Special Education and the Debate on School Funding Considered

Well, right now we are witnessing the implosion of our education system in the United States as we lay off more and more teachers. We also see that teachers who have already retired are being paid huge amounts of money in their pension, and health care costs.

We can no longer afford to do this, and if we tax properties in many states any more than we are now, we are just going to continually see less money coming in due to the near collapse of the real estate market, and all those old folks will become wards of the state where we will spend all our money.

This doesn’t bode well for families of special education children, who often require fewer kids in the classroom, and more supervision. They also require more assistance from school staff, and this all adds costs to teach each student. Meanwhile parents of normal kids are quite concerned because money is diverted into the special education program, and they don’t believe their kids are getting a fair shake. This may or may not be true depending on which side of the argument you stand, but this is the debate that’s going on today.

Our school districts are cutting staff, teachers, and cutting costs wherever they can, including janitors that clean the restrooms, and other important things that we probably don’t think about. And yes, the special education department will also have to be cut if we are to maintain any sense a real educational system at all. Worse, there is far too much controversy, and chaos on the school boards and far too many parents threatening to sue. It also costs lots of money defending these lawsuits, and that is additional money that is not being used in the classroom.

If the special education departments take up a large amount of any given school’s budget, there is less money for other things, and this takes a toll on the educational experience of each child. These cost reduction programs have to come from somewhere, and these will be hard choices to make, but they must be made nevertheless. Indeed I hope you will please consider this.

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Grants For School – The US Education Department Offers TEACH Grants For Your Education

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 led Congress to make the Teach Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant Program (TEACH), providing potential future teachers with $4,000 each year in grants in order to pay for their education, particularly if they come from a family with not much income. Wen you want to find out more about the TEACH Grant Program, you just have to check out your college’s financial aid office, as they can help you get started on your journey.

When you get a TEACH Grant, it is with the proviso that you have to start work as a full-time teacher, educating low income students at a public or private secondary school or elementary. After your TEACH Grant is awarded, you have to teach around four years in the next eight years after you finish your degree that you got through the TEACH Grant. You have to keep in mind that, if you do not get this service obligation met within the allotted time, it will switch to a federal unsubsidized Stafford loan. You will then have to repay your grant to the Department of Education. You will also have to pay the back interest from the disbursement date.

If you want to get a TEACH Grant, you have to qualify on the following grounds:

Fill out your FAFSA form, though you do not require it in order to prove your financial need.
Have a status as a US citizen.
Enroll yourself in any part of the higher education process, given that you have an appropriate school that works with the TEACH program.
Take a course of study that will lead you to the classes needed to have a teaching career. Provided your preferred field of teaching, you have to take courses that will facilitate your ability to educate there.
Maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher, or otherwise meet the requirements that are given to you by the school in order to keep in good standing.
Get your TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve signed.

You can get TEACH Grants in such high need fields as English Language Acquisition, Foreign Language, Reading Specialist, Science, Special Education, Bilingual Education, Mathematics, and many more fields of study that have shortages of qualified teachers in the nation when you get the grant.

If you are working in a low income school, you will know if it is listen in the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits created by the Department of Education. The tcll.ed.gov Website is a great place to find this Directory.

You have to sign your TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve each year that you get the grant; you can use the Department of Education Website to find this agreement each time. In the TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, you can find the conditions that you have to meet in order to get the grant, as well as what you need to qualify for teaching service; this can include saying that you recognize that you consent to having the TEACH Grant switched to an unsubsidized federal loan in the event that you do not get a teaching job in the right time period.

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Education Department Backs Down – Gates Speaks Up

We’ve seen over and over again that the current political atmosphere is one of accountability and transparency: this is just as apparent in Education as it is in the debate over the appropriation of earmarked funds. As a result of the push towards a measurable pedagogic system, the Department of Education increased the qualifying questions on its annual survey of colleges. However, by attempting to gather more comprehensive information on student performance at specific colleges, it seems that the Department of Education has ruffled a few feathers.

