President Obama visited with children at Powell Elementary School in D.C. on Tuesday to mark the release of his new budget proposals for education. There is a 2% increase in discretionary spending ($1.3 billion). The funding is a sign of the administration's high regard for education, yet, not surprisingly, some of the proposals seem absurd to a seasoned teacher.
1. Money is being dumped to create data systems to identify the most effective teachers so that "talent" can be moved to "underserved communities."
I hate to say it, but the most effective teachers may find that their secret sauce for student success loses its flavor when they lack students with secure home environments in which their needs are well met, there is a commitment to learning and a firm belief that education is a clear path to success in life.
Students with the greatest needs should have the smaller class sizes. They need more individual attention. In city schools, many times there are 34 students on a roster, sometimes more. Even if there was such a thing as the head of a "highly effective teacher" detached from his or her student body, the chances for success with 34 or so people with high needs in one room is extremely low. The chance of teacher burnout is extremely high! Why is class size so commonly ignored when any teacher will tell you the extreme benefits to be garnered from its reduction?
2. The President desires $200 million for professional development of teachers as it relates to technology. Although it would be nice to end the digital divide and to ensure that all teachers are literate in the latest programs, studies seem to show that technology may be more for show than sustained learning. Secretary Arne Duncan referenced Amanda Ripley when praising South Korean parents. He failed to note that her studies point to the fact that technology plays a relatively minor role in countries like Finland where education seems to thrive.
3. The White House would like $47 billion in bonus money, over ten years, for colleges that boost the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients. I can tell you that at the high-school level, under Mayor Bloomberg, graduation rates increased as credit-recovery programs and data-driven pressures helped lower the standards. Diplomas were academically cheapened.
4. I like the idea of establishing closer links between some high schools and colleges and/or potential employers. I have no qualms about school choice so long as the choice does not strangle public schools, discriminate and/or fabricate phony data blind to student attrition rates.
5. It seems Title I grants for the most disadvantaged students ($14.4 billion) and state grants for special education ($11.5 billion) will be "flatlined." This is a little hard to understand; it seems like this part of the budget might be most critical in helping the president reach his goal of closing the achievement gap.
6. Oddly enough, pre-K is slated to be funded by an increase in taxes on tobacco. If smokers stop as recommended by most doctors, it seems pre-K will be stubbed out as fast as a cigarette smacking an ash try.
7. Given the toxicity of the term "Common" as it relates to a certain core, it seems the budget no longer uses the term "common" next to standards. Probably a politically motivated mute point given the efforts to rebrand the Core in many states.
I wonder who the President and Secretary of Education entertain before they draft their budget proposals. Although the President made a public appearance at a school to introduce the budget, and had some great photo ops, I'm guessing he didn't stop by too many times prior to feel out the teachers and parents on what might help their students the most. The Race to the Top continues unabated as top-down mandates. Maybe someone should call a timeout in this race and consider the sanity of it all!