Friday, January 28, 2011

Education in the news

This week has been a busy news week in the field of public education in the state of Alabama. Here are several articles pertaining to public education that might be of interest.

1st Article

2nd Article

3rd Article

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker

This is an interesting article about school behavior.

Read the article

Newspaper Article

Here is an article in the News Courier about the local history of Limestone County.
Read Article

Friday, January 14, 2011

Alabama Department of Education

The ALSDE now has a twitter account. Become a follower at!/alabamadeptofed

Education Week Article

Recession's Toll on K-12 Budgets Both Wide and Deep
By Alyson Klein

In its impact on state and local education budgets, the Great Recession of 2007-09 was like a vicious storm that swept across the landscape and left a broad—but far from uniform—trail of wreckage in its wake.
Though nearly every state felt the sting of what has been called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a complex and varied set of regional factors amplified the fiscal damage for states already struggling with budget pressures, while leaving a handful of others virtually unscathed.

But with education typically making up at least half of a state’s overall spending mandate, K-12 suffered in most states—and badly.

The economic situation was particularly dire in states that bore the brunt of the foreclosure crisis in the housing market—including Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada—with a corresponding impact on precollegiate education owing to the close linkage between property-tax revenues and school funding.

Quality Counts 2011:
Uncertain Forecast
Executive Summary
Educators Regroup in Recession's Aftermath
Recession's Toll on K-12 Budgets Both Wide and Deep
Web Extras
State Highlights Reports
Feature Stories
New Technology Could Offer Savings, Educational Boon
Pre-K Advocates Feel Fiscal Jitters, but Stay Hopeful
Personnel Costs Prove Tough to Contain
Finding Efficiencies in Special Education Programs
Districts Scour Budgets for Potential Savings
Postelection Challenges Abound on Education Policy
State of the States
Weighing States' School Performance, Policymaking
Methodology, Sources, and Notes
Sources and Notes
Order Extra Copies
In Print
PDF Download
And in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, Rust Belt states long squeezed by the slowdown in manufacturing, an already-challenged economic climate turned even bleaker as the national economic boom that had virtually passed them by went bust.

The situation proved somewhat less rough in a few states with more agrarian economies, including Nebraska. Those states “never had the sort of rapid increases in spending and demand for services that some other places [experienced],” says Stacey Mazer, a senior staff associate at the National Association of State Budget Officers, in Washington. That shielded them to some degree from the funding effects of the economic decline, she says.

And some states with relatively small populations and energy-based economies—among them Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming—came through the recession in fairly solid fiscal shape and, in some cases, in a position to boost education spending.

But such bright spots are conspicuous exceptions.

“One of the hallmarks of this recession is that it’s just been enormously widespread,” says Phil Oliff, a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyst. “I don’t think there’s any region of the country that has been unscathed, there are [just] differences in degrees.”

In Crisis
In no state was the confluence of underlying economic problems and national recessionary pressures more acute than Michigan. The Wolverine State, home to the long-ailing auto-manufacturing sector, was one of the first to feel the pinch of the economic downturn. And, experts say, it’s likely to be one of the last to recover.

Most States Have Cut Public Services Since 2008
According to recent data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 46 states and the District of Columbia have made cuts in public services since 2008. State workforces and higher education programs have been hit hardest, with more than 40 states making reductions in those expenditures. At least 34 states and the District of Columbia cut K-12 or early education.

SOURCE: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2010
The state’s K-12 reductions, which began in 2007, “started out being very cosmetic and ended up being extremely aggressive cuts [targeted] at the classroom,” says Brad Biladeau, the associate executive director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

Most districts have increased class size, resulting in classes of more than 30 at the elementary school level in a number of places, he says.

And the pressures have continued, as state officials sliced Michigan’s education funding in fiscal year 2011 by about $154 per student, to $7,162 per student, according to Jan Ellis, a spokeswoman for the state department of education. However, as of Dec. 1, 2010, it appeared that funding from the Education Jobs Act would reduce those losses in most districts, and even provide an increase for some.

On top of that, says Biladeau, the state is facing rising health-care and pension costs. “Our revenues can’t keep pace with our expenses,” he says.

Nevada Housing Bust
If Michigan illustrates the plight of a state with underlying structural problems in its economy, Nevada provides a prime example of the effect the housing crisis had on school funding. Nevada experienced one of the biggest housing booms; and it remains in the midst of a devastating bust that has squeezed revenues.

