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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"We Can Do Better" Right @Miguel?

I've finished reading Rafe Esquith's book, Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire (must read by the way).  He has a mnemonic quote throughout his work (especially in the first part of the book) - "We Can Do Better."  The preacher in my background, likes this repetition of purpose.

Today I published an installment of The Sticklers.  My point is simply that when faced with tough decisions, education too frequently makes the easy choice.  In the case of Georgia, and my district, it is cut teacher pay to make up for budget shortfalls.  That, frankly, is the easiest decision for any board to make.  We can do better, but that would require true higher level thinking skills.  Perhaps, NCLB has reduced educational leaders to a multiple choice approach to problem-solving, where when in doubt, we simply choose 'B.'

  1. How can we reduce the expenditures to make sure we bust the budget?
A. Change philosophy on what is acceptable Internet usage to allow teachers and students to access formerly questionable sites.
B. Reduce teacher salary.
C. Change approach to Professional Development that would not require teachers to physically attend sessions, but rather do it with UStream and other online tools.
D. Use low-cost, open source software with a world-wide community of developers to provide support instead of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on commercial software that is generally not as good.
E. Change the policy that "textbook money" can only be spent on textbooks that sit in storage after the first week.  Instead purchase $50 cellphones for each student and provide pre-paid cards to students so they can access Web content on their phones.  Reduction of bandwidth excuses from Tech Department and Lost textbook = $125 or Lost cellphone = $50, hmmm.

I know, I know.  B!  The answer is B!

Truth #1 - Teacher salaries do make up the greatest percentage of expenditures in public education.  It should!
Truth #2 - It is better to have a job with a salary cut, than no job at all.  I agree, to a point.
Truth #3 - Budget shortfalls are serious, and something must be done to cut expenses, while maintaining quality test scores, I mean quality education.

However, as our district, and the ones that surround us, as well as our state, are faced with cutting the budget, it appears they are starting with teacher pay.  Why?  My contention is because this is easy, lower-level thinking, wrapped in a "do it for the community" cloak.

When teachers were given the privilege of suggesting ways in which our budget could be cut, it was reported that 24% of the teachers suggested cutting salaries.  That was utilized as an endorsement of cutting teacher pay (even though 76% of the responders did not mention cutting pay as an option).

We were told our local supplement reduction was 20%.  However, there was no gasp, because the information was delivered by saying it was a 2% reduction from total pay (which included state money, which local boards cannot touch).  The local board's decision was a 20%, across the board cut, to all teachers.

Full Disclosure - the cut, though extensive, will not effect me like it will younger teachers.  I've been around for a while and I have a couple of advanced degrees which put me on a higher pay grade (I learned the game, and got the degrees for the additional, livable wage).  Younger teachers without advanced degrees might struggle, and may leave the profession (which, sadly is really what many districts hope for).  IMO, that's why Professional Development has taken a turn to canned education - in an attempt to "teacher proof" education.  But that's another entry.

We spend a truckload of money on computers that are not used, a network that is so filtered as to be useless for educational purposes, and software/upgrades/support expenses that can all be done with free software that is easier to use (Moodle, GradeKeeper, Google Docs, GMail, wikis, etc. instead we pay for Angel, Infinite Campus, MS Office, and were "updating" our email to Outlook Express Web etc.).  We can do better.

I don't want anyone to lose there source of income, but I do expect people to NOT require things that amount to little more than job security because decision-makers are clueless to the 21st century tools that could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  We can do better.

Miguel Guhlin saw my cartoon, and created one of his own.  Here's what I admire about Miguel.  He is a tech director, who actually learns the tools that will save his district money, instead of taking the easy way out and always going the vender route.  By doing so, he more than pays for his salary in savings over what the district would likely pay if they had to provide the same services Miguel and his staff do "for free."  Miguel has taught himself Moodle (partially through his network on Twitter) and he is not afraid to document his learning so others could do the same.  So, here's to you Miguel.  You make us all want to do better.

Psst. Miguel, could you move to our district?  Our new Super is from Texas.

Posted via email from rrmurry's posterous


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