Staton for Status Quo
Bob Staton is a “Republican” Candidate for Superintendent of Education … or at least that’s what his State Ethics Commission filing says. In reality, this 59-year old Chairman of the Education Oversight Committee has about as much business competing in a South Carolina Republican primary as Al Gore, Al Franken or Al Sharpton. Or for that matter, Sam Tenenbaum (pictured).
Staton is a Democrat, people. A status quo, Tenenbaum-esque, pour-more-of-your-tax-dollars-down-the-drain Democrat, and the fact that Republicans are allowing him to run as a member of their party is one of the strongest signs yet that the SCGOP is in real trouble.
Seriously, if Republicans had any sense they wouldn’t let this guy run for County Coroner, let alone State Superintendent of Education.
As evidence, let’s look at Staton’s so-called “platform,” which maintains we can turn around South Carolina’s worst-in-the-nation school system by adopting the alliteratively-appealing yet decidedly substance-free “Four R’s = Results” plan.
Honestly, we here at FITS have never read anything so long on hot air and correspondingly short on actual ideas, but we’ll let you be the judge.
Staton’s first “R” urges us to “refocus our attention on our children and their successes.”
Excuse me, but … what? Come again? Are we running for statewide office here or cutting a Richard Simmons workout video? Seriously, is that finely-tuned, feelgood rhetoric supposed to kick off a new statewide policy or something? And if so, exactly how much money is the giant new “Focus-On-Our-Children-O-Meter” you’re obviously hankering to put on top of the Department of Education building in Columbia going to set us back?
Translate that sentence carefully, folks. Anytime a politician says “we need to refocus our attention” what they really mean is “we need to spend more of your tax money.”
Well, we’ve tried that approach in South Carolina. Over the past four decades, no state in the nation has increased funding for education at higher percentages than we have. Our current per pupil cost is well over $10,000 – compared to less than half that amount just six years ago – and yet we’re still last in graduation rates and SAT scores, and a full quarter of our schools are rated either “failing” or “below average.”
What we really need to “refocus our attention” on is the validity of those like Staton who maintain that more money is the key to improving education in South Carolina.
Staton’s second “R” calls on us to “restructure the South Carolina Department of Education to focus on our children's educational journey.”
Hold on there, Bob. In case you don’t remember, Inez already “restructured” the Department of Education – she doubled the number of bureaucrats there making $50,000 or more. So when you talk restructuring, are you proposing we cut all those excess edu-crat jobs and put the money toward something worthwhile like, we don’t know, merit-based pay raises for teachers? Or what about the “SMART funding” reforms championed by Gov. Mark Sanford designed to trim bureaucratic waste, inefficiency and mismanagement by block-granting more education dollars down to the local level? Or what about consolidating school districts? Or privatizing the nation’s only school bus system – one that currently employs 4 out of every 10 Department of Education workers?
Our bet is that in the unlikely event the Staton campaign actually offers a policy-based (as opposed to soundbyte-based) restructuring plan, none of these common sense “restructuring” ideas will make the cut.
Staton’s third “R” is a call to “recruit and retain quality teachers and principals in all our schools.” And while he doesn’t specify how he intends to do it, it’s difficult to miss the all-too-familiar Democratic solution he invokes when he says ... wait for it ... “New programs must be developed.”
Oh yeah, Shiny New Government Programs, baby!
Last time FITS checked, teachers in South Carolina already make $300 more than the national average. On top of that, they get bonuses for passing some national edu-crat test, not for how well their students are actually performing in the classroom.
Our problem really isn’t our teachers, though, it’s the bureaucracy that’s holding them back. Take the PACT test, for example. Imagine how much more effective our educators would be if we reformed the PACT test to give them instant “item-analysis” on which questions their kids got right or wrong? Of course in his role as Chairman of the Education Oversight Committee, Staton was in the perfect position to fix PACT, but as is typical of status quo backers - nothing's happened.
Until we turn the PACT test into a legitimate diagnostic tool that our teachers can actually use in the classroom, it will continue to serve as little more than an annual reminder of how bad our public schools really are.
Finally, Staton’s fourth “R” advocates that we “renew our commitment to the value of education.”
Like his first “R,” this one is pure political fluff. Honestly. Renew our commitment to the value of education? From a policy perspective, that statement is about as concrete as Jell-O.
But what Staton is really saying here is easily translated – “Stop talking about school choice.”
A die-hard opponent of giving students more choices in the education marketplace, Staton adheres to the Inez Tenenbaum-SCEA school of thought that brands anyone who supports choice as being guilty of “abandoning our public schools.”
What Democrats like Staton and Tenenbaum fail to recognize is that choice actually makes public schools better. Take Milwaukee, for example. Since choice was implemented there in 1990, Milwaukee’s public schools have responded to the new market pressures by posting higher test scores, higher graduation rates and a higher percentage of students entering colleges and 2-year technical schools. Oh yeah, the public school dropout rate has declined, too.
Of course none of that hard, verifiable data matters to the Staton status-quo types, who would have you believe that choice would “destroy our public school system.”
Actually, what’s destroying our public school system in South Carolina is the total lack of real, honest-to-God accountability – the kind of accountability that only the marketplace can provide.
Staton is doing his best to convince people he’s a real Republican, which is perhaps one reason why there’s so little substance and so much fluff to his campaign platform.
Don’t be fooled. He’s the poster boy for the Tenenbaum-Mo' Money status quo in education, the only success of which has been to hold our state back from reaching its full potential.
Like 50th place? Well, vote Staton for Status Quo then, and in November 2010 that's exactly where we'll be ... still.