It’s Not The Money, Stupid…

The Clark County School District is facing a budget crisis; after having cut $130 million from its budget for this year, we now find ourselves having to cut even more for next year.  Some details are here

Schools are having emergency meetings with parents in the community to discuss ideas for cuts, and my school had such a meeting among its staff last week, as I’m sure many other schools have.  Everybody’s worried about salaries, perks, and even job security itself.

Let’s set a few things straight:

First, there is plenty of money out there for what we need.  There always has been and always will be.  It’s not a matter of needing more money, it’s a matter of better investing what we have.  It does not cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide textbooks and necessary supplies.  Besides (the curmudgeon hastened to add), there is absolutely no relationship between education spending and academic achievement

But what about technology?  Doesn’t that cost a lot?  Yes, but that might as well be where we make some cuts, too, since…wait for it…students with greater access to computers statistically do worse academically than others

All this brouhaha reminds me of a letter that I had in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 11, 2007:

 

Here’s a shocking thought from a teacher: Raising our salaries won’t improve anything.

Yes, we deserve more money, but the claim that higher pay will solve our country’s educational woes just doesn’t hold water.

As much as everybody says teachers need more money, the fact is that, if teachers really meant it, we’d all have quit by now.

What of all the teachers who do quit? Ask them why. Most of them, especially the most competent and experienced, get burned out due to poor working conditions, not low pay.

What poor working conditions? Spoiled students with no respect or desire, unsupportive parents who excuse student failure, a poisonous popular culture that encourages ignorance, and a bureaucracy that responds to this constant abuse by spinelessly running from one trend to another, issuing idiotic uniform testing and loading teachers with pointless politically correct paperwork, just to name a few.

Imagine if results in your business didn’t depend on the skill and effort of your work, but mostly on the lazy whims of forced customers who hate you and who spend their time outside your business undoing your progress, and on powerless corporate headquarters which punish you until the results that you can’t control improve. Kafka couldn’t come up with anything this surreal.

Teachers won’t get the pay they deserve until market forces are allowed to influence it.

Until then, try this to improve education: pay teachers $2 an hour, but let them really enforce high standards of work and behavior, without fear of pressure from administrators or backlash from a community entrenched in entitlement. I guarantee we’ll have an army of perfect teachers in every classroom tomorrow.

Don’t believe me?  Just a few months ago, long after that letter ran, another friend of mine quit teaching, not because she was strapped for cash, but because she felt she’d been thrown under the bus, caught between the rock and hard place of unreasonably irate parents and an unsupportive beauracracy. 

As for “teacher poverty” largely being a myth, try this fun little experiment: cruise by the staff parking lot at a few nearby schools some weekday.  See many 1978 Volvos?  Nope. 

So, how should we cut the CCSD budget?  My proposals:

  1. End block scheduling.  This expensive experiment is often touted as creating longer (and, hypothetically, more rigorous) classes, but this just isn’t the case.  In fact, the first time an administrator introduced this coming change to my school three years ago, the first benefit she told us about was that block scheduling would reduce the time students spent in hallways each day, thus reducing behavior problems.  What a joke!  America’s worst subject is math, and it’s also the subject that most needs daily drills of review and practice, not marathons every two or three days.  Everybody knows that block scheduling really exists as a credit retrieval scam, providing extra class periods as a way for truculent delinquents to make up their many lost credits during regular school time, thus improving a school’s graduation rates.  It’s pandering to the lowest common denominator, it’s encouraging the safety net mentality of infantilism, and, even if nothing above gets you, it doesn’t work.  CCSD savings potential: $11,145,000
  2. Cut “alternative education programs.”  CCSD (and, for my non-Southern Nevada readers, possibly your school district, too), hosts several campuses for criminal students who have been expelled (there’s really no such thing as “permanent expulsion” anymore).  Students who get in fights, use drugs, sell drugs, or commit other atrocities get shipped out to these campuses for a couple months of pseudo-reform school, then come right back.  This is expensive and unnecessary.  Get rid of them.
  3. End the $200 gift card program.  This one won’t win me any friends.  For the last three years, the district has provided all teachers with $200 gift cards at the beginning of the year to use for school supplies.  Yes, this has helped a lot of us greatly, but we survived without them for years.  The groaning this cut will generate is a prime example of how quickly a luxury becomes a necessity.  CCSD savings: $4,000,000
  4. End excessive “professional development” programs and staff development days.  The CCSD nurses a small army of “teachers on special assignment,” teachers whose only job is to run classes for other teachers.  They do nothing for students in classrooms.  I’ve been to some of these classes, and they’re a porky bit of fluff, at best.  Even staff development days on any given campus often have guest speakers, special materials for the staff to use, catered lunches, and other supplemental goodies.  Let’s be honest: this stuff does not improve student learning.  If you need to have teacher inservice time, let us use it to plan and grade.
  5. Streamline administration.  What’s the administrator to teacher ratio in our school district (or yours)?  Las Vegas is riddled with school district buildings full of office drones who may do a great job filing paperwork, but do not directly impact student achievement.  Make personnel cuts from the top down. 

There are plenty more areas where such cuts could be made.  Not only would this help us reach our budget goals, but it might help us focus our resources on that middling little detail…actually improving student academic achievement.

By the way, with this information in mind, go ahead and vote no on Clark County ballot question 5.  Rather than trying to spend our way to success, try helping a kid with his homework instead.

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