New film focuses on early literacy
Could propel debate on how children learn in S.C.
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
MARCH 7, 2014 -- A new film promoting early reading could accelerate the public policy debate on how children learn in South Carolina.
Veteran Columbia filmmaker Bud Ferillo, whose 2005 “Corridor of Shame” documentary about abysmal conditions in poor South Carolina schools shocked many, is putting the final touches on “When the Bough Breaks,” a 45-minute film that outlines the importance of reading to children long before they ever walk into a school.
The message rammed home in the film, a production of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee in conjunction with the Children’s Law Center at the University of South Carolina School of Law, is that experts understand how reading early to children is a vital key in their future success in school and life. Highlighted by interviews with a scientist, educators and child care specialists, the film explores how parents and volunteers can augment the work of professionals in getting more kids to read much earlier.
“An early foundation in reading is one of the highest predictors for individual success,” according to the EOC in 2013. “On the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress), only 61 percent of South Carolina fourth graders scored ‘basic and above.’ Only 72 percent of S.C. eighth graders scored “basic and above’ in 2011.”
Ferillo said a major idea in the film is to train parents to read to kids and make sure they get books to read a couple of hours every day from the time they’re infants.
“We’re talking about a cultural change,” he said this week as he wrapped up work on the film. “Now that we know a child’s brain is so incredibly active and receptive to early childhood reading and activity, it’s critical that parents, child caregivers, facilitators and reading teachers have the training and tools to provide children with vocabulary.
“A child who is read to on a consistent basis from birth to the age of entering school will probably have a working vocabulary of 5,000 words. A child who is given a toy or a mechanical device or put in a playpen will have a vocabulary of 500 words.”
The EOC, which has a vision of having 95 percent of students reading at grade level in grades 3 and 8, wanted to have the film as a tool to help raise public and community awareness about literacy in South Carolina, according to spokesman Dana Yow.
“We wanted to create a film that would showcase the continuum of literacy—from the importance of language development in the very early years to what is required to help a struggling reader in a secondary school,” she said. “When 50 percent of the students entering the technical college system need remediation in reading before they begin their coursework, this is an issue that needs to be brought to the forefront of public discussion.
“The EOC has been working on this issue for years but it is exciting to see that the General Assembly, Gov. [Nikki] Haley and others are actively working to bring about comprehensive reform.”
It won’t be cheap but, as education advocates say, it might be more expensive to lose another generation of children to poverty and to have to provide remediation for some, prison cells for others.
“There are costs involved in helping all children read proficiently in this state,” Yow admitted. “It will take money for a readiness assessment for 4-year-old kindergarten and 5-year-old kindergarten. There are significant costs associated with expanding home-based parenting programs like the ones featured in the film.”
But working to ensure that students read at grade level by the end of third grade won’t happen if educators wait for state solutions, she added.
“Much of what viewers see in the film involve relationships that occur between caring adults and children focused on literacy. The relationship that a parent or caregiver has with a child before he or she ever walks into a school is critical and cannot be overemphasized.
“When the child enters school, it is so important to have teachers who are trained to diagnose reading difficulties and appropriately intervene. Additionally, communities, volunteers, faith groups and others can have such a tremendous impact when they mobilize around this issue.”
Ferillo added, “It’s a wake call to parents and community groups who can provide the resources.”
The title of the film, “When the Bough Breaks” comes from the 18th century “Rock-A-Bye Baby” nursery rhyme.
Ferillo said he picked the phrase “because of the choice that South Carolina has to make between providing the earliest opportunities to teach our children to read or face the consequences if they do not.” And if South Carolina doesn’t get its act together with more early reading, it will continue to have students in middle and high school who get failing grades or drop out. And some of those will turn to a life of crime, which will cost the state down the road.
“When the Bough Breaks” features interviews with more than two dozen people including a scientist, ex-gang member, sheriff, parents, educators, business leaders and volunteer leaders. The film will be made available to K-12 schools, colleges, county libraries, pediatricians and others who want to learn more about literacy.
“There is so much opportunity in the film, and we hope that people walk away wanting to help and make a difference in the lives of young people,” Yow said.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECENT NEWS STORIES
Coosawatchie bridge, Jasper County, S.C.
