Friday, April 2, 2010

It's All About the Benjamins

I'm sure that many people out there would agree that we really work hard in education to provide the best possible education for our students. I have believed this for a long time and still do. With the current status of economy across the nation, however, it is my observation that what I have long believed to be a staple belief is being eroded by another key belief...survival.
Survival is one of the initial instincts that we all have. It spans across the personal barriers of eating, reproduction, learning, loyalty, interdependence, and so many other concepts. As institutions or businesses, survival is key to being able to do anything positive for society. Look at mission statements and visions that promote the "grander thinking" of humanity in terms of what a company or organization can provide. Think about it...no survival, no anything. It suddenly becomes "all about the Benjamins" in order to finance our efforts.
So when the economy takes a dive, schools and educational supports are hard hit - not without an understanding of the long-term effects this will produce, but in a survival mode. Our government needs to survive too...keep that in mind...and without the government's survival, where do we all land? So education takes a 10% rap on the proverbial head, which is handed out at the district level. Seeing about 75-85% of all current funds for each district are tied to salaries, what is the natural response? Survive! Cut staff! Trim the fat! In order to "make it" the belt will again be tightened around the concept of doing more with less.
Now that we take a huge whack (again) at the individuals responsible for learning, what happens? Some leave the field, some become unemployed, some move to another position. Whatever they do, the hard part about reductions is that it is unlikely that the only individuals removed from their current positions will be those that are less effective with students. Due to contract language, we WILL be losing some of the most excellent educators across the nation. At the same time, there will be individuals that maintain their positions with less than stellar performances. That's the system, and there is a contract involved. For those that have the option to retain the correct people in the correct places, my hope is that they have the intestinal fortitude to make the calls on behalf of students. That can be a lonely place when it may involve a lot of battles, but it is necessary to place the students first if that is truly the cause in which we believe.
Now that we have eliminated a large part of our expenses and reduced the number of people working for the schools to do so, we face the next step of the spiral. With less local individuals making a salary, the tax base shrinks. Do the math, and yep, less money again. Less tax means less government ability to support anything, and I'm sure we'll look for another cut in the future. More spiraling.
There isn't an easy answer, but as a nation, we need to look at our most valuable resource - our kids - and think about them in our quest to survive financially. When we talk about the Benjamins, my hope is that our decisions reflect that it truly is "all about the Benjamins." But I hope that these Benjamins have a face and a last name and that they represent every child we touch, even those not named Benjamin.

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9 comments:

Kastendieck said...

All things are connected. Reductions result in school district savings...which result in loss of income to staff reduced...which results in tax payers moving ...which results in loss of students...which results in school income...which results in loss of programs...which results in less appeal for families to move into the district...which results in school financial insolvency...which results in staff reductions. Is this what the state Of Iowa is thrusting down small school districts throats. What can small rural schools do ...build casinos on every corner? There has to be an answer that builds up and does not tear down. Will the answer come in time? When school districts cut so many programs and staff what makes that school system marketable. When the state looses quality small rural schools will that make the state not marketable? Why do people move to Iowa a great place to raise children in a rural environment. Close all the small schools that are the life blood of the small rural communities why would young people move to Iowa. It is not because of the tax base breaks. Are we the only ones that see this!!!!!

Damon said...

Good post Marshall. Pretty deep for a biker.LOL.Unfortunatley, you are right above survival mode. You have to survive if you want to come the other side stronger. And with good teachers losing their jobs over "less than stellar" teachers, that, my friend, is what you call a union. Jobs are decided on years of service and not performance. One, of the many, problems with a union. A merit based society is much more productive than time based. And I also believe the largest teachers union, the NEA if I am correct, is like the UAW. They are more concerned with their own political clout,survival and income then actually doing what they were set out to do. In todays competitive job market, the union is an outdated concept. It hinders more than it helps. It helps to foster the "us against them" mindset. Some educators will move to the private sector. And that might be a good thing for the economy over all. Adversity creates oppurtunity. And there might be new business' started by these people that will employ more people than just the one teacher having a job. In turn, more tax revenue. Remember, those that can do, those that can't, teach.LOL. And Gov't, is never the answer to any question.

