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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mind the Gap: Why Good Schools Are Failing Black Students

An interesting audio on the problems black students have in schools. The audio can be heard by clicking here.

Fundraiser For Back The Pack - and other Rock Hill School District News

Special needs students in Saundra Booker's class at Saluda Trail have designed Christmas cards (example on left) that will soon be for sale. Family Trust Federal Credit Union plans to print the cards, 10 to a box, with different designs and sell them for $10.

Textbooks and instructional materials that have been proposed for use in S.C.'s public schools will be on display for the public through Nov. 8 at 23 colleges and universities, including the Richard W. Riley College of Education at Winthrop. The materials will be recommended to the State Board of Education for adoption on Dec. 9.
The Northwestern Troubadours been invited to perform on a PBS special on March 10. The special will coincide with "Music in Our Schools Week."

Needy students at Mount Gallant were recently surprised when they received brand new shoes from "Steppin High," a local non-profit group.

Rock Hill High will take orders through Nov. 16 for Boston Butts. The cost will be $25 with the proceeds benefiting the school's wrestling team. To order, contact Coach Cain Beard or Gary Partlow at 329-3034. The roasts will be available for pick up on Nov. 20 and 21.

South Pointe's literacy magazine staff continues to receive rave reviews. One student's work was selected to be on the cover of the Scholastic Review magazine which has been distributed to all high schools in the state.

Orchestra teacher, Kimberly Le's article titled "Finding Your Musical Oasis", can now be read in the October issue of Teaching Music, a publication of MENC, the national association for music education.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are Parents Always To Blame?

John Spencer has an interesting comment on his blog, Musings from a not-so-master Teacher, about why he doesn't complain about parents as much as some teachers do. It's an interesting angle which you should read by clicking here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Should Teachers Know Their School Board Members

The Successful Teaching Blog has some interesting comments on why teachers should get to know their school board representatives. Enter the discussion by visiting the site here.

I think that all teachers should be registered to vote and exercise their civic duty. Contacting board members is very acceptable as long as the Board/Superintendent relationship remains in place - boards set policy and hire the superintendent while superintendents administer policy through school operations.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rock Hill School Board October Business Meeting To Be This Monday

Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Monday, October 26, 2009

6:00 p.m. – District Office Board Room


I. Call to Order

Approval of Agenda

(Under consent agenda, all action items will be voted on after one motion and second to approve them without discussion. If a board member wants any action item discussed or voted on separately, the board member, before the agenda is approved, must ask that the action item be moved to the discussion item section.)

II. Citizen Participation

III. Special Business

A. Recognition of Rock Hill Elks Lodge for their dictionary project

IV. Consent Action Agenda

A. Approval of Minutes

1. September 28, 2009 business meeting

2. October 12, 2009 work session

B. Approval of Personnel Recommendations

V. Communications

A. Chip Hutchison, Junior Achievement of York County

B. Jeff Blair, parent on 3rd grade report cards and availability of textbooks for additional study.

VI. Report of the Superintendent

A. Announcements

B. Budget Report

C. First Year Teacher Report

D. Gifted & Talented

E. Two-Year Financial Plan

VII. Review of Work Session

VIII. Action Agenda

A. Policies IKF, IJ – 1st Reading

B. Policies GBEB, GCF, GCQA/GCQB, GDF – 1st Reading

C. Policy JCR – 2nd Reading

D. Policies JIH, JLCEE, JIHC – 2nd Reading

E. Suspension of Policy DFAC

F. Point of Sale – H.3272

IX. Other Business

X. Executive Session

XI. Adjourn

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rock Hill School Board Districts Now On Web Site

Click Here to download a PDF copy of district map.

Evaluating Teaching

The 'Successful Teaching' blog has started an interesting discussion on Quality Vs. Seniority in the Teaching profession. Visit the blog to join the discussion below:

Quality vs. Seniority

Scott MCleod talks layoffs: Should seniority rule? in his blogDangerously Irrelevant. He states,

“As budget cuts loom again in many states, employee termination, seniority, and ‘bumping rights’ are in the news. The essential issue is whether organizational leaders should be able to retain the employees they think are the most highly-skilled or whether seniority (or some other factor) should be employed instead. ‘Highly skilled’ in this instance means ‘employee quality’ or ‘best fit for employer needs,’ both of which are typically defined by the organization, not the employee or union.”

