Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keep up the effort.

Maintenance of Effort is a good thing.  Oh wait, no, Maintenance of Effort is a bad thing.  On the other hand, just what is Maintenance of Effort?
 MOE as it is often called is a requirement of state and federal law that school districts maintain the local contributions to education regardless of any additional income from state or federal grants.   So if a local district contributed 10 million dollars to education in FY 14 it must continue to contribute that amount at a minimum, even if the district gets a windfall of 20 million from state, federal or private sources.  The point of MOE is to ensure that local districts do not reduce their local share of education in the good times so that when the bad times come, as they almost always do, there will be money in the local budget to ensure minimum resources for education.  Most education advocates think this requirement is a great idea.  Some local school districts are very unhappy.  Let’s look at each side of the argument.

Pros:  Prior to the Maintenance of Effort requirement, local funding for education went up and down according to the availability of outside funds.  As in the grasshopper story, there were lean years and fat years.  Education advocates wanted to make sure that the local district maintained baseline funding for education regardless of the outside funding sources.  The system has worked rather well and it has forced school systems to be prudent in using additional funds for the basic programs.  There have been instances when districts have not sustained local funding and have received consequences from the state board of education.  Recently Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland tried to go below the maintenance of effort funding level and were called on the practice by the State Board of Ed.  Montgomery County Schools countered that the overall money for education was greater than the previous year.

Good idea right?  Not so fast.  And therein is part of the issue.  Regulatory agencies are fairly strict in enforcing MOE.  School districts are saying that they can’t try out new programs with local money because that automatically raises the threshold for MOE for that school year and for future years.  These school systems say that MOE thwarts creativity in programing.   If the new program does not work out, the school district must still keep the cost of that program in the budget.  School districts want some flexibility in what counts as MOE.   Education advocates say they have been burned before and don’t trust these waivers.

What is the answer?   It is true that without MOE local funds for education were regularly replaced by state, federal and other outside funds and then when the outside funds were reduced, so were local ed programs.   On the other hand, do the strict MOE requirements stifle any creativity?  Be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How do you really feel about your child's teacher?

Phi Delta Kappa International recently completed a poll with the Gallup organization trying to find out that information.  There were some consistencies in the responses and some very interesting differences depending on demographic grouping.

All demographics- public school parents, non-public school parents, Democrats, Republicans, African-Americans, Hispanics and whites all agreed teachers should be paid more.   Democrats more than Republicans, but all groups agree.   On the question of tenure there was lots more diversity.  All demographic groups, other than African-Americans, are opposed to tenure for teachers.   It is projected that African-Americans have a long history of being teachers and saw those jobs be lost when schools integrated.  Most respondents think it is too hard to fire a teacher; but they still support some sort of due process rather than allowing a school system to release a teacher at will.

Results of this poll were a lot like surveys on members of Congress.   Generally voters do not trust members of Congress, but think the member who represents them is just fine.  So it is with teachers.  Parents trust their children’s teachers and feel communication is good.   They do, however, want what they see a more professionalism from the profession.  Respondents across demographics support some sort of professional test beyond the entry-level degree.   Maryland already requires both a basic academic skills test and a subject specific test. 

Money is always the elephant in the room.   Would administrators fire higher-paid, experienced teachers because budgets would go further with entry-level professionals?   Or are principals just trying to get rid of dead wood in the system?   Who pays for retirement benefits?   Thirty years of teaching and retirement leaves a lot of lifetime for governments to be paying retirement pensions.  Money for education is finite so value decisions need to be made.  And in spite of how people responded, teacher pay for a 190-day year isn’t really all that bad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No offense intended. Much ado about nothing.

Hey, Kike, Spic, Mick- hope I didn’t offend anyone- because no offense was intended.  Does that make using these pejorative terms ok?  Ever since the recent Charleston church shooting there has been renewed interest in the offensiveness of Confederate symbols to people who see that flag as a symbol of enslaving people.  For several years, thoughtful people have suggested that the name of the Washington DC football team, the Washington Redskins is offensive to Native Americans.  For some people this is a “Much Ado About Nothing” and people should just get over it.

 Thoughtful schools and organizations are saying these names are offensive to an increasingly diverse student body and national population.  Here is what is very troubling to me.  So if someone uses the word Redskin or Kike, I should only be upset if I am a Native American or Jewish. Only schools with diverse student bodies should be worried about these names.   If I am not a member of those groups the offensive language is of no concern to me and I should not be offended.  People who support the use of these names and symbols will counter that it is not because they are “racist or anything” it is just a tradition.   Of course not, they use racist symbols that demean their countrymen but that does not bother them because they are not a member of the demeaned group, so it does not impact them. 

My question is why are we NOT bothered by names that demean others, even if we are not a member of the offended group.  Why is it ok to expect absolution for disrespectful behavior just by saying it was not my intent to offend you?  There is the old story.  They came for the Jews but I did not do anything because I wasn’t Jewish.  They came for the Catholics, but I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t Catholic.   They came for the gays but I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t gay.  Then they came for me and there was no one left to stick up for me. 

To me, people who keep using these names are a bunch of thoughtless, racist, bigots.   Oh no offense intended, so it is all ok.  I’m absolved right?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How Will We Know

Arne Duncan announced this week that he was leaving his post as Secretary of Education in December. How will we know?  This decision was a change from his original intention to remain for the President’s full term.   Back in the 50’s when I was a kid my dad had a Studebaker.   The design of the car was such that people joked you couldn’t tell the front from the back.   Sort or like Arne Duncan.  Arne Duncan, to my mind, has always been a leader with one finger up to the wind to test which way the political winds were blowing. 

He came into office as a strong advocated for standardized testing.  Like many of the uninformed masquerading as leaders in education, he believed annual testing would raise standards.   He must have also believed the Emperor was wearing a beautiful new coat because Duncan joined the fools’ chorus of people who assured us that by 2014 all students would be reading on grade level.   When that didn’t happen Mr. Duncan started allowing states waivers so fast it was hard to keep track.   So we were left with a leader who insisted annual testing was a good thing while at the same time providing waivers to any states who wanted them.  Did I mention that old Studebaker my dad had?

A true leader knows where he/she is going.   Throwing a dart at a board doesn’t decide.   Nor does taking a poll.   A leader’s goal comes after careful consideration why that goal is valid.   A leader’s goal should still be relevant and “in style” for many years.  The path to achieving the goal may vary according to circumstances, just as a detour in a road may change the route to our destination.  Duncan has not provided that leadership.  He has swayed with the wind. His replacement will be his deputy.  Education is in need of serious leadership.  Doesn’t look like that is happening anytime soon.  Nature abhors a vacuum so we will continue to have people with neither training nor knowledge telling educators what needs to be done. We will get more of what we have had.   I wish someone would know.