Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Educational Accountability

Overparenting and underthinking can be a deadly combination.  Yet these philosophies have been plaguing the school system for years. 

As a former educator I am outraged by all the cuts to education across the nation.  I am even more outraged by the prospect of more cuts.  It makes me think of the Teacher’s Creed

We, the willing, led by the unqualified, have been doing the unbelievable for so long with so little, we now attempt the impossible with nothing.

All parents are upset by these budget cuts.  But what really gets me is the parents who can’t think for themselves.  The parents who blindly donate every time the schools ask for it.  The parents who participate in every fund raiser.  Bill Engvall nailed it when he said that schools “turn kids into little Amway people.” 

There is nothing wrong with fundraisers per se but I want to know where that money is going to.  My son’s school boasts raising tens of thousands of dollars on one fundraiser alone.  There are many others that are also quite successful.  The school congratulates themselves on the thousands of dollars they have saved by making the school newsletter a blog.  I see no accountability for this money.  What I do see is parents losing their minds trying to pressure every parent to fill out an anonymous survey concerning “possible” budget cuts in addition to the millions of dollars already cut. 

I filled out the survey because a friend of mine, whose children attend a different school within the same district, said the survey has space for comments.  The survey was ridiculous.  How will cutting different programs affect my one student who attends the school.  He’s in first grade and is not old enough to even qualify for many of the programs they were considering cutting.  How can I answer?  My other son will enter kindergarten next year.  How do I know how these cuts may or may not affect him?  It felt like I was being tricked.  That the district had set up the survey in such a way to get the responses they wanted. 

Some of the proposed cuts were difficult for me only because I taught Elementary school in Utah.  Utah is one of the lowest states in the nation when it comes to funding.  As a product of Utah public education myself, I remember when PE teachers were cut.  I don’t remember school nurses, music teachers or science teachers etc.  When I taught these resources of course were not in place.  The year before I started my teaching career we lost librarians, the last resource not expected to be handled by regular classroom teachers.  Survey questions asking about the severity of impact cutting these resources has on my student makes me want to scream It can be done!  I’ve done it!  With no less than 30 students in my classroom too.  Classroom ratios in my son’s school rose from 1:20 to 1:25.  They want to increase more because they want to pink slip more teachers to save money. 

But in reality, why are these educators being cut at all?  Couldn’t we possibly cut administrators instead?  Last year we had a difficult year with a teacher who was well past her prime.  The principal was amazing in dealing with the situation.  I am saddened to see him burned out and retiring a good 10-15 years early at the end of this school year.  Dynamic principals like him are few and far between.  Trust me, I started working in schools when I was in high school.  The situation last year was hell to put it mildly.  While the principal was an incredible advocate for our son, my husband made the point that we never saw anyone from the district.  The district administrators should be making the principals’ jobs easier so they have the time to do what he did for us last year. 

The survey question regarding cutting reading specialists was also a difficult one to answer.  My son is not in need of a reading specialist.  Since my 4 year old is already starting to read, I doubt he will need this resource either.  What made it hard was I also have a mild/moderate Special Education degree.  The year I taught Resource I was so grateful for the reading specialist who was able to take a few of my students and teach them more than I was capable of given my time constraints.  I had to pull small groups of children out of class all day.  These students saw me for 30 minutes at a time.  There was no other way to do it.  I was teaching K-4th grade and the IEP’s (individual education plans) for these students were such that I could not group any other way or have the time to teach a class for longer than 30 minutes.  So I had to comment on possibly cutting essential educators like reading specialists. 

I have heard that my son’s school is the site for students with severe disabilities.  These students come, not only from this school district, but also surrounding cities.  There are no buses in this district.  Parent volunteers drive for field trips.  But when I heard that the students with severe disabilities are not bused in I was shocked.  That is illegal.  At least in Utah it is.  Those students have the right to transportation provided by the school district.  Special Education law was put into place to ensure every student, regardless of ability, has the right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.  But parents carpool these students to school.  Most likely they were told the district had to make more devastating budget cuts and they agreed to carpooling. 

A friend of mine has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes.  Her school district is going through similar budget cuts.  School nurses are on the chopping block.  My friend is overwhelmed dealing with two children recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  She said she would be willing to go into the school three times a day to test her 5 year old daughter’s blood sugar.  Another one of her friends suggested that she work with other mothers of diabetics in the school and they could all take turns checking the kids’ blood sugar.  No!  I told her to put her foot down and demand that the district provide someone for her daughter.  They are legally obligated to do so.  I haven’t heard back about what is happening. 

