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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Budget Restructure as a Method of Education Reform (LENGTHY)

Posted Tuesday, December 13, 2011, at 2:37 AM

I wrote this for my Freshman Composition class. It received a "B" and I may or may not have written it between midnight and 4 a.m. the day before it was due, but I think it is pretty good and has a few good points..."

Critics of the American education system are quick to blame lack of funding for the problems. They are quick to blame poor teachers for students' poor performance in tests, college, and in the international economy. While funding public schools is important, the amount is not nearly as important as how the funds are used. It is vital that school districts restructure their budgets immediately.

In an analysis using information from the United States Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics, financial news publisher 24/7 Wall St compiled a list of the top ten and bottom ten education states based on the amount of money spent per student and those states' graduation rates. If the critics were correct, more states in the top ten would have the highest graduation rates, and more states in the bottom ten would post lower graduation rates.

That scenario did not happen. In fact, both lists had five states in the top half of graduation rates, and both lists had five states in the bottom half of graduation rate (Sauter, Stockdale and McIntyre). If the amount a state spends on its public schools does necessarily produce better graduation rates (in fact, the state with the highest graduation rates does not appear on either list), then the problem with the money must be where it is going.

It is possible to argue that the issue of budget mismanagement only occurs in high-spending states. However, that argument ignores that three states in 24/7 Wall St's bottom ten are in the top twenty for graduation rates and that South Dakota's ninth graders have the best chance (59.9 percent) of going to college, even though the state spends the eighth lowest amount per student (The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems).

The first problem lies with administrative pay, largely in the position of superintendent. A large amount of money and a handsome benefits package often are given to these administrators, but the discrepancies among the superintendents of the United States are large. Often the salaries do not take into account the level of difficulty of the job. In Washington, a superintendent in Spokane who oversaw less than 4,000 children made over $10,000 more than the superintendent of the largest district- 28,000 students- in the area (Turner).

The salaries of superintendents in Western states are typically higher than the national average (Turner). However, Western states rank near the bottom for 9th graders' chances of going to college, Washington paying it's administrators nearly $100,000 more a year while it ranks 46th (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems). This discrepancy does not occur because of cost of living differences either- Washington's cost of living is well within the national average (Missouri Economic Research and Information Center).

States need to reevaluate administrative pay. The pay should be based on graduation rates and college going rates in the district, because those are representative of student success, which should be the main goal of any school district administrator. Paying administrators nearly a quarter of a million dollars to oversee less than 4,000 children takes money away from other important avenues that are severely lacking in funding.

The money could be put to better use funding the acquisition of textbooks. According to "Why Mathematics Textbooks Matter", textbooks will often determine what a student is taught (Reys, Reys, and Chávez). They are a vital organ in the course and by nature of that duty are subject to wear and tear. Unfortunately, textbooks are expensive for schools to purchase, costing districts of 28,000 students over $2 million (Newport News School District). Those textbooks are only fact-based books- teaching to standardized testing requirements and presenting math as a series of facts for memorization without explanation of relationships. The National Science Foundation in the late nineties sought to remedy this by promoting textbook production that focused on real-world examples and applications of the material. Research proved the books produced higher math achievement (Reys, Reys, and Chávez). Most likely prompted by fear of losing federal funding, however, schools are still using the fact-based books (Reys, Reys, and Chávez). Currently, it is not financially viable for textbook companies to heavily update their books and properly determine the text's effectiveness (Reys, Reys, and Chávez). It is possible to deduce that if schools could purchase updated texts more often, the companies could afford to produce higher quality products. The current lack of high quality texts further damages American students' abilities in mathematics.

This information is especially troubling because the number of math-based professions is growing in today's technology-driven atmosphere, but American students are not matching up. Companies outsource these white-collar jobs to countries with a larger amount of highly skilled workers and a lower price tag. American students simply cannot offer the same skills set in programming and engineering careers (Pink). This skills set begins in students' formative years, when a good teacher, utilizing resources that encourage learning relationships instead of facts. If a teacher cannot create connections to the real world with his or her teaching, the student will never look at the world in a way that would inspire him or her to pursue math-based higher education and careers (Benokraitis 73).

