Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Budget crisis forces deep cuts at Calif. schools

No suggestion that it's the bureaucracy that should be cut. But the proposed moves could be a blessing in disguise if class sizes are expanded and only the good teachers are kept on. The results might actually improve!

California's historic budget crisis threatens to devastate a public education system that was once considered a national model but now ranks near the bottom in school funding and academic achievement. Deep budget cuts are forcing California school districts to lay off thousands of teachers, expand class sizes, close schools, eliminate bus service, cancel summer school programs, and possibly shorten the academic year. Without a strong economic recovery, which few experts predict, the reduced school funding could last for years, shortchanging millions of students, driving away residents and businesses, and darkening California's economic future.

"California used to lead the nation in education," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a recent visit to San Francisco. "Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling."

The budget cuts will be especially painful for struggling schools such as Richmond High School, where more than half of its 1,700 students are English learners and three-quarters are considered poor. The East Bay area school has failed to meet academic standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for more than four years. Now Richmond High stands to lose 10 percent of its 80 teachers. Electives such as French and woodshop will be scrapped. Some classes will expand to more than 40 students. And many special education and English-language students will be placed in mainstream classes.

"We're going to see more and more students slipping through the cracks as those class sizes increase," said Assistant Principal Jen Bender. Richmond High students are worried about how the cuts will affect their education and ability to attend college. "I think we won't be able to learn as much," said freshman Andrew Taylor, 15. "They should put more money into schools. If you take money away from schools, you're going to end up with more people going to jail."

Slammed by an epic housing bust and massive job losses, California faces a $24 billion budget deficit and could run out of cash by late July if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature cannot reach a budget deal. To balance the budget, the governor has proposed closing more than 200 state parks, releasing prisoners early, selling state property, laying off state workers and cutting health care.

Under the governor's plan, K-12 schools and community colleges would lose $5.3 billion over the coming year — on top of billions of dollars in recent reductions and payment delays. The state would spend $7,806 per K-12 student in 2009-10, almost 10 percent less than two years ago, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. Federal stimulus funds have prevented deeper cuts to a public school system that educates 6.3 million children, of which about a quarter do not speak English well, and nearly half are considered poor under federal guidelines.

School districts have already issued layoff notices to more than 30,000 teachers and other employees, and they could issue more pink slips this summer, according to the state Department of Education. "All of the things that make schools vibrant and help students learn are on the chopping block, if they haven't been cut already," Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Education Coalition, which advocates funding increases. "When school doors open in the fall, it's going to be a very different public school system."

Many Democrats and school advocates are calling for tax increases to lessen the impact on schools, but Republicans oppose raising taxes. They say California should live within its means and school districts should be given more flexibility to spend their funds. "You can't spend what you don't have, and you can't spend what the taxpayers don't have," said State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.

The unprecedented budget cuts mark a new low for a once highly regarded public school system that began its decline in 1978, when voters approved Proposition 13, which undercut counties' ability to raise property taxes and generate revenue. The ballot measure shifted the responsibility of funding schools to the state and made it more difficult to increase education funding.

California schools now rank at or near the bottom nationally in academic performance, student-teacher ratios in middle and high school, access to guidance counselors and the percentage of seniors who go directly to four-year colleges, according to a February report by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. In its annual survey this year, Education Week magazine ranked California 47th in per-pupil spending and gave the state a D in academic achievement.

In recent decades, California developed a robust, innovative economy by importing educated workers from other states and countries. But a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California projected that the state would face a shortage of nearly 1 million college-educated workers in 2025.

State education officials say the budget cuts threaten recent gains in raising test scores and closing a persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts. [Nothing ever tried has altered that significantly]

Democrats are now proposing to eliminate the high school exit exam as a graduation requirement. Jack O'Connell, the state schools chief, has says the exam is essential to helping identify students who fall behind.

The state's budget crisis is taking a heavy toll on school districts such as West Contra Costa Unified, whose financial troubles made it the first school district to be taken over by the state in 1991. Officials say the district, which has large numbers of poor students and English language learners, could face another state takeover if it cannot overcome a $16 million budget shortfall. "The system is broken," said school board member Antonio Medrano. "We are being forced to cut all kinds of programs."

The cuts are expected to lead to sharp reductions or complete elimination of after-school programs, summer school, adult education, guidance counselors, and electives such as art and music. Class sizes are set to expand from 20 to more than 30 students for kindergarten through third grade.

