Posts Tagged ‘
budget cuts ’
Sharon Baum spent thirty-three years in public education as a physical and health education teacher, a school counselor, an assistant principal and principal. She has worked in several districts in Oregon and taught high school in Winterhaven, California. She retired in 2010, and finished her career with the North Marion School District as the principal at North Marion Middle School from 2000-2010.
Alex Haley said that folks like to hear a story over hearing a lecture. He shares that you should start out by saying “I have a story to tell.” People like stories. I would like to tell my story.
I was a middle school administrator for 16 years. Two of those years were as an assistant principal, and the remaining 14 years as a principal. Prior to that, I had been a teacher and a counselor. I went into administration because I wanted to be a teacher of teachers, and I felt that the time I spent as a counselor helping teachers with students and observations would benefit me as an administrator. I felt I had a good foundation in observational skills and I loved to observe teachers teaching, and help out where I could in improving the delivery of curriculum. I kept abreast of all the teaching strategies through professional development activities, workshops and books, and felt I had a good handle on how to help others be the best they could be. I also loved having conversations with students about the importance of learning and finding their niche to embrace their own style of learning.
I found the characterization of teaching shared by Charlotte Danielson during Chalkboard’s recent webinar on evaluating educator effectiveness enlightening–and timely. Borrowing from educational psychologist Lee Shulman, she pointed out that teaching as an occupation is on par in complexity and stress levels with an ER doctor following a major disaster:
“He noted that teachers have classrooms of 25–35 students, whereas doctors treat only a single patient at a time. Even when working with a reading group of six to eight students, teachers are overseeing the decoding skills, comprehension, word attack, performance, and engagement of those students while simultaneously keeping tabs on the learning of the other two dozen students in the room. ‘The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity,’ Shulman pointed out, ‘would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster.’ He concluded that classroom teaching ‘is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.’” (From “A Framework for Learning to Teach,” by Charlotte Danielson, Educational Leadership, Online June 2009 | Volume 66)
I’d add the fact that teachers also have hundreds of “bosses” (parents), changing every year, some of them (ahem) not so reluctant to weigh in on what’s happening in their classrooms.
The latest federal data show what parents who care about education in our state already know: Oregon is underfunding public schools compared to the rest of the nation, by a significant seven percent.
Combine this with a lingering, abysmal economy that is creating desperate circumstances for many, untenable PERS retirement benefits, and falling tax rates—Americans are paying the lowest tax rates since 1950—and here’s what it looks like on the ground in our schools.
Fields of study that provide the skills students need for 21st century jobs are being eliminated, and teachers of that coursework let go, meaning it will take years to restore them, if stable funding is ever restored. Given the last hired, first fired logic of our system, talented young teachers are reading the tea leaves and getting out of the education profession. “Non-essentials”—things we used to take for granted such as school sports, art, music, foreign language, vocational classes—are becoming dependent on private funds or going the way of the dodo.
Source of table at right: USA Today, 5/12/2010
At Summit High School in Bend, a seven-period schedule is being considered, up from a block schedule with four daily periods. Teachers who taught six out of eight periods this past year would now teach six out of seven, reducing their prep time while their work loads increase. Due to layoffs, one high school math teacher will be teaching four separate subjects—calculus, contextual geometry, financial algebra and Math 1—in six classes with roughly 210 students. A science teacher will be loaded up with an electronics section, two biology courses, and three physics sections, including an AP course.
In the middle of our nation’s major recession there are signs of an upturn here and there, but in the meantime, we are struggling to fund the most valuable piece of our future: Education. Unemployment is high, inflation is real and people are having trouble making ends meet. Simply put, there is less money to go around. So is it really any surprise that recent ballot measures asking Oregon taxpayers for even more money have failed? Where do Oregonians draw the line? To hopefully find an answer, I decided to take a look at our past.
As I reviewed Oregon’s ballot measures for the past 40 years, I noticed some not-so surprising patterns. Schools only asked for more taxpayer dollars during tough economic times. Schools suffer when people are making and taking home less money. Accordingly, during times of economic prosperity, Oregon would go years without a mention of educational funding on the ballot.
In general, voters have failed nearly every measure that proposed a tax hike to cover education costs. Since 1970, voters have failed at least 10 such ballot measures. Most recently last month, two local measures to fund education failed. Oregon City voters overwhelming turned down measure 3-376. It’s failure has forced the district to cut two school weeks from the 2010-2011 year in addition to numerous other deep cuts they have already made. Portlanders failed measure 26-121, which was earmarked for improving and repairing facilities.
