Posts Tagged ‘school budgets’

School Days 2015-16

Monday, August 17th, 2015
rural California high school

rural California high school

A new school year begins country-wide, but few newly credentialed teachers frantically interview, cross their fingers, hope to find a position before the first day students appear. It’s the school districts that are frantic. Why?

School districts wouldn’t be the in this situation if there were enough teachers who remained at their assigned school. But, as you have heard many times, new teachers often leave after five years. New hires are few because experienced teachers who move to a new state have licensing trouble. Higher Education teacher preparation lags.

Districts wouldn’t be in trouble if sufficient budgeted funds for the school year were settled before October of the new school year. Does it make sense for a legislature to fight and schools to wait?

Districts would not be on the horns of this dilemma if salaries were high enough to make new teachers jump to replace retiring faculty. Right now, the only money perk in most school districts is health benefits. Do you hear ca-ching when a teacher sees the salary schedule and must repay debt for an education, buy a house, support a family?

Schools would not be in turmoil, even schools that are low-performing, if teachers had the opportunity for substantial professional development and leadership roles to “own” the school.

The final reason teachers are fed-up is testing. Not that students shouldn’t be tested, but the school districts and the states are unable to stand back and make testing decisions that benefit students first and parents, teachers, administrators last.

The latest protest confuses the Common Core State Standards (which strive to close the achievement gap for public school students in this country) with the fury about testing that has overwhelmed certain schools from the highest-achieving to the lowest-performing.

The disapproval is based on the number of tests that students take during the school year, an average of 113 country-wide. Critics blame the federal government under which the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a Congressional measure, is still the law and mandates accountability for students, teachers, schools, and districts. But only seven (7) assessments are required under federal law. They include the reading and math yearly assessments, testing to measure the fluency of English Language Learners, and assessment for Special Education. Anything else is designated by the state and district where the protest should be directed.

Teacher concern is based on the time used for assessment. According to the National Education Association (“Thousands of Students Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Protest” Associated Press, Christine A. Cassidy, April18, 2015), 30% of school year time is devoted to test preparation, proctoring, and reviewing results. In the view of this blog, analysis of test scores is valid, if time is set aside for such work and if teachers have the power to make curriculum decisions based on those results.

Another teacher criticism of assessment is the weight of student testing proficiency (which can be up to 50%) included in the teacher’s yearly evaluation. This year in revision of NCLB, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, not yet made into law, the Senate allows states to determine the weight to give tests when evaluating teacher and school performance. Oh, great!

In the end, parent protest to opt out of testing has reached a crescendo in states that use PARCC assessment, like New York and Colorado. On the other hand, in California and other states, opting out is legally authorized and is rarely used. Also, California has determined that schools will not be held accountable for results this year. However, in the spring 2015 California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance, a substantial number of 11th grade students in four high-achieving high schools in affluent areas of the state opted out. One high school with 37% low-performing students had a high rate of opting out. California has 9,324 public schools (2015 statistics).

Try these three (3) actions. Strongly advocate for alternative assessments at sessions of state and district school boards. Insist on funds so teachers have time to learn to analyze the assessments. Concede that teachers be paid to take time to assure assessment provides adjustments to learning. That’s how the achievement gap will close.

Dilemmas for California Schools

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Recent media news shared states’ compromises on tenure and dismissal of “poor” teachers, certainly a concern for low-performing schools.

small island high school

small island high school

These issues were reported as part of the talks on teacher evaluation outcomes. This week California newspapers are taking sides on the legislature’s Assembly Bill 5. This bill finally revises the Stull bill, longtime and out-of-date legislation that designated procedures for California teacher evaluation.

Like most evaluation legislation, this bill has pro and con appeal and a compromise position has not appeared. The bill was designed to take advantage of the United States Department of Education’s application for a “waiver” to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates for 100% student grade level proficiency on state-designated exams in reading and math by 2014.

Long time complaints about the inability to reach the NCLB goals have come up against the need to improve teacher, administrator, and school evaluation, including tenure and dismissal for poor performance.  The use of yearly state exam data for evaluation fingers a sore point.

Aside from local teacher evaluation controversy, the current U.S. government administration constantly attacks the year-old Congressional resistance to passage of proposals for state aid to provide jobs for laid-off teachers (and police and fire fighters) in order to stay on track to improve student academic success.

In addition, tuition tax credits and continued financing of Pell grants for college students is in danger of spending cuts. Government aid for college completion to prepare graduates to enter the job market with fewer horrendous debt burdens should be valued as an economic boost. Nevertheless, spending cuts to education are possible in the new year depending on the November election results.

