Archive for July, 2011

Common Core Standards Quandary

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Arne Duncan, Superintendent of the U. S. Department of Education, spoke on the radio program “Talk of the Nation,” Monday, June 13, 2011. His word is that the public schools do well when they demonstrate a ‘high bar’ of accountability, engaged teachers, engaged students, and analysis of good data. He noted the compilation of Common Core Standards which can make the data collected comparable nation-wide.

The standards present a quandary: who’s the head of public school education? Local school districts, the state, or the federal government?  In 2010, Colorado’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)  became a Medusa-like controversy.

The State Board of Education voted August 2, 2010 to accept Common Core Standards on a contentious 4-3 vote.  The vote broke along party lines, with the exception of Vice Chair Randy DeHoff (R-South Denver metro), who supported adoption.

Arguments against standards did not address the benchmarks themselves.  Opponent Peggy Littleton (R-Colorado Springs) argued that CCSSI is a “takeover” of education by the federal government.  DeHoff and other board supporters said the standards address the challenge of educating Colorado students to compete for jobs across the nation and the world.

Standards created independently of the federal government

The standards were not developed by the federal government.  They were written under the auspices of The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Other education groups, including the National Association of State Boards of Education, joined in.  Teachers added input and direction.  (Myths and Facts about CCSSI)

DeHoff said that standards opponents in Colorado have not directly attacked the benchmarks themselves because they are closely aligned to current state guidelines.  The CCSSI project allows states to adjust up to 15 percent of the standards to accommodate local needs.  (See standards k-12 by subject)

Local school districts will implement the standards based on the State Board of Education’s vote.  But according to the Colorado constitution, education is the responsibility of local school boards, not the state or the federal government.

Money has strings

With funding resources so low at the local and state level, however, local school boards are relying on federal dollars to backfill missing state dollars. The 2010 federal allocation of $10 billion to help local schools stay staffed up is critical to Colorado school district budgets.  Without that money, additional cuts over $200 million across all Colorado school districts would have occurred.

Once an entity above the local puts money into the education pot, that entity wants some say over the use of the money.  Colorado helps local school districts at about a 60/40 ratio.  Since the state started massive contributions to local schools in the 90’s, it’s demanded more and more authority over school districts.

The bottom line is that money talks.  School districts in Colorado lost absolute control of local education when the state moved in with funding and added many requirements for that funding.  The federal government added more requirements when it contributed its funding.

These issues obscure whether the standards are any good.  Funding public education has taken on the quality of putting together a billion piece puzzle without a picture as a guide.  The puzzle box is titled “Who heads public education?”  As it turns out, the picture is of Medusa with all those snakes still writhing one year later.

Buddy, Can You Spare Another Dime?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Each article about prisons brings to mind “at risk” school kids who could benefit from the millions of dollars spent on building and staffing one more prison facility. In 2011 California needs to consolidate programs to address budget problems, but like many states, it has a crazy quilt of laws about prison sentences. When the quarreling stops, state prisoners will be sent to county facilities after the decision to reduce prison populations from the U. S. Supreme Court.

Look back two years.

“California Passes Bill Addressing Prisons,” by Solomon Moore, The New York Times, September 13, 2009, is another in the unending line of commentary on the cost of  felonies and misdemeanors, building another prison, overcrowded prison facilities, and court mandates to reduce prison populations.

Make no mistake.  Major criminals should be incarcerated, though FBI statistics in “Violent crime falls sharply…” by Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009, show that killings, for example, decreased 3.9% in 2008.  Still, the laws that send men and women to jail for petty theft or small drug sales, as if they had robbed the federal gold depository or had lorded over a multi-state drug cartel, need reform.

Know why?

Students “at risk” need every dime of help they can get.  And they need every adult who can be rehabilitated to support their children.  In California $7000 a year (in 2009 down to $6000) is allocated per student attending public schools.  At the same time, an average of $49,000 per year is spent for each prison inmate (current prison population-167,000).  However, the bill just signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger will release 16,000 inmates without violent records or serious offenses through changes in parole regulations and early-release rules.

Sound better?  Let’s see…

Studies (see post 6/30/09) have shown that for an “at risk” student to succeed, attendance is important, adequate safe facilities are necessary, highly-qualified teachers must be hired, adequate books and other resources are required, assessment and time/money for analysis of student academic needs is mandated, tutoring and before or after school programs should be provided, and parent commitment to encourage the student’s achievement must be supported.  Not counting the funds for a district to oversee each school’s budget in order to get every bit of use from each thin dime.  All that for $7000 a year per child in California (2011 investment).

Now for each person spending the year in prison, food must be provided; health care, a safe facility, rehabilitation services should be allocated; and prison guards and administrators must be paid to run the facility.  All for $49,000 a year per inmate.

Rarely is a word printed about any funded services to guide inmates ready to be released into programs that will help them return to their family responsibilities.  In fact, the local public school is held responsible for guiding parents: providing counseling, direction to family health services, and parent education so they can support their children’s academic success.  Again, unless the school receives a grant or qualifies for Title I monies, all those services are included in the $7000 per child per year (2011).

Rethink priorities.

Along with the entire financial mess that California has brought upon itself, how different groups in this state are supported financially must be carefully reviewed.

In the article “California’s costly budget decisions,” by Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2009, we are reminded that budget-cutting at the expense of students, who with education get jobs and enter professions, leaves them to drop out.  How many will think the only way to get money is to rob, sell drugs, or steal cars, eventually landing in prison at $49,000 a year?  Instead, how about spending “the fraction it might take to keep them in school?”

In addition, wouldn’t it be better to spend money on community colleges, half-way houses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for no other reason than to teach paroled adults the skills to help their children succeed in school.

Sanity must return to California’s finances.  What teacher wants to grovel, asking, buddy, can you spare a dime?