This same principle applies to technology in classrooms. Students need access to current technology. Some states are trying to head in that direction. In early 2011, Idaho governor Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna sought to equip freshmen each year with a laptop computer or iPad (Bonner). The plan had noble intentions- online learning provider Gatlin International facilitated a study that found "students who have access to a home computer are between six and eight percent more likely to graduate from high school than students that did not." The study also found that close to 26 percent of children in the United States do not have a computer in their home (Gatlin International).

Thought it had good intentions, the plan proposed in Idaho was not fiscally responsible. The cheapest Dell laptop at education pricing runs $391.99. To provide one for each of the 21,344 high school freshman enrolled in 2004 would have cost the state $8.3 million dollars a year (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems). The cheapest iPad (Currently Apple does not offer education pricing for the iPad) runs $499. To equip 2004's freshmen would have cost the state of Idaho $10.6 million a year (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems). Harder to swallow than the amount of money this plan cost the state is that it was funded by the termination of over 770 teaching positions (Russel).

More terrifying still in the process to update technology is how the 770 jobs were cut: by increasing class sizes. This avenue should never be pursued- larger class sizes diminish a teacher's time and resources to individually educate a student and be sure that student is not being left behind. A better option would be to update computer labs- an iMac runs roughly $1,000. To provide all 703 public schools, not just freshmen, in Idaho with a 30 person classroom of iMacs would run the state would cost the state $21 million, but this would be an investment that could potentially last schools 4-5 years, as opposed to laptops for just each freshman class, a cost that would need covered every year. Equipping each of the schools with a PC from Dell at $700 would cost less than a one-time payment of $15 million. The most long-term beneficial choice would be to equips all schools with a good computer lab. The savings could be used to update software or saved to procure more technology.

The benefits of these endeavors extend beyond math and science. Updated and better textbooks can improve all subjects- history books must constantly be update and literature books should have fresh material to present. Updated technology can allow students interested in graphic design, journalism, professional writing, photography, programming, and a vast amount of other fields to practice their craft well before they enter college and the working world.

It is time for voters to hold districts accountable for every penny the district spends. States like South Dakota prove schools can survive on small budgets. Teachers, students, and parents need to demand transparency and not stop until it is given- districts must restructure their budgets in accordance with what is best for the students, even if it means taking a pay cut after realizing they should not be paid $10,000 more than the superintendent responsible for over 20,000 more student. Legislators at the state level need to research what technology would offer the most benefit to students before making decisions that not only cost money, but also cost jobs and diminish the effectiveness of remaining teachers.

The success of students is not measured in what score a student receives on a state standardized test, nor is it measured in how much a state spends per student. Students graduating and excelling in the professional world or pursuing higher education are marks of success, and if students are dropping out of school or stopping at low-paying, dead-end jobs because they lack the skills and knowledge to do better, not only have they failed, but the school system has failed them as well. The restructuring of budgets is only a part of the solution, but it is a part that absolutely must happen.

Works Cited

Missouri Department of Economic Development. "Cost of Living 3rd Quarter 2011." 2011.

Missouri Economic Research and Development Center. 16 November 2011.

Newport News School District. "New Math Books to Cost NN School System 2.2 Million."

James River Journal 15 October 2010.

Bonner, Jessie L. "Reform Sparks Attempt At Repeal in Idaho." Huffington Post 6 August 2011.

Certification Map. "Teacher Salary." 2011. Certification Map. 17 November 2011.

Gatlin International. "Exploring Digital Exclusion." 29 September 2011. Gatlin International . 17

November 2011.

Lawrence-Turner, Jody. "School administrator pay vaires across state." 31 July 2011. Associated

Press State and Local wire. 14 November 2011.

National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. "9th Graders Chance for College

by Age 19." 2009. NCHEMS Information Center. 15 November 2011.

Pink, Daniel H. "The New Face of the Silicon Age." Wired 2 December 2004.

