A message to Margaret Spellings

T.A. Barnhart

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Wednesday the No Child Left Behind Act is close to perfect and needs little change as its first major update draws near.

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something," Spellings told reporters. "There's not much needed in the way of change." (source: CNN.com)

Here's what I did Thursday: I spent 9 hours at Reser Stadium overseeing the Corvallis High School Band's concession stand. I do this every home football game so that we can raise $5-6,000 per OSU football season. It's a nice chunk of change and a lot of hard work. Thursday was the first home game; I'll spend another half-dozen days there, including the day after Thanksgiving for the Civil War. That was 9 hours on concrete; I was a broken man the next day. But it's one of the things I do for my son and the Band program at CHS.

For this lovely evening of serving sodas and hot dogs to Beaver Nation, eight parents and eighteen high school students showed up; not bad for a Thursday before school actually starts. I don't mind doing this myself; I know that volunteering for good causes is something we all need to do. I've been volunteering for one thing or another most of my life, and I know I am a better person for it. However, the concessions gig at Reser is not a good cause; it's a desperate attempt to salvage one small part of a quality education for the kids here in Corvallis.

CHS Band Members prepare to work concessions at OSU's Reser StadiumWhen I was in high school in Billings, Montana, I got to do anything I wanted. I took all the classes I needed, elective and required; I was in band before switching to choir; I did theatre, including competition; I did jv tennis (badly). I was on the yearbook, was President of the French Club the year I did not take French. My teachers had time for me when I needed some extra help. In short, I got a comprehensive and enriching education.

My son, on the other hand, can take 14 credits maximum. That means four required classes and one — count 'em, one — elective. He can do sports, too, if he wants — for a price. To participate in WIBC (honor band), he has to help raise around $1,000. (I travelled all over Montana, at no extra cost beyond my parents' taxes, for drama and music events.) Corvallis High, the only school in the state where the pep band plays at all boys and girls home basketball games, something the kids volunteer for with great cheerfulness, will have no marching band this year; the band instructor at CHS is only there half-time and it's just not possible.

CHS Marching Band Summer Camp 2005 - cancelled for 2006Why the disparity between my days in high school and now? There's an easy answer to that question, and it's the one that gets people throwing their hands in the air and screaming: Money. When I was in high school in the early 70s, we had enough money for everything. My folks could afford a big house, skiing, music lessons and instruments, food, doctors, vacations. Granted, we didn't have computers and iPods, but I had a decent hifi, and KOOK-AM played the hits for me 24/7 (just the way Art Alexakis described it). My high school had money for teachers, extra-curriculars and up-to-date textbooks. The country had money for schools, highways, jobs and a war in Vietnam.

We had more than enough money for all of this, for a solid social safety net as well, and the national debt was fairly modest. We had poverty, of course, but the means to deal with it were in place. We had crime, and the Russians (and Chinese) had The Bomb, and we only had three tv channels (actually in Billings we could get Canadian tv somehow, which is how I saw Monty Python long before they made it to PBS).

We had money enough for a rich and varied education system in Billings, and I know that the schools in Corvallis were excellent then, too. And today? Where the hell did all the money go? When did we become a beggar nation, demanding that teenagers provide free labor for a large corporation (Sodexho) in return for school funding taxpayers used to provide? We had plenty of money for teachers and programs thirty years ago; today we don't. How did that happen? How did the richest nation in the history of the world suddenly run short of money for schools? How did we turn our greatest national resource into a second-rate dumping ground for our children's futures?

Back to Margaret Spellings

Secretary of Education Margaret SpellingsFew Americans know who Margaret Spellings is. Some may recall, with a bit of noodging, that she warned PBS not to show an episode of Arthur that dealt sympathetically with real children and their gay parents. Why did her warning matter? Because she is Bush's Secretary of Education. Her job is to set the direction and standards of education in the United States, at least in terms of how federal funds are applied.

Spellings helped write No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and now she administers it. Of course she believes it's almost perfect; it's a tenet of faith in this administration to believe in their own godlike infallibility. After all, they know that God is guiding and blessing their work. Her heritage as a Cabinet-level guardian of the neocon faith goes back to Reagan and his appointment of true believers epitomized by James Watt at Interior. In two-and-a-half years, she will be out of a job and will fade into a well-paid lobbyist's obscurity. But for now, and unless the Democrats can find the will to stand up for the ideals of Jefferson and Roosevelt (and even LBJ, when it comes to the welfare of America's poor), she is the one who will determine how the federal government supports public education. Her decisions will shape the course states can take in running, and funding, their schools.

