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Schools Abroad - Funding, Teachers

Original post made by David Cohen on Mar 2, 2008

Recently, a couple of interesting articles have shown stark contrasts in school systems. Setting aside Palo Alto for the moment, California's education investment is poor and about to get poorer. Meanwhile, in Singapore, teachers have about half of their work week set aside for planning and collaborating, compared to the average California teacher who gets about a third of that. Singapore also pays teachers during their training and starts them with competitive salaries.

See Time magazine:
Web Link

An article in the Wall St. Journal reports that in Finland, teachers are expected to be more entrepreneurial, using curricular standards as a starting point for innovative teaching. Contrast that with the number of American schools feeling the pressure of NCLB and responding with scripted lessons that ignore differences among students and teachers. Finland also requires a master's degree for teachers and has 40 applicants per position.

Wall St. Journal article:
Web Link [online_wsj_com]

For those who take the time to read the WSJ article, I'm sure someone will note that they get these results with less spending per pupil. However, consider how much of our spending per pupil is actually spent on health insurance for school personnel, which would not be necessary there. The article also notes that they seem to have a lot fewer extracurricular activities.

Comments (45)

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2008 at 10:31 pm

One thing that makes it hard to compare California to just about anywhere else is the % of children who either immigrants or the children of immigrants. It is the most diverse population in the US, perhaps in the world.

You can still argue that it is worth it to aim for certain results and that we can learn from others. But any comparison needs to account for the differences in language and cultural diversity.


Posted by More on Finland, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 3, 2008 at 8:15 am

Some particularly noteworthy comparisons to the way we do things in schools here in the US (and in Palo Alto) to what happens in Finland:

Society

- Of the world's 30 richest nations, Finland has among the smallest family income gaps between poor and rich, finishing at the top of the rankings while the U.S. was 20th.

- Teachers have few students who don't speak Finnish compared to US' 8% English language learners (and Palo Alto's 8%).

Teaching Profession

- In the first years on the job, Finland provides new teachers with higher pay comparable with salaries in other professions

- It is very difficult to get a teaching job in Finland -- only the top 10% of undergraduates are accepted into teacher training programs and only 15% of those who apply for a job are hired. They must have a masters degree.

- Once in a job, teachers are encouraged to keep up their professional development, and they get get an afternoon off a week for this.

In the Classroom

- United States instructional hours per year is 799, Finland is 861.

- 48% of Finland students are grouped by ability in their school.

Finland has more special-education teachers than anyone else — as many as one teacher in seven in some schools. In any given year, a third of pupils get one-on-one remedial lessons. In the last 3 years of high school, 47% are re-routed out of the traditional high school and enrolled in vocational programs.

As noted in the article, some Finnish educators looking at global competition see a need for Finland to provide special services for their brightest kids, like they do for those needing remedial help.


Standardized testing

- While there are no nationwide exams or big final tests in Finland, Finland continously assesses students by monthly tests and teacher evaluations.


Other interesting observations in the WSJ article:

- Technology - Finnish teachers teach with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons are shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint.

- Classroom rules -- no hats

- Rigor -- In one US school observed by a Finnish foreign exchange student, " 'history tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question . . . allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour.'"

To get a direct view of what happens in Finland's science classrooms, check out:
Web Link


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2008 at 8:39 am

The most interesting points

US hours at school 799 Finland 861
US tests, multiple choice Finland Essay type answers which shows that a student must understand the answer better than a US student who can give an educated guess as an answer

Technology, the students use old fashioned writing rather than typing their homework, which also must show an understanding of their language writing skills as opposed to their technology skills. (This is just my interpretation of what is implied rather than what the article states).

hmmm


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 3, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I still recall a notable article long ago in FORBES magazine which compared an upperclass suburban American high school with a French one in an average area.

The American one was fancy on the surface, confident with lots of $$$ (this was the Midwest, I believe) with lots of computers and fancy facilities, fancy gym. The students performed OK, supposedly at a fairly high level for the US.

The French one had: basic facilities/classrooms that suburban American teens would sniff at, but it had: respect for teachers, longer school day...it was solid through not glamorous. It had good outcomes.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 3, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Hello Terry,

You're right about the differences, and I hope my post didn't imply a broadly applicable comparison, or that we should just do exactly what Finland does and then expect the see radical improvements. There are certainly vast differences between Finland and California. However, I would suggest that both Finland and Singapore recognize that teachers are the key to good schools, and they invest accordingly, not just in terms of the teacher's income (and I'm not complaining about mine), but in terms of the time and professional development that lead to quality outcomes. Regardless of the contextual differences between locations and systems, it seems quite likely to me that attracting more candidates, and providing superior training and ongoing professional development are universally the key to... quality teaching and sustained improvement! That concept shouldn't surprise anyone, but the actual amount of time and money other systems invest in this element of education might surprise some people.