The Coosawatchie River in Jasper County flows under a bridge that’s part of Interstate 95. The interstate defines much of South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame, an area of high poverty and low educational attainment that stretches along the highway. Learn more. Photo by Andy Brack.
House to debate budget starting Monday
Senate stuck in a rutHouse members will be focused next week on debating the proposed $7 billion budget for spending state revenues. Few expect major fireworks, although there may be tussles over penalizing colleges through the budget for books they assigned. Other potential flashpoints: Expansion of Medicaid, paying teachers more, pay raises for state employees and a proposal to keep counties from charging a fee to process credit cards for tax payments. It’s likely that debate, which starts Monday, will be done by Wednesday, sources say.
Meanwhile, senators are expected to continue to floor debate the so-called “nullification” bill. Although the proposal no longer seeks to nullify Obamacare, it essentially seeks to restrict using any state money to enact the federal law -- even to the point of trying to keep people from using computers in public libraries to sign up for it. Observers say it’s more time for headlines, not headway on state priorities.
Also next week:
- Senate Judiciary. The full committee will consider three appointments to the State Ethics Commission at its 3 p.m. meeting on March 11 in 105 Gressette. It also will consider 14 bills, including proposals on public integrity unit, dilapidated buildings, child abuse and child care. Agenda. Another subcommittee will meet 9 a.m. March 12 in 207 Gressette to hear from the Office on Aging and Department of Disabilities and Special Needs. Agenda."
- Senate Finance. A subcommittee will hear reports from officials at the S.C. Judicial and Revenue departments at 9 a.m. March 12 in 407 Gressette. Agenda. Another subcommittee will meet 9 a.m. March 13 in 407 Gressette to discuss budgets from various agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, Infrastructure Bank Board and Department of Transportation. Agenda.
- Senate Medical Affairs. A subcommittee will meet 8:30 a.m. March 13 to discuss several measures, including a medical marijuana bill. Agenda.
Dems scratching their heads
State Democrats will keep scratching their heads on ways to remain relevant in statewide races after this week saw two major candidates drop out -- Rick Wade from the race against GOP U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mike Anthony in the open race for state superintendent of education. So far, Dems haven’t fielded candidates in statewide races for adjutant general, agriculture commissioner, comptroller general and state treasurer. The remaining candidates in the pair of U.S. Senate races are seen as weak, at best.
“Minimally adequate” isn’t good enough
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherMARCH 7, 2014 -- If there’s one thing that permeates our culture, it’s that we want the best -- the winning sports team, the best doctor to treat cancer, the best tax rate, the best choices at the store. Just name the product or service and we want the best.
But would we want a minimally-adequate football team at Carolina or Clemson? No. A coach who lost season after season wouldn’t be tolerated by everyone from fans to a governor.
Would we want to hire a minimally-adequate doctor, lawyer or dentist? No, no and no.
How about on a larger scale -- would we accept a minimally-adequate power company? A minimally-adequate port? A minimally-adequate police department? A minimally-adequate car? “No” times four.
So why in the world do we in South Carolina continue to accept “minimally adequate education” as the standard for our state’s schools? Can’t we do better? [The answer is apparently not because bills to change the constitution to require a high-quality education have floundered over the years.]
Some historical context: Back in 1993, 40 poor school districts sued the state to get more funding for public education. It’s generally accepted that these schools, some of which were profiled in Bud Ferillo’s 2005 “Corridor of Shame” film, haven’t had the money to provide the same quality of education found in richer counties of the state.
A few years later, the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court which ruled in 1999 that all that the state constitution required of public education was a “minimally adequate education.” The court defined the phrase as including the ability to read, write and speak English; understand basic economic, social and political systems, history and governmental processes; and receive academic and vocational skills.
This standard -- setting a minimum expectation -- caused lots of criticism 15 years ago. Even today, former Chief Justice Ernest Finney, who hammered out the wording on the decision, has admitted “that was probably not the brightest moment in my career.”
Since the 1999 ruling, a circuit court decided in 2004 after 102 days of a trial with 102 witnesses that poor kids in poor districts did not, in fact, get a “minimally adequate” education up to third grade, but did after that. So the judge required the state to fund early childhood intervention programs to satisfy the “minimally adequate” standard.