Keith W. Rheault, the state superintendent of schools, anticipates that there could be a cut of at least 10 percent in the fiscal 2012 and 2013 budget cycle. (Nevada has a biennial budget.) The state is facing about a $3 billion gap in a $6.4 billion statewide budget for that cycle.

But nearly all districts in Nevada have already taken drastic action. For instance, the largest district in the state, the Clark County school district, which includes Las Vegas, laid off more than 500 school employees last year. Many districts have cut after-school, art, music, and drama classes, says Dotty Merrill, the executive director of the Nevada School Boards Association. Of the state’s 17 school districts, eight have shortened the school week to four days in at least some schools, she says.

At the state level, programs that embrace education redesign priorities prized by the Obama administration were among the first to go.

For instance, Nevada scrapped a $10 million program aimed at helping districts create pay-for-performance programs for teachers. And the state eliminated a $90 million program that helped districts finance school improvement efforts that offer mentoring, after-school programs, and other extra services. That program had shown great promise, Rheault says.

Nevada may also have to delay implementation of a law it passed to revamp its teacher-evaluation system, tying teachers’ ratings in part to their students’ performance. The state doesn’t yet have an assessment system in place that will enable such a linkage. That may have to wait for the common-assessment system being developed by a consortium of states, including Nevada, with funds provided under the federal economic-stimulus program.

In neighboring California, which has been wrestling with massive deficits for several years, schools have been tightening their belts since the 2008-09 school year, says Rick Pratt, the assistant executive director for governmental relations for the California School Boards Association.

Nearly half of districts cut positions for counselors, nurses, and school psychologists, according to a survey conducted by the California Department of Education and published in June 2010.

Initially, California districts mostly were forgoing cost-of-living increases for staff members, but over the past year, “they’ve actually had to start hacking away at programs,” Pratt says. Forty-eight percent cut art, music, and drama programs, according to the state survey. The survey asked school officials about the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Forty-five percent of districts responding had reduced certified staff positions, and 34 percent had dropped some electives for students. School library budgets were cut by more than a third.

Dodging the Bullet
By contrast, natural resource-rich Montana was able to increase education spending by 3 percent in fiscal 2010 and make a $15 million annual investment in school facilities.

Education remains a top priority for funding in Montana, along with health and public safety, says Dan Villa, the education policy adviser for the governor.

And in Wyoming, the state has been able to keep its funding commitment to schools, says Kathryn Valido, president of the Wyoming Education Association, a 7,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association.

Some Wyoming school districts have asked their employees to contribute more to their health or retirement plans, but some of those cuts in district spending could be restored through the one-time federal education jobs money approved by Congress last summer, Valido says.

She acknowledges that such aid wasn’t enough to stave off layoffs in other states.

“We didn’t lay off any teachers in this state. ... I would compare the options we have with that money to [the difficult situation in] California,” Valido says. “We feel really fortunate.”

Federal Leverage
Indeed, for most states, the prospects for education funding remain worrisome, especially as federal aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the $787 billion economic-stimulus package adopted in February 2009—dries up.

The recovery act provided some $100 billion overall for education, including $53.6 billion to stabilize state budgets. That one-time aid covered only federal fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30—confronting state and local officials with what has been dubbed a post-stimulus “funding cliff.”

Cash-strapped districts got a bit of a reprieve when Congress provided additional aid to states last year through a more targeted, $10 billion measure aimed at staving off education layoffs in the 2010-11 school year. But the prospects of another such package gaining traction in a new, more conservative Congress are considered dim.

Against that backdrop, the remaining pots of stimulus-related funding carry even more leverage. Chief among them: the $4.35 billion in federal money under the Race to the Top Fund.

Under that program, 11 states and the District of Columbia split $4 billion in competitive grants to help them develop comprehensive education overhaul plans. Separately, 45 states and the District had, as of late last year, joined one of two consortia that received a total of $350 million to devise and implement better assessment systems.

The almost uniformly grim fiscal circumstances have helped turn those initiatives into national movements, says Kim Rueben, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based research organization. The difficult economy “makes that federal money much more powerful—people are trying hard not to lose it,” she says.

Still, some precollegiate leaders in states that have been hit particularly hard by the recession say that education overhaul efforts may be pursued at a slower pace.

For instance, in the past legislative session, California lawmakers had to resolve a $19 billion deficit in a fiscal 2011 budget of $82 billion. That left little room for reform-related investments such as new data systems for school districts, in the view of Jack O’Connell, who retired this month after two terms as the state superintendent of public instruction.

“New initiatives are difficult in this financial climate,” says O’Connell. “Folks are trying to hang on to programs that we have today that we know are working.”

