Where the money goes

“Inflation-adjusted federal per-pupil spending (part of the goal of which was to narrow achievement gaps) has nearly tripled” since the 1970s, but the gaps remain, writes Heritage’s Lindsey Burke on the Daily Signal.

Schools are employing more adults — especially more non-teachers — per student.

School funding declined in 2012 for the first time in 35 years, reports the Census Bureau. New York was the top spender, at $19,552 per pupil, while Utah spent only $6,206.

Utah legislator: End compulsory education

It’s time to end compulsory education and hold parents responsible for their children’s learning, wrote Utah Sen. Aaron Osmond on the Utah State Senate blog.

Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system. As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.

Unfortunately, in this system, teachers rarely receive meaningful support or engagement from parents and occasionally face retaliation when they attempt to hold a child accountable for bad behavior or poor academic performance.

The schools are “obligated by law to be all things to all people,” Osmond complains.

Learning is an opportunity, not an obligation, Osmond told the Deseret News. “Let’s let them choose it, let’s not force them to do it,” he said.

Utah spends the least per-student on public schools of any state and has the largest class sizes. I’ve always thought they got away with it because so many kids come from two-parent Mormon families. I guess even Utah has problems with under-parented kids.

“Utah lawmaker calls for end to compulsory education” is the Deseret News headline, which Jeff Landaw posted on Facebook. I responded: “There’s no such thing as compulsory education. We do have compulsory school attendance.”

Public school spending falls for the first time

U.S. public-education spending per student fell in 2011 for the first time since 1977, reports the Census Bureau. Public schools spent $10,560 per student, a drop of 0.4 percent from the year before. Adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil dropped once in 1995, according to the Wall Street Journal. In real dollars, spending per pupil was down 4 percent in 2011 from the peak in 2009.

New York spent the most per pupil at $19,076, followed by Washington, D.C. at $18,475. Utah spent the least, $6,212 per student, followed by Idaho at $6,824. (Both low-spending states have lots of Mormons, which means large families and fewer social problems.)

Thirty states increased per pupil funding: New Hampshire is spending 6.8 percent more.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia spent less. Illinois cut spending by 7.4 percent.

In the future, more education spending will go to teacher pensions and health benefits, leaving less for instruction, predicts Kim Rueben, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center and an expert on the economics of education.

Teacher’s got a gun

Arming educators is a reality in some places and under serious consideration in others, reports Education Week.

 In Utah, school employees have been able to carry concealed weapons onto campus for about a decade—without telling a soul—and at least four Texas school districts are known to have granted select employees permission to take concealed weapons to school.

A rural Texas district, Southland is 15 miles from the nearest law-enforcement agencies, says Superintendent Toby Miller. Deciding “we are the first responders,”  Southland is training some of its employees to carry guns.

The armed employees, a small subset of the district’s 32-member staff, went through mental-health screenings and trained for their concealed-weapons licenses together. The training will be ongoing, he said, as long as Southland employees carry weapons. And the guns fire so-called frangible ammunition, which breaks into small pieces on contact, preventing ricochet.

Armed staffers must carry their weapon at all times in a concealed holster: Guns cannot be carried in a purse or locked in a desk.

Michael S. Dorn, who runs the nonprofit Safe Havens International, worries about a new attitude among school employees since the Newtown shootings: “Now, I’m supposed to die” to defend students.

Dorn, a former school police chief, thinks too many teachers and administrators have switched to attack mode. “We’re seeing so many [school employees] saying they would attack” someone, he said, “whether it’s two parents coming into the office arguing over a custody issue or people pulling a handgun but not actually shooting anybody.”

A few weeks ago, a school principal told me she’s been thinking about whether she’d give her life to protect her students from a gunman as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary did. Another woman said. “I’d want a gun.”

Other schools are taking a different tack: Marietta, Georgia public schools are installing “panic buttons” that call 911.  At an Alabama school, teachers and staff wear panic buttons around their necks that trigger a school lockdown.

