Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Education Policy suggestion to a local school district

Here is a student policy suggestion by a student (in black fontface) with some of my comments (in this colored font):

Policy suggestion to the Peoria School District 150:

Due to the financial constraints of the district, there will inevitably be school closures. In the best interest of the students and the long-term stability of District 150, the administration should exhaust all efforts for reorganization. It is possible to consolidate three primary schools, three middle schools, and eliminate school boundaries for the allowance of one high school on Peoria Stadium grounds. Utilization of vacant buildings for alternative schools is an option, as well as profit from a sale. Understandably, this reorganization will not come to fruition overnight; however, proper planning and public support will open the door further for the students of District 150. 

I wrote this policy suggestion for the local school district in Peoria, Illinois. Currently, they are facing many obstacles that include, but are not limited to: financial debt, reduction in enrollment, low test scores, high mobility, high truancy, high dropout and low graduation numbers. The majority of the schools are not at full capacity and many schools are in jeopardy of closure from the State of Illinois due to ISAT scores. 

The district is a business, however, the children in the district get lost in the mix. It would be in the best interest for all involved in District 150 to consolidate schools, eliminate school boundaries, and alleviate some of the financial pressure. The children of the district are most important, and the reorganization would allow for a better education for the students. 

Here is my response: 

You may be correct. When we look at costs and spending in a school district we can look at expenditures on instruction (mainly teacher salaries) and other forms of expenditure (maintaining buildings, for example). Ideally, we are spending much more money on instruction. Having many older school buildings that are only half-filled tends to make the education dollar go more toward building maintenance and less for direct instruction. So, consolidation looks like a good option. 

However, my understanding is that smaller schools are generally far better for students, and large consolidated schools tend to exert a negative influence on academic achievement.  However, I think the variable of school size is not so important as some variables related to family background or the personal skills of specific teachers who actually have contact with students.  So, if the bigger schools can afford to attract and keep the most outstanding teachers, this should more than make up for the problems of large consolidated schools.  Unfortunately, I think in practice school consolidation does not lead to schools using their financial savings to figure out who the best teachers are and recruit more of them or pay them more to keep them. So, without that improvement in teacher quality, it’s depressing that school consolidation can be the cost-saving measure.  

I like better the idea that vacant buildings could be turned into new schools.  Perhaps 40 students and 3 or 4 teachers could meet in a vacant store four days per week and one day per week the students could go to a big consolidated school building for the stuff they couldn’t get in the smaller location. I don’t know, it seems fairly bleak unless school funding is changed so that across the state the spending-per-student on education is given a reasonable floor, and the state ensures that all students have their educations funded at those standardized levels or higher.

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