There should be a magic formula for teaching. Everyone assumes there is, and if those lazy teachers would just get with it and apply this formula, all children would be successful. There is no formula to meet the needs of every child, but there is a solution to help the majority of them, and it’s simple: proper funding. Amendment 66 is a huge step toward this solution.
Due to the effects of TABOR and the lack of bond issues, Colorado’s schools are struggling. Before I taught, I assumed that schools had plenty of money, and it was simply being eaten up by ruthless admin and wasted expenditure. Once I was in the system, however, I saw firsthand how peculiar it all is. In order to explain this, I need to break it down into pieces and explain what No Child Left Behind does, exactly, and how funding works.
Schools are broken down into tiers based on the level of property tax of a surrounding area. Title I is high poverty, Title V is low. Schools receive a chunk of funding raised by the surrounding neighborhood, so rich neighborhood schools automatically get a bigger piece. I’ve taught in both. NCLB says that every child in every tier will perform at grade level, regardless of things like home life, disabilities, or attendance. The purpose of NCLB is noble–it is to close the achievement gap, which is the gap in performance between the Title I and V schools. Ideally, every child would perform at the same level. However, the law fails to take into account that each student has individual needs, and learns differently, so teaching an entire class by one model will fail to reach them all.
In Colorado, testing determines funding. Each school receives funding based on yearly scores. High performing schools receive higher funding, and lower performing schools receive lower funding. In higher poverty areas, children come to school with greater needs–they are hungry, cold, tired, and often frightened. They also frequently have not had preschool or even kindergarten, as kindergarten is not mandatory. With those first graders, I had to begin the year with, “This is a book. there are words inside. You can read the words to hear a story…” In the high performing areas, children arrive healthy, fed, and often already reading by kindergarten. They travel, have access to books, and receive education from their parents ahead of time. That means that the average Title V student begins their school career about two to three “years” ahead of their Title I counterparts.
In my classes, according to my testing data, my students make two years of growth in one year, regardless of which school I’m in. However, if the Title V children start three years ahead, skill wise, if all of them make two years of growth, the Title I students cannot catch up, so the achievement gap is still wide open.
One of the keys to closing the gap is early childhood education, which puts young children closer to the same starting point. For my daughter, I paid $7000 for one year of private preschool–three days a week. We spent all of our savings on it. Free programs are few and far between, and overcrowded. Full day kindergarten across the state is $400/month; cheaper than daycare but still far beyond the reach of most Title I families, and even me. My daughter goes half day because I can’t afford full day, but since I’m a teacher I homeschool in the afternoon. It’s not a luxury most people have.
Amendment 66 aims to open more free or low cost preschools, and offer FREE full day kindergarten at every school in the state. (Which, incidentally, is what all the high performing countries around the world do!) This gives all children critical skills like alphabet, numbers, basic social skills, and so on, so that when they begin first grade they can start with reading. This is critical to closing the gap. All of the amendment’s funds are aimed at the classroom, not the administration.
The other piece of the amendment is for more teachers, smaller classrooms, and aides. I hear people complain about aides, but here is why they are critical.
When I taught in Title I, I had a class with three severe needs children, one of whom was openly psychotic and very dangerous. Another was incredibly destructive. Then I had seven with moderate needs; they were difficult but not impossible. There was no money for an aide, so I struggled every day to protect the children from the dangerous one. I spent so much of my time controlling him, documenting behavior, etc, that I lost a tremendous amount of teaching time. The children were frightened and the class data was poor. If I had had a professional aide, I would have been able to TEACH. In addition, NCLB requires monthly testing–sometimes weekly in Title I. When I did weekly testing, on my own, I lost two to four hours per week of teaching time. That’s a over a full day per month! Aides can provide these services, which allows the teacher to actually teach. Smaller class sizes also provide for this.
Currently, schools operate on a “count day” system, where money is awarded per student who is at school the week of the count day. The school keeps that money, even if the student transfers to a different school the following week. The amendment will simply divide the money by the average number of students present, so that they would not lose money. Currently, the system is a major problem for flood damaged areas–student are currently in temporary schools, so their temporary school get the count day money, and keep it when the students go back to their home school. That doesn’t make any sense and is counterproductive.
Schools in Colorado are also overcrowded. Too many students removes a teacher’s ability to meet individual needs, no matter how “good” the teacher is. Providing more teachers and aides alleviates this. I know one teacher, who shows phenomenal success with her students, who had 42 kindergartners in her class. She cried over the fact that she couldn’t teach the way she knew she should, because simply keeping that many children calm consumed her day. There’s no excuse for that!
Amendment 66 doesn’t solve every problem. We need to repair the testing system, do away with NCLB, pay enough to attract quality teachers, do away with tenure, and ensure that teachers have the latest training and technology. However, Amendment 66 is a major step toward making sure that all of our kids have a better chance at a good education, starting with our littlest ones–who can learn the most the fastest!
And for those who say, “I don’t have kids, so not my problem!” Well…when you’re old and trying to squeeze your social security out of 53 teenage fast food employees, good luck. These children are our future doctors, engineers, politicians, programmers, and the future that you have to live with. You can choose to invest in it, or choose to hope somehow it’ll all work out okay.
I hope you’ll invest. The tax increase doesn’t amount to much per year, yet does so much for the future of our society.
Speak up and let everyone know how important this is. Please vote. Your voice is important.