Saturday, March 28, 2015

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose--or worse

If I were running a school, there are a number of things I would do to save money at no academic cost. (And, naturally, I would spend some of these savings on what counts the most: teachers, who, regardless of any official credentials, demonstrate great teaching and classroom management skills and extensive knowledge in their instructional fields—though I would attract them not just with reasonable salaries, but with much greater respect and autonomy than they get elsewhere).

Here’s how I would save money at no extra academic cost. I would eschew so-called “educational” technology. I would run the school locally, free from distant, salaried administrators. And, finally, I would avoid buying new books (where new generally means higher cost and lower academic quality), instead using as many ancient books that are now in the public domain (and essentially free) as possible.

In other words, my spending priorities would be the opposite of what so many large school districts do—for example the Philadelphia School District. Take old books, for example. As a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (In cash-strapped School District, a hidden treasure trove of books), the districts has “thousands and thousands” of books

from two dozen city schools shuttered two years ago. Perfectly usable. All sitting boxed up and unused in the basement of the Philadelphia School District's headquarters.

A city block of books. Some of them shrink-wrapped. Some of them dumped in boxes. Some stacked on the floor. Few labeled. Nothing organized. Kindergarten readers next to high school books. Expensive Storytown reading series, gathering dust. Science, algebra, literature textbooks. Literary kits and phonics sets. Books for English-language learners.
These books include “classics like Jack London and Mark Twain.” It gets worse:
There are thousands more unused books - and other things city kids badly need, including pianos and other instruments - piled up in the hallways and classrooms of the shuttered Bok High School in South Philadelphia.

In a district where almost 60 percent of the kids cannot read at grade level, the library is heartbreaking. Many shelves are still stocked. There are hundreds of dictionaries.
And the marching band equipment, pushed into a corner of the library: Five pianos. Bass drums. Kick drums. Trombones. The green-and-white band uniforms lie on the floor like the empty cloak of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The article’s author, Mike Newall, asks:
In a broke district, there's no music program that could use that stuff?
District spokesman Fernando Gallard “offered bureaucratic explanations that indicated this is not a new problem.”
Much of the material in the district basement, he said, were from outdated curricula taught during the administrations of Superintendents Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman.

If that's the case, how many thousands of dollars in waste is lying around there? 
Math doesn't change. Chemistry doesn't change. Literature is timeless.
Indeed, in terms of the introductory material that should be the focus of K12 schools, most subjects don’t change.

Newall asks:
And in a district in financial crisis, aren't old textbooks better than no textbooks?
I’d go further: most old textbooks are better than new textbooks.

Many people around here in Philadelphia blame the plight of the Philadelphia School district on state government stinginess. The big picture is a bit more nuanced.


Auntie Ann said...

LAUSD's buying priorities ended up costing the superintendent his job.

He chose to spend $1,000,000,000.00 on iPads and proprietary software for ever student, while not being able to afford to provide middle schools with math textbooks aligned with the new Common Core standards.

lgm said...

The elementary libraries bother me. Perfectly good material, but unusable since the librarians have been let go and the space turned into yet another included classroom. Then we open summer feeding programs but dont provide bussing or allow books to be checked out. Yet McKinney Vento is fully funded and routinely is a limo service for newly divorced parents who are waiting for an apt to become vacant.