Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education and Economic Freefall

A couple of years back, I predicted that the falling of the value of property would result in an economic downturn for cities and states. I don't like being right,but I told you so. Entities that survive on the revenue gleaned from taxes are naturally going to be hit and hit hard by this economy. No entity more so than the public education apparatus.

I am a teacher in a public school. I do not make a princely salary. In fact right now I am the only income at my home. That being said, my family is dealing with the downturn like most others. We are paying off the bills we can, making do with less and watching every penny. There are no vacations on the books. No lush parties being planned. We aren't remodeling. We are barely getting by. So it is with real wonder that I look at the way education dollars and bond issues are used.

Down the road in a town called Allen, they are building a sixty million dollar stadium for high school football. Yes, High School. I was raised in Texas and I understand that football and sports are trumps, but seriously is this what we want of the future? Do we really need more uninformed, overdeveloped drones? While sports have their places, it used to be such things were extracurricular, as in outside the curriculum. Now we have "classes" in cheerleading, football, drill team and marching band. The cost of supporting such programs have necessitated a highly mobilized parent base in booster clubs. Sadly those booster clubs, in their zeal to support, see nothing beyond the limits of the interests of their own children. So we end up with big fancy stadiums and no textbooks.

Then there is the electronic message. Politicians LOVE electronics and technology. By mandating support for such things they can look smart and supportive. But frankly having seen a couple of decades of students go through programs that feature technology I wonder if it isn't making them less inclined to learn. When given a task, unless specifically told not to, most student choose the first entry on Google or Wiki no matter how inane. These students duration at reading and their comprehension are marginal. The printed word is very different from the electronically generated one. I have to wonder if in our excitement to use technology we have made it harder for kids to learn or enjoy reading. Most adults that work on computers use glasses because of the eye strain. Perhaps our young children are having the same issues which they cannot voice because they don't know any different.

Then there is the issue of class size. In this regard it is all about the formula. If you have class A with a one:one student teacher ratio and class B with a one : thirty five student ratio and average them, it become a perfectly acceptable one : eighteen student teacher ratio. But that doesn't mean that the kids in the larger class will be getting anything near the time and attentio of the kid in the single student class. Then there are the various alphabetic issues. When you have a student with significant challenges, for which teacher must by law accommodate, you add to that teacher's responsibilities. Take the thirty five student class and from that class pick the kids who have 504's or IEP's or ESL issues or behavioral contracts and you make it where a small group within the larger class are demanding almost all the teacher's attention. I have seen this in action where a severely disabled student was put in an art class where when she didn't get attention, she would cut herself. This was a class of over thirty high school students including several gang members. There's no way the few kids who actually wanted that class got a positive experience. And this is increasingly the norm as the solution school districts are faced with is to throw disabled students into classes and hope to God the teachers can do something with them.

I am not sure what the future holds. Today my principal said that the district would reduce numbers through attrition. That might work for one year or maybe two. But down the road unless things turn around many districts will be facing reductions in force and more. I just wonder at what point superintendents will cut their pay.....

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