Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reaction to Post Audit report positive

Audit calls for pouring cash into schools | LJWorld.com:
As the day progressed, legislative staff upped the study results, saying the $316 million increase was really $400 million when taking into account additional pension and local budget requirements, while the $399 million was really $470 million.
But Doug Mays (House Speaker and long-time school funding skeptic) seems to think a deal can be reached to ramp up spending over several years. If he can cut a deal with the Governor and enough of his caucus, it'll be to the advantage of everyone's kids.

J.D. is a former high school math teacher, and his take is interesting (setting aside a gratuitous knock against a comment here which happens to echo his sixth paragraph).

Increased school spending absolutely ought to be used to lower school sizes (a focus of the study) and to increase teacher salaries. I agree that giving better paid teachers more classroom control is sensible, as would be giving each classroom its own independent budget. Those are j.d.'s ideas, and they are sensible.

Giving individual teachers too much independence could be lead to inequities between classes, but those sorts of problems are manageable. His discussion makes me wonder if the problem is less about standards imposed than who imposes them. There's no particular reason that a middle-school biology teacher should be setting high school math standards, but it would make sense to have some sort of oversight from a regional, statewide, or even national math teaching group, to ensure that best practices are applied and disseminated. I think they call that horizontal integration.

In truth, there are big parts of me that want to go into teaching. I like the idea, I think I'm a decent teacher, and I want to get kids interested when they have options. But as j.d. says, the money just isn't enough. Even in a rich district, I can make a better living for my own (hypothetical) kids in any of numerous other fields. Teaching at a college or university, I'd have almost complete freedom in how and what I taught, I'd have my own teaching budget, there'd be time for independent research and mentoring, and the pay would be better. Sound familiar?

Teachers do what they do because they love the kids, they love their communities, and they want to do something good. There's no other reason to sign up for the low pay, the abuse and the hassle of teaching. Teachers deserve all the support and help they can get.

Now: a legal question. As things are currently arranged, how much power does the state legislature have to implement any of the ideas discussed above (require that money be spent on smaller classes, higher salaries, flex accounts for teachers, relaxing administrative hierarchies)? As I understand it, "local control" means that the legislature allocates money according to a magic formula and the school districts spend it roughly as they please. Could the legislature be more hands-on of they chose to be, or are there rules preventing that? Could the State Board of Ed. work with the legislature to do these things?

My guess? Probably. Too bad the guy who would be in charge of running the Dept. of Ed. doesn't know what's going on:

During a visit to McPherson last month, Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins said he’d been astounded to learn of the innovative programs under way in school districts across the state.
Our kids and our teachers really do deserve better.