I truly believe that in our efforts to protect teachers from illegal personnel practices, we have gone overboard. I think we have done this to the point where we are doing a disservice to our students. Good teachers should keep their job and if they have seniority and experience, it shouldn’t be hard to show they are good teachers. The problem is that there is no uniform measure on what makes a “good teacher.” What one principal may consider high quality teaching may not be the same for another principal. I still think that is okay because maybe that school was not the right fit for them to be on the same team.

I have worked at one school where my efforts to communicate with parents and develop a rapport with them in order to help my students be successful were applauded. My students were successful and discipline problems with my class were practically nonexistent. At another school, I was told that I was too close to the parents and the community. In fact, the principal felt that because I lived in the same community as my students, I should go outside the community to do my grocery shopping. He obviously did not feel I was a “good teacher” so it was time to move on to another school where the principal had the same values as me.

At another school, I worked with a teacher who had been teaching for about 17 years but she was terrible. She did not teach her self contained students effectively, showed lots of R rated videos, and basically did very little teaching and even though the parents complained, it took three years to go through the process of firing her. Three years is a lot of wasted time in a child’s school life. They have wasted ¼ of their education years and they don’t have that time to waste! The reason it took so many years to fire her was the fear of litigation, so the school had to document and offer time to improve, and then more documentation that improvement was not happening. I’m sure there were many highly skilled newer teachers out there that could have been more effective in this classroom but because she had seniority, she was given benefits that brand new teachers are not given.

Our state does not have unions and we are a right-to-work state but I think teachers are protected pretty well due to fear of lawsuits. Lawsuits will cost the school district lots of money at the expense of the taxpayer. We need to get out of this fear mentally and make sure we are having good effective teachers who are offering a high quality education to our students. If teachers are not doing so, they are making the rest of us who are trying to do this look bad.

I do not have an answer to how to evaluate teachers in order to find out how well they are teaching because I know that an administrator is already stretched too thin. There is also the problem of personality conflicts and the impossibility of uniform evaluating. I do think administrators need to be in the classroom observing more. My school had 2300 students and even though there were four assistant principals, it was impossible to deal with discipline problems, day to day operations, and get in all of the classrooms more than once a year if that much. I think observing in the classrooms is the only way administrators will know what is going on in the classroom.

Maybe they need to put cameras in the classroom. I think it has helped with making sure state troopers follow the rules as well as protecting their rights too. If there is any doubt about a teacher’s teaching practices, a video would show evidence. This would protect students and teachers from false accusations as well as evidence to prove otherwise. If the video shows the accusations are true, then the student or teacher should be dealt with immediately.

I do not believe that seniority should be more important than high quality teaching if we want our students to be successful in life. What do you think?

Teachers (and most people) Should Use Google Alert

The "Creating Lifelong Learners" blog has a good suggestion for school employees to use 'Google Alert' to search for their name. I use it for most members of my family and have found a few errors which were then corrected. The posting is below or you can access the blog site by clicking here.

Google Alerts

One of Google’s less popular and most useful tools is Google Alerts.

Google Alerts allows you sign-up for e-mail notifications related to any search term. I use it, for example, to track any mentions of “Mathew Needleman” (my name) or “Matthew Needleman” (the popular mispelling of my name). It’s a narcissist’s dream. But aside from the big head it may give you, it’s a good idea for any teacher to track their public persona, check for fake Myspace pages, etc.

Bloggers should also set alerts for their blogs (I find it’s more reliable than technorati for finding incoming links) and presenters should set up alerts for their presos to find out when they’re being talked about.

Knowing how to use Google well can also allow you to customize your searchers. For example, when searching for Paradigm speakers, I set an alert to search for:


to alert me whenever Paradigm speakers were listed on Craigslist (hence the “site:” part of the search term.

In the classroom, you could use this to search for particular topics related to your curriculum. For example, searching for any timely references to fossils, physics, or medicine that may show up in particular news sources.

The alternative is to continually launch google and keep searching for this or that. Google alerts allows you to find this information instantaneously and never miss out.

For more information, see Google’s Alert’s Support Info. and Google Cheat Sheet to learn to search smarter.

What do you use Google Alerts for?

Update: Google Alerts sent me an alert about this post within 2 hours of me writing it:

Google Alerts « Creating Lifelong Learners
By Mathew Needleman
I use it, for example, to track any mentions of “Mathew Needleman” (my name) or “Matthew Needleman” (the popular mispelling of my name). It’s a narcissist’s dream. But aside from the big head it may give you, it’s a good idea for any …
Creating Lifelong Learners –

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blogs Every Teacher Should Read

From the "online" blog:


These blogs have everything you need for your ultimate teacher’s toolbox.