In November in California, Prop 30, the tax initiative to benefit school budgets, dominates the news. In the meantime, however, legislators, teachers’ unions, and the public must confront the AB 5 bill.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) supports the bill’s “meaningful feedback to teachers to help them improve their craft.” San Francisco Chronicle, “Open Forum On Teacher Evaluation” by Eric Heins, August 24, 2012. The article stresses the wording in the bill to provide collaborative reform from teachers, administrators, and community. The evaluation process spelled out in the bill clears up the uncertainty and inconsistency in the earlier legislation and requires evaluation more than once a year.

The bill’s critics (New Teacher Project, Center for Future of Teaching and Learning, EdSource among many) reject the bill because it removes the requirement to use state student assessments as one measure of teacher performance.

While the state education superintendent, Tom Torlakson, insists the bill will be a successful application for a waiver, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education disagrees.

Just as the Obama administration continues to justify job proposals to help schools in spite of obstruction, the California state legislature must find a compromise (as 38 states have done) between the powerful CTA and multiple dedicated education groups to establish a satisfactory teacher-administration evaluation process.

The Season of Pink Slips and School Budgets

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Spring approaches. Here in California, the cherry trees in the valley of orchards have already blossomed and died back, ready to set the fruit. My fourth grade class is moving onto the Spring curricular areas: rocks and minerals, local California Indian tribes, and study of the personal narrative composition.

The personal narrative, memoir of a specific event, is enjoyed by most of my students, as much as the difficult task of composing can be. Why not? Even at nine years old, they have plenty of memories of ‘the first time’, a fearful moment, and happy events. During the daily ‘teacher reads a good book out loud after lunch’, I’m reading passages from Fireflies, a great book to introduce the style of a good narrative.

As for me, my latest personal narrative doesn’t yet have an ending. On Monday we had a Cupertino Education Association union meeting. Of course, we wore red to stand by fellow union members in the infamous Wisconsin. Members signed up for a night of phone banking to get local voters to pass the extension of the local expiring parcel tax. It is one of the few ways to keep the schools from falling victim to the state’s school budget cutbacks necessary to balance the state budget.

Remember passage of parcel taxes still depends on 2/3 of the voters saying yes, and I shouldn’t say the district won’t fall victim even if the parcel tax extension passes. One hundred seventeen (117) district staff and teachers have received March 15 letters, notifying them that they are on the list of layoffs at the end of the school year.

The CEA lawyer has said to be sure to request a hearing about your position on the list, i.e., seniority. Some personnel are set aside on a separate layoff list, e.g., speech therapists and those with a single subject math credential. Layoffs depend on the service category each teacher belongs to. There may be an error.

All decisions depend on the passage of a state budget. The legislature still has not agreed on spending cuts, much less a special election in June to extend several taxes before they sunset.  Unlike some other states, notably Wisconsin, it is agreed by all that both spending cuts and tax extensions are in the mix.  How much is debated daily.

In Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2011, the battle seems to focus on the five GOP state senators who have sat in on the governor’s ongoing talks to forge a budget deal. The five senators are pushing for spending cuts– regulation reforms, a cap on state spending, and changes to public employee pensions. They can’t get past blaming public employee unions for all problems, and that means me.

So, you see, my personal narrative about ‘times of anxiety’ has repeated every year for the past four years. I listen to arguments on the car radio that are far away from helping me help students learn; spend time on the phone urging for parcel taxes to save the district’s budget because the state’s legislators can’t resolve a budget deal; and at the same time keep on track in the classroom, making sure the curriculum is covered and standards are met. I received a pink slip.

More on Tenure – Good riddance? Save Money?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Two weeks ago a number of newly-elected governors joined a few die-hard education officials in another tirade about teacher tenure. The gist of the argument states that education improves when teachers unions give up tenure.

Even after labor’s one hundred years of bargaining to gain fair pay, safe working conditions, health and pension benefits, and the right to work without arbitrary dismissal, the easy thing to say when revenue dries up is unionized teachers have too much.

Anecdotes abound about highly paid teachers who are past their days of productive teaching. Classes full of students with low scores on state tests are the fault of those teachers. If they were gone, student scores would go up, schools would improve, and districts would not need so much to balance the budget. That’s what the rant tries to make the listener believe.

Nowadays, approximately 2.3 million public school teachers in the United States have tenure. It is true that the system can generate problems. The union system protects incompetent teachers by making dismissal difficult and time-consuming, by doling out money for paid leave and substitutes.