But as we’ve written before, that didn’t make anyone happy, so the case continued and headed back to the Supreme Court in June 2008, where it still sits almost six years later. And today, the state continues to have a low bar for performance of public schools.
Wonder what folks today think about that? Here are some Facebook comments recently posted:
- “We certainly have a less than minimally-adequate state government and far less than minimally adequate representation in D.C.”
- “Our school system is inadequate to prepare our citizens (myself included) to understand exactly what minimally adequate means and how to differentiate that concept from thoroughly inadequate.”
- “’Minimally adequate’ is not an acceptable standard because it is neither aspirational nor sufficient. Did Steve Jobs or Bill Gates set out to create a "minimally adequate" technology company? ... There is no substitute for striving for excellence (and providing the funding to achieve that goal) That's the only standard that will make our state and its workers competitive in the global economy.”
- “Until South Carolina decides that education and educators are valuable -- valuable enough to tax themselves to fund it -- hang it up. A business model of education doesn’t work.”
- “One reason I am moving out of South Carolina [is] I am tired of too many citizens accepting mediocrity.”
Let’s not continue to accept a minimally-adequate educational system. Let state leaders have the courage -- especially with budget talks starting on the House floor -- to do something about it instead of continuing to lollygag.
Ferillo has a new film that will challenge leaders anew to fund education properly. It comes out this month, as reported above in Statehouse Report.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: email@example.com.
Time Warner Cable
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. Today, we’re happy to shine the spotlight on Time Warner Cable. The company’s Carolina Region provides video, Internet and telephone services to more than two million customers in more than 400 cities and towns across North and South Carolina. Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., with technologically advanced, well-clustered systems located in New York State, the Carolinas, Ohio, southern California and Texas. The company’s mission: Connect people and businesses with information, entertainment and each other; give customers control in ways that are simple and easy.
Voterheads is new tool for democratic dialogue
By Shelby Switzer
Special to Statehouse Report
MARCH 7, 2014 -- When I turned 18, I had a lot of big ideas about what it meant to be part of a community. I had spent my last year and a half of high school at the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, which, with a student population of around 200, meant that I knew everyone in my class. We all felt like we had an active role in the school, and the students had close relationships with the administration – our community was built on dialogue and participation.
I had also just gotten accepted to the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, which, as you can probably understand, I was absolutely stoked about. That summer, I went off to jolly England and started having a blast, but in October, I hit a wall. It was time to fill out my absentee ballot from back home.
Who were all these people? What did some of these positions even do? None of the candidates for town council, school board, agricultural commissioner, or even a few state representatives, had websites, Facebook pages or any campaign information period. I was lucky if I could find a local news article here and there giving an overview of a couple new candidates, and I certainly couldn't find a “report card” of the performance of any incumbents at the local level.
I enlisted my parents for help. Surely they would have more knowledge, being on the front lines, so to speak. My first email to them about the subject reads: “Aghh! I got my absentee ballot today and it's really exciting but also frustrating because I can't figure out who to vote for! Eek!”
They came back with a couple online resources I had missed and newspaper clippings from the local print chronicle, but for many of the candidates, all three of us still had nothing.
We all realized there was something key missing in our democratic process, in our community: information. My father, not one to sit idly and “live with” a situation, came up with a solution. A couple days later, my mother emailed me dad's idea:
“Dad wants to start a web site that gives people a picture of their actual ballot with all the candidates and referendums listed and when you click on them you will see all available internet research organized by category, so you can make an educated decision without being 'sold to'. What do you think? There doesn't appear to be any such thing right now.”
With our support, Dad took his idea to a tech entrepreneurs class in Columbia and met Karl McCollester, a local IT consultant who also had a dream for making local government easier for everyone. Together, and with another local visionary and designer Matt Hudson, they founded Voterheads.com.
Last November, you could go to Voterheads and see your ballot (specific to your location), with links to organized, non-partisan research on all names and items for the Midlands. This year's “See My Ballot” feature will have even more information
But Voterheads isn't just about keeping you informed around election time. Our mission includes facilitating communication between citizens and local government throughout the year. When you log into Voterheads, you can see your local city council, county council and school board agenda items every week, and vote and comment on them. You can even subscribe to follow topics that interest you, so that you get a notification whenever the council or board is about to discuss them. Premium subscribers – such as advocacy groups, law firms, utilities and manufacturers – can take this service further to monitor (across any state in the Southeast right now) large numbers of organizations or interests.