  1. PBS Teaching Resource Center: This site for K-12 teachers is an environment where new teachers can feel safe asking questions, using free tools and printing lesson and activity plans for class assignments.
  2. Teachers Count: TeachersCount is a national non-profit dedicated to raising the status of the teaching profession and providing free resources to teachers.
  3. Teachers First: The Web resource by teachers, for teachers. The site includes lesson planning help, weekly puzzles, and news you can use.
  4. The Dream Teacher: This blog looks at poverty and socioeconomic status within public schools and how teachers can improve the lives of their students.
  5. Chalk Dust 101: A teacher helps his colleages to look at the world with discerning, educated, but non-judgemental eyes.
  6. If Bees are Few: Technological advice, teaching aides, and lesson ideas from one blogger to the rest of America’s educators.
  7. Classroom Management: Ever wondered how to keep your classroom from becoming a zoo? Find out by following this blog!
  8. Teachhub Education Blog: You’ll be impressed by the well-researched and valuable information this blog provides.
  9. Science teacher: The blog title seems simple enough, but this veteran teacher has much to say, many questions to ask, and just as many answers to provide.
  10. Study Skills Mentor: The best lesson you could teach your class, and the greatest gift you could give them, is to teach them how to learn. Look at different ways to teach them how to study, how to ask questions, and how to read text for content.

Teacher Bloggers

These men and women live all over the world, teach all types of subject matter, and offer varied but excellent advice on becoming a better educator.

  1. 2 Cents: Blog by art teacher David Warlick.
  2. A Passion for Teaching: This blog chronicles the journey of a Social Science teacher at Ukiah High School in Ukiah, California.
  3. Betty’s Blog: Teacher Betty from Texas blogs about her students, her love for educating and the wisdom she’s gained over the course of her career.
  4. JT Spencer’s Blog: This young teacher changes the name of his blog as often as he changes his teaching techniques. Learn both from him and with him.
  5. Sneaker Teacher: Daily wisdom and insight from a professional educator.
  6. Ms. Teacher: This is a blog about the educational experience of a middle school teacher, and her advice on maintaining a work-life balance.
  7. Cool Cat Teacher: This teacher isn’t only good at what she does, she’s passionate about it too.
  8. Kathy Cassidy’s Classroom Blog: Cassidy shares her best practices and keeps you updated with her students’ progress.
  9. It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages: This great tell-it-like-it-is blog shows you the shadow side of teaching as well as the rewards.
  10. Learning is Messy: Brian Crosby has nearly 30 years of teaching experience under his belt, and he knows it isn’t always easy. But he’ll show you how he got through the tough times and give you plenty of motivation to do the same.


Love it or hate it, innovations in technology are released every single day. Learn not only how to adapt, but how to take advantage of these changes by reading the blogs below.

  1. 21st Century Learning: This teacher and blogger writes about how technology can and will impact teaching.
  2. One Crazy Teacher to Another: Here you’ll find posts that chronicle this teacher’s discover of new technology that makes his life easier.
  3. Teacher 2.0: This blog is designed to help teachers better learn to adapt online tools and new gadgets to the classroom environment.
  4. Lisa’s Online Teaching Blog: Read posts that cover topics like interactive programs, learning styles and technology in this blog.
  5. TeacherTech Blog: Get the occasional tech tip in this blog, created to help teachers learn to better utilize technology.
  6. Encountering E-Learning Education: Teaching student Em discusses her experiences learning about new teaching technologies and gives her thoughts in this blog.
  7. Learning Technology Teacher Development: English teachers can get some helpful advice in ways they can use new technology from Second Life lessons to online dictation programs in this blog.
  8. Edumacation: Get some insight on how you can use technology in your teaching with some helpful advice from this first year English teacher.
  9. Remote Access: This blog can help you get a better understanding of how to implement technology like blogging in your classroom.
  10. Classhacks: Get small tips related to educational technology and ways you can implement it into your classroom through the posts and resources in this blog.
  11. Utilizing Blogs In the Classroom: Learn new ways to make blogs an effective learning tool with a little advice from posts and articles here.
  12. TechieTeacher: Teachers interested in using the latest technology in their classrooms can get some great ideas from this blog.

