Setting the Standard in Education

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Americans: Xenophobic Since 1776

In LA on April 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

Old white people are at it again, spreading fear and hatred of other cultures to “protect the children.” OK, I know I shouldn’t say that and it’s a gross over-generalization, but it got you interested, right? Today’s local LA story comes from Hacienda Heights, an “unincorporated census-designated place” about 18 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (it’s also the home of The Dutchess). The area has more than its share of racial angst with drastic demographic changes in the last 30 years. An area that was once very white then became heavily Asian, and now  also very Hispanic. The most recent census data shows that Asians and Latinos each make up a little under 40% of the population with Caucasians being just under 20%.

How has this played out? One example is the protesting of the building of a Buddhist temple in the 1980s because of fears there may be animal sacrifices and that the use of gongs would be disruptive toi the neighborhood. No, really, that was not an exaggeration. More recently, the district voted whether to be come a city on its own in 2003, but that was struck down. Some worried that it would become too easy for the Asians to take control. That being said, the one major council that Hacienda Heights does have, the Board of Education of Hacienda La Puente School District, is a majority Asian.

Now that we have our scene set, we watch as the action unfolds. The Chinese government recently began a program called the Confucius Classroom, an effort to teach children Chinese and about Chinese culture to try to root out misconceptions, or as one editorial called it, “tantamount to asking Hugo Chavez to send his cadres to teach little American kids economics.” I wish I were kidding. Anyway, back in reality, the Chinese government has funded these classrooms all across the US, 60 so far and another 80 planned for the next two years, aside from the 45 to be set up in North Carolina. It is paying the school district $30,000 per year plus providing 1,000 textbooks, CDs, and other educational materials. The Hanban, China’s language teaching agency, was even going to send a teacher, but the school board thought better of it with there already being so much resistance. Without a California teaching certificate, the person would have had to be a teaching assistant with another staff member there anyway.

Confucius - Warping Young Minds Since 551 BCE (man, I'm on a roll with these slogans) Image from http://media.photobucket.com/image/america%20not%20confucius/weedini/confucius-1.jpg

Anyway, you can see where this is going. People (mostly old white people, mind you) are opposing the program, because they think it’s un-American. They think that the program will indoctrinate children into being Pinko Commies. They have even shown up to school board meetings with signs like “America, Not Confucius” and have promised to try to unseat the four members who voted for the program. Did I mention one person opposed to the program said her concern is that if you Google Confucianism, “it says it’s a religion”? Oh the irony. A program meant to keep children from ending up as ignorant and closed-minded as these people may not happen because of their ignorance.

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Who Deserves to be Laid Off?

In California on April 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

That’s the question on the lips of many education  policy makers. It’s not that anyone really wants people to be laid off, but if someone has to, who should it be? In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has supported a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. The current system, which forces school districts to get rid of their newest teachers completely ignores the strength of the teachers getting laid off. This has a few repercussions:

Someone's got to go, so who should it be?

1. The most obvious is that terrible teachers get locked in once they’re in a school long enough and great upcoming new teachers are kicked to the street. This not only lowers the quality of the teaching, it means that change rarely happens. New ideas in how to teach are much less likely to be put into practice. It doesn’t matter if teacher preparation gets better if none of the teachers coming out of those programs can’t hold down jobs. On top of that, it takes away some incentive for teachers to get better at their practice. If they are not pushed to be the best, they don’t have to be.

2. As Gov. Schwarzenegger points out, in a district like LAUSD, minority students suffer disproportionately. The ACLU has actually sued the state and LAUSD because of the extremely high rates of layoffs in poor neighborhoods. Because schools in high-poverty areas are often a rotating door for teachers, they have a much higher number of new teachers. How high? The three schools that the ACLU is suing over had between half and three-quarters of their teachers laid off last year.

3. By firing the employees who are newer and make less money, more teachers have to be laid off. A report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education from last year showed that almost 50% more people have to be laid off when layoffs are seniority-based, rather than seniority-neutral. For example, to have a 10% reduction in salary expenditure (which is a completely reasonable number in the coming year, by the way), more than a quarter million more teachers would have to be laid off using a seniority-based system.

