Greenville County school board flunks math lesson
BY MIKE CUBELO
Trustee Julie Hershey was very excited at the Greenville County School Board meeing last month. She said that while she was leafing through Teacher's Magazine she came across an 800 number to call for information about math books.
She called the number and was impressed with the information she was given. She said that she was tired of "fuzzy, feel-good standards" with the current math curriculum, believing that there was only "vision but no statistics" to support it.
Hershey waved a brochure that was mailed to her titled "Statistics," which praised the math book, printed by Saxon publishing. She quoted from testimonials in the brochure that claimed resounding success in the schools that used the book, and, guess what? "These math books are free," she rejoiced, almost choking on her gum.
When she told the Saxon publishing company that she was a public school trustee (of one of the largest school districts in the country) and was interested in the books, the company representative offered $185,000 of the new books for free.
Hershey said that the Saxon company was so confident in their math books that they were sure Greenville County would buy them once the schools used them. In fact, she believed that this was such a great deal that she wanted the school board to vote immediately to approve the math books for Greenville County classrooms.
It was like an infomercial, with Hershey starring as the public school trustee hailing the virtue of the math book with all the fervor of a televangelist. It was a secular Christian Coalition moment, where public education and a math book conversion came together.
Hershy's informercial did not impress trustee Vivian Richardson, the only trustee on the school board who teaches math. Richardson was familiar with the Saxon math books and told Hershey, "I know Saxon, and it's not that great."
Richardson could not believe that Hershey would want the school board to approve the Saxon books without them first being reviewed by teachers and administrators.
She asked Hershey, "Did you look at these books?"
Hershey looked down sheepishly (and stopped chewing), shook her head and admitted that she had not. Murmurs of astonishment rippled through the school board room.
Hershey explained that she did not have to read the books because she'd learned all she needed to know from the references she read in the brochure.
Trustee Coleman Shouse asked to see the brochure, leafed through it, and said, "These are self-serving statistics." He pointed out that the brochure was also published by Saxon and that it was obviously meant to sell the 800 number math book.
Hershey could not refute that assertion, and looked around the board room for support from her Christian Coalition brethren. But none of the other brethren had read the Saxon books either.
This did not stop trustee Sherry Pace from defending Hershey. She said that Hershey's proposal to try the math books was "just another idea. If you consider that to be a threat, that's a problem in itself."
Pace turned towards those in the board room audience who thought that Hershey might be overstepping her authority as a trustee and bluntly told them that, until the next election, "This is what you've got."
Pace and Hershey sit next to each other during school board meetings and have developed a bond like no other pair of trustees. At board meetings, they giggle and whisper, pass notes between themselves and exchange gum.
They act like school girls and, sometimes, are reprimanded by Chairman Bill Brooks . Although their board room behavior is no example to public school children, both Pace and Hershey believe that they know what's best for public education know better, even, than the school superintendent, teachers or administrators.
If the code of ethics stands in their way, they vote to change it. At the September school board meeting, the ethical code that required trustees to "refrain from interfering with administrative matters that are the superintendent's responsibilities" was deleted by Hershey, Pace and the rest of the Christian Coalition majority of trustees.
Now trustees are buying books without any approval from the superintendent or teachers.
The Saxon book was rejected by the State Board of Education and five other states. The state of Texas conducted a study of the Saxon materials in 1993 and 1994 and reported that "Passing grades increased less rapidly for Saxon districts than for their comparison groups."
This data was not included, of course, in the "Statistics" brochure Hershey was basing her opinions upon. As for the free books, it is common in the book-selling industry to give about an 18 percent discount on text books.
Greenville County buys about a million dollars worth of math books. This "free" $185,000 book offer by Saxon is actually the average industry discount.
Ironically, Southside Christian School also rejected the Saxon math books, according to the elementary school's principal, Martha White. This is the school where Hershey sends her children.
Apparently, even though the Saxon books are not good enough for Hershey's children, they have nonetheless been approved by her and the Christian Coalition majority for public school children to use.
Mike Cubelo lives and works in Greenville.
It was lika an infomercial, with Julie Hershey starring as the public school trustee hailing the virtue of the math book with all the fervor of a televangelist.