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Guest Blog: What Should We Cut?

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
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This week's #edchat topic hit like a blunt instrument: "What should we cut?" As a first-year middle school teacher in Raleigh, NC our guest blogger this week, Luke Miles (@lhmiles2) had some interesting perspectives. Here's his summary of the chat.

--Betty Ray, Community Manager (@EdutopiaBetty) and Elana Leoni, Social Media Marketing Coordinator (@elanaleoni)

The 12:00 EDT/9:00 PDT #edchat (4/6/10) asked a tough question: "From an educator's point of view, what should be cut from education budgets when times get tough?" It's a question that many educators feel should never even be asked; yet it is a real and unavoidable problem for any struggling economy. Unfortunately, for both students and teachers, education is usually a HUGE chunk of any state budget so districts are forced to make tough decisions.

Right out of the gate, people were already criticizing even the idea of cutting anything. Initially, I suggested that before we cut any money, we should examine how we spend the money we already have and make sure it is being used equitably and effectively. But back to the meat of #edchat...

When deciding what to cut, we really need to look at the long-term vs. short-term viability of each option. If teachers, administration, and politicians work together to find a long-term viable solution to budget cuts then the choices could end up working in favor of the schools despite having less money. I believe we can all agree that a well-thought-out, long-term, viable solution is better than a knee-jerk reaction just to save a few dollars bills. Below is a list of proposed cuts from teachers across the twitterverse.

@joe_bower If we have to cut, it makes no sense to cut teaching and learning but keep all the measuring. Testing should go first.

Many teachers agree that standardized testing is not a fair measurement of every student. I am one of those teachers. However, each state needs a way to show productivity and growth, and testing has proven (however, skewed you may think it is) to be the only tangible way to measure achievement in schools. Testing is not going anywhere although it would save millions (billions?). If the states choose to cut teaching, then testing should be modified/cut as well. Districts cannot expect the same results on standardized tests if they cut teachers and increase classroom size. Viable long-term solution? Yes, but only if the teachers can convince the state that there is another way to measure growth and achievement.

@thenerdyteacher Should arts and sports be left to the city to run and save districts $?

Before I get a bunch of hate mail from this post, neither I nor @thenerdyteacher want to see the arts or sports get cut. It's just a thought. However, this would save districts money, but in the end, most teachers would agree (including myself and the @thenerdyteacher) that students would suffer. One need look no further than Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind to see that cutting arts ed would be disastrous for our entire economy. Or the mountains of research proving that regular exercise and P.E. supports brain functioning and produces higher test scores (not to mention healthier kids).

@lhmiles2 If we went paperless, we could save $ down the line. Initial start up costs are high but 2-3 yrs out, it is proven to save.

To clarify, I was not the only person to throw this idea out. Paperless is the new black. It's the new trendy hot topic. It's a money saver and a way to force teachers to integrate web 2.0 technologies. Going truly paperless is more than just a paperless classroom. It means no school-wide mailings, no paper report cards, no PTA newsletter, etc. Of course, the initial start up costs would be high, but the immediate savings would be tremendous as well. Paper is a billion dollar industry, and Dunder Mifflin can thank the school systems for most of that money. Long-term viable solution? Definitely. Reasonable cut right now? Potentially. Even in the most cash-strapped districts, it may be worth a brainstorming meeting with others in your school to figure out ways to conserve resources starting now.

By the end of #edchat, many conversations had shifted to figuring out how to ensure that the teacher voice is heard when making budget cuts. In an ideal world, teachers AND students would have a say in all decisions that affect the school. Even parents want their voice heard...

@aprilabtbalance as a parent, I get so frustrated b-cuz I don't feel like I have a voice in budget decisions.

So how do teachers, students, and parents get their voice heard? Grassroots. It starts from the bottom. We hate to hear it because it means more work, but if we want changes in places we know changes need to be made, then we have to start from the ground up. It is difficult for ONE teacher to move to the top and enforce change from the top down. But collectively, as ONE GROUP, we can have our voice heard. It takes organization. It takes commitment. It takes motivation. It takes innovation. I'm not gonna takes a lot, but that's what good teaching is all about right?

Cuts are inevitable, but districts should be thoughtful and inclusive when making budget cuts. If we strive to keep our students' (both today's and tomorrow's) best interest at heart and maintain our vision for a transformed 21st century learning environment, then no matter what cut is made we know it was done so with integrity and an innovative vision.

Luke Miles is a first year 7th grade Social Studies teacher in Raleigh, NC at Durant Road Middle School. He graduated from NC State University in 2009 with a degree in Middle Grades Education (SS/ELA). Constantly working to become a better and more effective educator, Luke strives to make sure his students leave his class as 21st century learners able to seek out information and learn for themselves in an ever-increasing digital world. You may read more of Luke's thoughts at lhmiles2 to collaborate or interact with him or his classroom. .

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Not Yet Ready to Retire's picture

As a veteran teacher of 30 years, I believe that there is plenty of money to be found in a school district, if one attempts to creatively problem solve to find it. I have seen the incredible waste in schools across many locales. Budget cutting has come up numerous times in each district....yet NEVER have cuts been made at the top, from what I can see. There are huge administrative costs and often, n'er a powerfully dynamic mission accomplished, it seems. More administrative positions and assistants are needed for promoting new programs and initiatives, as if to give them all something to do. New carpeting, fancy computers, and creating more office space continue to be on the "to do" list. Traveling opportunities, paid lunches, and local mileage reimbursement are little perks offered. Sure, this is an exaggeration in ways....but honestly, which administrator is willing to raise their hand for a salary freeze, or better yet, a pay cut to their 6-figure salary? One less secretary? One less fancy new chair? Not too many.

When it comes to cutting costs, let's stop pointing fingers at the programs and people that directly touch and impact the students' educational journey...start looking at the top. Let the administrators step aside for once and honestly help to 'trim the fat.'

Not Yet Ready to Retire

Joanne Lockwood White's picture

With 35 years of teaching, I COMPLETELY agree that the waste is SO easy to see. The value-packed quality is not hard to see either. Teachers who get the labs ready starting at 7:30 AM, finish cleaning test tubes at 6:00, drag materials from garage sales and supermarkets, take Saturday field trips, paint murals, do free afterschool clubs, etc exist.......but if the scores aren't high .....its our fault.

Laura McCall's picture
Laura McCall
More-at-Four (Pre-K) Teacher's Assistant

I like the idea of going completely paperless. Many schools now, including my school in Nags Heads, NC, use the school's website to post news, events, lunch calendars, etc., and classroom websites to update and inform parents about classroom activities. However, it might be difficult to go completely paperless because it would require that every family to have access to a computer and the internet; which we know many families do not have.
Integrating new technologies such as SMARTboard or/having classroom computers could reduce, or possibly eliminate worksheets. However, I this also would be costly.
I would much rather see schools reducing paper usage, ink, copier costs, etc. than cutting teachers, programs, and increasing classroom sizes.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

Well in FL there is not enough. Lottery dollars were pledged to help education, but these dollars are used supplant monies not granted by the state. Two years ago most districts were paying more for education locally than by state allotment and with categorical money only able to spent on specific items, it limits districts and schools creativity to meet the needs of its students.

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