Fortunately, here in Oregon, we have a Superintendent of Public Education, Susan Castillo, who refuses to cave in to neocon anti-education ideology. Castillo's main concern is the quality of education received by Oregon's kids; her main problem is she no more than anyone else, can provide the quality kids like my son deserve. With the our government spending $11 billion a day in Iraq alone, not to mention allowing the wealthiest Americans to pay fewer and fewer taxes (while gaining more and more of the common wealth), money for schools just isn't available. NCLB, as Ted Kennedy ruefully admits, turned out to be an unfunded mandate.

Are we not glad, however, that NCLB is a near-perfect mandate? Nothing in it needs to be changed because it is accomplishing what was intended: the destruction of free public education in America. If Spellings' goals are realized — and that will require that the neocons hold onto federal power, something we should never count out — then the rich and powerful will gain the means to move their children out of the public schools via vouchers and tax breaks. Charter schools will turn into quasi-private schools, weeding out those who cannot meet standards that depend on either subservience to christianist beliefs or having a boatload of money. The public schools that remain will become fortresses holding inner city youth until they can be drafted or imprisoned (or impregnated and sentenced to indentured servitude via the welfare-to-work system). Here in Oregon, we'll struggle on until our inability to raise enough kids with a good enough education to maintain a decent economy means that we surrender and give up our own dreams of democracy and free thought.

Granted, I'm bitter. Too many of Oregon's children are getting second-rate educations, not because their teachers and schools do not care or try — they do, and fight hard for the right conditions to do their jobs well — but because in our society, good things cost money. Teachers cost money; buildings and books cost money; administrators who provide support to teachers cost money (and whatever the government-is-evil crowd says, no organization runs without qualified, and sufficient, administrative staff; just ask the big brains at the Cato Institute when their paychecks are delayed). You get what you pay for, and our country has decided to not pay for education. Not because we weren't getting our money's worth. We used to spend sufficient money on education, and we got exactly what we were paying for: one of the best educated populaces in the world. No more. We want our money to go elsewhere. Our kids just are not worth the expense.

Instead of doing homework, CHS Band members cook Beaver Dogs for freeSo we'll push our kids to spend a long Saturday raising a few bucks at a cramped, hot concessions stand at a college football game. We'll ask them to choose music over theatre with no option for art classes that don't exist. We'll tell them they can't take Spanish this year because there's no room. We'll expect them to take chemistry with 40 other kids and expect their teacher to give them, and five similar classes, the attention each deserves. We'll fill their heads with media-enhanced lies about lifestyles they'll never afford, and we'll entice them to fight in wars based on lies, ignoring their shattered bodies when they come home in pieces. We'll turn over more and more of their future to demogogic leaders and their greedy sycophants. We'll tell them how great our country is but have no explanation when they ask us where is their chance at a decent quality of life.

The answers come easy for a person of wealth and privilege like Margaret Spellings. Choices are blessings when you know, without doubt, that God sets the agenda for the nation. But for those of us who struggle to make a living in this America in which we are less and less welcome, hoping for the chance to give our kids a better life, the words of Spellings — and more so her attitude — are a heinous betrayal of those who struggled, and often died, to make possible the dream of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all Americans. As I help my son to achieve an excellence many are trying to deny him, I have a simple message for Margaret Spellings, who believes her education-shattering NCLB is so blessedly wonderful:

Kiss my ass.

  • LT (unverified)

    One of the things that really bothers me about NCLB is the lack of connection to the real world. Having substituted in schools where teachers had several "preps". Every day they had a variety of diff. classes and were lucky if it was just Freshman, Soph. Jr. Sr classes in their subject--they could be teaching one or two classes of PE or a foreign language or both math and science or both social studies and English, or some other combination. Members of Congress (esp. former teachers or representing rural areas) screamed bloody murder about the "qualified teacher " provision--rural schools have a hard enough time sometimes finding teachers willing to live and teach in their small town and are grateful to hire someone with multiple certifications. No way could they staff their schools with people who either had a degree in each subject or had taken some kind of national test on it. Eventually, that requirement was loosened or postponed or something.