--To the others who have responded here, thanks! But must we stay anonymous just to share what we thought were the most interesting parts of an article? Town Square has so much anonymity! Dare to identify yourself as you boldly admit you read an article and found something to say about education! :-)

There's some possible implication above that schools could get by with less technology and without the fancy facilities. (If you want to float that idea around here more directly, go for it! But we love our tech. and our facilities here in PAUSD!) Technology and facilities at many California/US schools, however, are truly deplorable. Regarding the overall idea of spending priorities, I might even agree with the implied shift away from tech. and facility "frills," IF the idea were to redirect that money into educational purposes rather than simply cut spending and end up with sub-standard technology, sub-standard facilities, AND sub-standard professionalism.

I just hope California wakes up to the ongoing problems in the state system overall, and decides to start investing more for education now, rather than pay more for prisons, health care and general welfare, decreased competitiveness and lost productivity down the road.


Posted by More on Finland, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2008 at 8:05 am

David –

While no one can argue with the benefit of professional development, it likely is not the only or even main reason for the differences here versus there.

I wonder if US and Palo Alto classrooms have the same focus as those in Finland. If Finland students had our 5-1/2 school day devoted to learning, 3rd to 5th graders there would spend:
- 69 minutes a day reading and writing (21% of their time),
- 56 minutes a day on math (17%),
- 50 minutes a day on science (15%), and
- 30 minutes a day learning a foreign language (9%). With more instruction hours per year than in the US, Finland kids likely spend even more time learning those subjects than the numbers above suggest. (Check out "Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2003" available on Amazon.)

I don't remember exactly how much time on those tasks my child had at that age, but I believe only 45 minutes a day was devoted to math, 45 minutes a week to science and no foreign language, and that is in Palo Alto, one of the best school districts in the US. That may help explain why Finland's math, science and reading test scores are so much higher than ours in the US are. They spend more time learning it.

You also cannot underestimate the power of teaching to a homogeneous population -- a child will learn more if the teacher isn't teaching 20 or more kids at widely different skill levels and native tongues at the same time. Finland starts off more homogeneous and allocates resources for early and intense intervention for kids who start out behind, making the ability ranges in the older grades I suspect narrower rather than wider as it seems we have here in the US. US schools also might get more bang for our limited dollars if it pulled out kids with different needs for more targeted instruction early, and had them taught by teachers trained especially to work with those students. As it is now, special needs kids in California (or is it just in Palo Alto?) are not even identified for special programs until 2nd grade.

And of course it helps too that teachers in Finland happen to have been the smartest students in the class when they were students and that they ended up teaching in their area of expertise. That is not so true here in the US.

On tech, it is an expensive tool which quickly becomes obsolete, so unless you are in a district with unlimited funds great care should be taken to ensure that tech dollars are spent wisely. Cisco put out a report a few years ago that outlined what tech in schools has positive outcomes supported by research. The results might surprise you. Not the oft-bandied about student laptops (at least not yet), but the value of educational TV/videos and online learning/tutoring programs are what are supported by the research.

www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/TechnologyinSchoolsReport.pdf

David, you might consider moving this discussion to the online "schools" section if you want broader input. You can cut and paste the full discussion and post it there. It would be interesting to see what others who read that section know about Finland too.



Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 4, 2008 at 9:20 am

Hey David - Interesting articles. Thanks for bringing them to attention. I'd like to see more PD for us teachers in PAUSD and statewide too, not to mention teacher training prog. improvements. Now, back to work....


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 4, 2008 at 9:46 am

One more thing - this article/study goes along with what Dave said about the idea that school improvements are expensive but a failing system is more expensive.

Web Link


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2008 at 10:03 am

What professional development would be helpful to Paly and Gunn teachers? Just curious since I am a parent.


Posted by Tech=good, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

Not so fast.... Lessons from Scandanavian education DO include benefits of TECHNOLOGY. Web Link --- Favorite quote: "What the CoSN delegation didn't find in those nations were competitive grading, standardized testing, and top-down accountability—all staples of the American education system."


Posted by UpayUget, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2008 at 5:11 pm

What are the taxes in Scandinavia, France, etc?


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2008 at 5:40 pm

> California's education investment is poor and about to get poorer.

By what metric? Last year's educational expenditures were almost $10,000 per student.

Schools waste money and everyone knows it. We could be spending $10T a year and wouldn't get much better results.


Posted by About schools in France, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2008 at 6:20 pm


Someone mentioned French schools in an affluent suburb somewhere in France and its wonderful educational outcomes.

I don't doubt it.

But do you know about schools in France in poorer neighborhoods with high immigrant populations?

They are just as bad as the worst schools here... Poor outcome, violence at school, you name it... Just last week a high school student went to trial for stabbing his teacher multiple times (yes in France).