Lonely groundhogs: Where’s the math?

Oak Norton, a Utah blogger, predicts the Death of Math after reading a new secondary math textbook circulated by the state education department. For example, the Lonely Groundhog assignment, adapted from the Interactive Mathematics Program, sets up a game:

. . . Once winter is over (groundhogs) live in fancy houses that are decorated with the most beautiful shapes. Since groundhogs aren’t very creative, they live in houses that look just like the house of at least one other groundhog. Groundhogs that live in identical houses always play together. However, one groundhog has a house different from all the rest. Sometimes this groundhog is left all alone. If you can help find the lonely groundhog, perhaps you could introduce it to all the other groundhogs.

Each group gets 40 cards with pictures of groundhog houses, which are evenly distributed face down. One card only has no match.

Your group’s task is to discover the singleton card of the lonely groundhog. When your group thinks they have located the house of the lonely groundhog the task is ended, whether or not you are correct. Therefore, you must be sure that everyone is confident of your answer before you announce that you are done. 

The rules ban showing, trading, passing, drawing or looking at cards or putting cards in a common pile when duplicates are found. However, “you may set your cards face down in front of you once you think you have found a match.” And anything else is legal, so presumably kids are supposed to describe the shapes on their cards.

But the point isn’t to learn to identify or describe shapes. Students are asked:

What were your group’s strengths and weaknesses? How can you help your group work together better and improve your individual participation? How did you know when you were done? How confident were you in knowing you had solved the problem? Why were you so confident?

The homework asks students “to reflect upon the way you participate in groups within a math classroom and outside of a math classroom.”

1. a. Think of a time when you or someone in your group was left out of the discussion. Describe the situation. Did anyone try to include that person? If not, why not? If yes, then how?

b. What might you have done to help with the situation?

And so on and on. I came across a teacher who’d assigned Lonely Groundhog homework — and work on quadratic equations. So we’re not talking about little kids here.

Norton is afraid that under Common Core Standards, the state will force all districts to use the same, inane learning materials.

Teachers, is this game less stupid and time-wasting than I think?

It’s the students, stupid

“The main problem with our education system today is not what is taught, where it is taught, by whom it is taught or how it is taught,” writes Teresa Talbot in the Deseret News. After 24 years teaching in Utah public schools, she believes, “The main problem with education today is students who refuse to work,”

It is the students in a science class where the teacher finally stopped giving students work to complete at home because very few of them bothered to do it. Instead, she began giving students time in class to complete all assignments. Over a third of her students failed because they refused to work in class.

. . . It is the students in my math classes who, when I showed them how to work a multiple step problem, called out, “I’m not doing that; it’s too much work.” It is the students who “complete” and turn in every assignment and still score less than 30 percent on the test covering that material because they are not the ones who actually did the work they turned in.

No matter how good the teacher, the technology or the curriculum, passive, lazy students won’t learn, Talbot writes. She blames ” a society that no longer values the individual work ethic” or holds students responsible for their learning.

What’s alarming is that she teaches in Utah, the traditional values state.

On Teaching Now, Anthony Rebora asks if “schools and educators bear part of the blame for failing to reach and support disengaged students?”

Parents, grade thyself

Tennessee may ask parents to sign a school-involvement contract and grade their own effort, writes Lucas L. Johnson II in the Huffington Post. But parents who “fail” will suffer no consequences.

Under Tennessee’s contract legislation, parents in each school district are asked to sign a document agreeing to review homework and attend school functions or teacher conferences, among other things. Since it’s voluntary, there’s no penalty for failing to uphold the contract – but advocates say simply providing a roadmap for involvement is an important step.

Michigan has enacted a similar measure.

In the case of Tennessee’s report card proposal, a four-year pilot program will be set up involving two of Tennessee’s struggling schools. Parents of students in kindergarten through third grade will be given a blank report card at the same time as the students, and the parents will do a self-evaluation of their involvement in activities similar to those in the parental contract. Parents will give themselves a grade of excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory

Utah will ask parents to evaluate their involvement in an online survey.  Louisiana is considering legislation to grade parent participation.