Here is what districts and states do to mitigate the problem of incompetent teachers. (From the November 17, 2008, Time article, “A Brief History of Tenure” by M. J. Stephey.)

The least effective is what California Governor Schwarzenegger called “the dance of the lemons” which means move poor teachers around to other schools. Then comes separation agreements, i.e., pay to leave-sounds like what happens to corporate CEO’s.

In 1997 Oregon abolished tenure, but replaced the benefit with two-year renewal of contracts and programs to help low-performing staff.

In other states, tenure is revoked, but due process remains before dismissal. A few states, like Colorado (see post 9-29-10), are trying a system to avoid tenure altogether by basing evaluation on yearly goals that determine salary and professional movement. A set of steps for improvement is provided before the teacher is dismissed.

The trouble with the obsession over abolishing tenure is that dismissing incompetent teachers and banking the funds will not save the low-performing schools, nor the funds that have disappeared because of a recession or a state legislature’s poor budget management.

Poor school finance measures fail to provide equal opportunities for students. In California in May 2010 (see post 6-2-10) a lawsuit on the behalf of teachers, students, parents, and school boards was brought to court against the state. To summarize, the status of California education finances are inequitable, inadequate, and overly complex.

Here are five proposals (At Issue: School Finance Reform by Margaret Weston, November 2010) from the Public Policy Institute of California, specifically devoted to California’s budget mess, but applicable to many states’ school budget problems. The steps are proposed with the funds available in California’s 2010-2011 budget. No revenue increase is expected.

Meet resource needs. No state can expect success using a one-size-fits-all spending ratio. Some students require more extensive help; for example, transportation costs are higher for distant rural students.

Structure incentives properly. For instance, English Language Learners struggle to achieve academically, but if the state awards failing schools, where is the financial incentive to help those schools improve?

Allocate funds transparently. Dispensing funds to school districts is only understood by a few financial wizards. Why? If the state needs revenue for schools, the tax-paying citizens need to understand the system.

Treat similar districts equitably. Allocate base funds at equitable per-pupil rates. Allocate extra costs equally; for example, to ELL students and special education students. Now, the expenditure rationale is almost always based on historical factors, not the current reality.

Balance state and local authority. Individual school districts have unique needs. Plan for local decision-making authority in exchange for accountability.

The report never speaks of eliminating tenure as a tool to improve school budgets. It does mention accountability, where tenure issues meet a better evaluation process for teacher, administrator, and school board.

When budgets are resolved, what do schools take up next?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Suppose the California legislature agrees to resolve the most current budget deficit of $25.4 billion as of January 11, 2011. California’s Governor Jerry Brown presented his administration’s budget this week. It includes big budget cuts (but not to K-12 budgets), as well as temporary tax extensions to be voted on in the Spring.

Suppose the California legislature agrees to revise the state and local tax system which had become so unfair that Proposition 13 passed easily in 1978. The fiscal trouble that existed then has increased many times over as the state and local governments vie for revenues.

Suppose  California citizens agree that all services cannot be paid for individually or by initiative.  Some, like fire protection, police protection, infrastructure, parks, recreation programs, and schools are better provided by communal funds.

If all that were agreed, some schools are still found in very poor areas-both urban and rural. Those schools need to be turned around. It’s not easy.

Mass Insight Education and Research Institute has laid out the steps to take. See

Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois under Superintendent Dr. Blondean Y. Davis has given an overview of steps taken to improve student success. See

Success For All is used often, especially in eastern urban areas, as a specific reform for reading/language arts.  SFA lays out school-wide steps to make sure students learn to read and understand the meaning of text.  See

Edsource’s February 2010 report “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better” explains steps that help adolescent students succeed.  See

Suppose schools began to turn around. What’s the next step?

Testing and the tests schools use is a huge complaint, whether the scores are used to assess student success or to evaluate teachers or to determine school quality.

The first problem is the kind of test: standardized, criterion referenced, short formative tests several times a year, one summative test a year; tests provided with software.  Who decides which kind of test to use: the state, the local school board, the federal Department of Education, the publishing companies of the United States?

Here’s another list of questions to resolve: which standards are tested; what do tests measure; how do results affect promotion, teacher evaluation, and accreditation for higher education?  See the Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline program for an in-depth analysis of testing issues.

In education, the biggest concern is the quality of each school.  Does a single test determine all of the school qualities that establish success?

One statement can be made: once the budget crisis is resolved, state departments of education must analyze the tests they use. Successful schools depend on the steps taken.

Who’s going to take the tiger by the tail, the bull by the horns, or shoulder Sisyphus’ burden?