Andrew Dys

Teachers: Children are students, not 'subgroups'

This son's father came to Rock Hill during the Depression. He worked for $5 a week at a mill.

In South Carolina schools today, some might call that income level a subgroup.

Later, the son came along, born during World War II. The father, who had to leave school in the fifth grade to work, went off to Europe to fight for his country. In Europe, the father contracted tuberculosis. The father with part of one lung earned a high school education through that day's equivalent of the GED test. He studied accounting while working days. He preached to the son to go to school and demanded excellence.

The parents were divorced.

The boy got 30 cents for each A-plus, a quarter for an A.

"Anything less, nothing," the son said.

The boy started working as a carhop at age 13. More than 40 hours a week, while going to junior high school. The dad died in a car wreck. The son worked and went to high school, then joined the Air Force because he couldn't afford college. During and after the Air Force, the boy, now a man, studied. He worked jobs as far ranging as boilermaker, meat cutter and haberdasher. He finished college and law school, while working.

That boy's name when he was young was Levy S. Alford Jr. He is now known better as Lee Alford, circuit court judge for York County. He was the family court judge and probate judge before that.

"Valuing education is the key," Judge Alford told me. "My father valued education, and I worshipped him."

Alford was quick to point out that he could only speak about his life, his story.

I was talking to him about why every year when PACT scores come out school officials say "poverty" kids have lower scores. Sometimes, the schools people use the term "free and reduced lunch" students to describe this group of who they say have lower scores. This year, one description was subgroups.

I was a subgroup, too.

I was eligible for free and reduced lunch when I was a kid. My six brothers and sisters, too. The younger brother, now a lawyer and judge, an older brother, the Navy officer, the social worker sister -- all of us.

I talked to a lady who taught in the old all-black schools of this county for decades. Daisy McDuffie, whose late husband also taught in those schools, said most, if not all, students then would be judged by some government bureaucrat as poor. She was the son of a "common barber," but somehow, those poor parents got her to college.

Neither she, nor any teacher in those schools -- that didn't have the same books, labs or opportunities because their state and schools refused to give it to them -- ever called any of those thousands of black kids she taught a subgroup.

"All I did was teach them all, from the single-parent families and the two-parent families and the no-parent families," is how the wonderful Daisy McDuffie explained it to me. "All parents have to do better and demand better from themselves, and their kids, and from these schools," McDuffie said.

Studies show there is correlation between poverty and test scores, the school experts say all the time. South Carolina is a poor state.

Does that mean, then, that we should expect that our poor should always have lower scores?

No way.

I have never met a teacher -- those people who teach and love these kids like my three daughters are loved by their teachers -- who called my kids a subgroup. One of my middle daughter's teachers called my house at 9:30 one night this week. She spoke to my wife, used the terms "terrific effort" and "excellent student." She never asked how much money we have, or what we looked like.

All she did was care.

The state on its PACT scores Web site tracks scores by race, gender and income level. Whether a kid speaks limited English, is a migrant, even has a disability. Fine, the bureaucrats are figuring out who makes what scores. They have identified the subgroups.

They never say why, only saying poor kids don't have the same home life as other kids.

One superintendent named Marc Sosne from the Clover district had the guts to say poverty is no excuse for lower test scores.

Sosne, thankfully, is new to this state that you and I, poor or not, are raising our children in. Children who turn into Judge Lee Alford and teacher Daisy McDuffie.

And those children who don't.