A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How do state budget cuts affect educational philosophy?

Apparently, one of the great lessons of politics has finally come crashing down in some Illinois school districts under extreme pressure from state budgetary shenanigans. What is that great lesson of politics? Why, it is as old as civilization: Ideals are fine when they remain in the abstract. One example of this is the recent decision of some Illinois school districts to abandon the middle school model to save some money:
"For 10 years, Bethalto middle school students have moved through the school day in teams. While the 125 or so students were in art, music or technology, each team's teachers would meet to discuss academic progress and lesson plans.

Next year, that will all change.

Sixth-graders will return to an elementary school model with one main teacher all day. Seventh- and eighth-graders will switch to a junior high model.

No teams, no art, no music or technology.

The move goes against a decades-long trend toward middle schools in which school districts have invested in the middle grades by adding enrichment courses, reducing class sizes and boosting planning time for teachers.

But budget issues are causing several Illinois districts to reconsider the middle years. Collinsville Middle School will revert to a junior high after seven years as a middle school. East St. Louis will adopt a hybrid of the two models, in part because of finances. And Waterloo has decided to keep the middle school this year, but with deficit spending. If the economy doesn't pick up, it will revert to a junior high the following year.

Currently, there are more than 11,000 middle schools and fewer than 3,000 junior high schools nationwide.

Instead of seven 47-minute classes, the seventh- and eighth-graders at Bethalto will have five 60-minute class periods: social studies, English, math, science and P.E.

Bethalto School District Superintendent Sandra Wilson would prefer to keep the elective classes and the teams, but with the Illinois budget crisis and the state owing the district nearly $2 million, administrators think they have no other choice. Amid a $13 billion budget shortfall, Illinois is behind in paying about $1.4 billion to schools for such expenses as special education and transportation.

'We will cut as much as they fail to send," said Russ Clover, Bethalto School District's business manager. "Educationally that's a mistake, but financially this is a requirement. The state has no idea the damage they are doing to these kids.'

The middle school model is inherently more expensive because of its smaller classes, extra electives and additional teacher planning time...."

Now, I am not exactly a fawning fan of certain parts of the middle school philosophy. I have said before that the middle school model often provides shelter for some of the worst trends in helping our students become literate, responsible citizens. In particular, the middle school model also encourages the hiring of teachers who are generalists rather than specialists, and thus specific instructional content is often a serious weakness just when kids need to be challenged the most. But-- when the team model is done right, and administration supports teachers, educational standards actually both can be increased AND be met by the students. But students and their specific needs are the last priority in these decisions mentioned in the article. To cull bad practices because they are bad is one thing. To completely reorder a school because the state refuses to meet its obligations is quote another.

Well, one can only hope that perhaps, after the chaos settles from these decisions being made, perhaps a new model for early adolescent education may develop that would actually combine the BEST of both the junior high and middle school model.

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At 7/5/10, 7:14 PM, Anonymous ExurbanMom said...

The exact same thing is happening in my community. I hate that the teachers are losing time to connect with one another and have time to handle student problems more effectively. But it's hard to convey the worth of that to the community, who is so very focused on their tax bill.


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