Archive for the ‘school resources’ Category

What does Climate Change Have to Do with School?

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Every public school teacher and administrator is gritting their teeth when reading the latest about the national budget.

One, Education Secretary DeVos continues to speak in favor of vouchers and sidesteps questions about preventing and ending discrimination (AAUW Action Alert 6/7/2017). She disregards taxpayer preferences. She agrees to allot significant public funds, formerly for public schools, to private and religious. Refusal to acknowledge the special issues of civil rights for disability, economic status, educational achievement, special education, and LGBT students seems to be the Secretary’s pattern.

Two, moving Education Department’s oversight of more than $1 trillion in student debt to the Treasury Department because the president wants to defund the agency by almost 50% (NYT, 5/28/2017) is unsatisfactory.

Another worrisome factor for schools is ICE deportations across the country. In addition, health care proposals in Congress that will affect 5 million children if they lose Medicaid eligibility (and miss school because they are sick) is unacceptable.

Then, the president declines to uphold the Paris Accords, unwilling to recognize the need for responding to climate change because of cost. Saving money is a short-term measure, destroying the world we stand on is a long time away for the current administration.

How do teachers explain the temptation to say, “don’t worry” vs. the necessity to teach about saving the environment? Not to discount the fact that many students in coal-mining, chemical manufacturing, oil producing and refining areas of the country are only concerned about their family’s jobs, not about evidence that the industries are polluting the rivers and oceans, are warming the Earth from burning fossil fuel and emitting carbon gases into the air.

From research into the problem, it is determined that the younger the students are, the easier it is to begin with understanding how earth’s climate system works, and as they get older, the students are more likely to accept new ideas, question conflicting understandings, and resolve the dilemmas.

Usually a teacher needs more resources besides the science text books your school distributes. Go to the internet. It is loaded with ways to strengthen understanding. To help teachers, several handbooks and information from Ohio State University explain principles of Climate Literacy:

-understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,

-knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,

-communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and

-is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

Another site, called Population Education, is useful to teachers to strengthen the relation of a young student with the environment. Remember there are plenty of library books to read about the forest, ocean, seasons, plants and animals, such as old favorites, The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss or The Last Forest by Laurie Glick. For upper elementary grade students, lessons provide ways they can begin to help the world: ways to recycle, to reduce energy consumption, to reduce the classroom’s carbon footprint.

Three sites that seem most valuable are provided on the February 2013 blog at Concordia University, Portland, Oregon:

NASA’s Climate Kids is produced by the Earth Science Community Team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, and is exciting in its design for young students.

Climate Change Education has a terrific curriculum for grades 4-5, especially Protect Your Climate-16 Lessons. It is organized by the Bay Area Quality Management District, California

Another is called Journey North, first introducing young students to movements of the earth, moon, and sun. Older students learn about plant, animal, insect migration. Lots of visuals animate the program, supported by the Annenberg Foundation.

As Americans have discovered after the president’s announcement, every state, county. city, and school district can insist on reducing global warming and pollution, protect animal life, and change the culture war over climate change.

Start now; “in a while” is too late.






Now what?

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

The election is over and the president-elect is not known to think much about schools. However, one of the president elect’s well-known campaign assertions is about to take effect: getting rid of gun-free zones.

In California, the state with some of the toughest gun safety measures in the nation, Kern High School District School Board in Bakersfield, home of famed House of Representatives majority whip Kevin McCarthy, can and has approved 3 to 2 to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed guns. In total 4 high school districts and one unified school district in the conservative counties of the state have sanctioned concealed carry.

Other than that, nothing has been heard except rumor that Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools, may be appointed to head the United States Department of Education.

On the other hand, as reported in the Take Care post of 7/2016 the USDOE may be gone. Pfft! Since it wastes money, harbors fraud, and embraces bureaucratic regulation.

The president-elect may be too busy trying to find like-minded cabinet members. Jeff Sessions, up for approval to be attorney general, will not likely be a protector of education rights. Beginning with what is known about his position on immigration, no wonder high school and college students continue demonstrating day after day. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, is in jeopardy for all the students who crossed the border with their parents when young and who thought they may have a chance to become legal residents of the United States. And elementary students, K-5, spend their days when they should be learning, worrying instead if they will be deported along with their parent.

The day after the election, teachers felt the need to stop academics and spend time on values – no bullying, no name-calling, no writing slurs, no shoving or hitting, no ostracizing – all actions that were on television and radio all during the campaign. The few words from the president-elect hasn’t stopped the action in the streets.

From the Archbishop of Los Angeles to the Chief of Police of New York, city governments felt obligated to speak out that they would not support deportation by ICE. Still, schools are one of the first places that worry is displayed.

