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Middling on education...

So here in CO, we're having something of an education crisis (not my words). Our newly elected governor has decided to make a statement about the value of education, and in an attempt to force the community's hand, he made sweeping cuts to the entire state's education budget. Our district will be cutting millions of dollars for the next three years. Many people are freaking out.

I'm not really one of them. I suppose it helps that I was a teacher, so I know that if worst comes to worst, I can teach my kiddos at home. I don't want to do that, but it's a viable option. Plus, I kind of agree with the governor on this. People have let the government take care of the education system around here for a long time, and it's our turn.

We're lucky too -- they won't be cutting programs (at least, not yet). So our students still have specials (music, art, P.E.). We still have librarians (though our school is most likely losing our beloved librarian, because she's in a temporary position -- long story).

Yes, class sizes will grow...but most people my age had class sizes close to 30 throughout elementary school. (I didn't; but we were on year-round school, and our school was one of the poorer and smaller schools around -- so twelve kids in my class for 5th and 6th grades.) They're cutting paras...which I find sad for the paras, but I have to laugh when I hear teachers complaining. Back in the day (ha) when I taught in the public schools, we didn't get paras. I had to do everything myself -- and so I did. It wasn't a big deal, and I don't think it took any of my time and attention from the students. Instead, it forced me to be more organized and to simplify things.

Our school happens to have a very powerful and successful PTA -- so we have thousands of dollars at our disposal. We can't use it for things like hiring teachers, but we can use it for supplies, programs, technology, etc. I'm not big on technology, I must admit. Sure, it's nice for the school to have laptops (and we have plenty), but the other stuff? Do we really need smart boards and clickers? I don't think so. (It's more likely we need a new math resource, but that's another story.)

I look at our schools and compare them to what I know is happening in other places around the country -- and I still think we're among the lucky ones. Even with budget cuts and unhappy employees (and laid-off employees), our schools are in pretty good shape. And perhaps this will force more people to get involved. Right now, as I know is common at any school, it's the same 10% who do everything. Those of us who volunteer are tapped out. And yeah, it's almost impossible for working parents -- but that's where I think the governor was hoping the community would rise up to meet the need. Employers need to give the working parents time off -- even just two hours a week (travel time + volunteer time) so they can be in the school, helping out somehow.

Ah, in a perfect world ;) How are the schools in your neck of the woods?



( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's a conundrum. And I'm sure the governor is hoping that if he forces the issue, something will happen...I guess we'll see what that something is!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you feel ok with the proposed cuts, and definitely, in most districts there could be a re-evaluation of where the money goes. However, I'd caution (as someone who's worked in schools in NY state, it may be different) that it's dangerous to compare the current state of school to school as it was 10 or 20 years ago. In my opinion, several things have changed.

Paras for example are usually not in a class to help the teacher, but to assist students with extra challenges. As classes become integrated, a classroom can hold 50% or more students with learning or behavioral or emotional challenges, and having extra adults in the room simply makes sense. For the money spent (they tend not to be very well paid, unfortunately) I think paras and classroom assistants are one of the best values in a school budget, enabling students to be safe, engaged, and learning.
Also, many more students are in school who do not have the fundamental "respect" for teachers and adults that was more or less a given in the past. In other words, they are not going to sit and be quiet just because they are in school or because someone tells them. Even the very best teachers struggle with classroom management when the room is filled to overcrowding.... in my opinion. At my last school, they were proposing class sizes of up to 30, but the classrooms were built to hold 25 at most. Everything from chalkboard location (letting students have equal access to visual resources) to exits, etc, is compromised when kids are stuffed into a room.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Our paras are not trained to handle students. That said, there are a few (maybe 10%?) who receive special training (unofficial, I believe) to work with those special needs kids in the classroom. Most of our paras are doing the copying, the classroom wall decoration, the scheduling, etc. I have seen them take a reading group here and there, but that's not common. I think it would be great if more districts trained paras (in some function, at least) to help more with the actual classroom management and teaching challenges.

When I was teaching (which was, granted, a good 19 years ago -- ack), we still had the respect issues...and yeah, it was tough with larger classes. I would definitely like to see smaller classes, but that seems to be the first thing cut and the last thing to return.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Idaho is whacking huge amounts from the education budget as well. The thing is, my kids' specials (including basic things like PE) are already only taught in our elementary school if they can get parent volunteers to do it. That's *without* the upcoming funding cuts. My middle schoolers have 36 kids in their classes already--and the governor and his cronies want to take teacher salary money and buy laptops for kids, instead, so they can all be taught by robots. I'm NOT a happy camper about it. The funny thing is, the same people who voted these guys in based on party lines are aghast at their plans. Um...that's why you have to look at their proposals before you vote, see. I actually don't care what party someone is when they get up to take the reins of education--I care if their plans make sense and are going to be beneficial and practical.