Because the pointed questions brought on such an enormous backlash, Grover Whitehurst, (director of the Ed. Dept’s Institute of Education Sciences) said that the Department will likely edit the survey, and will probably remove a question that asks whether colleges used specific student-learning assessments and, if they did, to provide access to the results.

As performance-based education is still the exception rather than the rule, it is not surprising that a request for this type of “proprietary” information was received so critically.

In a separate story that places just as much, if not more emphasis on performance-based education, Bill Gates told congress that the education system of the united states still needs to address fundamental problems in k-12 education. In an effort to double the high school graduation rate, Gates is offering incentives for students to study math and science. In a much quoted sound bite, Gates stated: “We cannot sustain an economy based on innovation unless our citizens are educated in math, science, and engineering.” Gates also noted two interesting things: * About 30% of 9th graders do not graduate high school on time * Microsoft has been unable to fill about 3,000 tech related jobs in the USA due to a shortage of Workers The adjective “lackluster” that Gates applied to the countries public schools, sounds a great deal like Mike Bloomberg’s Wall Street Journal editorial from December 14th, “Flabby, Inefficient, Outdated”.

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Do We Really Need The Education Department and The Department Of Energy?

The origin of this article comes from a short blurb in the December 17, 2010 issue of The Week magazine. The latest survey of student school achievement, which is done every three years by the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development, found that students in Shanghai ranked first in the world in reading, science, and math. Quite a feat, to be number one in all three. The survey measured the education proficiency of fifteen year olds in 60 countries around the world.

The very bad and sad news is that the United States ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31th in math. While the article did not give education expenditure information, it is a good bet that the United States ranked much higher in amount of education dollars spent per student than it did in any of the three categories measured. If this assertion is correct, then we are spending a lot of taxpayer money and getting mediocre performance in return.

Which brings us to the Federal Education Department, a bureaucracy that has been around since 1980 and according to its government website, has a discretionary budget of about $49.7 billion (this does not include the $33 billion or so of Pell grants that it administers). I guess one could make the argument that without the Education Department, the United States would have finished worse than 17th, 23rd, and 31th.

However, it is likely we could have finished this poorly without spending the $49.7 billion a year. In fact, if you look at the Education Department website, it acknowledges that “it is important to point out that education in America is a state and local responsibility.” They admit that they are not the main driver of education in this country but still eat up almost $50 billion a year just to fill a supplemental role.

Let’s do some fantasy math. What if we terminated the Education Department, what could we do with that money:

Since there are 50 states, you could provide an annual supplemental payment to the states, that the Department fully acknowledges has the main responsibility for educating our kids, of $1 billion per state to help improve their facilities and education processes.
According to the government’s National Center For Education Statistics, there are 93,295 public elementary and secondary schools in this country. If we divide this number of schools into the Education Department’s budget, each school could theoretically receive an additional $532,000 per school each year to help educate America’s youth.
If we purchased the basic iPad product at Best Buys’ current price of $499.95, we could outfit over 99 million students in one year with an iPad for themselves. Given today’s high tech world, wouldn’t iPads (or other worthy technology) be better use of taxpayer funds than a 31st finish in math?
Of course, just having a piece of technology is not going to improve an education process but imagine what could happen in education with an iPad. For example, the need for books and the high expense that goes with the school purchase of books could be diverted to hire more teachers, improve school curriculums, enhance teacher training, etc. since bound paper books are more expensive than electronic digital books, a format that that could also be much easily updated. And this is for only one year. With the technology already purchased in year one, next year, billions of more dollars could be spent on other education needs, if we eliminated the Education Department budget.
If you are not into helping improve our schools, you could divide the $49.7 billion by the number of U.S. households and give each household an annual check of just over $400. Certainly a better idea than 31st in math.

The point to be made by these math calculations is that the Education Department has done such a poor job of positioning our kids for success in the world that continuing to budget and pay for this non-performance is a farce. How much worse could it be to take the $50 billion or so and try something new with it? Given that the Department is supplemental, what is the worst that could happen? We fall to 32nd in math? The schools and education approach in Shanghai is getting results, why can’t we get the Federal government out of the way and let the states find a way to mimic what Shanghai is obviously doing right and our Education Department is obviously not doing at all?