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2008 at 6:57 pm

I thought Finland was a very tecchie country--Nokia is Finnish and they got on the Web early and often.

Finalnd is small, homogenous and has a long history like the other Scandanavian countries of valuing the community as a whole. (Makes sense considering the climate.)

The healthcare issue is an interesting one--you look over and over and you see that the cost of healthcare and pensions eat up huge chunks of funding. It would be interesting to see if our schools could use their money more effectively if we had a different healthcare system instead of one where the insured overpay to compensate for the nonpayment of the uninsured and the underpayment of Medicaid.

Teachers weren't always so undervalued--but public service wages are relatively stagnant compared to the private sector. In California, that makes a difference--whereas in, say, the south, a teacher's wage would offer a decent income.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2008 at 11:47 pm

to More On Finland - While I read the comparisons with some interest, it's not my goal to get into that level of detail. Of course there are huge differences in population and culture, but wherever one happens to live, study or teach, I dare say that investing in time and people is key. Consider your own comments above about students spending time engaged in learning. Teachers are no different - we are lifelong learners, and the fact of the matter is that you can't really learn enough about your curriculum and instructional methods while you're immersed in the classroom, compared to the results you get when there's time to reflect, study, collaborate, and plan. Any experienced teacher will tell you that a few days of good learning in the summer can pay huge dividends the next year. These successful international programs have figured out that if you build that kind of study and learning into the teacher's regular work schedule, you get better results. In the U.S., we get a small fraction of that opportunity, and the results tend to be rather haphazard.

Parent, you asked what prof. dev. teachers need, but there's no simple answer. The key ingredients that are being touted in the literature I've seen are that professional development should be sustained and teacher-driven, rather than having mandated attendance at one-shot meetings and workshops that rarely produce lasting systemic change. Makes a lot of sense to me. In addition to international comparisons, by the way, Miami-Dade schools have gone to a program that puts teachers, learning specialists, and administrators into constant contact, focusing on student growth in very minute detail.

Schools Waste Money - do you have any examples? The personnel costs in schools consume something like 80% or more of the budget, so after that, most schools are already in belt-tightening mode. I'm not focusing on Palo Alto here - my concerns are statewide in this matter. If you get out and actually look at schools, I think you'll find much greater need than waste. Where do you think you'd find the waste in school budgets? I have my own ideas, but would like to hear your follow up.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2008 at 12:18 am

David -

With all due respect, since I know you are a thoughtful and sincere person, it seems like your interest in these comparisons is based in large part on the support you think they lend to your predisposition for better pay and working conditions for teachers (like yourself I believe).

You may be right that California should improve conditions for teachers - I don't know. But without looking at the details, it is hard to draw any conclusions pro or con from cross-cultural comparisons, or even across districts.

For instance, what do you think about New York City's focus on increasing the authority and independence of school principals (sometimes at the expense of teachers)? Is that a useful model for California?


Posted by Tell The Truth!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2008 at 7:37 am

> Teachers weren't always so undervalued--but public
> service wages are relatively stagnant compared
> to the private sector

This is a con-job, at best.

DO NOT FORGET--that teachers get a second income stream when they retire. They get a very hefty pension, which provide far more money that a Social Security check would provide.

Teachers Unions are very good at ignoring (one might even say suppressing) the knowledge of this second income when they are trying to get their salaries increased to the obscene levels that some school districts are paying for their 186-day a year "job".


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

The real value for money is what happens to how time in school is really spent. I have a 7th grader whose homework for the past week has involved coloring a flowery border on pages where his team mates have been doing illustrations and re-writing in fancy handwriting, work that has been done in the classroom. Writing an essay or research paper, delving further into the subject, would have been much more beneficial to his education. If the homework assignments were actually part of the teaching method rather than feel good busy work, our kids may actually learn something. As it is, we are just pussyfooting the lowest common denominator to enable them to get a good grade while the time is being wasted. If this is an example of good teaching methods, then our teachers need to be retaught.


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2008 at 10:00 am


> How do schools waste money?

The analysis of how schools waste money exceed the time and space for this blog.

However, a few points might help those who usually don't think about these matters --

Salaries and benefits of staff generally consume 85% of the budget of all schools in the United States. The problem stems from the fact that schools have become unionized and unions can be depended upon to force overstaffing and to impose wasteful work rules on school administrations so that the productivity of the dollars spent on staff is lower than it would be in the private sector. Lower productivity is waste.

Examples of industries of US industries which have been decimated by labor unions are: the steel industry, the railroad the railroads, the auto industries, the merchant Marine. All of these industries have, over the previous decades, seen themselves almost smothered out of existence, -in large part because of the deleterious effects of labor unions. (This is a more complicated problem than just labor unions, but labor unions are a significant factor.)