    Public schools must take whatever kids show up. If the family of an autistic child or a severly disabled child moves into the district during the school year, court decisions say the school must provide an education for that student. No extra funding, mind you. And if a school has a lot of honor students doing very well but there are ESL kids or special ed kids or whatever and they must take the NCLB tests, the whole school is not making "adequate yearly progress" unless every subgroup scores the way the federal government says they should score. Without the promised federal funding.

    There is no AYP for Iraq, or for ending poverty in this country, but by golly NCLB is perfect, has no implementation problems, so those who actually know what is going on at their local school should just shut up. This isn't about informing parents about what is going on in their schools, but federal intrusion in local education by way of unfunded mandate. Those like Barry Goldwater and Robt. Taft who thought education was a local function must be rolling over in their graves.

    I was thrilled to hear that NCLB must be re-authorized. As I recall, there are some lawsuits in the works about it. Let's have a grand old debate about how it has worked out, and unless Spellings can visit schools around the country as an observer instead of getting VIP treatment, she should shut up.

  • Karl (unverified)

    Instead of blaming the administration in Washington (which is clueless), why don't you put the blame on the voters in Oregon (ie. Measure 5) for the lack of school funding?

    Seems most people want something for nothing, such as good schools.

    You want good schools? Pay for them.

  • sheba (unverified)

    Thanks, T.A., for reminding us what well-funded schools can be like.

    Karl, while it's true that the bulk of school funding is a state matter, Measure 5 and NCLB have combined for a tragic one-two punch on school funding.

    As you no doubt recall, one of the results of Measure 5 was that the burden for funding schools shifted away from local (property tax) revenues and onto state (income tax) revenues. While I'm no fan of Measure 5 for other reasons, I do appreciate the notion that school funding needed to be equalized so that a student's school funding would not be an accident of zip code. Several poorer districts came out slightly ahead after Measure 5, because their low-income tax base was not as strong a funding source as the state of Oregon could be.

    Unfortunately, with the state's revenue structure being as tenuous as it is (fluctuating wildly with the economy, additional unforeseen revenues having to go back to folks via the kicker), the resulting situation is that generally speaking we merely have a different set of "winners" (some of the poorer districts with the state's school funding equalization formulae) and "losers" (larger districts with stronger tax bases pay more into state coffers toward education than they get back, a la Portland, for example). Well, while it's true that some formerly richer schools are losing revenue under equalization, at least some of the tax-base poorer schools were doing better under this formula, right?

    Enter NCLB.

    As the re-authorization of Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act of the 1960s, the focus for NCLB is of course schools with a significant number of children in poverty--the very schools who had managed to do all right under Measure 5 (at least before Oregon's economy headed south at the beginning of the decade). But here comes the one-two punch.

    First, at the very time that state revenues were on a steep decline, federal revenues to the states under NCLB weren't keeping up with inflation. And whatever revenues the Oregon Department of Education did receive were quite restricted only to activities required under NCLB. Example: need some revenue to develop and enhance the way we measure students' ability to solve real math problems, with multiple steps, explaining your reasoning, the way people in real-life job situations would do? Sorry, this "assessment" money from the feds can only be spent developing new multiple choice tests at new grade levels as required by NCLB. And so on. So the Oregon Dept. of Ed. wasn't getting the help it needed from the Federal level--just a LOT more regulations about how it was supposed to oversee poverty schools, with nowhere NEAR the funding that it would need to carry out the bazillion tasks the feds had suddenly handed it. Result? ODE was even more cash-strapped than ever, and burdened with a whole new slew of oversight tasks that the state didn't ask for but had to carry out nonetheless.

    Now the second punch. The money from NCLB to be distributed at the local level is already not keeping up with inflation. Add to this the burdens set up under NCLB, and poverty schools gradually become as cash-strapped as ever. So not enough of your students with identified learning disabilities do not meet grade level on state reading tests? You are now a school deemed in need of improvement, and must set aside a percentage of your Title I dollars for transportation to other schools. Does it happen again next year? Set aside another percentage to pay for private tutoring (over whom you have absolutely no control nor authority). Soon, the assistance from the feds is chipped away, gradually leaving the poorer schools strapped again.

    Finally, of course, the cash-strapped, tied-down-by-regulations poorer school reacts the only way one would expect: do whatever it takes to get the multiple-choice scores on state tests up above the bar. This usually means more time spent in reading & language arts (and sometimes, though not as often, math) classes--which means less time in the schedule for just about anything else (T.A.'s advanced band most certainly included).

