Guest commentary Ramona Sentinel  ( 29 Jan 2015)
Invariably I’m asked, “John what do you think about Common Core and/ or the California school funding formula?” My first response is what do you think? What follows is my round-about answer incorporating tangential matters that pop up as I write.
Occasionally, someone tells me they are not interested in politics. I counter by saying that does not mean politics is not interested in you. 55% of the entire State Budget is spent on education.
Common Core and School Funding are the result of political decisions. Vote and get involved. Also read something everyday and exercise.
Truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. Bureaucracies are masterful at creating an insular self-serving culture in which people reinforce each other and it is human nature to follow the conventional wisdom, rational thought seems to be absent at times.
With these thoughts in mind lets explore and argue the merits and intended outcomes of two “fashionable” programs. First the California school funding formula , commonly referred to as LCFF( Local Control Funding Formula) and then the CCSS (California Common Core Standards. Standards).
A major feature of the LCFF is the attempt to close the GAP between the group of students in the lower academic quartile and the group of students in the upper quartile.
The LCFF assumes money will make a difference and close the GAP. Consequently significantly more funds(supplemental funds) are given to school districts that have a higher concentration of students from low income families and English learners. These students, as was indicated, as a group score lower on academic tests. Some students in this group score at the top on these tests. These top students , as other top students , apparently will not be influenced by additional funding. There are scores of poor performing students that do not qualify for supplemental aid because they speak English and their families are not low income.
Some interesting side issues. The LCFF specifically mandates that English learners and students from low income families receive the supplemental funds. How are these supplemental funds funneled to these students ? A case in point. A teacher earning $75,000 a year has a class of 30 students with no English learners or no students from low income families. A teacher earning $45,000 a year has 30 students that are English learners or from low income families. Where and how is the money funneled? What kind of “special”attention does that one and only qualified student for supplemental aid in a class of 30 receive? Being education is labor intense should not the teachers , according to the LCFF, be compensated more for teaching in districts or a class that receives or should receive more supplemental funding? It is true that students that qualify for supplemental aid could receive special tutoring and probably should. The California Teachers Association is already clamoring for the supplemental money to be distributed equally across the teachers lock-step- salary schedule. Is this funneling the money to the appropriate students as the law dictates ? It is a matter of time before the Civil Liberties Union enters the fray.
The LCFF message to teachers may be for more compensation they should teach in Districts that receive huge amounts of supplemental aid.
If money makes a difference , and more money is given to a select group of students that as a group perform at the bottom academically ,compared to students at the top, does not logic dictate, there will be REGRESSION TO THE MEAN?
Now a word about the CCSS(California Common Core State Standards). The intended purpose of the law is to raise standards. The intent is to close the GAP that exists between the US and the world and between groups of American Students.
There are no objections to this goal. Apart from the peripheral argument about the shortcomings of what is seen as Federal control of eduction. In part , the CCSS argument is THE AGE OLD ARGUMENT ABOUT PEDAGOGY VERSUS CONTENT. One would think they go hand in hand but they apparently do not. Which should be first ,pedagogy or content? One of many arguments is it depends upon the student and teacher to a lesser extent. Pedagogy is about the methods and the practice of teaching academic subjects or theoretical concepts. It has to do with the art and science of teaching. The argument is that it is more student centered and time consuming. Content has to do with acquiring skills and knowledge. It is more content/subject oriented and requires less time to cover any particular discipline. More knowledge can be acquired in a shorter time. The content people argue that the student centered approach slows down the more “able” students and in part it results in regression to the mean. Will the GAP close by “slowing down” the more able students?
For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict and debate. The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom in a Democracy.
For governing boards of any kind. A “no” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or avoid trouble.
I remain an agnostic about a lot of things in education except the value of an effective teacher.
John Rajcic