19 March 2010

Value Wars

It's no secret that state budgets are in trouble---which means school district budgets aren't so healthy. There are many hard choices to be made between now and the start of the next fiscal year---choices based on what is valued the most (which isn't always kids).

An area school district has decided to keep funding its full-day kindergarten program. There are some (including The Union), however, who are against such a proposal because the money which funds those teachers and classrooms means that other district programs go unfunded. Class sizes in other grade levels increase, library and music programs are reduced---and that doesn't even consider the voices of secondary schools who are trying to avoid cuts. Is full day kindergarten more important than funding art specialists for every child in an elementary school? PE? The district views kindergarten as an investment---children who are well-prepared to read and have the best chance at success throughout their K-12 career. Is that better than being able to offer a more diverse curriculum?

I had a similar conversation with a friend last week. Some people are passionate about the arts, some place science first and foremost, others raise their voice for PE/Health. But there are some schools out there whose entire focus is math and literacy. Again, there's been a value judgment about curriculum---that it is more important to have children be able to read at grade level than to learn science (even with a kit). Is it better to have kids who can comprehend a text...or kids who understand a science concept?

I can hear you out there. I know you want it all---that all of those sorts of curricula and opportunities need to be present. You're thinking that they're all pieces of a rich and meaningful public education. For what it's worth, I agree with you. I think there shouldn't have to be these choices. I believe that every child should have access to a full range of opportunities in the classroom. All the same, schools and districts are making decisions based on budgets, which means that we have to take a hard look at what we value most.

If we can't do it all, what should we do?


timstahmer said...

We have a similar situation around here. Very often during the budget cycle, our superintendent puts very popular programs (like full-day kindergarten) on the cut list just so the people who support them will come out of hiding, object loudly, and push for more funding.

However, what we never seem to do is step back and take a big-picture look at schools. Why do we have them? What do we want from our educational programs?

We never seem to have those conversations, with the implication that everyone already knows what school is supposed to be and that our current system is fine, only needing some fine tuning.

But the fact that the general public doesn't want to pay for everything (and our current system isn't working for an increasing number of students) means that we as a society need to decide what we DO want from K12 education and then commit to paying for it.

The Science Goddess said...

What we have now is a lifeboat approach. Only so many programs can fit as the budget sinks---which ones will be saved?

But you're right that we never take a step back...maybe even think about starting over. Out of all the district committees that exist, why not have one that is just a think tank---a what if'er? Suppose you task them with determining what is essential and best for kids...and how to fund it within given parameters?

My former boss used to talk about Organized Abandonment. With all we keep adding on to schools, we don't take anything away. However, there are probably a lot of things that could be cut loose because they serve little use today (vs. when first instituted as a practice). But every level of the school and district needs help identifying these. Maybe it's time we made this a priority.

Unknown said...

I'm a science teacher, and truly believe that the only way students can be competitive for 21st century jobs is to have a thorough grasp of the fundamentals of the scientific method (along with how to apply it to areas beyond science). This teaches critical thinking, information literacy and a whole host of other skills. And that's before we get to the content...

However - in tough economic times with lots of budget cuts - I think the elementary should spend their money on teaching reading and writing and add some arts to keep the creativity flowing. They can read about some science things, but I'd rather have a kid with absolutely no science background than one who can't read but learned about food chains. The kid who can't read will never be able to do well in the traditional science classroom (which, let's face it, ultimately has to come down to a reading test) - and a kid who can't understand math will not do well either since math is the foundation for all sciences. Get the kids set in the fundamentals, and I can teach them the science. Most of them claim they've never heard about food chains by 7th grade anyway (it is a 2nd and 3rd grade standard in my state). It's much easier for me to mold a child that is primed for it, rather than trying to do double duty and teach reading, math and then the science.

Jude said...

Our music teacher's job was cut to part-time. It will therefore be impossible to fill and music will be gone--band, choir, and guitar. I'm pretty depressed about it, but of course we aren't allowed to mention it to parents...