Kastendieck said...

Damon, I do agree with your comment that in todays competitive job market, the union is an outdated concept. I was raised in a pro union environment and have seen the mission of most unions change from safety for the workers and fair wages to exactly what you are saying ..." more concerned with their own political clout,survival and income then actually doing what they were set out to do."
Now I do disagree that having teachers forced to pick other professions due to reductions good for economy. Anyone working is good for economy, but is the economy the line we draw for good. When good quality teachers are being forced out of teaching in the end it is the students that suffer. Quality teachers are needed especially when economic times are hard. The question as Marshall puts it," but as a nation, we need to look at our most valuable resource - our kids - and think about them in our quest to survive financially." What is survival and what are we willing to give up to survive? The education of our youth is survival of our future.

Marshall said...

Thanks for the good insights Tina and Damon. There are a lot of ways to look at education, but funding is certainly one that impacts us all and creates lots of perspectives: community members, taxpayers, unions, teachers, administration, boards, and even STUDENTS. Yes, they do more than matter, they actually have some good ideas that unfortunately aren't tapped as frequently as they should be in most cases.
Damon brings out an idea - much to Tina's chagrin - that can be true or false in each case. Look at that, you are both right in my eyes! There are times that reductions in education can cause one to look at their life's path and choose another one, which does impact the general population as Damon notes. Not to mention since those that can do...etc. these are frequently some of the most community minded and school supportive people around (though a reduction can also change that), which may mean there is superior support for the learning community from these individuals. On the other hand, we often are forced to remove some of the best educators that have successfully dedicated their lives to the advancement and learning of youth. In that, we all lose.
In a cold and calculating economics and management approach, one would see that less teaching jobs would mean that selection would be highly competitive and therefore highly talented individuals could be placed into the remaining positions, and others would be thrust into another field. Unfortunately, the reality is that unions, contract language, and politics will frequently mean this is not the case. Often we move the best people out because they are either ruffling a few feathers by doing their job appropriately or they are low on the seniority list, or they don't have the "right" connections.
When someone finds the perfect system, please let me know, and I'll do everything I can to perpetuate it and push it into every school district in the state and nation! Sounds like a pretty grand commitment, but it's probably as likely as keeping our best educators in front of our kids during budget shortfall and reduction times.

Kastendieck said...

I have been talking to good quality educators and administrators and the common thread is stress. Stress at a system that promotes political agenda's instead of supporting the one thing they are in education for , the educational welfare of the student. The stress of the union that teachers feel they must be part of to keep their jobs in a reduction minded economy. The stress of the public who listen to PR on how public schools are failing their children. The stress from the state that tries to balance the budget on the backs of the schools. The stress of the politicians who use the educational issues to get elected and then refuse to support teachers or schools. The federal government that promises funding and then pulls it away at the same time requiring mandates that are one size fits all.
So what does all this stress result in .... self doubt that they picked the right profession...self doubt that they are teaching effectively...self doubt that they are making a difference.
What is the solution or is there any solution other than to keep teaching or not?

Kastendieck said...

There isn't an easy answer, but as a nation, we need to look at our most valuable resource - Your comment Marshall, "our kids - and think about them in our quest to survive financially. When we talk about the Benjamins, my hope is that our decisions reflect that it truly is "all about the Benjamins." But I hope that these Benjamins have a face and a last name and that they represent every child we touch, even those not named Benjamin." I see the word quest to survive financially. That bothers me. I think that is the root of the Benjamin scenerio. It is not about finances, it may be what her hear over and over but it really isn't. Take all the money away from education and somehow there still will be education. Not what we have now but there will still be teaching. If we are teaching just for job security we are wrong. We teach because mankind has a desire to learn, we teach becasue even after we are fed and sheltered we hunger for something else. Now how can we pursue that in the education of children. I think the educational system we have and have had has killed this in our youth. We keep telling students they need an education so they can get a high paying job. It is a very sad scenerio. I would like to see that change. I know kindergarten students do not see educaton that way. Let's jump back and figure this out or at least try to figure it out. I want to see High School students with the enthusiasm for learning that a 5 year old has. I miss the students begging me to create a new center and start a new unit and to add to the word card list.