 

A learning revolution — or digital hype?

“The learning revolution is underway,” writes Tom Vander Ark in Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World.

“There is good reason for optimism,” but beware of Hyper Hype, responds Mark Bauerlein in an Education Next review.

. . . digital technology can customize learning and dismantle the old calendars and spaces of schooling. Extraordinary innovations have arrived—online curricula, learning games, customized play-lists—and they are ready for implementation across the land if only educators and public officials break with standard procedure and embrace them.

. . . Every few pages Vander Ark adds a bold prediction sidebar: “In five years…Information from keystroke data will unlock the new field of motivation research…,” “In five years…Most learning platforms will feature a smart recommendation engine, similar to iTunes Genius…,” and “In five years…Science will confirm the obvious about how most boys learn and active learning models will be developed in response using expeditions, playlists, and projects.”

In his enthusiasm, Vander Ark ignores the disappointments (laptops for all had little impact) and the dangers (social media can fuel gossip, bullying and cheating), Bauerlein writes.

All this hype and prophecy is unnecessary. The digital future is here, and its main educational advantage, the individualization of learning, is recognized by everyone. At this point, the pressing questions are practical: how much it costs, how to overcome bureaucracy, for example. Vander Ark does include an appendix of concrete advice, such as urging state leaders to allow students to personalize their learning and base matriculation on demonstrated competency, not on seat time, but these are precisely the points to expound in the main text, not stick in an appendix. . . .  What we need is sound evidence, presented without hyperbole, of scalable and cost-effective digital programs that yield higher reading, writing, and math achievement.

Utah’s digital learning law lets districts and charter schools offer online courses to students throughout the state “and pocket a reasonable share of the state aid that comes with every student enrolled,” writes Paul Peterson. In theory, providers will compete for students by offering high-quality courses. “But that dream may not come true unless various aspects of the law are re-thought,” Peterson writes.

Utah governor vetoes sex ed ban

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a bill that would have banned discussion of contraception in sex ed classes. A Republican in a very conservative state, Herbert gave the veto a parent control spin.

. . .  Herbert said that as a parent and grandparent he considered proper sex education in public schools an important component to the moral education youngsters receive at home.

“If HB 363 were to become law, parents would no longer have the option the overwhelming majority is currently choosing for their children. I am unwilling to conclude that the state knows better than Utah’s parents as to what is best for their children,” he said.

Currently, schools can teach “abstinence plus” sex ed, with parents’ consent, or abstinence-only.

. . .  Utah teachers may describe different types of contraceptives, how they work (such as by preventing transfer of bodily fluids) and their success and failure rates, though they may not advocate their use or explain to students how to use them.

The bill also would have barred instruction on homosexuality or other types of human sexuality.

Lawless

In its zeal to push Common Core Standards on all the states, Arne Duncan’s Education Department is “pretending that three laws do not mean what they clearly say,” writes columnist George Will. He cites the Pioneer Institute’s report, The Road to a National Curriculum, by three former department officials.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act – No Child Left Behind is its ninth iteration – said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” a state’s, local educational agency’s or school’s curriculum.

The General Education Provisions Act of 1970 stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize” any federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials” by “any educational institution or school system.”

The 1979 law establishing the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school or school system. The ESEA as amended goes further: No funds provided to the Education Department “may be used…to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in” grades K-12.

The department has used Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers to pressure states to adopt the new standards, the Pioneer report charges. The effect will be a national curriculum.

“As the regulatory state’s micromanagement of society metastasizes, inconvenient laws are construed — by those the laws are supposed to restrain — as porous and permissive, enabling the executive branch to render them nullities,” Will concludes.

Update: When South Carolina legislators considered rescinding the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards, Duncan blasted the idea. He drew a lot of flak for that. In response to Utah’s threatened withdrawal, he wrote a letter agreeing that it’s the state’s decision.