Obviously, there are many great reasons to change the system. Opponents, like UTLA President A.J. Duffy think that without protections for teachers who have been teaching for a long time, the opposite will happen: the more expensive older teachers will be the first to be laid off, because they cost more. Obviously, this would also be a problem, since there wouldn’t be teachers with a great deal of experience to help newer teachers. However, aside from this not being very likely, the solution which is being proposed is simple: base firings on effectiveness and ignore seniority. That’s what should be done anyway. A strong veteran teacher should have the same protection as a strong new teacher and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are others who try to stall improvements. LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortinez says he is fine with changing the system as long has it is a solution that is developed by the unions and a task force. For those who don’t know, these task forces are notoriously slow, taking years to make reasonable decisions. These layoffs are happening this summer. There is no time to wait -and perhaps that is his plan. Take so long that it becomes irrelevant. Thankfully the state is trying to come through when the local district doesn’t have the chutzpah to do anything.

UCLA’s CRP Has Its Head in an Oven

In LA, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

It is like having your feet in the oven and your head in the icebox, and saying that, on average, the temperature is just right.

Those are the words University of Arkansas education policy professor Gary Ritter used to describe the methodology that UCLA’s Civil Rights Project used in comparing charter school segregation. As a USC grad, I appreciate any time I can make fun of UCLA. Ritter ripped the CRP for a biased sample, comparing charter schools in predominantly segregated inner-cities with all public schools, both in segregated and non-segregated areas. The CRP concluded that charter schools are much more segregated than public schools based on national, state, and metropolitan averages, rather than comparing to schools serving the same populations. When those schools are compared, Ritter said, there is very little difference. For example, the study pointed out that students in the DC metro area have a 20% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school (more than 90% minority or more than 90% white), while those in charter schools in DC have a 91% chance. What they fail to mention is that the DC metro area includes Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, whereas the majority of the charter schools in the DC metro area are within DC city limits which Ritter shows gives students an 86% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school. He says that what would be better than aggregated data like this is data showing students who switched and comparing their current schools to the ones they otherwise would have attended.

Ritter points to a study by the RAND corporation in 2009 that did this very thing. It found that:

Transfers to charter schools did not create dramatic shifts in the sorting of students by race or ethnicity in any of the sites included in the study. In most sites, the racial composition of the charter schools entered by transferring students was similar to that of the TPSs [traditional public schools] from which the students came.

In some places, charters tended to be slightly more segregated and in some places, they were slightly less segregated. Overall, the UCLA study seems flawed in that its focus was on the segregation specifically in charter schools, when the real segregation is in the cities themselves, regardless of whether the children are attending charter schools or not. To call the charter schools “apartheid” is not only incorrect, it spits in the face of those who had to actually live under forced segregation.

New Look

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

As you can see, I changed the look of the blog. The other one was generic. For this one, I used the new Twenty Ten theme and made a header. What do you think? Better? Worse? I’m still not jazzed about it, but at least it’s passable. Any suggestions?

Tuesdays with Arne: Is Race to the Top Arbitrary?

In Federal on April 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

It seems like I have some learning to do in terms of keeping consistency. I have had a busy last week and finally have some time to commit to the blog. Fear not, though. I will make sure to mend my ways and adjust my scheduling. On to more knowledge!

There seem to be lots of people angry about education these days. Usually they are angry that others are running things a different way than they think things should be run. Charter schools or no charter schools? Teach For America or education schools? Pump lots of money in or let them suffer? OK, that one’s not what people actually think, but sometimes it seems that way.  One way to get lots of people angry is to throw around some money. Everyone always wants to say how money should be spent. Give incentives. Pay teachers more. Buy more technology. Any use of government funds is therefore at the top of the anger meter. Public funds are in part everyone’s money, so everyone seems to think they should have some say over it.

Last week, The Washington Post‘s education blog, “The Answer Sheet,” ran an article entitled “Race to Top Winners Chosen Arbitrarily.” It was based on a report from the Economic Policy Institute which calls the Race to the Top “a muddled path to the finish line.” I have a hard time reading things that seem so categorical. As soon as a report comes out calling something fundamentally right or wrong, I become skeptical. However, the report has some strong analysis, despite its extreme conclusions. It has some important criticisms that should be corrected in future rounds of Race to the Top if it is to continue.