I should note that voters have made some exceptions. Some measures have passed to keep schools open, keep class sizes down, and retain teacher jobs (Oregon Ballot Measure 2 in 1987; Oregon Ballot Measures 66 and 67 in 2010; and Portland Public School Measure 26-122 in 2011, respectively). But what did taxpayers really agree to? Measure 2 continued levies that were already in place; Measures 66 and 67 taxed businesses and the wealthiest Oregonians; and two other measures in the 1990’s allotted lottery funds for education. In most cases, the average citizen wasn’t giving up much.
There were tears in the hall again today. No, I don’t mean a child was crying. It was a teacher.
Many teachers have been laid off from their positions for next year. It is a hard time in the year already. It’s the time when we teachers have to say good-bye to the kids we’ve come to know and love, and for some of us, it’s time to say good-bye to the profession that we have extensively trained to do, and one that we feel is meaningful and important.
Unlike the business world, our customers have not disappeared. They need us more than ever. Many more kids take home food for the weekends. Many more kids come to school with learning delays and unstable situations at home. Our schools need to ramp up, but instead we are under attack.
I hear all the talk about how we need to change the system. Meanwhile, the funding is held hostage—no one wants to pay for the children. It’s funny, because in houses across the country and world, kids bring in no income and yet families will go to great sacrifices for their children. But as a society, we can’t seem to do that for the education of our children. We teachers generate no money and yet we “feed” children. We feed them knowledge, feed their self-esteem, and in doing so, we feed society. Yet, society is starving us.
Being a “veteran” educator, I have participated in many tight economies and the resulting effects on public funds for schools. None has been quite so nasty as the one here in Eugene, where we are in a fight over a ballot proposal for a four year local income tax to fund schools. But, for the first time in my career, I have found myself really having to consider my support for such a tax.
The tax funds are carefully ear-marked for lowering class size by re-hiring teachers who have received pink slips, many of whom are graduates of Pacific University where I teach. An independent committee will oversee the expenditures. The lowest income residents will not be taxed. What’s not to like?
First, there is a great deal of the unknown about the dollars that will actually be collected. At this point, the city has not even decided how and by whom the taxes will be managed; Portland, which apparently has experience with these school taxes, is the likely manager, but the woman who runs the Portland office is unsure of the management charges that will be allocated from the total tax collection.
Another unknown is the actual numbers of residents who will pay the taxes. One of the nastier attacks has been on the retired public employees who, because of their PERS income, will not being paying the tax. (Interestingly, my friends who are PERS recipients do not understand the law that permits this and many are planning on donating to the local school foundation.)
I was left to ponder that thought after reading a “Politifact” article about state senator Mark Hass’ claim that an Educational Service District (ESD) superintendent’s salary could pay for three teacher’s salaries. The article, written by Ryan Kost, sought to establish whether Hass’ claim was true. In reading on, through what seemed like multiple machinations about salary, Kost concluded, somewhat harshly, that Hass’ claim was “false.”
I could craft a separate article about the issues with the methodology that Kost utilized, but I wanted to discuss what the spirit of this article told me.
One the one hand, Mark Hass certainly didn’t do us any favors by trying to make a great sound bite that the Oregonian could take a crack at. But at the same time, I was disappointed at the approach of the Oregonian to undermine what Hass is after: a way to streamline costs for education. The Oregonian runs multiple articles about how schools are using money inappropriately. But when Mark Hass is trying to challenge the status quo of ESD offerings, the Oregonian, instead of remaining consistent and exploring what cost savings there may be, goes on the attack against him.
Reading articles like this one make me question if the Oregonian is going to be an ally in helping our educational system. It would seem to me that the Oregonian’s role in the education debate is not to “stir the pot” in order to fill up the blogosphere on Oregonlive.com. As essentially the only major publication in the state, they have a sacred responsibility to present information to the population that no other media outlet can.
My class of teacher candidates and I are reading Teaching 2030, a book that uses wonderful ideas from practicing teachers to discuss their changing roles. As the title suggests, the authors (Barnett Berry and the TeachersSolutions 2030Team) offer analyses of the present to project a positive future. The book discusses the union movement and its effects on the present roles; learning ecologies and technological changes; differentiated pathways and careers for teachers; and teacherpreneurism and innovation. It is the latter concept – teacherpreneurism – that most intrigues my teacher candidates and me.