Some teachers have used written language time for students to write opinion essays: Why the man who won should/should not be President. Other classes used time to discuss why in a democracy one must respect the outcome. Students are taking part in Project Cornerstone which asks the students to think in terms of “up-standards” – looking for the positive ways to approach an outcome with which you disagree.

Views of the vice president-elect make it difficult to expect a generous outcome when the administration finally gets around to any thought about public schools. A man who as Congressman and governor never supported a bill that he thought led to “federal intrusion,” also thinks Common Core State Standards are intrusive on the state, and prefers charter schools (good or bad) and vouchers. He is not likely to advocate spending effort or money on federal funding for schools.

Good bye Title I funding for low-income public schools, farewell to Title IX that assures fair sports funding and prohibits gender harassment, and exit now to Title II that provides funding for highly-qualified teachers and administrators.

In addition, since the start of the great recession in 2008 until 2016, 23 states have cut taxes and so cut funding to education, a position that suggests deliberate policy. Three of those states had initiatives on the 2016 ballot, but only Maine voters passed its initiative. Of the other 27 states, only California and Oregon had measures on the ballot. California passed both measures, a substantial bond measure and an extension of the special tax on high incomes. Oregon voters didn’t pass its initiative.

This brings us to the point that everybody loves to criticize schools, but if states won’t provide funding, the federal government must step up. It’s “the duty of the executive branch to ensure, through regulation and supervision,” (New York Times, “Schoolchildren Left Behind”, November 12, 2016) that funding supports schools with students most in need. A public-school-minded executive branch must pressure the conservative members of Congress who are well-known for efforts to cut Title I funding.

Who will teachers point to as models of tolerance and advocates for public education, one of the most basic foundations of our civil society since the days of the Puritans?



When Are Things Bad?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Think 21st century. The reputation of a public school district depends on where it’s located and the money available. Think of a particular school district in a particular state, any state. Here is a q & a to help establish a rep.

Does it snow in the winter? Students need light and heat. Don’t cut into the cost of electricity. That’s all the U.S. has right now.

Hot in the spring and fall? Everyone wants air-conditioning.

Does the school have a lot of high-income kids or only low-income? Parents want kids to have their own textbooks-either way. Don’t save money by sharing books.

Are a lot of kids packed in each classroom? Have schools been closed and kids stuffed into another school? Parents and students want smaller class size and more teachers.

Do students live far from the school? How far before the school district cuts the busing cost? In some urban areas, students walk or ride bikes; in far off rural districts students just don’t attend, creating drop-out and graduation problems.

Has the school been known for music and sports? Parents and students don’t like those programs to be cut. They will pay fees, raise funds for instruments and uniforms, and drive (with their own insurance costs) to provide these activities, but don’t cut the teachers and coaches.

Have custodians been laid off in the district? And the teachers told to sweep and empty waste baskets? Who do you think does the work? Clue: instructional minutes in the school day. As services are cut, this has long been an exercise in elementary schools. Now middle and high schools.

How long has the school had librarians, nurses, and uniformed security personnel? Are their services being cut?

Has the school district cut the equipment and teachers who provide computer training? Computers are part of the 21st century world. Every graduate needs to have some skill with electronic equipment. Not every student has a computer, cell phone, or Internet service at home.  Or the family income to support it.

Have vocational programs and teachers been cut from the school district? Not every graduate will attend college.

Have counselors, special education teachers, and tutors been cut or eliminated from the school district? Are the services continually on the edge?  Mental health and special education are the most difficult services to maintain and upgrade in a school district.

Look up Texas, New York, and California to see how each of these states have financially chomped up parts of school districts. Forget about test scores, standards, and evaluation. Just look at the school infrastructure.

Colorado Amendments 60-61 and Prop 101 to bury us, but not in debt

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Proponents of three anti-tax initiatives in Colorado, known colloquially as the ‘three blind mice,’ argue that Colorado citizens are over-taxed and that state government is inherently wasteful. They make these claims even though Colorado ranks 46th lowest in combined state and local taxes.

Colorado revenues will take big hit with three initiatives
The ‘three blind mice‘ attack state revenues, already low from the recession and other constitutional amendments, in novel and imaginative ways.

  • Proposition 101 will cut $2 billion+ in car fees, income tax and phone bill rates. The vehicle ownership fee will plummet to $2, cutting funds directly out of school budgets.
  • Amendment 60 will cut local school property taxes by 50%; the state will have no money to backfill the loss. The amendment will also override previous local elections in which citizens voted to exempt themselves from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) effects. Most inventive, citizens will be able to run elections to reduce their mill levy.
  • Amendment 61 will prohibit the state from using any debt for any reason. All capital expenses will have to be paid with cash, upfront. School districts that borrow from the state at 0% interest to cover payroll in the months when property tax collections are low will be prohibited from doing so. The school year in those districts would have to run from March to November when property tax dollars are highest. Winter will be the new summer.  (Colorado Blue Book on Amendments and Propositions)

Public school funding tanks since 1988

Colorado’s per student funding has dropped steadily in comparison to other states since 1988. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Colorado was $1397 below the national average in per-student funding in 2007, before the recession. In its 2010-11 budget, the Colorado legislature gouged out $354 million in prek-12 cuts, or $400 to $500 per student. 2011-12 looks no better, and may be worse.