While reading about our poor performance as a nation academically, it appears that another Federal agency, the Department of Energy, is also a total failure when it comes to its charter. Although it has been over 30 years since the traumatic energy crises of the 1970s, we as a nation are not closer to having a strategic, workable, and rationale national energy plan today than we were when the Department of Energy was formed decades ago.

Think about it: name one success story from the Department of Energy that you can come up with without doing some serious research? We still have no national energy policy. I can think of no significant project, program, or technology that the Department funded with our taxpayer money that has born fruit, either with cheaper energy, better energy, or less reliance on foreign energy sources.

If you look at their Federal website,you see that the Department Of Energy’s annual budget is around $28 billion, of which just over $11 billion of that is for Defense Department research. If you took that $11 billion and moved it and its staff into the Defense Department, you could dump the remaining parts of the Department Of Energy and save the taxpayers just over $17 billion a year. This would provide an annual tax reduction of about $150 for every U.S. household. What would you rather have: $150 in your pocket or just another government bureaucracy that did nothing it was supposed to do?

These are the types of questions that need to be asked as the country faces this extraordinary and looming budget crisis of skyrocketing national debt. Just because we always had a government program, does not mean we need to continue to have these programs. An Education Department that fails at education and a Department of Energy that fails at energy are not good reasons to continue to have them. Better to try somethng different and less expensive. Again, how much worse could it get when it comes to these two monstrosities?

Just because something exists today does not mean it has to exist tomorrow. Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Montgomery Ward, Service Merchandise, American Motors, Studebaker, GTE, ITT, the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union, etc. all existed and are now all gone. Given this historical perspective, getting rid of a mere Cabinet Department or two should be no big deal, especially the ones that are expensive and ineffective, the cause for the demise of these past giants in their respective fields.

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Can Learning Heuristically Join Forces With Education?

There are now waiting lines for pre-school. Yes, two years before my boy steps foot into his pre-school, he gets put on a waiting list. This must be the ivy league of pre-schools.

I had a fluke event during kindergarten reading hour (which morphed into nap time). My friend Davy was lying down next to me, on my left. I don’t remember the story being read, but I distinctly remember what happened next.

The fluorescent light above us began to flicker. As I stared at the light in awe, the light popped and broke on one end. Something inside me forced me to push Davy–into a row of desks, bloodying his nose. The weight of the light dangling from one end proved too heavy, and the light crashed directly where we had been lying.

Davy was crying. He failed to see that I’d saved his frickin’ life. His nose was bleeding, the teacher was screaming, little girls peed their pants. Nap time was over.

This was the beginning of my education. And make no mistake, I liked learning. Still, the very act of sitting in rows staring at a teacher never made sense. How is a test going to really going to prove you’ve learned something? Answer: It doesn’t.

My son will enter this school system soon, a system that closely resembles the one I trudged through. Classrooms with ~30 kids regurgitating what the Education Department believes is important.

I have already drawn up my plan towards my sons’ classes. I plan to know his teacher better than most. I want to know where he/she has been and where they’re going. I want to know where they stand and how they grew up. I want to know if they’ve travelled. I want to hear them tell a story and tell a joke. I plan on holding them to a higher standard. When you give a kid responsibility and trust, they shine. So will my teacher.

Our educational system shows signs of being inflationary. The degrees needed when I went to university are only the beginning of what is needed today. Tuitions are astronomical and are not matched by quality. Textbooks are obsolete before they’re finished printing. I must face the reality that this is not a world I’ve seen before. We must gaze at our environment with new lenses.

How can we (an obese nation, by the way) move our classrooms out of an actual ‘room’? Biology in a nearby field, language at a public speech, math…well, anywhere but behind a chalk board.

Everyone learns in their own special way. I won’t get into it, but I know that you can read 10 books on starfish, but until you see one in its own habitat, you don’t know starfish. We live in a world where everything is digital. There will come a day when “I’ve actually seen a starfish!” means more than anything.

This isn’t about entertaining kids. It’s about knowing the world around them, writing about what they see, and learning actively.

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