    As a direct result of NCLB, a well-rounded education is increasingly unlikely. Higher tax-base schools are already losing under state funding formulae; and lower tax-base schools are forced to race to the bottom, cutting enrichment programs as well. We are all losers as a result.

  • KISS (unverified)

    Margaret Spelling,the educational Czar, says the head start program is 99.9% pure and needs no fixing.Strange how school officials see this in a much different light. I have a grandson studying to be a band teacher. He is planning to move out of state to get a job. The tax-payers of Oregon are drained [ not to be confused with the corporations having a free ride]. The Bush administration has made education budget cuts so severe, and has ordained drastic mandates that the schools are reeling for funding. While I have issues with school administration spending, I do see that the legislature must deal with this problem. Again, the lobbyists will be the largest obstacle to funding of schools. Will this be another do-nothing legislature?

  • (Show?)

    Had enough? Vote for Democrats.

  • Mishima666 (unverified)

    I think that public school electives and other programs are the canary in the mine shaft. Once those start to go, you have a problem.

    Where I went to public school there was a junior high with a swimming pool that my friends and I frequently used every summer. Today that pool still exists, but has been unused for years. It needs repair work, and supposedly there is no money for it.

    This attitude exists even at other levels. Not many years ago the pool at Mt. Hood Community College needed some repair work. One of the MHCC board members actually suggested bringing in dump trucks and filling in the thing with dirt rather than repairing it. Fortunately his idea did not prevail, but it is disturbing that a board member could even suggest something like that.

    I have never understood this idea of making schools get by on the cheap. One of the students going into first grade this year will be my physician when I'm in my 70s and 80s. Other first graders will be our future soldiers, police officers, politicians, and engineers. Unless we have some other supply of people around who are going to do all of these things for us, it behooves us to give our students the very best education possible -- even if it means having a shorter vacation, or one less motorized toy parked in the driveway.

  • Kent (unverified)

    NCLB is a complete travesty but Oregon schools were a mess long before it was passed. I grew up in Eugene in the 1970s and received a wonderful education in the Eugene school system and at North Eugene High School. Our debate team traveled throughout the northwest. I played football, track, was in the orchestry and on various clubs. We had numerous electives and tracks for every interest.

    Several years ago my wife's career brought us to Texas for her medical residency. Our original plan was to return to Oregon to the Portland or Salem areas after she graduated. However when we took a serious trip back to Oregon last November for interviews and to explore neighborhoods and schools it rapidly dawned on us with some surprise that our kids had substantially more opportunities in our own home school district here in China Spring Texas (a suburb NW of Waco) than in pretty much any of the places we were exploring back in Oregon. We have 3 daughters ages 8, 3, and 4 months so schools are a big concern. Here in China Spring our local elementary school provides both full day Kindergarten and pre-K. I didn't find that ANYWHERE in Oregon. Our older daughter's elementary has a full time art and music teachers. They have a large art lab, computer labs with new iMacs, a fabulous library. They have after school activities and care until 6 pm. Her teachers have been univerally good.

    We looked at Portland and discovered it's a complete crapshoot as to whether the neighborhood school near where you chose to live will even be open from year to year.

    What is the biggest difference between Oregon and where we live in Texas? Taxes. Our tax rates are nearly double what my parents pay in north Salem. And why is that? Two reasons. (1) Texas has no initiative and referendum process, and (2) Texas doesn't have a super-majority requirement for school levies. Which means that it's relatively easy for concerned parents and other's in the community to get out and support the local schools through levies and bond measures. Now of course my kids and the others are constantly asked for raise funds with the Sally Foster and other nonsense like that. But it's basically for special projects not essential operating money.

    I'm not claiming that Texas has great schools overall. Clearly it does not. Schools in Texas inner cities and poor border areas are horrific. But the main difference between Oregon and Texas as I have been able to discern it is that Oregon' state laws actually prevent a majority of citizens in a community from improving their own schools whereas Texas really has no barriers to a particular community from spending whatever they want on schools with some limited exceptions like the so-called "Robin Hood" which requires that rich districts share some funds with poor districts.

  • Anon (unverified)
    <h2>TA writes:'"We had money enough for a rich and varied education system in Billings, and I know that the schools in Corvallis were excellent then, too."</h2>

    How do you know that? Since you now live in Corvallis, you should talk to somebody who knows more than you do. And then talk to another person, and maybe even a third person, to gain at least some real data points about going to school in Corvallis in the 60s and 70s.

