Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mr. Holland all over again

School Board to cut useless English teachers

Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad

Next year, there will be much ado about nothing, since the school will no longer be able to offer upper level electives like Shakespeare and mythology, black history or American government.

Lafayette High School is losing 10 teachers, and upper level electives will be harder for schools to offer, with the Lafayette Parish School District working to cut teaching staff to meet last year's staffing formula [...] With block scheduling, students take four classes a day for 90 minutes on alternating days.

Translation: the School Board messed with a class schedule that had worked for decades, and now everyone has to pay for their latest dumbass mistake.

The district is losing 19 elementary school teachers, and several high school and middle school teachers, with the numbers yet to be released by the district.

"I thought the reason we did block scheduling was to make sure we would have electives for kids," said Melinda Mangham, a teacher and president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators. "Now, we are told our seniors won't have their electives and they can just go home."

Melinda Mangham was my gifted-English teacher in 12th grade. She's not one to take anything sitting down. I didn't always appreciate that at the time. I do now.

Superintendent James Easton said every high school principal, except one, has said they can continue with block scheduling this year, despite the cuts. He did not identify the one school that would have problems.

Well gee, could it be Lafayette High, the school losing much of its English program? Shows you what kind of thinking controls our public schools here.

Of course, this does not at all surprise me. As long as I've been paying attention to the Lafayette Parish School Board (at least since high school), it has proven itself to be a deliberative body that will do everything in its power to lift itself up while doing absolutely nothing of any value to improve the schools. From this well has sprung such public-relations dreams as the "Yes, Ma'am, No Ma'am" Law (an idiocy mandating the use of "sir" and "ma'am" by students) and school uniforms (easily the biggest mound of bullshit in the history of education). Meanwhile, schools continue to crumble, standards continue to plummet and prospective teachers continue to be shoved away by an increasingly pointless bureaucratic system.

To hear the superintendent tell it, the problem is not with too few teachers; in fact, he blames the budget cuts on having too many teachers:

"Some schools were overstaffed," he said. "We are coming into compliance with this formula as approved by this board of education." Coming into compliance means the district will have up to 24 students per teacher in first through fourth grades and up to 26 students per teacher in fifth through 12th grades.

Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap! Those ratios are terrible. The board is simply trying to sweep its lack of funding under the carpet. Otherwise, they'd do as they've done in the past and complain that the 1:26 ratio is inadequate. Whatever happened to smaller class sizes?

The Lafayette Parish School Board will hold a workshop at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 5 to discuss teacher staffing at area schools for the upcoming year and teacher pay. The meeting will be held in the board meeting room located at 113 Chaplin Drive.

Once again, another victory for those who think the only important subjects involve building things for Halliburton. And when our kids become completely bereft of the critical thinking and historical knowledge that are learned from literature and history, the board will probably respond with yet another disciplinary measure. Perhaps that measure will be mandatory spankings every morning for all students. In any case, I guarantee you it won't help.


Michael said...

Giving the devil its due, Ian, personnel costs are always on the order of 75 percent of any operating budget. So if the funding is short, the sensible thing (from an administrative/budgetary standpoint, anyway) to cut is personnel. If possible.

Of course, if it were my choice, though, it wouldn't be teachers they'd be cutting. It would be football coaches (who often make more than the superintendents), and who are truly superfluous to the educational endeavor. But then again, I'm one of those weirdo liberal academics that doesn't really get sports, so what the hell do I know?

Ian McGibboney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, my anger is with the system that wastes so much money on superfluous shit that the personnel suffer in the first place. I don't know what the answer is, but maybe we should stop treating education like a business and more like a non-profit. If teachers are the first to go, what's the point of having the system in the first place? I say, get rid of the board.

As for firing football coaches and getting rid of athletic programs, I vehemently disagree. Athletics build up self-discipline, teamwork and promote fitness, among other things. Additionally, at least where I live, sports such as football and basketball are serious fundraisers for their schools. They bring out people (students/parents/alumni) and offer a safe diversion.

Like you, Michael, I'm also a "weirdo liberal academic." But as someone who played football and ran track in high school, as well as managed my college track team for seven years, I've seen immeasurably good things happen to students who find success in applying what they've learned through sports into other aspects of their life. Of course you have those who take it too far; but then, don't you also have that in any other club or activity?

In grad school, I got a lot of flak for suggesting that athletics are important. I lost a lot of respect for that for a while, as if by defending athletics I was somehow trivializing academics. Not enough people see the successful student-athletes, but I've seen and known hundreds. And they took their studies as seriously as anyone else.

On the other hand, I've never understood the need for honor societies, religious clubs or social organzations in high school. Even so, I do not lobby against them just because I do not participate in them. But cutting sports is probably the worst idea of all of them.

[edited for clarity]

rhonda said...