I know there's no money left for anything--but I would still rather pay a human being than buy MORE electronic screen time for my kids!!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, me too! I'm very much not supportive of more and more technology! One of the board members wanted to use money to buy Kindles -- and I just about lost it. I even offered to help train volunteers to help out with small groups of kids (in any subject where it's needed). I think that some parents (not all, of course) don't volunteer because they feel intimidated, since they've had no experience working with groups of kids.

I knew there were states (districts) where things were much worse -- I keep trying to remind the panicking people around me of that.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
Well as a person wholives in a country were public education is the worst thing you can find I really can't give my opinion. We struggle every montho to send them to a private school and even there is hard to find a good one or one using correctly the money you pay! *sigh*
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
Wow -- see, we need a reminder of such things more often! We're still very lucky to have free, decent (and often quite good) public education.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
we are having issues with the collective bargaining possibly being revoked here in Ohio...especially teachers...my dad is a guidance counselor...it is bad news bears.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad I got out of the public school industry years ago. I feel for all the teachers who are having their hours increased as their pay (already on the low side) decreases :( Like so many others, I don't understand why we don't value education more!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
Mar. 23rd, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Our school PTA invested in Mathletics for all of the students. My kids are in year 2 and 4, and both have so far been keen to get onto the program regularly. It might be an option for you guys...
Mar. 23rd, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip -- I'll look it up. Right now, we're (sadly) tied into a less-than-ideal resource, but I love the idea of additional resources which PTA could cover :)
Mar. 23rd, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! It's worked out pretty well for our school so far. The kids get a login name and a password and work their way through programs suited to them, and they can also compete against kids all around the world in real time whenever they want. My daughter loves that part :) The program was fully funded by the PTA.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely going to look into it. The PTA was looking for a place to put some extra money, and I like the sound of this (much better than Kindles --yeesh!).
Mar. 23rd, 2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
I have a different perspective on what Hickenlooper is trying to do. I don't think he's trying to force the hand of parents to get more involved, I think he's caving into business pressures to not raise taxes that would bring in revenue. His mantra is making CO business-friendly. Well, Qwest is on its way out (taking how many jobs?) and that's how it goes.

Meanwhile, the one brave CO politician, Rollie Heath, is trying to get the state income tax rate back up to what it was in 1999 (5%) and state sales tax up to the 2000 level (3%) to fund education. We're not doing anyone any favors by cramming more bodies into classrooms and putting high-stakes testing pressures on students and teachers. I used to teach 34 students and there's no way you can reach every kid when there are different needs and levels, no parental support, hungry kids from messed up homes, etc.

I think it's a crime how we're pulling the rug out from under schools and services, pretending the nation is broke when really it's a case of messed up priorities. How many millions of dollars did Jeffco pour into the pockets of the CSAP testmakers and graders? What's going to happen when families can't afford to send their kids to college? Are they all going to work at Taco Bell?

Okay, I'm done. :)

Mar. 23rd, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
Actually, I'm glad for your perspective. I've also heard about the state tax hike, and I definitely support it (as long as it will go toward education). I think my hope that parents and other community members will step up is probably quite unrealistic...and I think the entire education system in this country is a MESS! *sigh*
Mar. 23rd, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
I don't know about CO (I'm from Maryland) but I am totally with you! Even within education itself there are priorities that need to be reevaluated. I work in the school system, and part of my time is paraeducator time, and I am working with kids 100% of that time in small groups - kids who need extra help and also kids who are so advanced but their teachers don't have any time to work with them on more challenging material. And now paras may be cut. The whole school budget thing just makes me crazy.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
For CO, if we could simply work to train the paras to do more in the classroom, I think it's a great solution in many ways.
Mar. 24th, 2011 09:52 am (UTC)
I wonder if our Govs are related? NJ has had the biggest cuts in the nation an it's been scary. It's not uncommon (in past two budget years) to hear about 100s of teachers being let go in some districts. It's a mess and there was waste. But what he's doing is cold turkey with the aid. Just one example: A few years ago, many librarians were replaced by paras. Now, they are the first being cut. While I won't say school librarians are extinct here in NJ, they are endangered because of cuts.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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