Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why money matters

UPDATE: If you haven't read about Bush's budget plan and how it effects eduation, you should. It doesn't give me hope for the future. He does seek to help out Title I schools, and they certainly need the help. (I recommend anyone interested in the plight of urban schools read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities.) But we are not a Title I school, and we don't have enough money either!

Okay folks, I'm all fired up and ready to blog about yesterday's events. I have heard many people say that money does not make as big a difference in schools as teachers and their unions suggest. In fact, Rod Paige wrote an editorial in the Baltimore Sun last year saying he refused to "throw money at schools anymore." Ha! You know those teachers, soaking it up in the lap of luxury. I think I'm going to start a running list of why money does in fact make a difference in schools, but I'll start with the issues raised at our faculty meeting yesterday.

Normally, our faculty meetings are pretty good. Compared to some out there, our principal is very reasonable. There's always a packet handed out. It has an agenda on top and any necessary papers attached. He makes the outlandish assumption, that some administrators are unwilling to make, that as teachers, WE CAN READ. He therefore, does not bore us with information that is already included in the packet. He also tries not to be negative. Yesterday, there was no way around it.

1. An excerpt from the faculty meeting packet: "The difference in the cost between 3-hole punched paper and non-punched paper has increased from $1.50 per case to nearly $5.00 per case. Over the course of a year, that would mean an additional $2000 expense. As a result, we unfortunately will no longer be purchasing punched paper. However, we are purchasing three-hole punchers for use in the faculty room #1."

Okay, I know I am a little spoiled on this one. I didn't even know they made paper with holes punched in it until I taught at this school. But you can actually buy it at any office supply store. (And by the way, it costs the same as the non-punched paper at the local store. I'm sure that is because it is just a machine that punches it. So the company that has increased the price is doing so just because they can.) After using the punched paper for two years, I do not want to go back. Do you know what kids do when they get papers that aren't punched? They shove them in their binder. Not in their classwork section. Not even in their history section. Then the paper disappears into the unknown void forever. Hole-punched paper does make a difference, and so now I will spend even more of my precious time in the copy room fighting with a manual hole punch, which is sure to get jammed because other teachers will try to shove too much paper in during their pre-1st period haste. Incidentally, you will notice that the message states that they are buying one puncher for one faculty room. We are going to request that they at least buy two because that is for a faculty room clear on the other side of large building. We never go down there to make our copies.

#2 We got some very upsetting news about special ed and inclusion. It is hard for me to go into details without spoiling my delusions about blogging anonymously. Suffice it to say that our state is at the bottom of the nation in including special ed kids in a regular classroom. AND our district is last in our pathetically low state. So, we've got to get more kids into the classroom. This is part of NCLB requirements. Of course, this will mean creating more specifically labeled "inclusion" classrooms, which in our district have one regular subject teacher and one certified special ed teacher and a maximum of 20 students. I've been in other "inclusion" classrooms and I think the way our district is trying it works well. Of course, to move more kids into this program we will need many more teachers -- both because there should be two teachers in the classroom AND because the student:teacher ratio is smaller. Well, this takes a LOT of money. But we don't have that (thanks Bush and Congress). So guess what is going to happen instead: They will shift teachers away from honors and AP classes. AP class sizes already sit at the mid-30's. And while there certainly aren't the issues with behavior management and instruction differentiation with those type of classes, I just finished grading essays that took me on average 12 minutes a piece. Teacher to student ratios make a difference in every class, but it looks like someone is going to have to be LEFT BEHIND.

3. Associated with #2 is the issue of trying to get the special ed kids to pass the state algebra exam. As part of NCLB everyone has to pass a variety of state mandated tests to graduate. We have several for ninth and tenth grade subjects but the algebra test has provided the biggest challenge by far. 70% of our special ed kids are on a diploma track. 25% of those kids pass the algebra test. So, we've got to do something. Those truly are kids that could otherwise be left behind. The district has decided to make inclusion algebra a two-year course and to include a special ed teacher in each class. So what took one teacher will now take the equivalent of four teachers (2 teachers for 2 years.) Additionally, all other algebra classes will be taught in just one year, but in a double-period day. If you want a job as a math teacher this is great for you. If you are in any other subject, it isn't. This is bad for social studies teachers like me in two ways: First, that is one less credit for a student to take a social studies elective, which helps to create social studies jobs. Secondly, this also takes a lot of resources (money) away from us. I don't disagree with the algebra plan. It is obvious by looking at the test scores that something needs to be done, but once again we don't have the money to implement. We are just moving resources around. Hiring math teachers will mean letting go of some other teachers, which is basically what our principal said in the most positive way possible.

This is what I believe is the major fault in NCLB. Bush seems to think teachers were intent on leaving people behind before his law. Do people really think I would choose teaching and then NOT do everything in my power to help all of my students succeed? We do not let students fail on purpose, students fail because of a variety of problems. Addressing those problems almost always takes money.

Other non-faculty meeting related reasons money matters:

#4 There are three printers on the first floor of the school. Today none of them worked. Two have been broken for more than a week. One of my co-workers had to go to her parents house to print out her observation lesson because she typed it on a computer with Works and none of the working printers were connected to computers with Works. I am trying to imagine a senator going to his parents house to work on a bill...

#5 The paper towel holder is broken again.

#6 The weather is fairly warm right now. I can't cool my room down by opening the windows, since there are none. Today I figured out that I could cool my room off by turning the heating fan on because it does not work and just shoots in cool air from outside.

#7 I have a bachelors and a masters degree and I clip coupons from the newspaper.

#8 My classroom computer doesn't even have the correct programs to view the district's website.

#9 Some teachers have to share desks. One teacher has it for one period, and when the class ends, he/she carries it down the hall to a different teacher.

Did I mention we are the flagship school of the district? Nationally ranked? I think it's pretty sad. There are plenty more reasons but I'm going to stop for now. If anyone else wants to add a reason schools need more money, please comment. We can keep list and send it to Santa next year.