Parents have got to stop doing the school’s job.  Parents have also got to stop accepting the garbage the district is feeding us regarding budget cuts.  I heard a teacher on the news this morning from another city in California, say that the administrators need to show accountability for funds.  He said they need to show everywhere they have cut back that has nothing to do with the classroom and then he would be willing to “talk turkey” as he put it.  I was shaking my fist and yelling Yes!  I filled out this survey last night and all these emotions have been boiling up ever since.  Finally a news story on education that involves some actual thinking!  

One of the last questions on the survey asked about donating money.  List the five programs you would be willing to donate money to support.  How much would you be willing to donate?  In other I wrote No accountability for funds.  At the end of the survey I commented that administrators should be cut before teachers.  Administrators have virtually no impact on my child’s educational experience compared to the significant impact teachers have.  I also suggested that if administrators could not pare down to what is feasible they should consider taking a pay cut before cutting teachers.  What I should have also said was that teachers shouldn’t have to take pay cuts by cutting hours and school days before the administration makes some sacrifices.  I also said that I knew many parents would be interested in some accountability for funds raised and money saved. 

A friend of mine in the district said that her school is constantly soliciting money from parents.  Yet they throw these lavishly expensive luncheons to celebrate teachers.  Where is the accountability? 

My husband and I agree that schools would be more effective if they were run like a business.  We blame schools for not teaching this! 


  1. Hello Tristan, your sense of outrage is unmistakable and well founded. My experiences with school administrators has been different than yours, but no less frustrating. I live in a community in Pennsylvania with an ever growing population of people who have moved from New York. This influx of people has necessitated the building of bigger and better schools, so property taxes are continually on the rise. I came from NYC myself, twelve years ago, so I have no problem with paying more.

    My issue is with the incentives that I believe our well funded schools have for designating people to the types of special programs you are advocating. It's almost the opposite problem. Allow me to elaborate.

    I have a Spanish surname, was born in NY, speak English and Spanish, but my primary language is English. I speak without an accent, am college educated, and a professional. My children speak only English. I was able to afford my eldest daughter a parochial school education, but I could not do the same for my second child who is 8 years younger. Shortly after the start of her first semester, I received a letter stating that she was being placed in some type of English as a second language class. I wrote a letter explaining that my daughter, who knew how to read before entering school, spoke only English and that I didn't want her tagged in this way simply to increase the funds the school would receive for their special needs enrollment. The schools response was that the designation could not be changed because it was the result of testing.

    I flipped, demanded to see the tests and the scores, and threatened legal action. They reversed their decision. My daughter has remained a straight A student throughout.

    I'm sorry, I believe that your passion on the subject of administrators has set me off on a rant.

    Back to your suggestion that administration costs should be cut before educators. I couldn't agree with you more. Yes, there would be some issues with running schools like businesses, but I feel that those issues would pale in comparison to the present system where administrations and educators seem to work at cross purposes in the preparation of our children for the challenges ahead.

    The most outrageous parts of your situation are those dealing with the lack of attention to the children who have actual special needs. There should be no reason to discuss transportation and the availability of nursing for all of our children, because these are such basic needs. I can't believe that they have gotten away with having parents fill these gaps.

    I hope that your words are echoed and that action is taken to correct these injustices. Ray

  2. Thank you for your opinions and experiences, Ray. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 6 years old. When I was in college studying education, I thought I could change the world. Typical 20 year old thought process, I guess.

    Becoming a teacher opened my eyes to the realities of a flawed education system. You're right when you say administrators and teachers fight against each other all the time. It's unfortunate because it's the students who suffer. I did the best I could in the few years I taught before choosing to stay home with my babies.

    And I hear you on your ordeal with your daughter being labeled. My son started talking at 9 months. Because his kindergarten teacher couldn't handle the fact that he is very shy and observant by nature she referred him to speech. He of course didn't qualify. He was actually above level on many of the tests. The rest of the year she tried to get me to agree to occupational therapy.

    She singled him out in front of the class in the most derrogatory ways. Nothing he did was ever good enough for her. His hearing was tested something like 5 or 6 times in a matter of months. The principal got an earful when it happened without an official permission to test form. My husband and I could not figure out what her agenda was. Were they trying to fill a SpEd quota? The principal couldn't understand what her motivation was either.

    I threatened to pull my son out for the last month because things had reached an emotional breaking point for him and our family. The principal and the school counselor were an amazing support to us even though they encouraged us to keep him in for that month because that's their job. And I did keep him in. Both of us kicking and screaming.

    The education system is flawed and has been for quite some time. What I see in the community where I live in California's Bay Area is parents who want to fast track their kids to Ivy League schools. This creates a whole set of issues. I could do another series of posts on that alone.


Now that I've shared my thoughts, what are your thoughts?