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  • Writer Login


    Southern Politics

    When ideology trumps intelligence

    by | 1 | Jun 2, 2011

    SC State Superintendent Of Education Mick ZaisSC’s Zais wrong to partisanize federal grant money at expense of students.

    If you want a textbook example of how partisan ideology is trumping intelligence, look no farther than South Carolina’s Mick Zais, the retired general who is now the state’s superintendent of education.

    Last week in the oddest of pronouncements, Zais (who in speeches robotically says “rhymes with face”) said the state wouldn’t compete to get a $10 million to $50 million grant from a $200 million federal pool of money to improve public schools.

    Lots of people don’t understand how he’s giving up before the contest begins. One statewide newspaper even editorialized that state legislators should force him to apply for the money.

    A few months back when Democrat Jim Rex was state superintendent, South Carolina applied for federal Race to the Top grant funding and apparently got pretty close to the prize. Now it and eight other states have been given a chance to compete for the new funding.

    But Zais said he was opposed to the grant process because it would expand the federal role in education “by offering pieces of silver in exchange for strings attached to Washington.”

    Hogwash. The general’s narrow-minded ideology is trumping intelligence and is counter to what’s right for South Carolina’s kids. Giving up without trying seems to be the opposite of what any American general is trained to do. The guy who is supposed to be charging ahead to make schools better for all kids – not just Republican kids – is waving the white flag to get back some of the federal tax dollars we’ve already paid. It’s a preemptive surrender.

    “It is not ‘federal intrusion’ or ‘federal mandates’ that are impeding student achievement in South Carolina’s schools but rather insufficient human capital, poverty and low expectations,” said noted national education reform consultant Hayes Mizell of Columbia, who added that local school districts in South Carolina have lost 4,300 employees in the last year.

    “Race to the Top funding would not solve these problems, but it would help local school districts address them,” Mizell said. “Blaming the federal government for South Carolina’s woes is a tactic the state’s leaders have used for two centuries, but there is no evidence the state is better off for it.”

    Earth to Zais: Maybe we need these so-called government strings. Why? Because what’s been happening so far with us at the bottom of education lists hasn’t been working out that well, especially when you consider the future.

    Did you know, for example, that India has more honor students right now than there are students in the United States? And just about all of them speak English? This and a host of other interesting tidbits about the future are in a must-see video that Sony’s board of directors viewed a couple of years ago.

    So instead of wallowing in partisan blather about smaller government and trying to get vouchers to let people use public school money for private education, South Carolina’s education leaders need to enact strategies of TRANSFORMATIONAL reform that will overhaul how South Carolina’s children learn.

    How about universal 4-year-old kindergarten, for example? According to state education officials, some 18,293 of the state’s 4-year-olds already are in some kind of half- or full-day program funded by state and local dollars. Another 4,678 poor students in poor school districts that sued the state for providing less than a “minimally adequate” education are in the sixth year of a court-mandated pilot education program for 4-year-olds. About 500 kids in the same counties are getting 4K training in non-school settings. And somewhere around 10,000 young students are getting 4K help through Head Start.

    That leaves between 16,000 and 20,000 South Carolina 4-year-olds who may not be getting early childhood education, educators say. And they agree roundly that the earlier kids can get in school, the more prepared they are down the road. In turn, that will make them more successful in later years, which might help get South Carolina off the bottom of all of those lists.

    It wouldn’t be cheap to implement universal 4-K schooling, but we’re already halfway there. If we can do more even earlier, we might not have as many costly future problems, including having a large chunk of the workforce being not ready to compete with all of those honor students in India.

    Yes, Zais may rhyme with “face,” but it also rhymes with “disgrace.”

    Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at brack@statehousereport.com

    ###
    Andy Brack

    Andy Brack

    Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of StatehouseReport.com. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, CharlestonCurrents.com. A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.

     

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    • You’re working from a number of preconceived notions here that are observably false:

      1) That Zais and the people who hired him care about the success of the next generation, their own or other people’s children.
      2) That competition is about achieving goals (success), rather than destroying those who’ve got what we want. For the latter, all that’s required is lots of military assets and fungible troops. People who care about children aren’t going to produce fungible troops, who are neither too smart nor too fat.
      3) That the military attracts competent people and all generals are smart. Zais, the evidence seems to attest, is one of those people who can’t tell the difference between giving orders and bringing order out of chaos. Perhaps he’s decided that if he starts earlier, he’ll avoid later failure. In the mean time, he’ll go after what he really likes, being in charge.
      4) That public servants are supposed to serve, when what a goodly number are obviously after is power.

      And power, oddly enough, is inverse to the available resources. That is, the poorer the people are, the more power their leaders possess. Moreover, it turns out that depriving people of currency is a lot easier than confiscating the herds, catches and harvests by which they were traditionally sustained. So, from the perspective of individuals who are into exercising power over or ruling others, “economic development” mainly represents a conversion of resources into money, which can be more easily requisitioned and extracted and sequestered from all those people who don’t “deserve” to have access to it. Apparently, in response to federal dollars flowing to educate the undeserving, vouchers are being touted to direct the flow. Order must be maintained and educating all children violates the natural order. That’s why they hired a general, to bring order. Appearances are often deceiving, but some things are entirely as they appear to be.

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