Archive for the ‘stimulus funds’ Category

Next Year

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

When I read the newspaper I wonder how schools will ever change.  Budget cuts threaten everyone and everything associated with teaching students.

Now, I’m the lucky teacher.  My district cut costs in the 2008-9 budget, somehow recognizing the dangers lurking in the economy.  Also, the residents in my school district, who strongly support education, passed a parcel tax at the last election.

The district has saved so much money that, at the end of the school year just completed, we were assured of weathering the disasters affecting other districts.  The major disruption will be a reduction of before and after school classes.  They will only be offered for students with learning difficulties.

On the other hand, funding for adult education classes, touted to retrain the unemployed all over the country, is being slashed (the New York Times, May 28, 2009, and the San Francisco Chronicle, July 1, 2009).  I question how people are going to get back to work without the programs offered in the community colleges?

In Oakland, California, a school district under state takeover after making a mess of its finances, is now back under the guidance of its school board, along with $60 million of debt.  How is that low-performing district going to devise a plan to raise its students reading and math achievement when it’s searching for money to clean the school restrooms?

A teacher friend in a large district in San Jose, California, told me the schools will revert to 30-1 students per teacher.  The 30-1 formula reduces the number of classrooms needed.  That’s when teachers will not be rehired and the “who-to-lay-off” question comes into play.  A young highly-qualified teacher or a tenured teacher?  In my school, the issue has been put off for a year because of the massive savings held by the district.

In the huge Los Angeles district, I’ve read that most summer school programs have been cancelled.  The cuts leave students whose parents work at loose ends; leaves teachers who depend on the summer income searching for work in a recession; and worst of all, leaves the achievement gap, that most worrisome of school issues, to expand because students don’t have access to learning opportunities.

Most students in my school have highly-educated parents with time and money to provide all sorts of opportunities during the summer.  In my small district I only worry about keeping students at the top of the achievement benchmarks in California.

It’s infuriating that the federal stimulus funds, supposedly available to support a turn around in low-performing schools, will likely be used for basic services.  Why?  Because the legislature in California and other states gives funds and takes them away from the budget depending on the temper of the governor and legislators from one day to the next.

As a teacher I surely want clean restrooms in my school, but I also want to teach my students with all the resources available, not simply ‘make do’.

Is It a New Day?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

School reform can be hashed over until the end of time, but here and now a few changes have flipped to the top of the pile.

In the February 2009 stimulus package authorized by Congress, a $54 million “stabilization” fund was established to protect schools and school districts against teacher layoffs.  As any current or former teacher knows, laying off and hiring again at the last minute is the worst hindrance to stability in a school, certain to add an obstacle to classroom academic achievement, the improvement of which is every school’s goal.

Next reform of importance is holding down student-teacher ratios.  In spite of studies that support both sides of the teacher-student ratio argument, schools that have increased the number of students who are proficient in reading and math (the current standard), did so with the help of extra teaching personnel that reduced class size in the most important subject areas.  Data from Success for All, originally developed at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, provides an example of the improvement possible.

Of course, the one issue that is up front in any discussion of education reform is the need for “highly qualified” teachers.  See, for example, George F. Will’s “The Last Word” opinion in Newsweek (March 23, 2009).  Now, much research has delineated the best practices that teachers should use to benefit their student’s achievement.  In California, teacher preparation programs have improved since the concept of best practices has been introduced and new teachers are well- equipped for the instructional goals in today’s schools.

Complaining about bad teachers doesn’t help.  To make sure new professionals continue to receive staff development and that experienced teachers have access to new practices, funding is necessary.

Careful planning and use of funding resources helps.  An example is the interactive DVD which allows for training in multiple staff development situations and doesn’t require the cost for trainers to come to the school site.

So, three reforms that every state governor in the union must address if the stimulus money is directed to him or her: stop laying teachers off, reduce the student-teacher ratio, provide resources to keep teachers on top of the game.  A good place to start.

The Dreaded Pink Slip

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Since the first of February this year, as the anxiety about the budget shortages in California rose to an uproar, teachers everywhere in the state, temporary status or not, worried and worried some more in the lunch room, on the playground, in the car, during dinner at home.

In my modest suburban district, fifteen teachers were advised about possible layoffs at staff meetings, which would mean that 400-450 students wouldn’t have a teacher in the Fall.  That’s a lot of students crammed into other classes (right now the ratio is 20 to 1 in the primary grades, 32 to 1 in the upper grades) in a district with only six elementary sites, about 450 students per site.  The teachers for an entire school-gone.

The human resource department in a California school district is mandated to inform employees who may be laid off by March 13 of the current year and, sure enough, as a new teacher I received by certified mail a formal letter on cream colored school district stationery detailing my preliminary layoff notice, i.e., the dreaded ‘pink slip,’ also known as the reduction in force (RIF) notice.