Vol. 30, Issue 16, Pages 16-19

Thursday, January 6, 2011

State Education Website

If you would like to know more about public education in the state of Alabama you can visit

I hope you find it informative.

Newspaper Article

Here is an article I wrote for the paper and was published in the Decatur Daily and the News Courier.

Public education evokes a wide array of thoughts and everyone has his/her own unique perspective based mostly upon personal experiences. People who understand what it takes to maintain a republic understand the value of an educated citizenry, in fact Thomas Jefferson put it this way, "I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it."

Public schools are expected to do many things that are sometimes are forgotten in the discussion surrounding public education. Most everyone agrees that a strong foundation of academic subjects should be taught; although many experts have differing opinions concerning the exact material deemed general knowledge for everyone. To some, the purpose of public education is to teach only the academic material specified in a state curriculum. Public schools, however, teach much more than the traditional reading and writing.

Public education students learn many lessons as they pass through the halls of their respective schools. Mark Twain said education was “that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.” Certainly realizing the need to have more knowledge and the love of learning should be cultivated in schools. A love of learning will lead to a lifetime of learning, which is the goal of most every educator. So many things our students gain from a public education are not academic, but life skills which can turn out to be some of the most important things we learn.

Public school students learn many things such as cooperation, compassion, charity, teamwork, and respect for authority through the positive activities students do every day that many times go unnoticed, but still contribute to the greater good of society and their own education. Public school students throughout the country raise money and awareness for a variety of noble causes during the year. Limestone County Schools certainly has its share of benevolent students that give of themselves every day to help out society and their fellow man. Someone has said, “You will never stand taller than when you stoop to help a child” and students at Ardmore High School exemplify this sentiment. Members of the Jr. Beta Club helped coordinate the “Soles4Souls” campaign which collects money to pass along to needy recipients. The motto for Soles4Souls is “Changing the world, one pair at a time”. Students collected shoes and worked with the national organization to help needy people receive pairs of shoes they would otherwise not have. Ardmore High School is a small school in a rural county in Alabama and the number of shoes collected will not compare in numbers to those collected in a large metropolitan area. However, like Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A group of students recently initiated an effort to combat the problem of childhood obesity and approached their principal with an idea to do something about the problem. The students proposed to secure community resources to help prepare a program for students to raise awareness concerning this issue. The students are planning a program to address the issue and intend on advertising the program during the preceding weeks to spark interest from their fellow students. The beauty of this program is that it is totally student initiated and mostly student run. Activities that have been staples for years like canned food drives and collecting Christmas gifts for needy children sometimes seem “routine” and many of us take them for granted. However, these programs are more important than ever, and it is refreshing to see a creative group of young people pull together to try and solve a difficult issue.

Service projects and charitable endeavors are so widespread today in schools that listing all of them would be virtually impossible. Some people may question how much good a small group of students in a small community can actually do, but as the young man in the famous story of the starfish said as he threw a single starfish back in the ocean with the beach still littered with thousands of starfish, “I made a difference in the life of this one.” This is the lesson students learn as they engage in service projects through their school activities. In addition to this lesson, students learn many others such as leadership, teamwork, self-denial, and the joy of helping others.

The job of a teacher is sometimes viewed as the person assigned to help a student learn the necessary academic material and if it stopped there, what a noble profession it would be. Anyone that has been a teacher or been around teachers can tell you that teachers do so much more to help a student’s overall education. Teachers are many times called upon to help with the “incidental learning opportunities” that take place in school such as helping with charitable causes. Teachers teach these incidental lessons by using the best teaching method of all which is “do as I do”, or follow me. Teachers have learned the lessons of giving back and try to help students they work with learn the same lessons. Most of the time there is not extra money for doing these tasks and the time spent doing these take away from their own time with their families, but this is the nature of public service. Students work hard in all the school service projects, but there is a teacher behind the scenes putting in hours of time to help things go smoothly.

Many times participation in groups, clubs, or organizations is seen as just something to keep students interested in school, which is a noble purpose in itself, but it is much more than that. Being a part of a team is a skill which will serve a person throughout his life as he joins the work force and develops interpersonal relationships with others. Learning to sacrifice one’s own rights for the good of others is a noble lesson that will reap great rewards in the course of one’s life. Public education has its problems, but so long as caring professionals work with outstanding students, no problem is too large to be solved.


I plan on routinely posting education articles on the blog related to public education. This is a very critical time for public education nationwide, but especially in the state of Alabama. I hope you find the articles interesting.
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