    Find somebody from the early graduating classes of CVHS (75/76), back when they started the HS without interior walls (great experiment, that one!). Or talk to somebody who might have known a student of two who was sexually abused by the English teacher. She was allowed to teach there for decades! Check with some teachers, too. One old timer just retired in the last year or two...and is still around. Grab some coffee with him.

    In short, get educated by some old time locals before you spout off in ignorance. You might learn something about life in Corvallis in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Well said, t.a. My California public education in the late 1950's and early 1960's parallels your experience in Montana. In fact, I felt so strongly about the quality of my high school education that I endowed a scholarship for a graduating senior and continue to donate to all their various fundraisers. The only point at which I might take issue with you is the "cause" of Oregon's decline. My oldest daughter began her venture into public education in Oregon in Eugene in 1972. Kindergarten was a half-day then and first grade offered shockingly little compared to my own experience. We then moved to the Portland area where she attended George Smith Elementary (now closed) in the early 1970's. We moved out of the Portland Public Schools in 1978 to take advantage of the supposedly better schools in Tigard. That, too, was an illusion. Charles F. Tigard elementary was hopeless, Fowler Jr. High was dismal, and the only thing my daughter remembers about Tigard High School was the parties. She cannot name one positive thing she gained from THS. She graduated in 1985 - pre-Measure 5, pre NCLB. My second daughter started in the Tigard school system and attended the same two schools (CFT, FJHS) until my divorce and subsequent remarriage put me back into the Wilson school district. Wilson was a joke and my daughter dropped out mid-way through her sophomore year and ended up completing high school by taking college courses at PCC - thank god for the high school completion program there. Both daughters are college grads - #1 from University of Minnesota and #2 from the University of Oregon. Both have excellent, well-paying, jobs in industries that are just about recession-proof. They were successful IN SPITE of their primary and secondary educations in Portland and Tigard and primarily before Measure 5 and surely before NCLB. Daughter #3, adopted, has attended a private school since Kindergarten and will not see the inside of a public school (except college, perhaps) as long as we live in Oregon.

    The point of this long ramble is to suggest that Oregon, or at least several of the larger school districts, have been living under the illusion of being better before than they are now. I'd dispute that. I don't think Portland schools were ever very good, but I think Oregonians deluded themselves into thinking they were. It will take, I fear, a lot more than money to turn Oregon schools around. If we start with the premise that they were never good to begin with and are only worse now, then we have to rethink the entire concept of public education in Oregon. As always, one need only look at California in the 1950's and 1960's to see what a quality education looked like.

    A final note. My father-in-law had no truck with Portland's public high schools. A Benson grad himself, he swore that none of his four children would see the inside of a public high school in Oregon. His 2 daughters graduated from St Mary's Academy; his two sons from Central Catholic, and all went to the University of Portland. He wasn't rich, he was an avowed atheist, an ardent Republican (in the Tom McCall, Clay Myers vein), not well-educated, but extremely perceptive. The youngest of the sibs (my wife) graduated from SMA in 1967, so it would be difficult to attribute his attitude to Measure 5 or NCLB.

  • Matt (unverified)

    Oregon taxpayers currently spend about $10,000 per student on our K-12 system. If you didn't know that it's because the folks who run the schools aren't keen about including ALL the funding they recieve when they answer your question.

    Whether you want to believe it or not, we're spending more in inflation adjusted dollars today then we were in the 1950s.

    Sorry, folks, money is not the problem.

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    and costs are a lot, lot higher than the 50's, Matt. more unfunded mandates, more problems society has placed on schools to deal with. our schools cost a lot more, and we refuse to acknowledge this and pony up.

  • LT (unverified)

    Oregon taxpayers currently spend about $10,000 per student on our K-12 system. If you didn't know that it's because the folks who run the schools aren't keen about including ALL the funding they recieve when they answer your question.

    Matt, it would be interesting to know how you got that number. If it is from documents, perhaps you could tell us what documents you cite. One should not have to ask verbal questions of those in charge of budgets--the budgets on paper should speak for themselves. If only experts can read the documents, that is a problem of open public process right there.

