- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

June 23

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on Colombian president bringing peace:

Colombians had reason to celebrate last week. The national soccer team trounced Greece and Ivory Coast in its two first-round World Cup games, and President Juan Manuel Santos was elected to a second term.

Santos won fewer votes than challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the initial presidential election on May 25, but neither candidate captured a majority. In the June 15 runoff, however, Santos received 51 percent of the vote.

The election was largely viewed as a referendum on peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Santos initiated in 2012. Prior to Santos’ re-election, his government announced that it also would begin preliminary peace negotiations with the nation’s second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The runoff outcome is major victory for stability and economic growth in the region and helps ensure not just the continuation of the FARC peace process but also sustained ties between the United States and one of its closest allies in Latin America.

But Santos’ first international appearance in his second term wasn’t in Havana, where the FARC peace talks have been held. He traveled to Brazil, where he applauded Colombia’s national soccer team as it defeated the Ivory Coast, 2-1, last Thursday.

It was a smart populist move in a country that cares about soccer almost as much as it cares about politics.

Santos’ victory strengthens Colombia’s bid to become South America’s next international economic success story. The United States should continue to support Santos’ openness to foreign investment in Colombia - and his efforts for peace in the region.




June 23

Greenville (South Carolina) News on new teacher evaluation:

The South Carolina Board of Education has approved a new system for evaluating public school teachers that is a good compromise and addresses some concerns that teachers had about the original plan proposed by outgoing Superintendent of Education Mick Zais. The plan also is an essential step to continue South Carolina’s exemption from the onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind federal education law.

States that applied for exemptions from the law were required to implement some sort of system that evaluates teachers based on performance. The exemptions from NCLB were necessary because it would have set the unreasonable requirement this year that every single public school student score “proficient” on state math and reading tests. The all-or-nothing nature of the law made it impossible for districts to meet the standards.

Under the plan, half of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on classroom observations with 30 percent based on how much progress students make in their classrooms, according to a recent report in The News. The final 20 percent of the evaluations will be up to each individual district. Principals will be rated on nine professional standards as well as on their school’s growth. The evaluations will not affect teacher pay.

How to appropriately evaluate teacher performance is a contentious debate.

One worry is well founded. Teachers in more impoverished districts where the struggles of students are more pronounced and academic gains more difficult to achieve are right to be concerned if their evaluation is heavily based on student outcomes. That said, basing just 30 percent of an evaluation on student performance strikes a genuine balance.

Student performance cannot be left totally out of the equation.

However, teachers objected, and the board did the right thing to drop this more controversial part of the plan. The grading scale was little more than a gimmick that would have had the result, unintended one would hope, of putting both teachers and students on the same level, and could have eroded teachers’ stature in the classroom. Instead of the controversial scale, teachers will be rated at one of five levels: Exemplary, highly effective, proficient, needs improvement and ineffective.

Such a scale is more befitting of a professional who is being asked to teach children, and is more in tune with similar systems used in the business world. Whether intentional or not, there really was no place for a grading scale that belittles the work that is being done by our teachers.




June 22

Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, South Carolina, on open government law:

The S.C. Supreme Court decided last week that government bodies don’t have to let you know what they’re planning to do.

The court ruled that bodies like school boards, county councils and city councils can hold regular meetings without ever issuing an agenda, and if they do issue an agenda, they can change it on the fly and depart from it at will.

What that means is that if the members of such a body want to take up an important, controversial issue, such as an unpopular tax increase, they never have to let anyone know that they’re going to discuss it. They can simply bring it up at a regular meeting and deal with it. Pesky citizens, who may have wanted to be heard on the issue, won’t find out about it until it’s too late.

The court ruled this way on a suit from Saluda County. The Saluda County Council had been departing from its posted agenda at meetings, and a citizen filed suit, claiming the state Freedom of Information Act doesn’t allow the body to take up issues that it hadn’t given the public notice it would discuss through the agenda.

The Court of Appeals sided with the citizen and principle of open government, ruling that the council’s actions violated the “spirit” and “purpose” of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Supreme Court decided the spirit and purpose were less important than an awkward phrase. The act requires bodies to post agendas for meetings at least 24 hours before they occur. But the language of the act states : “Agenda, if any, for regularly scheduled meetings . .” The court took that to mean agendas aren’t necessary, and if they exist, they can be changed.

By doing so, the court opens the door for public bodies to hide their business.

This abominable ruling points out the fundamental weakness of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. It is too vague and too weak. It has too many loopholes and too little enforcement.



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