California isn’t the only state looking at deep education funding cuts.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Thursday that governors from across the nation have sought his advice, as they try to make difficult funding reductions in schools.
To help out what he called “one of the largest new crops of incoming governors,” Duncan sent a letter and two documents to states, outlining flexible spending options and “Smart Ideas to Increase Educational Productivity and Student Achievement.”
Here’s a rundown of some of his ideas, which he discussed during a Thursday news conference:
— Put students first: “ … evaluate all policies and practices against the ultimate bottom line: is this policy or practice improving student outcomes?”
— Invest in what works: “ … over time, many states and districts have invested resources in effective educational programs and practices or in programs and practices without enough evidence of effectiveness.”
— “Share ideas and learn from success.”
— Work with stakeholders: “Engaging in honest, productive conversations with stakeholders can lead to real savings and improved results for students, while not working together can result in acrimony and little else …”
— “Avoid shortsighted cost-cutting … Shortsighted cuts include: reducing the number of days in the school year, decreasing the amount of instructional time, eliminating instruction in the arts and foreign languages, eliminating high-quality early learning programs, abandoning promising reforms, and indiscriminately laying off talented teachers be they new, mid-career, or veteran …”
— “Protect the neediest children and communities: Where funding reductions must be made, governors and other policymakers can take steps to ensure that the neediest communities and children are not the hardest hit …”
— “Support early college high schools and dual enrollment opportunities: Enabling students to replace some of their high school courses with more rigorous college-level courses saves time and money for the student, the high school, and the college — while also increasing student achievement and access to accelerated course work …”
“Ease or eliminate ‘seat-time’ requirements in order to allow students to progress to new courses or content as soon as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, rather than when sufficient time passes …”
— Leverage alternative funding sources, local partnerships and resources
— Close persistently low-performing and under-enrolled schools, and enroll students in higher-quality campuses: “In each case, it is important to consider the broader impact of such closures on students and make these decisions in an equitable manner across the state or district. Families, teachers, and the community should be included in the decision, and districts should provide information about high-quality options and transition and support services for affected students.”
Duncan also advised districts to use technology wisely and suggested that teachers and principals should be compensated based on excellence, with higher pay for those who work in “high-need schools, subjects or specialties.” He said small class sizes should be weighed against the need for excellent teachers.
“I’m a parent of two young children,” he said. “If I was given the choice between an extraordinary teacher with 28 students or a mediocre teacher with 23 students, I would choose the larger class size. Not all parents would make that choice. But that’s a conversation we should have.”
In addition, Duncan said educational programs should be funded based on success to create incentives for improvement and that schools should consolidate or share services with other agencies, including local governments. Incentives could also be created to reduce costs for transportation and other services, he added.
Duncan also called for the elimination of “unnecessary or unproductive mandates” and encouraged flexible funding. Finally, he encouraged “high-quality teacher and principal evaluation systems,” investment in “meaningful” data systems and “positive behavioral interventions and supports.”
During the question and answer period with the press, Duncan said educational agencies should focus on what they’re getting in return for the money they’re spending.
“We have to make sure that every single scarce dollar we spend is doing the maximum amount to get students educated,” he said. “We have to be smart, we have to be strategic.”
I asked Duncan about the importance of strategic planning and told him the district I cover (Mt. Diablo) has no strategic plan and recently decided to close a school for which it had received a $1.7 million, three-year “transformation” School Improvement Grant.
“Strategic plannng is extraordinarily important,” he said. “There are a number of ways to transform a school.”
He said the federal government is leaving these decisions up to local officials, but stressed that he and others at the U.S. Department of Education are visiting schools to see what is being done with the money.
“Those grants are funding that came through the state,” he said, “and we’re going to be looking very closely at how districts are using those scarce resources to dramatically improve education.”
You can see the complete list of ideas, along with Duncan’s letter and flexibility options, at http://www.ed.gov/blog/2011/03/helping-states-address-budget-pressures/.”
Do you think California school districts should follow Duncan’s advice?