“Leaving Children Behind”
“A Moment of National Insanity”
These are the titles of two pieces I’ve read in the last 24 hours, and they aptly express the crisis brought on by this year’s round of budget cuts.
Last week the Washington Post reported that Prince George’s County, Maryland, the district in which I taught and which also happens to be the 17th-largest in the country, decreased its budget for the upcoming year by 2%, otherwise known as $155 million or 1,300 jobs. Ouch.
On Friday, the Huffington Post reported that Providence, Rhode Island is putting all of its teachers on notice that they could be terminated at the end of this year.
Detroit is closing half of its schools. Sounds like we might have to import students from Detroit too.
Idaho might fire 770 teachers and replace them with computers.
Hawaii is cutting the number of days in its school year (because students clearly spend too much time in school as it is).
And finally (for this blog but not for Budget Crunch 2011), Texas is besting Prince George’s County by cutting its education budget by 13.5%… $3.5 billion. Too bad for those 85,000 additional students Texas will get this year, as it does every year.
[Insert exclamatory expletives of your choice here.]
Paul Krugman aptly sums all of this up (in the piece called “Leaving Children Behind”) when he asks, “what’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?”
The sad truth is that we don’t seem to be at a place where we know enough good practices to say with any real confidence where we can cut funds for education or how we can reallocate them to be used more effectively. A good chunk of education budgets probably goes towards special programs that are somewhat experimental in nature as each district tries to find things that work really well. And unfortunately, some of the things that do work well are just more expensive.
I’m not in any position to say what states and districts should be cutting out of their budgets instead of education, but I can agree with David Brooks’ assessment that “legislators and administrators are simply cutting on the basis of what’s politically easy and what vaguely seems expendable”. We’re never going to get the education results we need if we always go for what’s easy. What’s easy usually isn’t what’s right, and when it comes to kids, we must always, always do what is right.
I also don’t know all the things that are right when it comes to schools, but here’s what’s definitely wrong.
- Increasing class sizes without making sure that teachers are receiving proportionately higher levels of support, particularly for differentiating instruction.
- Shortening the school year when kids aren’t learning enough in class as it is.
- Replacing teachers with technology. (See my post on what Florida’s doing.)
- Cutting art, music, foreign languages, sports, and other classes and activities that don’t help kids to score higher on our standardized tests.
- Cutting non-instructional staff members who play important roles, like parent liaisons who work specifically with Hispanic parents.
For more on the budget issues in education, read the following:
“Leaving Children Behind” by Paul Krugman
“The New Normal” by David Brooks
“A Moment of National Insanity” by Diane Ravitch