An article in The Daily Signal this past week examined the huge increases in public school funding since 1950, asking “How many non-teachers does a school district need?”
Unfortunately, the question is not quite that simple.
Certainly, in districts across the country, there is more than enough bloat that could be cut. But one cannot simply declare there’s been too massive a growth in non-teaching units without looking at exactly why. And much of that “why” is the federal government.
For example, just consider the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — specifically section 504. This part
covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
A “major life activity” is defined as “caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working” (emphasis added).
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act gets specific on how schools must accommodate these “major life activity” impairments. Title II of the Act states
(b)(1) A public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity.
(2) In determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities.
Among other things, schools have to provide
[q]ualified interpreters, note takers, transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons [TTYs], videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments; . . . and . . . other similar services and actions.
There’s very little schools can do in these matters since, 1) in some way, every school is tied to the feds, and 2) not adhering to 504 and the ADA results in lawsuits. Districts simply must provide the personnel to handle these services.
So, what can schools do? After being involved in public education for over a quarter century, I’ve a few ideas.
–Comply with federal testing and associated mandates as little as possible. No Child Left Behind. Race to the Top. The latter was dubbed the former “on steroids.” And indeed it is.
School district offices have had to hire extra personnel to handle all the new paperwork mandated by NCLB and RTTT, as every student’s progress has to be monitored throughout the year. “Data managers” now meet with teachers to discuss, well, student data. Standardized testing is no longer a few day affair; it’s continuous throughout the year.
In some states like Delaware, RTTT has also led to a large, new teacher evaluation system where every teacher has to give a “pre-test” to students at some point near the beginning of the year, and then a post-test” near year’s end. The degree of progress shown by students helps to determine whether a teacher is “effective” or not.
The fact that teachers virtually universally despise these tests (there’s no incentive for students to do well on them other than to “help” the teacher, not to mention students already are way over-tested) aside, there are personnel needed to weed through all of these tests and do all the, well, figuring.
And look at what happened in the First State when the federal RTTT money ran out — state lawmakers still approved almost $4 million in funding to keep it going. Governor Jack Markell (D) had wanted almost double that. Why?
The need to determine student academic progress is a legitimate concern, but the degree to which districts are now involved is plain silly. There now exists a huge testing opt-out movement throughout the country. Even states like reliably blue California have objected.
I can sympathize with the desire for state and local control, but why not utilize long-established assessments like TerraNova instead of spending countless dollars constructing your own tests? For example, Delaware is now on the third iteration of its own state assessment program, the new Smarter Balanced tests (aligned with Common Core) following the computer-based DCAS and the paper-and-pencil DSTP.
–Ditch ridiculous teacher workshops and inservices. There may be no bigger beef teachers have than having to endure long-winded, meaningless inservices. That’s bad enough in itself, but these idiocies cost money — sometimes a lot of money. Districts dedicate whole days to these things during the school year.
Hey districts — how about sparing educators the nonsense of suffering through something like this? And avoid things like these. I’ve lost track of how many teachers took something handed out at an inservice (which costs money to print, natch) and immediately placed it in their “circular file.” But I know it’s been quite a few.
Not to mention, every few years some “genius” at the central office (probably working on a new/higher degree) wants to implement some new theory district-wide about how to best construct lessons, to best manage a classroom, and/or how to “differentiate” instruction. And then the district will spend cash having this latest fad “taught” to teachers.
Just ask a teacher how many times over the last decade he or she has been taught a “new way” of teaching. If I had heard “the research shows …” one more time I would have needed some strong medication.
–Consolidation and privatization. Why can’t school districts share needed services (transportation, tech, maintenance) and/or outsource them instead of utilizing in-house departments? What about making use of technology in lieu of print applications (especially large texts); a classroom set of, say, iPads, instead of textbooks would not have to replaced nearly as often as the course requirements changed.
It will take parents, teachers and administrators with backbones all working together to manifest tangible change. In some states, like the aforementioned Delaware, the public has more power in that districts must go to them directly via referenda in order to obtain increases in funding.
Elsewhere, where school boards have the power to increase budgets as they see fit, local constituencies will have to be more vigilant. It’s true that school board elections are about as stimulating as watching grass grow, but it’s an apathy that must be bested if something is to be done.