Studies have shown, that labor-union induced overstaffing can be as much as 30% in some industries. It is hard to believe that overstaffing does not exist in the education industry also. Overstaffing then leads to waste; overstaffing becomes waste.

This issue of productivity is complicated in a number of ways, because labor unions (certainly here in California) have managed to acquire a significant power in the state legislature which have allowed them to bind the hands of school districts when it comes to the use of public funds outsource certain work to the private sector. For instance within the last five years, a law was passed which forbids school districts from outsourcing some blue-collar jobs to the private sector. This allows the labor unions to drive up the costs of labor for jobs which school districts might ordinarily award to the highest bidder--thereby imposing thereby forcing waste on the district.

Clearly in these cases, it might be prudent to suggest that "the system" is actually wasteful--not the schools. However when the school districts themselves are acquiescent to these changes, do not fight them, do not do anything to demonstrate how much money is being spent on higher cost labor, then they become a part of the problem--not the solution; the schools themselves then become "the system".

School districts could consolidate interior services, such as IT, grounds maintenance and administrative services--such as purchasing. The idea that three school districts within a 5 mile radius need three different purchasing departments to buy toilet paper, copier paper and other school supplies—when one would do--is another example of waste.

The whole idea of local control which has been very popular in America leads to schools wasting money. The people elected to school boards tend to be "amateurs"--both in the realm of education and organizational operation. (Palo Alto has taken of late to electing people without even a Baccalaureate degree. Such people seem to get elected because they promise to "rubber stamp" all spending.

Then there is the issue of distance learning and how technology can be used to provide educational opportunities not only in the big cities but in remote areas. Clearly high it is difficult to find people who like in a talented so people who are concerned about statewide issues should be looking at distance learning techniques which are not only inexpensive but also provide a uniformity of service delivery to the students throughout the state.

School districts rarely have performance audits, much less auditors. School district routinely are managed by very small number of administrators most of whom have education degrees, but have no idea of how business works. (Comments from people associated with the PAUSD business department have repeatedly said "it would be really great to have someone with an MBA sitting in the business office"). How can anyone with a Ph.D. in education remotely be concerned about the most cost-effective way of doing something when he or she has had a lifetime of indoctrination that no matter how much you spend it's not enough?

The US is currently spending about 7.9% of its GDP on "education" at all levels—and the results are that only about 40% of the US student body can read at a "proficient" level. This simple statistic alone should be reason for a complete dismantling of this system and a re-think from the top down and the bottom up.

There is nothing about this system that is not forceful example of institutional waste!


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2008 at 11:03 am

"Last year's educational expenditures were almost $10,000 per student. Schools waste money and everyone knows it." - Schools Waste Money

Fact is, it costs about $1M/year to support each trooper in Iraq, 100 times what SWM claims we spend on each student, and we are getting negative results for it.

But when has anybody seen a "Support our Students" sticker on a humvee or Escalade? (They are tomorrow's troops, you know.)


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2008 at 11:45 am

> Fact is, it costs about $1M/year to
> support each trooper in Iraq

Apples and Oranges -- Stick to the Topic!


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm

SWM: You were talking about waste. You appear to be against it. I was pointing you at a whopper of waste.

I'll put it this way: Would you rather spend $10k per year on educating a citizen to be, or $1M on keeping him/her in a misbegotten, losing war?


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2008 at 9:21 pm

SWM - You suggest unionization leads to overstaffing, but I'd like to see you try to apply that 30% idea to a school work force. Most schools (not talking so much about Palo Alto) are seriously understaffed, in my experience. Not enough counsellors, not enough school nurses and campus supervision, not enough clerical support, (with teachers picking up the slack and wasting time that could be much better spent). Palo Alto isn't as short staffed as most districts, and makes up for it with phenomenal volunteer support. At Palo Alto HS, we have volunteers providing the equivalent hours of several extra full time employees each year. Most districts and schools can't match that. But suppose we did away with unions and lowered teachers' wages and benefits, decreased staff size and increased the work load: are you actually suggesting that would attract and retain enough highly qualified teachers and produce the same or better quality education? And if you want to argue that teachers are overpaid, in wages or in pensions, I couldn't go along with labeling it "waste," as if the money were being thrown away on something unnecessary.

Regarding centralization of services, you raise questions that deserve attention in any system trying to be efficient. Yet, if centralization of certain functions leads to problems and delays in providing services and resources on sites, then you have decreased the educational efficiency in the name of financial efficiency. Then, if individual sites anticipate problems with distribution, their response will be to pad their orders, horde supplies and... voila - more inefficiency. My cousin's school in L.A. has waited months for someone from the district to come take care of various maintenance jobs. It's not as clear cut as you'd like to suggest.

Distance learning holds promise, and should be investigated, but I don't think it will make a major impact for most students any time very soon.