    Is that some kind of average? Every school district in this state (Mult. County and Crook County and Curry County districts all are given $10,000 per pupil?) gets that money, or is it a statewide average comparing Portland with Ashland with the Crook County district? Does this number incl. ESD funding? Does it include special education money, ESL money, bus fuel, feeding students, running libraries? Does it include spending administrator salary and benefits or only teachers and classified employees? Or is it "the districts were each given $10,000 per student and some spend it more wisely than others" but no more specific than that?

    Some of us are wondering why our local district needs both an HR director and a "director of employee staffing". Our previous Supt. got a bonus which was donated to a literacy program after public uproar--teachers weren't getting raises but the Supt. needed a bonus? One of the reasons this person is former supt. and a majority of our school board are new members just elected at the most recent election had to do with the board and supt. keeping the amount of financial reserves secret from the budget committee while saying elementary music had to be cut. Without knowing the name of my district, are you saying that each student who starts school tomorrow in this district will have an average of $10,000 sent to this district to spend on them this year? Or that the money is hidden somewhere?

    Or could the truth be closer to an email I got from a friend who is a former state legislator?

    one of my big hopes during my legislative career was to simplify school budgets so that anyone could read and understand them. Right now there is virtually no way that a typical citizen could read the budget book, let alone understand what he/she read.

    That is why I liked Jim Hill's idea of outside audits of school district budgets. Seems to me the issue is more complex than "it isn't the money". In every profession there are absolute jewels and a few lemons. But I don't think hard working teachers get enough credit.

    There is an old story about "Educational Survivor". Business executives are each put in a classroom with a statistically accurate group of students --so many male and female, so many who have lived the same place all their lives and those who have moved often, so many from various economic and ethnic groups, so many with some sort of disability (physical, mental, learning handicaps like dyslexia, ADHD, etc.). The punchline is "the winner gets to go back to their office".

    21st century education could use intelligent debate about restructuring. But "charter schools are the answer" or some other "magic bullet" which is not examined (recent report card doesn't show charter schools doing better on standardized tests, for instance) or "it is all the fault of the teachers union" are no help.

    If someone thinks that teachers should not collectively bargain, should they sign individual contracts or work by the hour? Do they deserve a duty free lunch period or should they be with students the whole day because only retail and other wage workers deserve at least a 10 min. break for every 3 hours they work and a lunch break for every day they work 6 hours or longer? Should school administrators be scrutinized the way teachers are? Is the school budget put together in a public process? Do school board members visit actual schools?

    Of course, such a debate would have to cover delayed maintenance at school buildings that are aging, how prepared students are when they arrive at school, the fact that public schools must take all comers and can't choose their student body the way private schools can.

    Much study has been done on "resilient youth"---young people born into (or who fall into) economic or other hardship and still graduate from high school and go on to productive lives. That research shows the importance of mature, responsive adults in the lives of young people.

    If everyone who complains about "the public schools" (not a single celled organism, but diverse schools in urban, suburban, rural areas with all sorts of differences) or "the money spent on education" could be the mature adult in one child's life, that would solve lots of problems.

    But do the anti-union, anti-tax, "schools spend too much money" folks really want to do that? Working with young people can be difficult, political rhetoric is so much easier!

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Margie and her really cool glasses mean nothing to us teachers, nada, so let's take this time and space to welcome back our hard-working, dedicated public school teachers who are earning CEO pay these days: $45,000!

    Of course, CEOs make that in one day, we teachers work all year for it.

  • Marvin McConoughey (unverified)

    Some CEOs do make generous incomes, Phil Knight has been an example. But it is also true that many chief executive officers run their own business and make only moderate salaries. Of course, most new entrepreneurial businesses go broke and their CEO/investors often lose their investment. The very high paid CEOs are the winners in a tough competitive environment. That said, I applaud tougher laws aimed at overcoming executive fraud and deceitful financial reporting.

  • sheba (unverified)

    LT and others who are interested,

    If you are looking for simpler budget information, you might try this: Have you road-tested the Chalkboard Project's latest foray into opening up the books on education? Click on the link below; you might find it interesting:

    Open Books Project

    You can look up individual district budgets, compare districts of similar size and their spending, and look at the overall state education spending picture.

    Let me know what you think, all.

  • Zak J. (unverified)

    I found the following information on school funding on the National Education Association (NEA) website. The most recent info there seems to be for National and Local School Spending in 2004, but I think the general trends probably didn't change too much.

    Public School Revenue, per student (see page 57) U.S. Average: $9,407 U.S. Median: $8,992 * Oregon: $7,918

    Oregon's overall rank on spending per pupil: 40th.