First, a definition. Teacherpreneurism is not educational entrepreneurism: recruiting people from outside schools to “fix” what is inside the present schools. Instead, teacherpreneurs are “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030, p.136) In other words, the goal of these people would be to work from within to make schools better. The premise is that good teachers, especially, but not exclusively, young ones, want to stay within teaching but not within the cradle to retirement of working only in a classroom. Instead of moving to administration, these newly envisioned roles would allow teachers to work with students but also with their colleagues and students beyond their own classroom in a variety of ways – and they would be paid accordingly, both in personal satisfaction and in salary differentiation.
When my students talked about these ideas, they became interested in what happens in schools now and wondered why these sorts of opportunities don’t seem to exist. So I had them watch videos of the CLASS Project, especially the Sherwood District which is trying anew salary schedule to allow teachers to move in that direction. http://educators4reform.org/participating-districts/sherwood-school-district/ I wanted them to see that in Oregon change has begun. (A side note: many were really surprised how the teachers in the CLASS project talked about the lack of supervision and evaluation before implementing these changes. Most of them have a very limited understanding of the profession they are entering, and I often think how their lack reflects society as a whole.)
We here in Eugene are experiencing yet another round of deep cuts, school closures, and furlough days. All of this publicity discourages my class – will there be jobs for them? And that is why I have them read this book so they can envision an alternative kind of schooling. While Rahm Emmanuel’s comment of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” came back to bite him, I do agree that this present funding crisis offers us a way to rethink how we teach. Or, more specifically, how children learn. Whether we reexamine our outdated high school Carnegie units and the structures that result or apply technology to allow for individualized instruction in our over-crowded classrooms or some other yet-to-be-thought-of idea, we have the opportunity to create a new future. We Oregonians pride ourselves on innovation in environmental and health issues; why not in education?
Rep. Ben Cannon serves House District 46 in the Oregon Legislative Assembly. When the legislature is not in session, Rep. Cannon teaches Humanities to middle school students at the Arbor School of Arts and Sciences.
The following is from a speech Rep. Cannon gave at Stand for Children’s Legislative Breakfast this morning.
I want to extend my thanks to Stand for Children for all of their work, not just this morning’s breakfast. Legislators know the effectiveness of the organization. The annual rally is always one of the more memorable events of the session and your presence this year will be crucial.
I first ran for office five years ago and education was my highest priority. What did I say about it? Pretty simple: schools need more funding. The important thing, it seemed, was for the state to provide the fiscal context for educators to thrive.
When it came to other questions about improving educational outcomes, my standard response has pretty much been that those issues were best left up to districts and teachers. The teacher in me knows that educational outcomes are so highly conditioned by particulars – that what works in one classroom, between one teacher and her students, may very well not work in another. The teacher in me is skeptical of “best practices” coming from the Legislature and dictating to me what happens in my classroom.
The budding politician in me appreciated that this position seemed to hit a political sweet spot. Join organizations like Stand in calling for more funding. Form common cause with our local educators who say when it comes to contracting, to professional development, to mentorship, to evaluations, those are issues to be worked out between educators and their district.
Fast forward ahead a few years.
In some senses, not a lot has changed. If I could wave a magic wand and do only a single thing for schools, it would be to significantly increase funding – not only its stability but its adequacy. We are asking our schools to do far too much with far too little.
Especially this session, we don’t have that magic wand; I think every person here is cognizant of the likelihood that K-12 education will experience cuts.
So with that dismal outlook – a belief that improving funding is the most important thing we could do, and that funding won’t be available this biennium – what can we do? (more…)
Originally published in the Oregonian, as “How about some straight talk about fiscal crisis?”
This past election I received 146 political mailings. They contained hundreds of promises, including vows to support businesses and seniors, improve healthcare and education, and reduce taxes and regulations. Beautiful promises all. But not one of the promises was to cut public programs or raise taxes. Troubling, since state and national fiscal crises suggest we must do both.
My economics students understand this. This fall we watched “I.O.U.S.A.,” which revealed that federal debt swelled to $12.7 trillion in 2009. Bad news, considering we have not budgeted for the additional $46 trillion Social Security and Medicare will cost over the coming decades.
My government students understand as well. A state senator visited with us recently and said Oregon must cut over $3 billion from a $15 billion budget over the next two years, about 20%.
Our national leaders understand, too, but sadly, they’re unwilling to admit it. This month our president and Congress turned their backs on the recommendations of the deficit reduction commission, then declared victory as they extended expiring tax cuts and heaped another $850 billion onto our mountain of national debt.
Why won’t they confront reality? Is it because we aren’t willing to? Consider Oregon. About 93% of our discretionary budget is spent on education, human services and public safety, so cutting 20% means cutting vital services. And in education, where about 85% of spending goes to wages and benefits, that means cutting people. But public servants are quick to react against this, understandably so. (more…)