For those who don’t know, Race to the Top uses a 500-point rating system to determine the winners of hundreds of millions of dollars. The table at the bottom, which is shown in the report and comes from http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-27426.pdf, shows what factors go into the process. As you can see, there are thirty different factors that the were used to determine grades. And that leads me to the first criticism – Peterson and Rothstein (neither of whom I’d like to point out are education policy analysts) say that the process is “needlessly complex.” The point out that there are lots of factors with varying weights. I’m not sure that this is much of a problem, since education is complex in itself. Better to have a large number of specific criteria than a few vague ones.

However, the importance of this claim becomes more apparent in conjunction with the fact that these criteria are not scientifically chosen. I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion. They state that the factors themselves seem to be arbitrary. Clearly the people running this are not just picking issues out of a hat. The report brings up a good point that even though the factors are somewhat based on policy preferences, even that does not quite hold water. Duncan’s “Blueprint,” which  gives proposals for allocations in the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) includes ideas for competitions in areas that are given no points in RttT. The report makes it seem as if this means that there is some incongruity – either Duncan thinks these are important issues or he doesn’t. But if he’s asking for money separately, does that necessarily mean there needs to be money directed at these areas twice?

In addition to the claim that the factors are arbitrary, the report says the weights themselves are arbitrary:

Is there scientific support for the “State Success Factors” being 90.6% as important as the “Great Teachers and Leaders”
factor? Should the “Great Teachers” maximum points be 140, or maybe 163, instead of 138?

Apparently they subscribe to the logical fallacy that I warned my my 10th graders against: a lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. In other words, just because these researchers don’t know reasons for there being varying weights does not mean there aren’t any reasons. It seems absurd to claim that there was no scientific basis for choosing these factors and these weights. They even point out that there was a time period for open comments from the public, some of which were accepted and others rejected (or as they claim “ignored”). The problem is that the reasoning was not given, not that there wasn’t reasoning.

The biggest problem with RttT’s system in my eyes that the report points out are the enormous scales used and the inconsistency in grading as a result. In my Master’s in Education program, we were warned against having grading scales that are too complex. There are usually only about three to five gradations that a normal person is able to distinguish between. Even getting up to seven starts to get hazy. What is the difference between scoring 42 or 43 points out of 50? That, I will agree, leads to arbitrariness. If the creators of the system want something to be worth 50 points, then differences in weighting need to occur, rather than a broad scale. Perhaps it should be out of five possible points and then multiplied by 10.  On top of the scale, it is clear that the factors themselves are not specific enough. The report points out that in one instance, Florida received scores of 25, 35, 38, 40, and 40 points from the five judges on the same criteria. The scores are then averaged. I don’t know about you but to me, for one person to think  that Florida should get 25 while two others think 40 means that someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. There needs to be consistency. The report suggests an olympic-style dropping of lowest and highest scores to account for outliers. This does not satisfy me. If there are extreme outliers, that points to a problem in the criterion itself. The graders need to have consensus and not just agree to disagree.

With all of these problems, and I will agree that there are a fair number, Peterson and Rothstein recommend that the government move toward a pass/fail system, rather than such a complex one that is sure to have many inconsistencies. However, this seems to be a step backwards. The whole point of Race to the Top is that there is a top that states are aiming for, not a bottom. To have a bare minimum that states need to achieve sets states’ aims at that minimum, rather than creating an education market of sorts in which the best state wins. With so much money riding, there certainly need to be improvements, but altering concept is not necessary in light of these particular problems.