In the meantime, I lead my fourth graders in their study of the California Gold Rush.  They loved it.  We took a field trip to the nearest nature conservancy site, organized by volunteer docents who know as much about the flora and fauna of the area as the most experienced botanists and zoologists at the two major universities in the Bay Area.  In fact, many docents are probably retired professors.  The students have been learning to ‘be writers’ in order to pass the state writing exam that all fourth graders must take.  They geared up for the famous state exams that determine whether or not the school has made its NCLB benchmark.  All that and more, as any teacher knows, while I waited to hear if I was going to teach again in the Fall.

In the middle of April, just as I could no longer stand the suspense and sat at the computer to email the human resources supervisor, an email from him popped up.  Nothing has changed in the state budget mess, as anyone knows from the results of the special election, although the district administration may have received notice about the federal stimulus funds accorded to our modest district, but I was assigned to the same school for next year after all, as a second year employee.  What a relief.  Last night at Open House I could smile and enjoy the children and their parents, no anxiety to cloud the evening.

I’m happy that I won’t have to spend the summer at the local unemployment office-and, believe me, the unemployment office is happy they won’t have to look at me every week.

Money, Money, Money, Money

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I don’t know about every other one of the forty-nine states plus the District of Columbia, but in California, money budgeted for schools is the issue of the day-every day.

On April 17, Jack O’Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, gave a speech at an education conference in Irvine, California, and reported an estimate of 30 thousand pink slips had been sent out to teachers in the public schools, but with $3.1 billion in federal stimulus funds, he hoped that students would have teachers in the fall, whether or not the California budget crisis would be resolved in May special elections.

That very evening I heard a speech by Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, who said whatever other districts did, San Francisco was going to use rainy day reserves to make sure teachers weren’t laid off.

By the end of April, tempers were rising.  The California Poll (Mervin Field), results released April 29, 2009, predicted failure for the California special election on May 19 for propositions 1A and 1B which will determine the school budgets for next year.

Why?  Voters are skeptical that 1A will achieve its goals.  So, in an attempt to recoup some of school funding, the California Teachers Association insisted on 1B, but it will only be implemented if 1A also gets approved.

Confusion is widespread.  Another poll conducted the final week of April by the Public Policy Institute of California shows why.  Simply put, voters value education and want to see improvement, but currently they have a hard time seeing themselves pay for it.

Good luck as of May 6, about half of the allocated federal stimulus money was being disseminated in California, San Francisco Chronicle, “School districts’ stimulus millions,” May 6, 2009.  It will tide the schools over, but not provide the stable funding that schools need.  There is still more to be spent as seen in the chart displayed in the New York Times, May 13, 2009.

Then, at least in California, bad luck presented itself in the budget revisions forecasted if the special election proposals aren’t approved.  Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2009 and San Francisco Chronicle, May 14 and 15, 2009.

You haven’t paid attention to the doom and gloom?  It will be very dark when a possible $5.3 billion is cut from K-12 and community college budgets, not to mention the universities.  Besides, no more stimulus funds will be dispersed to ease the pain if the state budget is cut too deeply.

“Money makes the world go round”…or not.

Devil in the Details

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Just a glance at the websites for the White House and the Department of Education tell you big changes are emerging.  The sites affirm that students learn when teachers are retained-not laid off; that the day is long, the work is hard, and mentoring helps; that planning time can’t be ignored if reform is the goal.

As you’ve heard in the news, the sites declare the intention to improve early childhood education, high school graduation rates, student loans to help college attendance.  Sounds like the new administration is addressing the problems being flogged by various education blocs over the last eight years since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was authorized.

The biggest change is the amount of funding for programs mandated by NCLB, a highlight of the federal stimulus package (February 2009) as well as the federal budget legislation (March 2009).

Interesting that governors on behalf of state school boards, if they want the funds, must agree to assure certain provisions: improve the quality of standardized tests and raise standards; enforce the requirement that the most highly qualified teachers are assigned equably among all students, rich and poor.

If Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Barack Obama have been listening, why are so many in the education field upset?

The devil is in the details.

Some like Diane Ravitch in a mid-April post on the blog Bridging Differences, part of Education Week’s online magazine, say the administration is not doing enough to change NCLB faults (and there are many).   Dorothy Meier in the same blog says that there is national denial about the problem among voters as well as state governments.  The mantra is teachers are incompetent, unions are only thinking about pay, parents don’t care, public school districts waste money and so on.

On the other hand, Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in an article in the New York Times (April 15, 2009) is quoted as saying “They’re trying to do reform with teachers, not to them.”

In California, however, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) demonstrated at a school board meeting mid-April 2009, after 6000 teachers had been sent preliminary layoff warnings (pink slips).  The board members wanted to split the stimulus money over two years.  Only lay off 3000 school personnel next year?  How does that make sense?

And, on the NBC Nightly News, May 5, 2009, a short news clip outlined the problem with dividing up education stimulus funds among states based on existing government demographic formulas so that, for instance, Utah, which needs substantial additional funds, gets far less than Wyoming, which has a huge education budget already and spends much more ‘per pupil.’

It seems “how” changes are going to be designed and implemented bedevils the mind.

What have you heard in your state?