Tag Archives: Common Core State Standards

WASTED FUNDS AND FAILING SCHOOLS

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dana R. Casey.

As reported on TownHall.com “The public schools in Washington, D.C., spent $29,349 per pupil in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the latest data from National Center for Education Statistics, but in 2013 fully 83 percent of the eighth graders in these schools were not “proficient” in reading and 81 percent were not “proficient” in math.”

Those outside of education must find this shocking. No doubt it will raise renewed cries attacking all of those incompetent teachers who are solely responsible for our failing schools. Doug Gansler, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland, is currently running ads taking direct aim at teachers, discrediting seniority, and demanding more “skilled” teachers replace those in seniority. Obama made this comment about the firing of the entire faculty and administration of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island:

So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”

In other words, if a school is failing, it must be the teachers’ fault. The public has been led to believe that if we only had better teachers and more money, our school systems would be bastions of education filled with loving teachers stuffed full of the latest educational paradigms and joyously leading our youth into a golden future.

Those of us in the classroom are not shocked at all. We know where the money goes and it is not to the students, the classrooms, or the teachers. The following is a breakdown of the unbelievable $29K per student spent in D.C. public schools from National Center for Education Statistics along with an analysis from a teacher’s perspective of where all that money actually goes.

$10,584 per pupil on instruction, which “encompasses all activities dealing directly with the interaction between teachers and students

I assure you that most of this money NEVER makes it to students, teachers, or classrooms. It is spent on consultants, studies, and testing. One colleague of mine who worked at my school district’s central office told me of a $200,000 consultation commissioned by the district to make suggestions for improving schools. The end result of that consultation was, “The schools should be kept clean.” I could have told them that for a mere $50,000. I could not make this up. Who would buy such a story, yet this is an actual study.

The new Pearson tests called the PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which will soon be imposed on most students in America, costs $30 per test, per student. If a student must retake a given test, it is still $30 a pop. Pearson will be making money on students in grade 1, grade 3, grade 5, grade 8, and likely 4 subject tests in high school. But Pearson does not plan to stop at testing and will soon be sucking up an increasingly larger share of educational funds through online programs; textbooks aligned to Common Core, and packaged lessons, while surreptitiously taking complete control of our children’s education.

Who is Pearson? In a revealing report by Donald Gutstein, a British Colombia professor who is currently researching corporate propaganda, he has this to say about Pearson.

Pearson plc is the world’s largest education company, with operations on nearly every continent…. It became large by buying up its competitors. It dominates the huge American education market…” According to investment research firm Sanford Bernstein & Co., Pearson is pursuing a variety of growth strategies, including one that will ‘revolutionize how education is delivered to students around the world, starting with the United States.’ It is an ambitious attempt to further commercialize education by claiming its products and services will raise student and teacher performance while at the same time cutting spending. If successful, Bernstein argues, ‘it would make every teacher and school student in the United States a potential customer’ by “personalizing education in U.S. schools through technology and best practices.”

Pearson is not only focused on squeezing every drop of education money it can out of the American taxpayer, Pearson is also determined to decide what your child will learn, what your child will read, and ultimately what your child will think. In the meantime, teachers purchase paper, books, paint, science lab materials, and other necessary supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets.

$5,487 on “capital outlays,” which includes “the acquisition of land and buildings; building construction, remodeling,” etc.”

Building construction, remodeling, and land acquisitions go to administrative buildings, principal office remodels, and interior decorators for superintendents while teachers still shell money out of their own pockets to buy posters and bulletin board paper for their rooms. If $5,487 per student, per year were actually spent at the school level, we would have gleaming state-of-the-art buildings full of up to date computer and science labs, libraries overflowing with books, art rooms full of materials, and wonderful gyms with fully equipped workout rooms and fresh locker rooms. Instead we have empty libraries, computer labs with few functioning computers, and locker rooms too disgusting to use.

“$2,321 on “operation and maintenance,” which includes ‘salary, benefits, supplies, and contractual fees for supervision of operations and maintenance,’ etc.”

Once again, if this much money is being spent in the schools, why are so many of our bathrooms dirty, rooms and hallways unpainted for years, toilets broken, elevators not functioning, and school grounds like abandoned city lots?

$2,124 on “interest on school debt

If the money that schools had were being spent wisely, there would be no need to carry such a heavy interest burden and this money could be spent on updated textbooks, new computers, and engaging field trip experiences.

$1,613 on “instructional staff,” $1,546 on “school administration,” $1,404 on “student transportation,” $1,208 on “student support,” $866 on “general administration,” $761 on “food services,” $450 on “other support services.

I cannot see where in this budget are the C.E.O.’s salary, central office staff and supervisors, curriculum specialist (who have usually spent little time in a classroom), field supervisors, district heads, library specialist, and every other over paid idiot in district central.