Metric Weighting for Race to the Top Competition

Possible points Weight
A. State success Factors 125 25%
(A)(1) Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEA’s participation in it 65 13
(i) Articulating comprehensive, coherent reform agenda 5 1
(ii) Securing LEA commitment 45 9
(iii) Translating LEA participation into statewide impact 15 3
(A)(2) Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans 30 6
(i) Ensuring the capacity to implement 20 4
(ii) Using broad stakeholder support 10 2
(A)(3) Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps 30 6
(i) Making progress in each reform area 5 1
(ii) Improving student outcomes 25 5
B. Standards and Assessments 70 14
(B)(1) Developing and adopting common standards 40 8
(i) Participating in consortium developing high-quality standards 20 4
(ii) Adopting standards 20 4
(B)(2) Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments 10 2
(B)(3) Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments 20 4
C. Data systems to support Instruction 47 9
(C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system 24 5
(C)(2) Accessing and using state data 5 1
(C)(3) Using data to improve instruction 18 4
D. Great Teachers and Leaders 138 28
(D)(1) Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals 21 4
(D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance 58 12
(i) Measuring student growth 5 1
(ii) Developing evaluation systems 15 3
(iii) Conducting annual evaluations 10 2
(iv) Using evaluations to inform key decisions 28 6
(D)(3) Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals 25 5
(i) Ensuring equitable distribution in high-poverty or high-minority schools 15 3
(ii) Ensuring equitable distribution in hard-to-staff subjects and specialty areas 10 2
(D)(4) Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs 14 3
(D)(5) Providing effective support to teachers and principals 20 4
E. Turning around the Lowest-achieving schools 50 10
(E)(1) Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs 10 2
(E)(2) Turning around the lowest-achieving schools 40 8
(i) Identifying the persistently lowest-achieving schools 5 1
(ii) Turning around the persistently lowest-achieving schools 35 7
F. General 55 11
(F)(1) Making education funding a priority 10 2
(F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools 40 8
(F)(3) Demonstrating other significant reform conditions 5 1
Competitive Preference Priority 2: Emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) 15 3
Total 500 100%

My Edcrush on Michelle Rhee: Lessons from the DCPS Chancellor

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm

This morning, I participated in a virtual town hall with Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington, DC Public Schools (DCPS). I was so wrapped up in what she was saying that I forgot to take notes, so I have to write this all now before I forget. The town hall’s official topic was the role of principals in transformation, something that sounds strongly in line with Teach For America’s ideals (Rhee was a Baltimore corps member), and indeed, Ms. Rhee seemed to be the embodiment of what Teach For America espouses. She was very upfront about her focus on doing what is best for student achievement, whether or not people like her. Being “warm and fuzzy” is not in the best interest of the students, so that’s not who she is. One example of an controversial move she made was when she shut down 23 schools and fired 36 principals in her first year. Not a popular action by any standards. However, she pointed out that by shuttering those schools, she was able to supply every single school with resources that not every school had had in the past. She was able to make sure all children got access to an art teacher, a PE teacher, a librarian – things many of us take for granted in our educations.

This is Chancellor Rhee with her Youth Cabinet. The photo is from the Chancellor's Corner section of the DCPS website. http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Chancellor's+Corner

Rhee’s changes have not come without results. She mentioned that this past year, DC had the biggest growth on a national test of any state or city in the country. While they are not at the absolute top in terms of performance, they have made the biggest strides of any district. This is especially impressive given that this is only Rhee’s 3rd year as chancellor. But enough about  Ms. Rhee herself. The real purpose of blogging this is to tell a little about what she said were important lessons to learn about the necessity of principals. Since this was a town hall, I’ll format this into questions that were asked of her and answers she gave. Again, these are not word for word, since I don’t have a transcript, so don’t quote it.

Q: Can school turnarounds happen without principals having complete control of hiring and firing?

A: Obviously, there are lots of factors that go into what makes a school strong. However, if a school is doing poorly enough to need a turnaround, it means they need to make big changes. Aside from whether or not the school is filled with “bad” teachers, a principal needs to be able to have control of their team. He or she needs to have the ability to make decisions and have people who will comply. In most cases, control of the staffing is one of the most essential functions a principal can have to make major changes.

Q: What is the first thing a new principal needs to do with their school?

A: That depends on the state of the school. If the school is already at least moderately performing, then the number one thing is to examine teacher practices and see what improvements can be made. If the school is performing poorly, teacher practices are obviously something that need to be changed, but first, there needs to be a culture change. There needs to be a positive environment before any of the smaller changes can happen.

Q: What about parents and the community? Can a successful turnaround happen without them?

A: While parental involvement is helpful, DCPS has shown in the last few years that we can make changes in schools and have positive results. We have the same families in our city that we did before. As a chancellor, it is my job to make sure the schools are doing their jobs right. We have created a district where principals and teachers want to be and that’s the difference.

Q: Why has DCPS been so successful?