Marshall said...

Tina, I agree that there will always be teaching and learning, and there always has. It is likely that traditional structures have indeed, "...killed [the desire to learn] in our youth." It is not because we created effective mass-educating organizations, because at that point and time it is what we needed to have in place. The killing has occurred only in that we have become complacent in our approach and not kept current with the learning curve. You may want to re-read the part about the quest to survive financially as I believe you understand and believe in that too, but maybe not as you interpreted it. Left to our own devices, we (as parents and communities) would likely do a lesser job overall of educating the next generation. Pooling our financial resources to have the best trained and prepared individuals dedicated to this task enhances what we can offer to our kids. It is similar to a town creating a fire department instead of everyone simply relying on their own abilitiy to douse a fire if one should erupt. That is how the concepts of city and even taxes have evolved - limited ability of the individual to do everything that may be required and a desire to spread the risk and responsibility among us all. Take another read and see if you agree that to maintain an organized structure in some manner (likely not exactly what we have) is most effective when we are focused on the Benjamins, the Haleys, the Elizas, and the Codys of our classrooms in order to determine what their needs are and what we can do to best meet those needs and SERVE our kids.

Kastendieck said...

The problem is we can not get over the organized structure. Before organized structure you got the education that was available such as, your Dad's a farmer you learn to farm, your Mom is a seamstress so you learn to sew. It was the ultimate job of parents and even community to foster that education that was needed to survive. It was also the job of the family to foster the love of learning if possible and to put value into it. I really feel that in the United States organized education has taught family and community to give over the educational responsibilities and the love of learning to schools. I see that in parents who say 'why is my kid doing so much homework he should do it at school" or 'Why did the teacher not have time to practice spelling with my kid at school?' Examples like this go on and on. Seriously how many parents or community members feel it is their jobs to teach or even assist in a child's learning. Now the bigger scenario from that is how many students feel it is their job to learn, shouldn't the teachers be able to teach them and engage them so they do not have to make an effort (magic works for me). So we are frantically trying to help the Benjamins when the help should be coming from other prime sources first with public schools just being a spoke of the learning hub. The student (Benjamin) is the hub with his family being the outer hub and then everything else being spokes. You cannot support a hub with a few good spokes they have to be equal. If the wheel (student successful in his environment ie. financial?) is created through this system of hub and spokes , the way it is working now , the wheel is non functioning. I think we are agreeing on parts as to the community resources to build a fire department, but my resources I feel should be based on relationships and not finances. Throw all the money in the world at education and you still will miss a Benjamin. The sources that help Benjamin the most are not based on finances and for Benjamin to be the best person he can be will never be based on how much money he can make in the 21st century job market.

Marshall said...

I do think we are agreeing more than we aren't. Most of our disagreement may be based in our perspective of the finances concept. I was never thinking of it in terms of Benjamin making money vs. being a good person or knowing how to be a self-sufficient individual. My take was that we DO need to "throw all the money in the world at education" but do it via hiring teachers that DO care, WILL make the effort, and UNDERSTAND the things on which you are basing your case here. We can't keep good people in contact with students (in a good proportion as well) without the financial support of the whole. Yes, there is so much more to life than simply making money, and knowing that and appreciating that are some of the keys to enjoying that life. And no, it doesn't release a parent's responsibility to be involved in their student's learning, but it does help to mitigate the situations that are created when parents are less than deeply involved. In your wheel example, I would think that the system of education does need to be more than one of the "spokes" but maybe the hub itself. From that hub, lots of other supports (parents, athletics, the arts, clubs, church, jobs, community, friends, etc.) make the wheel work. Without the structured organization of that learning (the hub) spokes only click, clack, and spin loosely. However you figure it out, I'll come back to my initial premise in this post, which was that too often we miss out on our purpose (Benjamin and all of the students) in order to maintain the organization.

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