The teachers union is threatening to strike to protest layoffs of 125 teachers, larger class sizes and proposed cuts to their health care benefits. "We can't cut our way out of this. We really can't. There will be nothing left of education," said Pixie Hayward-Schickele, who heads the teachers union.

Richmond High School students are bracing for crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and fewer teachers. "This school is already overcrowded," said junior Jessica Ledesma, 17. "If there are more students, it's going to be harder to pay attention because it will be loud and crowded and stuffy in there."


Canadians concerned about the value of an education: poll

As young people prepare to don caps and gowns this month and take the stage to grab their diplomas, Canadians confess a certain skepticism about the value of an education in this country. Nearly half of the Canadians polled in a recent Harris-Decima survey said they feel Canada's educational system does not adequately prepare young people for work in the modern economy. Albertans are most pessimistic about the system - 52 per cent say they find it inadequate.

Younger Canadians, between the ages of 18-34, are more likely to say it is up to snuff than older respondents. Nathan Seebaran, a student at Edmonton's Ross Sheppard High School, says he feels optimistic about the training he's getting through a registered apprentice program. He's studying to become a cabinetmaker and will be doing projects at the University of Alberta as part of his training. "I was thinking of dropping out of high school because I didn't really think I needed it, but I'm glad I stayed to do this," Seebaran said.

Confidence is the hallmark of the so-called "Generation Y," which is now hitting graduation age, says Harris-Decima vice-president Jeff Walker. "Part of that self-awareness and self belief of that generation of people is the feeling that they work extremely hard and that the system has been beneficial to them," said Walker.

When asked to grade different levels of education, Canadians gave high school the lowest marks. Only 37 per cent felt high school did "very well" or well at preparing young people for the workforce.

Walker said that affected how Canadians see the education system overall. "What it shows us is that if people perceive that there is even one weak link the system, they really worry that the system isn't necessarily getting Canada or Canadians to where they need to be."

The response was more favourable to graduate schools, where 62 per cent thought they were doing well at giving young Canadians the skills and abilities they needed. Ironically, a recent report by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council noted that high school students are actually performing well in science, math and reading when compared to their peers in other countries. The report said not enough students are getting science and engineering degrees, or PhDs.


British photography phobia again

Parents of children at a primary school have been banned from taking pictures of their own children at the annual sports day. Parents criticised the move and said they felt there was no legal reason why they cannot take photos for personal use.

Mrs Ethelston's Church of England Primary School, in Uplyme, Devon, prohibited photos and video filming, claiming it was due to changes in child protection and images legislation. It is the first time the school has taken such measures.

Parents criticised the move and said they felt there was no legal reason why they cannot take photos for personal use. Jane Souter, who has a son at the school and is chair of the Parents Teachers and Friends Association, said: "It is a shame but that is the way it is all going now, you are not allowed to do a lot of things because of rules and regulations. "A lot of the parents think it is a great shame. There are people who have been there for many, many years and they are upset about it, although they do not blame the school. "It is sad that you are not allowed to take pictures of your own children.

"It is all to do with the pictures getting into the wrong hands and the school has to follow its own code of conduct. "I am sure the school do not like it just as much as we do."

Another parent, who did not want to be named, said: "Parents want to record achievements through their child's life and not to be made to feel that they are all criminals and are going to upload dodgy photos to some porn site."

They added that many parents were upset that they could no longer take photos and fear photography will be banned at every school event. They said: "Speaking to many parents, they were extremely annoyed and exasperated and no one really knew why they couldn't take photos of their children as they done so in the past. "Many seemed just resigned that it was a sign of the times." They added: "Please, please, clear this ridiculous nanny state affair up."

A spokesman for the Devon local education authority said: "It's a decision which individual head teachers come to, usually with consultation with governors."



Anonymous said...

Comment to California Schools.

About 10 years ago a survey was done on the Oakland School District (Oakland is the city east of San Francisco). There were 107 administrator to every 100 teachers. More than half of the people working for the school district didn’t teach. And now it is the Teachers getting laid off and the administrators that keep their jobs?


Robert said...

California ought to sell all its schools to private buyers. Private sector educators should be able to truly educate lots of kids with a few teachers, and even fewer administrators. We would get far superior education for far less cost, and none of that Marxist PC crap infesting the schools, either.