I'm not saying that there isn't waste, but I don't see much where you're pointing. Maybe we could talk about the legislature and Dept. of Ed.'s relationship with testing and publishing industries, though...

The idea of the 186-day work schedule is also a red-herring. That's the contract for school days, not the contract for actual work. Almost every full-time teacher, and some who are officially part-time work something closer to a six-day week throughout the school year, plus unpaid days in the summer, plus (in other districts more than PAUSD), paying out of pocket for much of their classroom supplies and professional needs.

Parent - regarding busy work, I'd suggest talking to the teacher about it. But in any case, I think there's likely to be less busy work if teachers have more time to collaborate and develop their curriculum and skills.

Terry writes: "With all due respect, since I know you are a thoughtful and sincere person, it seems like your interest in these comparisons is based in large part on the support you think they lend to your predisposition for better pay and working conditions for teachers (like yourself I believe)." -- No need to preface it "With all due respect." You're not risking insulting me by pointing out the obvious. Yes, I absolutely posted these links because they support my "predisposition." My opinion in this matter comes from years of experience in a variety of school settings, from constant communication with a network of teachers around the country, and from constant reading about teaching and learning. I'm not hiding my bias.

Terry adds: "You may be right that California should improve conditions for teachers - I don't know. But without looking at the details, it is hard to draw any conclusions pro or con from cross-cultural comparisons, or even across districts." -- On the contrary, it is quite possible to observe trends that work across settings despite their differences. When you look at successful programs in suburban U.S., urban U.S., and international systems, and see that one thing they have in common is spending more time and money to enable teachers to work together, learn together, and develop in their profession, you might be making a mistake to get bogged down in comparing the number of minutes that fourth graders spend on reading vs. math vs. P.E., or any other minor detail.

The main principle seems so obvious: give the people who do the teaching more time and opportunity to figure out what works best in their own setting. Key supporting elements would be access to data and resources, along with some guidance, direction and responsibility. I'm not suggesting a free-for-all approach or something "touchy-feely" that isn't based in solid research and with built-in accountability measures. But, tell me, is there any successful, complex human enterprise that achieves its potential by limiting the ability of its workforce to learn, communicate, and innovate? Because for too long in too many places, American schools have effectively isolated teachers and put up barriers (maybe unintentionally) to the type of model I'm suggesting. (If you want to argue that teachers unions bear some responsibility for this situation, I'd agree. But recent developments in other places show that unions can be part of the solutions as well).

Terry asks: "For instance, what do you think about New York City's focus on increasing the authority and independence of school principals (sometimes at the expense of teachers)? Is that a useful model for California?" Good question - with too many variables to go into here. I like local authority and independence, but I think an effective principal works with teachers, not against them - and likewise, teachers need to be professional about working with principals, not against them. There are successful and unsuccessful principals and school systems - I don't think we can isolate a certain single concept or variable and say it's simply "good/useful" without a lot more information. Even with my pet issue here - more spending on professional development isn't simply "good" - it has to be done right, with other factors in place. (Refer back to the articles).

--- I'm glad people are interested in talking about schools, and I hope everyone's interest extends beyond Palo Alto. This exchange has been interesting, but it's also just a work break for me: I need to bow out and go grade some quizzes or essays - at least another 90 minutes of work for me tonight.


Posted by gimmeabreak, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 5, 2008 at 10:45 pm

"This simple statistic alone should be reason for a complete dismantling of this system and a re-think from the top down and the bottom up."

-- Oh really? Describe how that works. This June, fire everyone. Dismantle the whole thing. Describe how education looks in August.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2008 at 11:05 pm

David - not sure your easy to observe trend is so obvious to everybody. This is one of the big challenges with educational research - there are rarely good control groups, and lots of co-varying variables, so effects and causal relationships are very hard to tease out.

Hence the many conflicting and changing beliefs and frustrating pace of progress. You think time & money for teachers is the key; others class size; others hours of instruction; others homogeneity of students; others classroom technology; others curriculum; others principals; others incentive schemes; others testing and standards - the list goes on and on and keeps getting longer.

So I still don't know what the right answer is about what makes for effective schooling. But cherry picking a couple of far-flung examples and pointing out that they share one trait isn't very persuasive to me, especially when you admit you knew the answer before seeing the data.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:39 am

Terry -

Yes, I admit to being experienced and well-read, and having figured out some of the answers that were confirmed in these articles. Do I have to list everything I've ever seen, heard, read, and experienced in order to escape the "cherry picking" claim? I haven't arrived at my conclusions from these "couple of far flung examples." I posted the links because they're current, they're interesting, and they're consistent with each other and with so much else that's out there in the field of education. So far, you haven't cited anything, by the way. From your reading and practice in the field of education, perhaps you can point me to some research or sources that argue - specifically - against the position I've put forth? I'd be glad to read an opposing view.