    Sources of funding for Oregon public schools (see pages 59-60) Local funding: 35.9% State funding: 53.5% * Federal funding: 10.6%

    So, here in Oregon we're suffering through NCLB, Ms. Spellings, and the rest for only 10% of our school funding. However, we're also below the national mean and median in terms of student spending, so the 10% means more to us than perhaps it ought.

    As B. B. King sings, "You've got to pay the cost to be boss."

    Oh, and "the kicker" is asinine.

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    anon, in addition to not being too chicken to sign my name, i differ from you in another important way: i actually know what i'm talking about. you know dick about me, yet presume to my sweeping declarations nonetheless. how's this: i've lived in Corvallis for almost 5 years (not to mention living her when i was kid, when my dad was getting his phd & my mom was a teacher in several schools). i'm involved in my son's school, serve on the high school Site Council, have started a support group for the band (Friends of CHS Band). i have friends on the school board, friends who are also active parents. the same was true when my kids were in Eugene; i spent a year going in twice-a-week to help with computer time and other projects when Jesse was in 2nd grade; i coached their soccer team.

    whatever problems Portland has had thru the years, Eugene and Corvallis have had excellent school systems. despite the problems inflicted on us by M5 and the neocons, we're still proud of our schools. our kids are not heading off to work retail and maybe slip into community college down the road; they are getting scholarships to colleges and universities all over the country. the downhill that Corvallis has suffered has to be kept in perspective: we started out from a position of strength, thank Bob. otherwise we'd truly be sucking seaweed.

    arguing from a few specific experiences to the general is a basic logical fallacy, dude. it proves nothing about anything except you.

  • Matt (unverified)

    LT: You wrote a novel but I will try to respond to some of it and be brief. BTW: Thank you for asking really good questions. I like your mind. You're on the right track.

    Matt, it would be interesting to know how you got that number. The number comes from the DOE website, but you have to do some calculating. The reason you often see numbers around the $7,500 area is because Districts don't like to count the capital construction bonds they pass for reasons I could explain. If the question is "How much tax money do school districts have to spend, no matter what the source?" ...The answer is about $10,000.

    Is that some kind of average? Every school district in this state (Mult. County and Crook County and Curry County districts all are given $10,000 per pupil?) The number is an average. Portland is highest with a number around $12,000. Districts at the bottom of the range have about $7,500. These numbers include ALL sources of funds, Local property taxes, local bond levy proceeds, state per-student funding and federal funds. (BTW: The open books website run by the Chalkboard Project does not include capital construction bonds. They admitted it to me in an email. So their numbers are NOT accurate).

    Now how they spend it is another matter. You're right to point to this area as the problem. Districts have employment contracts. That's a large part of their budgets. Those contracts require automatic pay increases based on continuing education credits and years on the job. School leaders have no ability to pay better teachers more and worse teachers less.

    Schools are also saddled with a lot of mandates. Well intentioned but they add up and end up making public schools homogenized and highly bureaucratic. In effect, they run a lot on automatic pilot which is why superintendents, principals and school board members who want to be innovative and provide REAL leadership often just end up frustrated.

    The schools don't need audits (although there's nothing wrong with doing them). What they need is more freedom at the building level and then parents must be free to choose. When a public school and its employees, including the leaders, know that the customer is free to leave, the product will improve. People with money can already Choose. It's people with very little money who can't choose.

    If you live in Portland, come listen to a prominent African-American leader on school reform Kevin Chavous speak at Emmanuel Temple on October 11th at 7:00 p.m. He's a Democrat who fought for change in DC and got it.

    Be well.

  • LT (unverified)

    Matt, thanks for your response.

    Those contracts require automatic pay increases based on continuing education credits and years on the job. School leaders have no ability to pay better teachers more and worse teachers less.

    But what about administrator contracts? I don't live in Portland, but in Salem. Why does our district have both an HR director and a "director of employee staffing"? Just as importantly, why is all the discussion of labor costs about teachers? Administrators also are on the public payroll, but their pay packages are seldom discussed in public. Why is that?

    Not real sure about Chalkboard numbers but at least they count librarians in the "money going to the classroom" category.

    Some districts have a librarian in each school. Some small districts have one district librarian for all the schools in the district. Some districts have some other form of librarians in more than one school. This is rarely discussed (although the anti-government crowd decided not to bash librarians as "those... public employees" once the First Librarian moved into the White House in 2001 with her husband).

