

The EOC has very little to do with oversight.  It has morphed into an intrusive taxpayer-funded bureaucracy bent on marginalizing public education.  It needs to be dissolved and its essential responsibilities given to the state board.  At the very least, the General Assembly needs to send the EOC back to the drawing board in terms of its horrendous accountability plan.  

I’m always pleased to talk with folks about our schools.  My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is frank.morgan@kcsdschools.net.  Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district website.  I also invite community members to read my “blog,” which can also be reached through a link on the homepage of the district website.  In addition, I do a podcast after each School Board meeting summarizing the meeting.  This podcast can also be accessed through a link on the district homepage.

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