In my own school district the supposed budget is $15,000 per student, but having been on the budgeting team at the school level I can attest to the fact that the budget per student is approximately $5,000 at the school level. That $5,000 must cover all salaries in the building, all supplies, all computers, all teacher training, anything required in the school building. That $5,000 is also based on the student enrollment on one specific day in September. If the school gets a 100 more students the following day, it will receive no more funds. The school must make do with the budget per student that was pressed in concrete the previous day.

Where is the other $10,000 per student going? It is not going into our schools. The central office does cover operating costs including building maintenance and renovations, electricity, and heating. Out of that $10,000 also comes transportation and other system wide supports, but not $10,000 per student worth. That money goes, as I said before, to useless consultations, to pay for programs never fully implemented or just plain dysfunctional like the mathematics computer learning program Aspire, which actually lowered the scores at my district’s top math school. It goes to cover the cost of the CEO’s personal driver who made more than twice the average salary of a teacher with 20 years of service and a master’s degree. It goes to pay Pearson for testing our students over and over again. Let us not forget the spa days for certain central office employees or luxurious luncheons. It goes to hotels and conventions and per-diems of central office employees who never enter a classroom. It does not go to students, to teachers, to supplies, or to really improve learning for our students at all.

Too many people are sucking off of the teat of education growing fat while the students and teachers struggle on with the watery drops left behind. The public should not be surprised by the money being spent in education, but they should be outraged by where the money is going. We do not need more money to improve education; it will take much more than a budget change to fix the systemic problems of public education in America, but we can start by making sure that the money is actually getting to the students instead of fattening the already fat cats who have discovered the fatted calf of education.

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Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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Book Review: CONFORM by Glenn Beck with Kyle Olson

conformRating 4/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: Any American that is concerned about education

For a long time, I have been saying that conservatives need to focus their attention on education. In my personal opinion, I think there is no more important element of society (culture certainly ranks right up with it). The education of today’s kids creates the voters and citizens of tomorrow.

I have listened and followed Beck since his early days on Fox News. When I heard that he was doing a book on education, I was really excited. I appreciate Beck’s work because I think he is one of the most open-minded conservative commentators in the nation. I also think he is one of the most well-read when it comes to the history of how we got here. Does he always get it right, no, but no one does 100% of the time.

Beck’s name may be on the front of the book, but this is not solely his work. Kyle Olson is the primary co-author. For those that don’t know Mr. Olson, you should. He runs Education Action Group and has recently started a new website called Progressives Today. The work he is doing is important because he’s helping to tell the stories that often go unreported in education. Kevin Balfe is also given an author/editor credit on the title page of the text. Other editors/contributors include Sharon Ambrose of TheBlaze Magazine, Steve Gunn, and Ben Velderman of EAGNews.

This book is the second in what Beck is calling the Control series. The first was on gun control and is very much worth your time. The idea of this series is simple: Take a topic that matters, cite the research, print it in paperback so it’s cheap, and get it into as many hands as possible. The left has been good at making activists over the years. We can play the same game on the right.

Conform is a broad sweeping book on the topic of education. It is split into two parts; problem and solution. Part 1 which takes a look at a plethora of issues in education includes 27 short and concise chapters. The chapters are group together by related topic. Chapters 1-10 discuss education unions in various ways, 11-16 deal with the Common Core State Standards, 17-19 look at health related topics (Queen Obama’s lunch program, sex education, and schools as community centers), 20-23 deal with home school, and the last four chapters, 24-27, look at school choice. Part two is about forty pages and deals with solutions: This includes Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the importance of shifting the power in education back to local stakeholders, technology, a brief discussion of teacher certification reform, and the importance of getting the average citizen more involved in the discussion about education.

As I stated above, this book is broad and sweeping. The authors of this text ambitiously try to establish the problem in just 184 pages. At times throughout the book, I was left wanting a little more depth. Some of the chapters are really concise. It seems this book is meant more as a primer for the topic. Beck often touts the research as a selling point for the book. With regards to that, I found the research (demonstrated in about 30 pages of end notes) decent but was left wanting a little more depth. This is not to say that there is bad research, or the research provided is questionable, I just would like to see more.

One of the things that I greatly appreciated about this book is that it is not anti-teacher. The unions and educrats will claim that it is, but then again, anytime you question them and their organized cabal, they immediately cry foul. The authors did a good job of acknowledging that problems facing public education are far more complex than just bad teachers. As a teacher myself, I frankly get tired of both sides of the political aisle taking this easy route.

