22 March 2006

So what's the answer?

My work day concluded with an ugly meeting. I suppose it could be argued that there aren't many meetings that are pleasant, but I knew this one would have several riled up teachers---and there were in their frothy state because of the upcoming changes to the district's junior high science program.

When we started the process of scope and sequence in the district last year, we knew that the outcomes wouldn't be popular with everyone. Any increase in science would mean a decrease elsewhere. Teachers' jobs and various programs were on the line. We were not insensitive to that, but the reality is that we have to remain student-centered. As long as our decisions were based on what best serves the needs of kids, we knew we could make the right choices.

But now all of those recommendations are becoming a reality, and the World Languages teachers in our district are finally realizing that some students will no longer have room in their schedules to take those classes in 8th grade. Not only does that impact the program at that end, but also at the senior level. Kids who don't start the sequence at the right time will unlikely be able to take AP level.

I heard a lot today about the college bound kid and how these new requirements would "squeeze" them. That may well be true. But the bottom line is that 100% of the students have to meet the standards in science. At best, 25% of our students enter college and university. And you know what? It's highly unlikely that the 25% is going to be comprised of kids who have to take remedial math, English, and science courses and therefore have no room in their schedules for electives.

Meanwhile, adding a zero period or seventh hour option costs (on average) $12K per year because of the way schools are funded. The state provides money for 5 classes per day per kid. We already offer 6. If a kid takes 7, we really are at a budget loss. Or, what if you don't cut one elective program (like World Languages)? If you make it a requirement, too, then you've only shifted the problem of staffing over to another subject area.

What's the answer? What doesn't cost money, make issues for other content areas, and still provides what kids need in order to graduate? I don't know that we had any particular solutions today. I hope that the World Languages' teachers will think about things some more and see what creative ideas they have. I understand their frustration and also why their classes benefit students. But I also know the realities we have to deal with in terms of accountability issues. There just can't be a happy ending for everyone.

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