Furthermore, I haven't said that time and money are THE answers. I think that overall, however, if we reform schools so that teachers have a good system of professional development and leadership, then teachers are entirely capable of assessing their students' needs, understanding their context, reviewing the best available models and research, and determining what resources and strategies can lead to improved education. And that is not a theory. That is what happens in successful classrooms, departments, schools, and school systems. It simply needs to be applied more broadly and systematically.

May I repeat a question that may have been lost up above, (slightly rephrased here): is there any successful, complex human enterprise that achieves its potential while limiting the ability of those involved to learn, communicate, and innovate? Please, no equivocation about co-variables and control groups... we can agree in principle that sensible reforms should promote learning, communication, and innovation, right?


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:17 am

> I'll put it this way: Would you rather spend $10k
> per year on educating a citizen to be, or $1M
> on keeping him/her in a misbegotten, losing war?

Stick to the topic--open a thread on the war if you want to talk about that.


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:20 am

> Most schools not talking so much about Palo Alto)
> are seriously understaffed, in my experience.

There are over 94,000 public schools in the US. How is it that you, a single person, can make this statement. How many days have you spent at each of these schools? How much time have you spent at any school actually analyzing the actual needs, work flow, and effectiveness of that schools work force?


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:37 am

> Yet, if centralization of certain functions leads to problems
> and delays in providing services and resources on sites,
> then you have decreased the educational efficiency in
> the name of financial efficiency

What in the world are you talking about?

One can see the hand of school district ineffectiveness at problem solving woven into the DNA of this "teacher". The whole idea of centralization involves automation in a modern, non-school district-thinking world. This fellow seems to have no idea about operations research and just-in-time thinking--not the "centralization leads to ineffectiveness" as this fellow is promoting.

For instance, Wal-Mart developed a state-of-the-art online inventorying systems that reduces the paperwork and personnel involved with restocking its shelves. Walmart's vendors actually inventory product on the shelf and do the reordering through on-line servers where they update store inventory numbers. Software then issues purchase orders to the vendors, which allow the vendors to be paid for their products. This all happens quickly, and effectively, from the vendor's point-of-view and needs, from Walmart's point-of-view and needs--resulting in products being on the shelves where customers need them to be.

There is no reason that regional school districts should not be using an up-to-date ordering system which would allow bulking up orders to decrease prices. This should be done at the state level, since all of the school districts statewide should be using the same system.
Out-of-the-box thinking? Perhaps for "it can't be done" school teacher types--but not for the people with vision and an understanding of the value of money.


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:49 am

With school unions managing public school employment, you don't have a real world situation. There are several teachers here I would recommend earn double what they are getting and be elevated to special master teacher status. Then there are a handful who should be dismissed but they are union-protected. Don't tell me that any complaint works 'cause it doesn't. The system makes it very hard to document anything, get any action at all, and one may be subject to ostracism or repercussions if one has a child in the school system.I know someone who moved away when dissatisfied with this situation.
I remember an outstanding PAUSD middle school teacher who was widely known to be outstanding received an (outside, public)accolade for outstanding teaching. How fun is that? I waited to see some acknowledgement at the particular middle school/in PAUSD. There was none! I concluded the powers that be did not want to make other teachers "feel bad" for not earning this well-deserved recognition. What could I do as a parent? I emailed the teacher with my congratulations and I believe others did, too. Some brought flowers in. It WOULD have been nice for this teacher to have been better-acknowledged, put in the announcements, in the school newspaper, given a bonus, etc.
Teachers do make trade-offs in exchange for tenure...


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:51 am

> That's the contract for school days, not the contract for
> actual work. Almost every full-time teacher, and some who are
> officially part-time work something closer to a six-day week
> throughout the school year, plus unpaid days in the summer,

Where are the timecards documenting these claims? We hear this time and again--but anyone who lives close to a PAUSD school sees the teachers streaming out of there not too long after the final bell rings. People in the private sector (often in startups) are well-known for putting in 60-70 hour weeks--but in a "group" where it is clear that they are working.

> plus (in other districts more than PAUSD), paying out of pocket
> for much of their classroom supplies and professional needs.

This is a claim that we hear .. but rarely ever see documentation for. Where are the receipts for all of these 'supplies"? And how much money is spent on ice-cream and other non-essentials?

Claims from a Palo Alto teacher about what "teachers in other districts spend" have to be seen as contributing to the "mythology" of the public school system--which is totally mired in poor management and a lack of accountability.




Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2008 at 5:24 am

We're past the years of teachers bringing ice cream (??!) on their own dollar- sorry, never encountered that one.
What I am saying is that I am aware of teachers that DO go above and beyond the call of duty - they get little recognition. Maybe trips for special training they desire would be a good reward.