....and i'm returning to school in the fall to get certified, um, WHY?? funny, but i've always been under the impression that there was a SHORTAGE of teachers in this area...whoops, that wasn't an impression, that's what has been screamed from rooftops since i was an undergrad...ian, i'm nauseated...but you're wonderful.

Michael said...

We agree that the business model is inappropriate for educational endeavors (of whatever kind). Unfortunately, we seem to be in a minority that is shrinking over time.

But I'm afraid I can't buy the importance of sports in education. There are, to the best of my knowledge, no reliable studies that demonstrate the alleged link between a successful sports program and fund-raising success. And at least if the graduation rates that the Chronicle of Higher Education prints every year are any indication, the emphasis in "student-athlete" tends to fall more commonly on the "athlete" portion than on the "student" portion.

I'll not deny that there are exceptions, but they are just that--exceptions. And perhaps if we spent a little more money educating our students well, they wouldn't need to get into college on athletic scholarships.

If money is short, the "fluff" should be the first thing to go. That means extra-curricular activities of all kinds. But since the largest and most expensive of such activities is almost always the football team, I think that's where the cuts should start. Unfortunately, it's usually the smaller, less "respectable" and less sacrosanct things that get cut, like drama, and music, or foreign languages.

Flamingo Jones said...

My high school switched to block scheduling my Senior year. It was fine for some Calc. or Physics, but electives suffered here too. Band, Choir, Spanish and upper level English classes were the hardest hit, as I recall.

They cut their losses and ditched block scheduling a couple years later, and things have finally gotten back to normal here.

Ian McGibboney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, I think that's really unfair. The reason there aren't studies is that academics, in my experience, refuse to lend any value to anything that isn't in the classroom, and thus studies aren't really done.

I don't need academic studies to tell me the value of extracurricular activities, because I've been in them and they have defined my life. They are NOT superfluous, but instead are a part of a well-balanced life education. Too many people see them as at odds with academia, and that's just wrong.

Frankly, I have yet to hear a strong argument against extracurricular activities that didn't come from penny-pinchers or academics who have never had use for them in their own lives. In other words, those who have never been vested in them.

[Edited again for clarity]

gambitch said...

I happen to be one of those people who think that school uniforms aren't all that stupid an idea, but then that has to be taken in context, since I grew up in a place where there weren't that many rich-kids-only private schools and the more real concern was reducing perceptions of difference among students of different races.

But more on topic, the cuts sound absolutely dumb, unless the point is to make the average Louisiana student stupid enough to reach GWB levels.

Schools should be expensive for the state, but that expense should be justified by the goal of creating a better-educated workforce that can do higher-value jobs than flipping burgers and manning Walmart cashiers. What's the economic value of making your citizens dumber by cutting back on education?

Michael said...

Actually, there have been studies done. They just don't find what conventional wisdom claimed they would find. There does not appear to be any demonstrable link between a successful athletic program and the level of alumni giving, at least at the university level. (I should also point out that athletic programs also come with significant costs attached to them, costs that usually far outweigh what they bring in, in terms of ticket sales and alumni giving.)

I never once said that extra-curricular activities weren't important. (I have a varsity letter and two bars from the speech team at my high school; I sang in three choirs, worked on the student newspaper, and was heavily involved in the theatre when I was an undergraduate: I'll stack my experience in extra-curriculars against yours any day.)

What I did say, and what I'm sticking by, is that if money is tight and there are no other ways of balancing the budget, it's the extra-curricular stuff that MUST be cut first, before any classes are. I don't like that equation any better than you do, but extra-curricular activities are by definition outside the curriculum. They are absolutely things that enrich students' lives, but if they get in the way of teaching them what they have to know in order to survive in the world, they have to go by the board.

Now, in a perfect world no school would ever have to make decisions about which extra-curricular activities to cut--only which ones to add. But we don't yet live in that world, and at least as long as the Bushoviki are in power, I don't see any chance that we'll get to it any time soon.

Ian McGibboney said...

Gambitch, school unforms treat the symptom rather than the cause. Instead of instituting school uniforms to end torment about clothing (which, as someone who should have been ground zero for such attacks, I find a bit shaky), we should be doing what we can to eliminate the consumer culture among kids. Uniforms cater to the pricks in society, at the penalty of the good kids. Anyway, coats, shoes and jewelry are not covered by the rules, and those are some of the worst offenders.

Also, clothing stores (in my city at least) have turned uniforms into a high-end boutique item, thus canceling out the equality argument. One store even has the chilling name of "Abform."

But I have to say, you're absolutely on target about the dumb workforce. I think that's in fact what they want.

But Michael, your argument of "that's the way it is" is the reason that the Republicans are running all over us. We're resigning to fate while they fuck us over and over. I don't want to see anything cut, and I refuse to accept that anything not directly related to the classroom should be cut. If something were truly superfluous, I might understand. But cutting extra-curricular activities isn't going to bring teachers back. The board wants to crunch numbers, and if we tell them that this stuff isn't important then they'll cut it right along with the teachers, and everyone loses.