A: We have a unique situation here in Washington, DC. We don’t have a school board. We don’t have a lot of channels that decisions have to go through. If I want to make a change, I ask Mayor Fenty, he gives me the thumbs up, and it’s in place. It’s that easy. We can make improvements right away without having to wait.

Q: Do you have success because of strong development for principals?

A: If you want to learn how to be a successful principal through professional development, DC is not the place for you to be. Right now, we don’t have much in the way of development for our principals. It’s not that I don’t want to have any; we just don’t have it in place yet. We’re still in startup mode. I want DC to eventually be a place where principals can leave and be ready to be superintendents. The reason our principals do well is that I have hired people who are all smarter than me. They know what they’re doing and if they do something wrong, they are smart enough to learn from it.

Tuesdays with Arne

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 2:28 pm

For those of you who are NPR buffs, you may have heard Neil Conan’s interview of Arne Duncan yesterday on Talk of the Nation. If you haven’t, it’s a good listen (or read, if you prefer). I especially appreciate Conan’s pressing of inconsistencies. In particular, he starts out right away asking whether the “education bailout” would be tied to reform at all. Duncan tries to skirt around this a few times, but finally relents and says “no.” He claims that we need to give this money to save jobs, since so many districts are cutting teachers due to financial troubles, but at the same time keep pressing a reform agenda. Basically, we want to keep education alive, but still have that carrot to make it get better. This sounds great until you look at the numbers a la Andy Smarick. Raise your hand if you know how much the Race to the Top money is worth. Right, $4.35 billion dollars. It sounds like a lot of money, until you compare the other money coming from Congress to the states for education. The first big wallet opening was in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  – a whopping $75 billion. On top of that, Duncan is pressing for this second bailout of an additional $23 billion. That’s $98 billion that is no-strings-attached. States and districts don’t have to change their policies a bit to load that into their pockets. Now how big does $4.35 billion sound? States may be offered a carrot, but it’s only after receiving a 5-course dinner.

My other big bone to pick with Duncan is his view on funding. He says that not only does most of the money for education come from the local level, it should. I can not even begin to think of how the person running our federal education plan can possibly really believe that. After he just gets through talking about how students right outside of Chicago have double the funding per student as those he presided over as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, he says that funding should come from the local level. Something does not compute here. Is he saying that it’s OK for those kids from rich families to have better funding for their schools? This seems preposterous to me. It’s one thing to say that educational decisions should come from the local level. I don’t personally agree with that, but I can understand where people are coming from when they say that. But to say that the bulk of funding should come from the local level? That makes absolutely no sense to me. I worked in a school in Arizona for two years that got less funding than another school in the exact same district, simply because money generated from income taxes was higher at that other school. The rich stay rich and the poor kids have to make due. Duncan talks about creating incentives for teachers to go into urban and poverty-stricken schools. How about at least allowing for some fair competition? If a failing school doesn’t have the resources to compete with a great one, why would a teacher want to go there? I hear lots of hope for change, but I’d like to see them put their money where their mouths are – and more than just 4% of the money.

But Why? Teaching Philosophy to Children

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm

It looks like 3 days (or is it 4?)  is way too much time between posts. There have been so many education issues that have taken root on blogs and in newspapers over the last few days that I hardly know where to begin. I will say I’m happy to see that there are actually people reading and what’s more, that the issues I’ve covered have later been covered by larger blogs, such as Joanne Jacobs’s blog, which is the number one rated education blog, according to Social Media Explorer. There have been some big things in the intervening time, from Governor Charlie Crist’s vetoing of a bill that would link student test scores to teacher pay to criticism of the core standards initiative  to the competition within Race to the Top that tackles assessments. It’s really hard to choose where to begin, since all of those are topics that interest me.

However, I’ll come back to them and instead focus on an article in the New York Times from a couple of weeks ago that caught my eye while I was setting up my Google Reader to get a flow of education articles from around the net. The article focuses on a program at once innovative and millenia old – teaching philosophy to young children. The article especially intrigued me because of conversations that I had with a good friend and co-teacher about the necessity of formally teaching logic. I remember one time when we were trying to get our seniors to understand some basic principles of logic that he told me if he ever ran a school, he would mandate a logic class for freshmen. The article is about people who take it one step further and ask, “Why not teach them philosophy while they’re young?” The article focuses on Professor Thomas E. Wartenberg who takes his Mount Holyoke students to elementary schools to talk to children about philosophical topics from ethics to aesthetics to political philosophy. Another professor, Gareth Matthews from the University of Massachusetts points out that young children are naturally curious, so it makes sense to teach philosophy to them at that age.