Reys, Barbara, Robert Reys and Oscar Chavez. "Why Mathematics Textbooks Matter."

Educational Leadership February 2004: 61-66.

Russel, Betsy Z. "Idaho school reform plan clears committee." The Spokesman-Review 17

February 2011.

Sauter, Micheal B., Charles B. Stockdale and Douglas A. McIntyre. "The States That Spend the

Most and Least On Each Student." 31 May 2011. 24/7 Wall St. 14 November 2011.

Turner, Jody Lawrence-. "School administrators' pay among highest in county." 6 February

2010. Spokesman Review. 15 November 2011.

Benokraitis, Nijole V. SOC 2. Belmonte: Cengage Learning. 2010. P. 73

Showing most recent comments first
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I can not tell you how many times when my grandson was living with me that his teachers all wished more parents were like me. They had my e-mail address for routine stuff, my cell # for pressing issues. The had a problem, it was dealt with by the next morning.

-- Posted by royincaldwell on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 6:31 PM

Thank you everyone. I definitely realize that parent and student accountability is important too, which is why I acknowledge this would only be a step. I had a page requirement and I had to have a lot of info to back it up, so budgets it was.

Warren, that is a great (albeit terribly sad) story.

-- Posted by lilmissmelmo on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 10:46 AM

"You can lead a horse to water, but can not make them drink" is true. THIS is where PARENT accountability comes in, IMHO. It is not only up to teachers to strive to teach these kids, but for parents to drive and have high expectations on all levels. I'm not going to try to act like everything I did with my kids was perfect. However, they KNEW they better NOT come home and have bad grades consistently. EVER. I may or may not have beat the desire into them, to do/be better.... but they thought I might/would. I did not go to the schools and complain about this teacher or that teacher, I laid responsibility on my child, which also laid it on me.

I can NOT begin to describe the lack of care I see, and I want to spit and scream sometimes.

Anyway, Melodie, great article! Very concise and well worded, KUDOS! to you and your parents!

-- Posted by jessiemiller on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 10:05 AM

Melodie - I just reviewed some of your other writings (blogs).

fyi, I "watched" the second plane fly into the Twin Towers live on TV in a Hilton in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. For a few minutes,I was certain it was a computer generated image. Then I remembered a November day in 1963. I had gone home (in MH) at noon to pick up a social studies report I had written at the last minute. While eating my brown bag lunch, I flipped on the TV just in time to see the first "inconcievable event" in my lifetime. I raced back to school but was late for the bell. My teacher, who I loved dearly, asked me why I was late and I blurted out that the President had been shot. She slapped my face, jerked me out of my chair, grabbed me by the ear and drug me to the Principal's office where she slammed me into another chair. She was screaming at the Principal when he gently held his hand over her mouth and used her first name to tell her I was not lying. He then finished his announcement to the rest of the teachers and students.

America survived both events and I predict that the President's list at OU won't be your last honor.

Thanks for propping up my hopes that America's future is in good hands. Your's and one day my grandson's (who is three).

Enjoy Japan.

Warren Hostetler

-- Posted by wh67 on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 9:58 AM

A very good observation. We had what they called the "new" math in school. I never understood it. Why? because the teachers couldn't explain it either. Not for the lack of trying, but because they would give you both versions at the same time, but it was the "new" math that they tested you on.

Thank you for your insight.

-- Posted by KH Gal on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 9:08 AM

You have made some great points and it is refreshing to see a person using facts vs emotions. Keep up the good work. On a personal note, I believe teaching to the test is the worst idea ever, especially when salary incentives are tied to standardized test scores.

-- Posted by royincaldwell on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 5:25 AM

In other news: I complete my last final tomorrow night. Look for my name in the paper sometime in the next month- I should be on the President's list!

-- Posted by lilmissmelmo on Tue, Dec 13, 2011, at 1:37 AM

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A Different Perspective
Melodie Lettkeman
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I'm a staff writer for the Tiger Tribune, and I have a lot to say! Music, books, movie reviews, my opinions and updates around the high school.
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