Friday, May 22, 2009

California schools prepare for large losses of funding

This may be a blessing in disguise. It should lead to larger class sizes, which will mean that only the more able teachers will be retained, thus improving the standard of education. The benefits of small classes are mythical. See here.

After voters rejected ballot measures that would have restored state funding for schools, educators across California on Wednesday braced for $5.3 billion in cuts over the next 13 months. State and district officials predicted increased class sizes, additional teacher layoffs, more school closures and fewer arts and music offerings. Some districts could face insolvency.

"When there are such ludicrous amounts of money being cut, I don't know what other choice they are going to give us," said Steve Fish, superintendent of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in south Orange County, which is already planning to shutter libraries and computer labs, lay off 100 teachers and eliminate nearly half its high school guidance counselors.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected five ballot measures intended to shore up the state's finances, leaving legislators to bridge a $21.3-billion budget gap. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting education funding by $1.6 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and nearly $3.7 billion for next year.

Districts could tap their reserves and federal economic stimulus dollars to lessen the effect of the cuts, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger's finance department. He said these reductions will be difficult but noted that schools are bearing 30% of the cuts even though they account for 40% of the state's general fund.

State officials will probably loosen regulations -- such as allowing districts to cut seven days off the school year, delay replacing old textbooks and divert class-size reduction funds to other purposes.

California already has received about $4.3 billion in education funding from the economic stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year, but there remain billions more that will be dependent on how California uses the first round of money. States that use the money to reform troubled schools will be rewarded.

"Actions speak louder than words," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who will meet with educators in San Francisco on Friday. "The state is at a fork in the road and they will either decide to have the courage to do the right thing by its children and create the possibility of bringing in literally hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive grants at a time of tremendous financial need, or the state can choose to perpetuate the status quo and leave those resources on the table."

He was particularly dismayed by the proposal to clip seven days off the 180-day school year. "The school day, the school week and the school year I think are all too short, and particularly hurt children who come from tougher economic backgrounds," he said in an interview.


Australian welfare changes 'will hurt rural students'

The National Party says country students will be disadvantaged by changes to the Youth Allowance. In its Budget, the Government lifted the amount of hours young people must work to qualify for an independent allowance. The move is designed to stop young people from wealthy families qualifying for the allowance by deferring university and working for a year.

Mr Truss says many country students need a gap year to save up the money required to study in the city. "Surely they could have devised a system that kept in place necessary support for country students, and not just provide additional benefits for those who live in the cities," he said. "The new arrangements requiring 30 hours of work per week for 18 months will essentially mean that people will have to take a gap two years not a gap one year. "For many they will simply not bother with a university education at all." [That might not be such a bad thing]

The Greens say they will refer the Youth Allowance changes to a Senate inquiry. South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Government's changes will make it harder for students to qualify for the payment. Ms Hanson-Young says the payments are vital for full-time students who are currently living below the poverty line. "The changes to the eligibility criteria, the lack of increase in financial support for young people who are studying, all of these things are inconsistent with the Government's rhetoric about an education message," she said.

"We know that the best way of pulling Australia and the world out of the global financial crisis is to retrain, re-skill and prepare ourselves for the new type of economy, and the best way of doing that is investing in education."


Australia: "Progressive" school syllabuses in the firing line in NSW

THE incoming head of the nation's most influential school curriculum body has declared the days of the vague curriculum over, saying syllabuses have to specify precisely the knowledge students should be taught. The newly appointed president of the NSW Board of Studies, Tom Alegounarias, said yesterday having explicit syllabuses setting out mandatory knowledge in a systematic course of study was the only way to ensure all students, regardless of their family background, had the same opportunities for learning.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Alegounarias, who is the NSW Government's representative on the National Curriculum Board, said a specific syllabus enshrining the essentials all students should know would set a common reference point for all teachers, ensuring all students were offered the same curriculum. "I don't believe in a separate curriculum for groups of students, and I don't think we have been as clear as we should in the past about making sure it doesn't happen," he said. "The syllabus should set out in a systematic way the fundamentals to be taught that allow for further learning that enfranchises all students and gives them an opportunity to participate in a range of learning."

Mr Alegounarias -- a former high school economics teacher, education policy-maker and bureaucrat in the NSW Education Department -- was the founding head of the NSW Institute of Teachers, where he developed the nation's first and most comprehensive system of professional accreditation.

The appointment of a board president from outside a university education faculty or the mainstream teaching ranks -- and ahead of candidates with doctorates or professorial chairs -- is viewed as a sign the NSW Government intends to curb some of the progressivist excesses in some state and education circles.

Mr Alegounarias's reputation is for supporting rigour and quality in education, often aligned with more traditional teaching approaches. While the education debate has been characterised by often-heated disputes over what should be included in school curriculums, Mr Alegounarias believed teachers' views were more closely aligned with those of the wider community than the public debate suggested.

Intimating professional associations purporting to represent classroom teachers take a more extreme view than the majority of the profession, Mr Alegounarias said the disputes were a reaction to a perceived dichotomy. "When you get to the fundamentals of what should be in the curriculum, I think you'll find consensus," he said. "In my experience, when teachers are left to ponder questions of what is essential, their views don't depart from the general community."

On the topic of one of the most heated education debates -- the subject of English -- Mr Alegounarias favours a commonsense approach, that traditional grammar is the inalienable starting point for teaching students how to write. On the question of literature versus other types of texts such as websites, Mr Alegounarias said the starting point was written and oral language. "I don't agree that in English you study forms that aren't literature or language-related. It's not to say you don't study them at all, but not in English," he said.


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