Colorado Higher Ed funding 48th in the country
The legislature now allows state colleges to increase their tuition up to 9% per year to offset the state’s 48th ranking in per capita spending, which has plummeted to $159/year. Neighboring state Wyoming spends $709 per capita, New Mexico $581 per capita, Nebraska $404 per capita, Kansas $360 per capita, and Utah $296 per capita (State Higher Education Executive Officers, SHEEO). Even Mississippi substantially exceeds Colorado’s spending at $372 per capita.

Cheap car registration or very high college tuition for CO?
Voters face a huge choice in 2010. If the initiatives pass, the state will not be able to continue its school construction projects in the rural areas of the state authorized by the legislature. School districts will not be able to do capital improvements without cash on hand. There will be no more physical improvements to the University of Colorado medical facility and no money for more construction at any state college or university.

On the other hand, vehicle registration will be really, really cheap and Colorado will have no new debt.

No blood in those state turnips

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Means no $ for Ed

School districts are beginning negotiations with their unions based on their 2010-2011 budget numbers, which are depressing.  If it’s impossible to draw blood from a turnip, just try to wring money from state legislatures for education.

The Colorado legislature is about to claw back $250 million+ from public schools for the ’10-’11 year.  It will probably take back just as much, if not more, for ’11-’12.  If school districts don’t have enough reserves, and no one does, they will be going backwards in funding for years.

Money saving tricks

Some districts are freezing salary – no COLA, no steps and levels.  Others are doing furlough days.  Others are charging for transportation.  Others are ending all technology purchases.  Others are emptying administration – no more professional development for teachers or curriculum support!  Others are increasing classroom size by one, two, or three children.  Last but not least, some districts are closing buildings.

No more investing in education!

Investment in education has stopped.  Districts that have made progress in student achievement will probably freeze in place or will start drifting backwards.  After all, if no one is in charge any more of managing the voluminous data underlying each student’s progress, how will the analytical process thrive that supports achievement?

Schools going backward in funding

The largest district in Colorado is about to cut $60 million from a $670 million budget.  The district estimates it will make the same size cut in ’11-’12, and possibly again in ’12-’13.  That means that by ’13-’14, unless miracles happen, the district will be at a budget starting point roughly $180 million below where it is today.  And yet the District is supposed to get every student to meet annual growth targets.

Colorado calculates annual growth against student peers.  Proficient students are measured against proficient students, barely proficient against barely proficient, etc.  So the only good news for schools is that all students in the state are in the same hole, so the lack of annual achievement growth should be relatively similar.  This prediction will assure funding remains at about the same dismal level for all schools in the state.

Not enough tax dollars for education today

Colorado is almost last in state funding per student, at about $7300, even though the state has one of the highest college education levels.  This “Colorado paradox” happens because educated out-of-staters like to come and live here for the mountains.  The state is also reasonably affluent.  But like other western states, including California, citizens prefer to keep their money in their pockets.  Colorado has one of the lowest state income tax and sales tax levels in the country.

How’s that Obama money doing?

ARRA money has bailed districts out in 2010, but now everyone is headed towards a cliff.  What kind of help is the Obama administration offering?  Race to the Top, of course, or as some wags say, slow jog to nowhere.  Really, the $4 billion will go to schools doing education Arne Duncan’s way, which means pay-for-performance and closing non-performing schools or turning them around or starting over.

What does any of that do to help districts whose schools aren’t completely in the doghouse yet (but may be after two or three years of these budget cuts)?

What would you do if you could?

And will pay-for-performance really do the trick with teachers? Schools definitely need something beyond steps and levels, but what should that look like?  Do schools need a more streamlined way to move bad to mediocre teachers out?  Yes.  Do schools need more money for entry level teachers, so education can compete at least marginally with law and medicine for top graduates? Yes.  Do schools need a way to pay off student loans to encourage teachers to work in challenging schools?  Yes.

How about a little extra money for some teacher career tracking – giving teachers money for online course development, professional development of peers, etc.

Get your 30 in and retire

It’s true that some relationship needs to exist between compensation and how well kids learn, but that’s not the whole package.  And frankly, in Colorado, teachers and districts are going to be so busy plowing money into their PERA pension fund, they may not get a raise for years.  They are mostly going to be working for that glorious final moment when they stagger over the 30 year finish line and can get out of education altogether.  Not very pretty, is it?