I feel constrained on offering personal comment to fine teachers, as it may look like I'm currying favor for my student (though I observe some parents doing this and I do suspect some of attempting to curry favor). I keep a minimal, businesslike relationship, my students handle their own affairs. But the SCHOOL SYSTEM ought to recognize master teachers.
And yes, the hours in the private sector around here are he** so citing hours devoted to work is may not be the best for obtaining support.
Back to prof. development: if specifics were put forward by teaching staff, I'm SURE many of us parents would support that. Teachers know better than administrators where the emphasis is needed. Is there any way for parents to support a certain idea: training on implementing technology in the classroom or ? Is it a distant administrator who decides what prof development is done on the Staff Development Days?


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 6:10 am

> ice cream .. never heard of that one ..

While ice cream is "nice" .. it most certainly is not an essential by any stretch of the imagination. The following article points out that schools do provide ice cream in the classes --

Web Link

Every class in the school is getting ice cream this week to celebrate. While most classes get ice cream cups, the three classes that collected the most tabs get to make their own sundaes.
---

When teachers, schools or parents, decide that "it's party time" .. this should most definitely NOT come out of the school's budget--nor should teachers be allowed to claim that they are spending their own money for class room supplies when they aren't.


Posted by What Does this Have to Do With Finland?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2008 at 6:55 am

I thought this thread was about Finland. I guess it is hard to have any discussion about education here in Palo Alto without it becoming a platform on school spending and waste for anti-tax types.

But before you inpugn spending in Palo Alto, consider this:

- "ice cream" parties at schools are paid by parent donations, whether by pot lucks or by donations to PTAs which sponsor the event. No tax dollars used there.

- Palo Alto schools are using WalMart-like systems for savings and then, for those concerned about waste, ask parents to cover the costs. At at least one elementary school in the area supplies are purchased by the school in bulk for the discount and parents write checks to the school to cover their child's share.

- And teachers do pay for their own supplies without reimbursement. According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, in 2005-2006 educators spent out of their own pockets an average of $826 for supplies and an additional $926 for instructional materials -- for a total of $1,752. I don't know about you, but I've never had a job where I wasn't reimbursed for my expenses.


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 8:31 am

> I thought this thread was about Finland.

And funding .. read the topic header.

> Schools Waste Money - do you have any examples?

The initial poster asked for examples --

By the way .. anti-spending does not equate to "anti-Tax".


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 9:20 am

David, you already seem to know the answers, so I won't try to convince you otherwise. And you might be right - my point is that I don't think your examples tell us very much.

MANY people think they know the answers - class size, incentive comp, strong principals, new technology, standardized testing, etc. - and your belief is one among many. So you worship in your church, and point to the Finland as an example; others will worship in their own with their own proof points (in fact some will point to the same Finnish example as a proof of something different - late start reading, homogeneous population, segregation by ability, long school year!). Most think their answer is "obvious," as you seem to. They can't "disprove" you, nor, I expect, you them. The devil really is in the details.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 9:20 am

Any teacher spending out of their own pockets for classroom supplies is only doing it because they aren't asking the parents. I know parents here support teachers in class wish lists. I myself in the past year have contributed boxes of kleenex, hand sanitizer, paper towels, push pins etc. If any of the teachers at any of my kids' schools ask, they get. This is Palo Alto and as a community we do contribute.

This is not to pat ourselves on the back, but to encourage any teacher new to the community to ask.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 6, 2008 at 11:00 am

SWM - you made a suggestion, and then you don't want to hear from peopple involved how it would play out. You criticize an insider view but what's your vantage point? What do you know about schools? Fine, -you're obviously a school-basher with nothing thoughtful to offer here. You probably think all of those 94000 schools are wasteful without analyzing anything either.

Teachers streaming out schools the moment school's out... Yes, and then working at home and working on weekends. Time cards???? Give me a break! I'll show you a friggin' stack of 150 graded papers!!! and ask WHEN do you think those got graded??? Hint - it wasn't during the 90 minutes I have outside of teaching to eat lunch, return phone calls and emails, do my printing and photocopying, organize my classroom supplies, put together packets of work for sick students, sponsor a club, etc. So a super-fast set of essays for me goes about 8 minutes per paper equals how many extra hours of work, genius?

And I think the original point of this thread was NOT about Palo Alto, so yeah, ask poor families in the inner city to donate time, money and supplies to the schools and see what you get. thanks to the person who posted the data about what teachers spend out of pocket.

Adn Terry, you seem like one of those people who's just a naysayer at heart. Whatever anyone suggests, well, there's this problem and that problem and we just can't do that because there's all these other opinions - sheesh! And you still can't cite a thing. All Dave asked in the end is do you think professionals should be supported in learning/communicating more and you couldn't even muster an agreeement with THAT???? Wow. What profession are you in anyway? Maybe we could all switch to condescending to them for a while.