An education without activities is just as worthless as a banl curriculum that doesn't allow thought. And the money we spend on that listless group of adults is going to be far more than any money we temporarily save in the name of streamlining.

Michael said...

I don't think I'm enabling Republicans, Ian. (It's my experience that they never need enabling: they'll lie, cheat, steal, and obfuscate at the drop of the hat, for any reason or for no reason at all.)

Of the two of our positions, I have to say I think it's yours that's giving them the greatest amount of ammunition, though. I could easily see Herr Alday, for example, taking your previous comment and turning it into something along the lines of "Look at those crazy libruls: they'd rather run the schools into bankruptcy than cut a couple of after-school activities."

When budgets need to be cut, rational people bite the bullet and try to make the cuts as minimally painful and impactful as possible. For example, a couple of years ago, my university found itself in the unenviable position of having to cut some journal subscriptions from the library budget (thanks both to years of declining state support and years of predatory pricing policies by major journal publishers). I guarantee you, nobody who sat in those meetings was happy at the prospect of having to trim $300,000 from the journals budget, but there were simply no other alternatives. So we did it as fairly and openly and rationally as we could, and if there was any reason whatsoever to save a journal, we tried our best to do so. Should we have instead let the journals budget expand to the point where we could no longer buy books? Or pay the staff to keep the reference desk open?

Ian McGibboney said...

I'm not enabling Republicans, Michael, and enabling Alday is of trivial concern to me.

We need to decide whether we're talking about high school or college. They are two completely different animals and have entirely different sets of implications. You seem to be coming from college, whereas I'm talking about high school and the options and diversity afforded to minors.

I'm not denying that sometimes things have to be cut, but I don't think the answer is for the same bugaboos to bite the bullet over and over again. Afterschool programs and liberal-arts subjects barely have any teeth left to bite.

Michael said...

You were the one who brought up enabling Republicans, Ian. I was just pointing out that the knife can cut both ways. You already know what opinions I have about Mr. Alday, so let's leave that diversion where it lies.

ECs are ECs, whether we're talking about high school or college. There tend to be more of them at the college level, simply because the budgets and the student bodies tend to be larger. But the principles, I think, are reasonably similar whether we're talking secondary or post-secondary level.

Nobody would like for the "usual suspects" to stop being the evil stepchildren of the budgetary world than I would. But what would you propose cutting instead? "Superfluous" stuff has mostly already gone by the board. Your choice is between cutting academic programs, cutting extra-curricular programs, or going bankrupt. Which is it going to be?

Ian McGibboney said...

"ECs are ECs, whether we're talking about high school or college."

No, they are not. In high school and lower levels, an extracurricular activity can make all the difference for a student. I offer myself as an example.

College activities, on the other hand, are indeed designed as you say. But the principles behind them are different. For example, some college organizations, such as athletics and publications, offer compensation. But in high school, all clubs and sports exist for the love of the activity. They're structured to foster work ethics and a sense of accomplishment, not financial rewards or networking.

What would I propose instead? How about the brilliant idea that everyone should share in the budget cuts? Who's to say that cutting 10 teachers at one school or largely in one department makes things any better? Why must one organization go under when a larger one could, for example, forego one of its cross-country trips?

What we don't need is a group whose interests lie in one particular area to call for slashing in some other area just because it is an abstract concept to them. I dealt with enough of that myopic philosophy in my grad classes.

gambitch said...

I still respectfully disagree on the school uniforms issue, Ian, but that is tempered by the following:

1. Posh boutique-type uniforms are, I agree, a horrible idea, and if what's happening in your area is the way uniforms have played out in America, then we're all better off without it.

2. Uniforms don't work if it's only about the shirt and pants/skirts. When I was a kid, all schools without exception also had rules that said "no bling", "no Hush Puppies" and "no dyed hair", among other things. And if that's the kind of problems plaguing America because of consumer culture as you said, then yeah, the effort is pretty much wasted.

I do think school uniforms can work - they're the norm in East Asia, at least - but there are a specific set of conditions for this to happen, conditions that don't look like they will be allowed to exist in America.

But that's enough off-topic stuff for the day, eh? :)

Ian McGibboney said...

Here, school uniforms are a feel-good measure hailed by Republicans and others who want easy answers to tough problems. Except that every argument used for them is easily ripped apart here in America.

Here's another point I didn't think about earlier: extrotion. Some schools around here have "free-dress" days, in which students can pay a fee (usually about $3) to wear street clothes. Talk about cheap principles.

For what it's worth, many of the kids I've known to wear school uniforms grew up to be some of the most reactionary rebels I ever met. I never wore a unform a day in my life and I'm fine. Relatively speaking.