Although the citizen portion of the site is still in alpha stage for Richland and Lexington counties, Voterheads has already been highlighted in Government Technology magazine as a company contributing to the “21st Century City Hall.” Finally, I'm getting the information I need however far I may stray from home, and I'm heartened that there is now a tool for dialogue and participation to help every community become stronger.
Shelby Switzer, now 23, is the social media manager for Voterheads.com, which is based in Columbia. She also is an instructor in Atlanta for the RubyOnRails computer language and programming framework.
Resents being reduced to a thingTo the editor:
Both sides of the aisle, as we say, have a perfect understanding of individualism. There is a belief that they “have mine” in terms of stuff, status, ideology (ssi). And the other side of the aisle is O.K. to have their stuff, status and ideology. In an effort to preserve their stuff, status and ideology, one dare not listen to the needs of those who do would want a greater portion of same. Those would be a threat to MY ssi.
So, I, a voter, am a thing to influence to be gotten on one side or another of the aisle. For a vote cast in favor.
I resent being reduced to a thing. I am a person. I need leaders who are statesmen and women able to hear the needs of citizens and community.
Instead of demonizing taxes as always evil, how about proclaiming what taxes will create in my community? We don’t want a government assistance for healthcare but please, PLEASE give us government assistance to clean up after our winter mess. We don’t want higher taxes, but don’t close our bases and eliminate our National Guard or provide the money needed to keep the promises for retirement and healthcare benefits.
In a state mostly not of my party, I hoped that one way my party acted was to be ethically different from the other. Instead, natural to humankind, there are many who act just as unethically. It seems as a stand of, "Why should they get rich on kickback and the like? Now that I have my office, I’m gonna get my share.”
Don’t get me started on the use of lies to create fear in order to preserve “my base”.
-- David "Zeke" Hanford, Irmo, S.C.
About taking and not taking federal money
To the editor:
Just a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed the above article [on the politics of taking and not taking federal money.]
Your conclusion was something that I/we have LONG suspected, similar to my idea that the GOP cares more about numbers and politics than they care about poor folks, etc.
Anyway, this was a really good piece of work and I appreciate you writing it.
-- Will Cantrell, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Kudos on insightful commentary
To the editor:
Wonderful editorial on "The Politics of Taking Federal Money in a Poor State."
Informative, insightful, intelligent. My compliments.
Send us your opinion
-- Dave Brown, Charleston, S.C.
We love hearing from our readers and encourage you to share your opinions. But you've got to provide us with contact information so we can verify your letters. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less. Please include your name and contact information. Send your letters to:
From winners to losers
Flood insurance. It’s good news for many coastal South Carolinians that the U.S. House has passed legislation to curb some of the drastic insurance rate hikes for flood insurance. Let’s hope the Senate follows suit. More.
Carpenter. We salute Marine Corps veteran William Kyle Carpenter of Gilbert, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan. He will be the first South Carolinian to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. More.
No more “papers, please.” Hats off to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel for approving an agreement that blocks controversial provisions of a state immigration law that gave too much leeway to law enforcement officers during traffic stops. More.
College of Charleston. Things are looking up for Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s chances to be the next president of the school (he’s one of three remaining finalists), but lots of people are unhappy about a legislative proposal to merge the college with MUSC.
Meddling. Congressman Mark Sanford, once governor, seems completely incapable of not inserting himself into local affairs. Umm. Maybe that was the wrong word. More.
William Wallace Caucus. While the State Senate is no longer debating so-called nullification bills, senators are wasting a lot of time trying to curb Obamacare with unnecessary, unhelpful remedies. How about focusing on education instead of national politics?
T-Rav. Former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel of Charleston must be giddy with the airing of the horrible “Southern Charm” reality show -- or smoking something wacky -- if he thinks he can win a U.S. Senate race after pleading guilty in 2007 to a federal cocaine charge for which he served 10 months in prison.