“…it’s not really even the bad teachers who are the problem–they should be expected–it’s the political forces that defend a system that is so clearly broken that is the problem. Blaming bad teachers for everything that ails us in public education is like blaming someone in line for food stamps for our national debt. That person isn’t responsible, they are only living within the rules that society has created.” p. 11

The chapters on the Common Core State Standards were pretty good. I have one small complaint with it, and that is the parroting of the repeated attacks on getting students to read informational text. I think it’s about time that I write a piece on this issue. I am not a Common Core supporter, but I do believe that students do need to read more informational text. What the Core actually expects is misstated, but more on that another day.

I really enjoyed the chapters on home-schooling. Some of the research cited was interesting and included some information I had never seen before. Personally, I’ve always been a supporter of home schooling even though I am a public school teacher. I believe every child’s individual needs should be met to the best extent possible. It’s impossible for me to effectively reach one hundred percent of my students. There are students and parents that could successfully home-school their child. We should never stand in their way if that’s what that family wants and that kid will thrive in that environment. People, especially teachers and unions, do education a disservice when they think that giving parents options will make things worse.

I enjoyed and agreed with the solutions offered in part two. Educational Savings Accounts have the potential to be significant game changers in the battle for better education in America. I especially liked the closing part of the solutions section. Parents MUST get involved with their local schools as much as possible. I see this on a daily basis. Many parents are overly trusting or not evenly remotely concerned about what may be happening inside of the schools they send their children to. Local school boards have no watchdogs to keep an eye on what is going on. Local newspaper coverage of school boards often do little but regurgitate whatever they have been told. To improve education one must be involved and informed on the topic.

All in all, this book is incredibly welcome in the discussion on education in America. I thank all of those involved in this project for interjecting themselves into that discussion. Please go pick up a copy of Conform and make the controllists heads explode.

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Book Review: DRIVE by DANIEL PINK

driv

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Suggested Audience: Teachers, administrators, anyone interested in business

One of the problems I see with many students is low motivation. There are days that it can become downright aggravating. A colleague of mine recently recommended a couple of books to me that had been recommended to her on this topic. This was the first book of the two that I read, and it has been a book I had wanted to read for some time because I had heard it mentioned on some of the business leadership podcasts that I listen to.

The body of the book itself is only 145 pages, so it’s a pretty easy read for anyone that may want to give it a try. There is some additional 85 pages in what Pink calls the Type I toolkit. The book is simple in its construction, but fairly profound in its implication.

This is one of those books that really stretch your thinking a little bit. Pink argues that societies have operating systems. Continuing with the technical analogy he establishes that humans started with Motivation 1.0 which was pretty much survival. Motivation 2.0 came along and moved society forward greatly. It was based primarily on external rewards and punishment (carrots and sticks). We have come to a point in societal evolution that we need a new operating system that is based on more.

Pink argues in the book that carrots and sticks do work effectively for rule-based, routine tasks. This is one of the reasons Motivation 2.0 has worked so well. Much of the Industrial Revolution until the Information Age needed compensation based upon this type of approach. When you are making a bunch of widgets, you pay more for more widgets.

The challenge that lies ahead of us now is that the economy that we are heading into is far more complex and calls for a system that approaches motivation differently. Pink argues that Motivation 2.0 was best suited for what he terms Type X behavior (extrinsic) and Motivation 3.0 needs Type I behavior (intrinsic). Type I behavior is focused more on the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself. I’d argue he is right on this point. You see a definite need and more people who want to pursue purpose as opposed to wage.

There are three elements necessary for Type I behavior in business (I think this part of the book translates well to the classroom, too.) The first is autonomy. Individuals require autonomy over task, time, team, and technique. Throughout this part of the book he sites some interesting anecdotes from companies who have applied this to their companies.

The second element is mastery. “Mastery begins with “flow”–optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities.” One of the most refreshing parts of this section was the emphasis he put on the importance of grit and persistence. Mastery is not easy! We live in a society that seems to value instant gratification. Well, important newsflash, anything worth mastering requires hard work even on the most mundane components.

The final element is purpose. Instead of focusing on profit maximization, businesses should instead focus on purpose maximization. A direct benefit of this purpose motive may actually be the fulfillment of  the profit motive. Personally, I think this an outstanding point and there are several companies that I can think of that are becoming highly successful because of this approach. In a sense, what Pink is arguing here is that capitalism needs a purpose driven soul to function.

I think the most significant thing I pulled from this book is that the argument in Drive is why standardization of education is not going to do anything to improve education in this country. Common Core will fail in the end because it is the last gasp of Motivation 2.0 in education. Sadly, we will have to endure the pain of its failure before people realize it. But then again, it may be the only way we move education forward to the point where it matches the emerging economy we actually need to prepare kids for.

As I said above, this book really makes you think a little bit. It has really made me think about lesson planning and what I ask of my students especially with regards to autonomy and purpose. Have you read it? What do you think of Pink’s argument in the context of education?

 

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