Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Collision Mix

Back in my radio days, a fellow dj used to specialize in what he called "collision mixes." He'd pick two songs that had absolutely no business going together and play them back to back, just to enjoy the carnage. I admired his craft, though not enough to imitate it.

My current-events reading today featured a collision mix.

I started with the IHE and Chronicle accounts of this year's AACC meeting, which is focused largely on improving 'completion' at the community college level. The idea is to reduce the number of students who drop out, and to increase the number who complete their intended course of study, whether that leads to a degree, a certificate, or a successful transfer after a year. While I have my own reservations about particular methods and definitions, I have to agree that the impulse and direction are good. Let's find ways to help more students succeed. With ya.

Then, that very same day, this, from the New York Times:

School districts around the country, forced to resort to drastic money-saving measures, are warning hundreds of thousands of teachers that their jobs may be eliminated in June.

Hmm. Well, maybe it's just posturing. Surely they aren't talking specifics?

A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that 9 of 10 superintendents expected to lay off school workers for the fall, up from two of three superintendents last year. The survey also found that the percentage considering a four-day school week had jumped to 13 percent, from 2 percent a year ago.

Okay, not encouraging. I wouldn't expect students to use their Fridays off to do physics problem sets. But it isn't really that bad, right?

In the U-46 district in Elgin, Ill., José M. Torres, the superintendent, said he also had to contend with a budgeting roller coaster this spring. At this point, the only uncertainty is whether the district’s 53 schools in Chicago’s western suburbs will feel “high pain or low pain,” Mr. Torres said.
Seeking to cut at least $44 million from the district’s $400 million budget, Mr. Torres has eliminated early childhood classes for 100 children, cut middle school football, increased high school class sizes from 24 to 30 students, drained swimming pools to save chlorine, and dismissed 1,000 employees, including 700 teachers.


I'll admit not minding the pool part -- never been a fan, myself -- or the football. But eliminating early childhood classes, increasing sizes of high school classes, and firing 700 teachers doesn't quite sit right.

The research I've seen suggests pretty clearly that students with strong academic preparation in high school tend to do better in college. Some of that may reflect inherent talent and/or good habits, but some of it may also reflect actually learning something in high school. Hollowing out the K-12 system will pretty clearly overwhelm any adjustments we can make internally at the cc.

If we thought in terms of systems, shoring up the K-12 system would be an excellent college completion initiative.

As collision mixes go, this one was especially jarring. There's 'juxtaposition,' and then there's 'insanity.' This is insane. And unlike a collision mix on the radio, the effects will last far beyond a couple of three minute songs.

it's sad, but maybe it's a revolution that needs to happen. the US's version of public schooling is an outdated model, and it should be revised. perhaps this is the opportunity.

our system is built upon 'seat time' (as you've called it), and not comprehension provability. students don't 'graduate' to the next level/grade because they've shown a core understanding of a curriculum. instead, they move on because the Earth traveled a certain distance around the sun. to be fair, college isn't any different. it's a pretty stupid concept.

if schools would recognize that providing opportunities to kids who excel, they can get those kids onto college quicker, and save themselves money in the process.

it's a rough situation, because public schooling is a place where performance has little to no relation to funding. in the end, the good schools are hurting as much as the bad ones. our school district is a little better off, because they were smart enough to create a rainy day fund, and they have some money to weather this storm (they are still on a hiring freeze, and are still cutting back). there won't be any layoffs thanks to some administrators who had some foresight.
In Illinois in particular, they're playing chicken over the budget down in Springfield -- nothing new -- but it's an election year and they have to either cut services or raise taxes. So they're cutting education to try to force a tax hike. But since nobody will vote for a tax hike before the election, what they'll probably do is put through a six-month budget, get re-elected in November, and THEN raise taxes or cut services -- screwing us midyear.

We have cut 20% of our certified teaching staff. 60% of our budget for early childhood as evaporated in one fell swoop of the state's hand (and we have a model program that gives our highest-risk students persistent gains that last for years AND gets a lot of their parents through their AAs). We've noticed the entire administration building, frozen salaries across the board, and are looking at further, deep cuts in non-cert staff. Almost all our state's stimulus money from ARRA went into paying the state's general obligations to school districts (the money we were supposed to be getting they didn't bother to budget for and were more than 90 days behind on their payments).

We're trying to cut around $21 million from a $150 million budget, the bulk of which is in salaries and benefits (around 85%, I think).

Also, not sure if you're aware, but most schools looking at 4-day weeks are rural districts serving sprawling areas, whose gasoline bills for the busses are significant, and cutting out a day creates significant savings. Urban and suburban districts are mostly not considering it because it doesn't create much savings for them.
The only positive thing about this is that it's going to force a conversation about a system that's been failing its clients for some time.

The negative thing is that the current tenor of the conversation is to scapegoat teachers and their unions.
This is tragic and surreal. We can improve the education system in this country, but not while our priorities are off. It just doesn't sit well with me when we reward a few with millions (sports players, actors, etc.).
Not to worry, anonymous 1, as I am sure you have noticed the BILLIONAIRES are all liberals (Jobs, Gates, most of actors) and I am sure that they won't need the government to force them to give over their money to support the greater good. They will most likely just hand it over, as motivated by their liberal selfless nature.
@anonymous Do you know what Bill Gates is up to these days? You might want to check.
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