Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where Voters/Taxpayers and Teachers Meet

In these tough economic times, we all know schools must learn to do more with less.  This makes budget writing difficult, but it also forces all of us to evaluate our priorities, and that's a good thing.  Taxpayers and teachers share a significant priority—they want the schools to be effective. For voters/taxpayers, this means schools that deliver quality instruction, engage students, and enrich the life of the community...preferably at the lowest cost possible.    

For teachers, schools that work well have effective curricula, useful administrative support, and adequate preparation and planning opportunities so that staffs can deliver high quality instruction to students.

Where taxpaying voters and teachers meet--or, more to the point, where they share common ground--is in the desire to clear out the schools' organizational elements that don't really contribute much to instruction, engagement, or enrichment...or to cost-savings.

According to documents on the school district web site, Tacoma's spending on central administration, as a percentage of the budget, grew from 2006-7 to 2008-9.  Tacoma was the only district (in that report) to experience administrative growth in this period.  (All others either dropped or remained flat.)

While Tacoma did not return to its all-time high percentage, it did climb back into the #2 position behind Seattle.

If this portends a return of more bureaucracy, it's the wrong direction.  Take, for example, the bureaucracy and culture of 'assessment.'  Assessment is necessary and helpful, but only to the point to which it sharpens instruction.  There is now, however, so much assessment that it can crowd out instruction time and therefore actually cut into learning time.  Obviously, there comes a point at which more assessment doesn't add much value--informationally or instructionally, so to do more beyond this point of diminishing marginal returns is to actually undermine education.  It's hard to say where this threshold lies, as it differs for different students, but that threshold is out there somewhere!

Unfortunately, the culture of assessment imbibes the idea that more assessment--because it generates more information about a student--is better.  That's why the list of possible assessments a student could undergo is as long as it is.

As a Tacoma School Board Director, I would work to refine and reduce the number of assessments students must undergo each year.  In so doing, we can save some money and increase available instructional time...and education would get a little bit better.

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