Because the concept seems foreign to Americans, who prefer more directly “academic” models that make skills like reading and solving mathematics problems the basis for learning, it makes sense that the idea of teaching philosophy to children, which Matthew Lipman has been pressing since the 70s, has caught on more in other countries than here. Lipman’s Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children has created curriculum materials that have been translated into over 40 languages, but there are only a few public schools in the country that have embraced it.

This seems a shame to me. There are few more fundamental skills than logic, which is at the foundation of philosophy. Schools are too scared to “waste their time” on such things, because they are more worried about standardized tests, but in reality, not only will these skills increase a student’s capacity to deal with the real world, it can even help them on multiple-choice tests, too. Logic helps in math, allowing students to see how math problems work, not just what the answers are. It is useful in reading, giving students the ability to make inferences and understand why things happen the way they do. Perhaps most importantly, the most fundamental question in philosophy is one that helps students buy into what they are learning – why. Often the biggest resistance to learning comes from students feeling as though they are wasting their time. If a student can ask and answer why they are learning something, they are far more likely to want to learn it and to put effort into it. The problem with many students is that they don’t even have the skills to ask why. Our insistence that students learn what things are – what is the largest animal, what year did the Battle of Lexington and Concord occur, what is the formula for the circumference of a circle – rather than why they are, leads to both their apathy and an inability to to answer, but more importantly ask why.

You Mean I Need to Be Qualified?

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I’m at work, it’s 9:30, and I want to go home, so I’ll make this one short. The New York Times published an article about a study on teacher preparedness showed that while future elementary school teachers tend to be well-qualified for their jobs, future middle school teachers are not as qualified, when compared to other countries. American college students studying to be teachers were about in the middle of the pack, although admittedly the study did not look at many “advanced” countries. In addition, not surprisingly, teacher preparation quality varied incredibly when comparing school by school. Some schools fared as poorly as students in poorer countries, like Botswana.

I can’t say this information blows me away. There has been widespread scrutiny of education students for some time.  It’s interesting to note that while the author of the study thinks the results show American education “is not up to the task”, Hank Kepner, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics thinks, “we show up pretty well.” Definitely much different standards.

For the Children

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

I am sure I’m not alone in being often disappointed by the politics of education. Despite the need for education to  have a focus on what’s best for the students that are being educated, more often others’ interests seem to be the focal point. Today’s news from LAUSD is that  UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) has agreed to the district’s request to scale back schooling. If approved by the school board, which seems likely, five days will be taken off of this year’s calendar and an additional seven will be taken off of next year. This pleases the powers that be, because now they don’t have to pinch as much from district office costs. It also appeases UTLA, because it means fewer teachers have to be cut and classroom sizes won’t grow. Now, I’m not sure about my math, but I’m pretty sure five days isn’t going to affect class sizes all that much. I assume the logic is that if each teacher is paid for five fewer days, then there are theoretically more teachers that can be paid with the same amount of money.

Problems with this logic:
1. Knocking off five days out of 180 saves an estimated $140 million. Yay! We can hire $140 million worth of teachers that we couldn’t before. Wrong. Even with that cut, the district is still in the hole $500 million. Sure, the argument can be made that the district would have laid off an additional $140 million worth of teachers (around 3,000), but in reality the district would have taken a little from here, a little from there, just like they’ve been doing.
2. Five fewer days of school means five fewer days that students will have to learn what they need to in order to pass their classes. This pans out in two ways: A. some teachers water down their classes and it is easier to pass and B. some students who would have barely passed will now be barely failing, because just didn’t quite get enough to get them past that threshold. So, all of the students end up learning less, and some end up learning just enough less that they have to take extra classes to catch up. Is it enough to make up the 2% difference in money saved? Perhaps not, but it is enough that it won’t make much of a difference financially, but may make just enough of a difference to a student.

Of course, we make all of our decisions with the interest of the students.