    You talk about paying better teachers more--exactly what form of merit pay do you advocate? Based on test scores alone or something else? Where in this country is there currently a successful merit pay system operating? Does it encourage teachers to work together, or does it make them individual competitors?

    And about this: What they need is more freedom at the building level and then parents must be free to choose. When a public school and its employees, including the leaders, know that the customer is free to leave, the product will improve

    Nice theory, but I'm not sure it works. First of all, I have worked in sales and even when buying vacuum cleaners there are people with all levels of product knowledge. I don't think kids are widgets (and I speak as someone who knows both students and staff of private schools).

    Private schools can refuse to enroll ( or expel ) students with a variety of problems. "School choice" sounds good on the surface. But there are logistical problems. Anyone who has ever dealt with a student transfer because someone moved knows that it may be smooth or not (library fees owed, forms not sent when expected, that sort of thing).

    And there has to be a school accepting a student before the student can leave another school. I've known staff at private schools who worried about whether they would have to accept all comers or could take parishoners (in a church school) or be otherwise selective if they signed up for a choice program.

    Public or private, a school building can only accomodate a certain number of students (a specific number, not "what the market will bear"). School choice advocates who don't address these logistical concerns (or say "well, I would hope that is how it would work!") don't aid the cause of school choice.

  • Barbara Crystal (unverified)

    Dear Concerned Citizens,

    I am a tenth grade special education teacher with eighteen years of successful experience my field. I graduated with honors from the University of Virginia with a BS in special education. I graduated with high honors from George Mason University in 1988 with an M. Ed. in special education technology. I am a devoted and highly capable special educator.

    Southern Regional High School is a very successful institution and we now have the third highest test scores in Ocean County, New Jersey. Our students are very well rounded and succeed both inside the classroom and in their extracurricular activities as well. Despite all of our achievements, we have now been labeled as a school "in need of improvement" due to the scores of one of our testing subgroups.

    Because of New Jersey's testing subgroup specifications, our special education population's test scores were included in the overall score profile for our high school. We are a regional high school and therefore have a large special education subgroup. Many of these students are supposed to be exempt from testing according to their IEPs. Now they are required to test and to endure a multi-day assessment that is often three to five years beyond their reading levels. Testing accommodations cannot make up for the academic discrepancies that have caused these students to be identified for special education services.

    We have managed to push a good percentage of special education students to achieve these unrealistic expectations, but the remainder of these students are simply not capable of performing beyond their limitations. That is precisely why they receive special education services. Unfortunately, because of the punitive nature of the law, we must spend all of our academic time teaching to the test. Many children are missing out on life lessons because of the extreme narrowing of our curriculum. The NCLB act has instilled so much fear in public education that we are simply drilling in language arts and mathematics all day long. Our students have now lost their study hall periods and instead must use that time as a literacy period. They will have to sit after lunch and read silently for twenty-two minutes. Our secondary schools are being transformed into drill and practice mills.

    Since the special education testing subgroup is "keeping us from meeting the AYP," we must now be subjected to "corrective measures." My peers and I are going to have to be taught how to be more successful teachers by the mainstream staff. Many of these staff members are less experienced educators and do not understand the challenges that we face in the classroom. My peers and I are being punished because our students have disabilities.

    According to their IEPs, many of our "failing" students should not have been required to have taken the test. Why are the provisions of P.L. 94-142 and IDEA being ignored? When will decency and common sense prevail?

    The current administration's agenda is clearly apparent. Those who support the current NCLB legislation are intent on using the disabled to dismantle public education. After investigating the results from schools in my state and in other states I have noted that many schools are labeled as failing because of either their special education or their limited English proficient student subgroups.

    It appears that different states employ different minimum subgroup sizes with regard to the inclusion of test scores. Also, states have a different percentage level for those students who are permitted to take alternate assessments. It is interesting to note that Texas now allows 5% of their special education students to take an alternate assessment while New Jersey allowed only 1% of similar students to be tested under those conditions. Why are there not uniform standards for all of the states? It appears that the minimum subgroup size provision punishes large and urban schools. Is this not discriminatory?

    Please help us to either revise or to repeal this legislation. Privatization is not the answer to public school improvement.

    Thank you so much for your time and assistance with this matter.


    Barbara Crystal M. Ed.

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