[end rant]


Posted by Schools Waste Money, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2008 at 12:16 pm

> SWM - you made a suggestion, and then you don't want to
> hear from peopple involved how it would play out.

Not interested in arguing Iraq spending vs school spending--it's a non-starter. Any other discussion--OK.

> You criticize an insider view but what's your vantage point?
> What do you know about schools?

A Lot.

> Fine, -you're obviously a school-basher with nothing thoughtful
> to offer here.

Says who? Just because you disagree doesn't mean you understand what is being offered. Your use of the term "basher" tags you as a person with a closed mind about these issues.

> Teachers streaming out schools the moment school's out...
> Yes, and then working at home and working on weekends.

Not provable! Certainly not going on during the summer months and long school vacations.

> Time cards????

Works for the rest of the world!

> I'll show you a friggin' stack of 150 graded papers!!!

Maybe it's time to find a way for computer-based grading. Students need testing and homework--turning those papers around quickly is in both of your interests. Perhaps some subjects are harder to computer check--but you would be surprised how much software can do.

> thanks to the person who posted the data about what teachers
> spend out of pocket.

Hearsay .. not provable.


Posted by not undervalued., a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:45 pm

As for undervaluing teachers..

I can only speak in comparison to pay for the health care sector..and experienced teachers in Palo Alto get paid more PER HOUR ( not per year..)and better health care and retirement benefits than do comparably degreed health care and social service workers givers..social workers, therapists,most nurses..all the traditional "female" jobs.

So, no, I don't think we undervalue teachers in Palo Alto.

I will agree that the newer teachers are underpaid, though. It takes a while to work up the pay ladder.


Posted by not undervalued., a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:46 pm

OH, except once they are tenured in just 2 years, their job security is SO much more than any other service..


Posted by not undervalued., a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:49 pm

That all said, the great teachers, the ones who notice when a kid is struggling and take the time to notify parents and help figure it out, the ones who try to individualize programs to best teach each kid..THESE teachers deserve twice what they make..

I would 100% support merit pay increases..any idea how to do that? How to measure?


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Skeptical Al - I'm just a boring business person, the guy in the gray flannel suit. You are welcome to put down my profession anytime! I don't think I put down teachers at all, btw - did I?

Sorry I came off as a "naysayer" (the terms gives me shivers). I have a thing about educational research (my mom was a career administrator and part-time educational researcher), where many things are asserted but very few proven. It's a hard area to do research in, since it is almost impossible to do controlled experiments and there are so many variables, many of which co-vary. Many many dollars (and careers, and children's education) have been spent based on theories of what works, only to find out that it didn't really.

So when someone says "we should (or shouldn't) do X - look at example Z, that shows it works" we all need to be skeptical (like Al) about cause and effect. I don't know that David is wrong - I just don't think his evidence gives much support to him being right.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Terry - I'm not asking you to trust me based on two articles. But I'd just like a little acknowledgment that someone who knows more than you do about education and who reads more than you do about education has offered an informed opinion about education that is backed by many, many experts in education - and, at the core of the matter, simply asserts that... improved student learning is likely when we improve staff learning, communication, and innovation. I'm still waiting for some sign of a scintilla of shared perspective there. If you respond to nothing else I write... please.

I know there are many theories about WHAT to do in education, but I'm arguing about WHO should decide and HOW, while you just tell me there are many ideas about WHAT to do. I know that. And I also know that we have to *accept* that much of the research is contradictory or "fuzzy," and we still ultimately have to make decisions and do SOMETHING. So, do you want to trust the ivory tower and the bureacrats to dictate to teachers what will work, while dismpowering teachers? Sounds like a Dilbert scenario to me. The boss is not involved in the day-to-day realities of implementation, and keeps talking down to the employees who know more about what's working and not working, what helps and what hinders. Does that resonate with you?

I don't think Al really wanted to put down your profession, but I share his frustration. It seems we have to go begging for the opportunity to improve our profession, and put up with unyielding doubts (your general tone), or slander and hostility (from others) as thanks for our efforts. How do people in the "grey flannel suit" world improve in their profession? Do they wait for reams of well-controlled longitudinal studies in peer reviewed journals before improving their flow of information and communication, and freeing up creative, intelligent people to identify and solve problems?

This will have to be my last post in this thread - a bit too time consuming for minimal (or no) reward. It's quite sad to have put myself out here, by the way, (using my real name and workplace), to point out a constructive idea that might improve education broadly - note that I did not post it under Palo Alto Schools - and then have certain people turn it in to an opportunity to vent (anonymously, of course) about teachers in general.


Posted by sharon, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Good on ya, David! Thanks and don't let the little trolls get to you.


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