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Formal Complaint to the State Board of Ed re. Censorship of Florence Meeting

on Fri, 12/07/2012 - 16:22

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Here's the formal complaint that was filed with the State Board of Education concerning the Florence Stakeholder Meeting on Dec. 6th, 2012 (Click here to see what went on in Charleston on Nov. 26th):

Dear Board Members:

It is with great distress that I write to report that the SC Department of Education continued to censor questions at the Florence Stakeholder Meeting.  Their conduct was thoroughly reprehensible. 

At this meeting, staff members collected written questions from the audience, and then left the auditorium through separate entrances to meet in the hallway and screen the questions together.  I stepped into the hallway to monitor several of these meetings.  Once I began monitoring, they began using different exits.

Unseen by Mr. Mason and the staff member who collected questions, I overheard the following comments as they sorted questions:

"This one's fair."
"This one's just informational, so that's OK."
"This one, I don't know." - question placed inside of staffer's briefcase.
"Here, this one's OK, so that will be one that raises a concern."

Once they noticed me, their only comments on questions were:
"Good"
"Redundant" - into the briefcase
"Redundant"
"Redundant"

I alerted a reporter from the Florence Morning News of their activities.  She interviewed them and was told that the questions were being screened to avoid "redundancy". 

I was given this same explanation when I later asked why questions at a public meeting needed to be evaluated before handing them to presenters.

I was given the same explanation again when I asked why a large stack of questions had been rejected and placed in a staffer's briefcase.  Seeing several of my own questions in the stack, I politely requested that they be returned. 

The staffer first refused, and then stated that she needed to hold them so they could be added to a Frequently Asked Questions page at the Department's website.  I pointed out that this wouldn't be a problem, since she'd just told me that it was a "redundant" question.  Presumably, the question would be answered this evening, and that card could then be used for the FAQ.  Repeating my request, I was given my questions.

There were four questions in that stack, plus five others that I submitted that were not recovered from the "redundant" briefcase.

None of them was asked at any point in the evening, nor were any others on the same topics.  In fact, certain key topics were not mentioned in any questions that were read: the use of schoolwide test scores, letter-grades for teachers, and value-added data.  Apparently, not one teacher in a crowd of several hundred had any concerns about these issues that have drawn so much attention elsewhere.

The intensive screening process for "redundancy" did not appear to be effective.  As the Florence Morning News reported, "many in the crowd noted that several of the questions actually selected for answering did repeat just recently covered material."  Audience members sitting near Dr. Zais reported seeing him direct staffers with hand signals to continue to expand on such answers.

During the ESEA waiver segment of audience questions, only three were read.  Mr. Mason indicated that those were all of the questions on the topic.  When I mentioned that I had submitted four questions on the ESEA waiver that were not read either here or in Charleston, Mr. Mason publicly indicated that they would be answered in the next segment.  This did not occur.

As in Charleston, a questioner asked how teachers in non-tested grades and subjects would be evaluated.  Once again, staff gave an extended response that did not mention the schoolwide test scores that would make up 30% of such a teacher's evaluation.

When I attempted to read aloud an unanswered "redundant" question at the end of the meeting, Dr. Zais began shouting into his microphone repeatedly to drown me out.  He pointed out that the meeting was five minutes past it's scheduled end time of 7:30pm.  The audience booed him and demanded to hear my question, and the dozens of other unanswered "redundant" questions.  He ignored them and walked offstage.

I apologize for the length of this account.  A sample of unanswered "redundant" questions are recorded below, for your consideration.  Thank you for your attention.

Best regards,
Patrick Hayes
Director
EdFirstSC

 

Q: Won't the use of schoolwide test scores to evaluate teachers discourage teachers from working in struggling schools?"

Q: Does the Department have any concerns about the impact of this plan on teachers' willingness to accept student teachers?

Q: Did the ESEA waiver specify that letter grades, schoolwide scores, and value-added data be used to evaluate teachers, or were those SC Dept. of Education initiatives?

Q: The ESEA waiver redline document states that, "the Department does not anticipate that teacher objections to this plan will be an impediment to implementation."  Why was the Department determined to override teacher objections?  Why not collaborate to create a plan that would be viewed as legitimate?