Subject Specific

From science to social studies, these teachers are the best of the best in their respective fields of education.

  1. Math Notes: This blog follows the day to day life of a high school math teacher as she instructs students in subjects like statistics and algebra.
  2. Teaching College Math: Even if you don’t teach college level math you can benefit from the questions and information found in this blog.
  3. Music Teacher’s Blog: Music teachers looking for new and innovative ways to teach music to their students can find links to resources, advice and more in this blog.
  4. The Social Studies Teacher Blog: This blog can provide social studies teachers with sample lessons and ideas in subjects like economics and American history.
  5. The Teacher’s View: Blogger and teacher Paul gives his thoughts on literature and culture in this reading and English focused blog.
  6. It’s a Hardknock Teacher’s Life: This African-American teacher shares her experiences teaching Spanish to middle and high school students in the Northeast.
  7. Teaching Philosophy: Teachers or philosophers interested in working in the classroom will get some interesting ideas of lessons and materials to cover.
  8. Teacher Julie: Julie blogs about her experiences teaching special education in the Philippines as well as many other issues related to education.
  9. The Carrot Revolution: Art teachers can get some ideas of how to use new technology to create innovative and creative lessons for their courses.
  10. PE for Children: Physical education teachers can read up on the latest news in the field through the posts from this news centered blog.
  11. Shakespeare Teacher: Get some help learning to teach the bard and find some Shakespeare related entertainment from this teacher written blog.
  12. Unwrapping the Gifted: Gifted students need special attention too, and you can get ideas for lessons and ways to better teach students in this Teacher Magazine blog.
  13. The Science Bench: Check out these great ideas on teaching science and technology related subjects to your students.

Tips and Tools

As a new teacher, you likely find yourself asking new questions every day. Go to one (or all) of these blogs for expert answers.

  1. How to Be a Better Teacher: Suite 101 bloggers tell you their secrets for being successful educators.
  2. Teacher’s Book Bag: Find sample lesson plans and print outs in this blog.
  3. Teacher Features: Here you’ll find lots of tips on making bookmaking a part of your students’ curriculum.
  4. Teaching Tips Machine: Get some general tips and suggestions for getting more students to complete homework, manage classrooms better and be more effective.
  5. Successful Teaching: New teachers can get some ideas for successful classroom projects and strategies through this blog.

Special Education Emphasis

The blogs below were designed just for teachers in the realm of special education.

    While these blogs may not focus solely on special education, they do contain an emphasis on the subject.

  1. Teachers at Risk: This Teacher of Distinction shares her insights, experience with 20 years of teaching, and practical advice.
  2. Successful Teaching: With 30 years of experience and board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist, this teacher knows what she’s talking about when she shares tips and strategies that are helpful for both special ed and regular ed classes.
  3. School Psychologist Blog Files: While this blog is specifically written to parents of students in Special Ed, new teachers can get a feel for challenges the students and their families may face.
  4. Ok, so What Next?: Leaving the world of business and now teaching special education at a school for students with behavioral issues, this blogger shares her experiences as a teacher and a mother.
  5. Special Education Blog: Find plenty of great advice for teaching special ed children on this blog from
  6. On Special Education: Keep track of all the news pertaining to special education with this blog.
  7. Bilingual Special Ed: Written by a professor of Special Education, this blog covers research, news, policy, and more surrounding special education and bilingual education.
  8. Special Education and Learning Differences: Learning life skills, strategies for teaching special ed students, and motivating learners are just a sampling of the topics on this blog.
  9. Barto’s World: This LD teacher shares her perspective on teaching students with learning disabilities and also shares tidbits from the news on the subject.
  10. Special Ed Law: Keep up with important special education legislation and how it affects your classroom.

Other Educators

Librarians, professors, consultants, and others share their insight on these blogs.

  1. Once a Teacher: This former teacher still works in education, but is now dedicated to bringing innovation to education. Her blog reflects her mission to help teachers and students.
  2. Let’s Play Math!: Written by a homeschooling mom, this blog features fun ways to incorporate math into any curriculum.
  3. So You Want To Teach?: The posts here include solid advice for teachers.
  4. Joanne Jacobs: The author of a book about a charter school focusing on preparing Hispanic students for college, Joanne blogs about education in the news.
  5. The Lesson Machine: Inexpensive resources for teachers are featured on this blog broken down into categories of literature, media, and supplies/resources.
  6. Open Education: Follow the changes and innovations occurring in education with the posts on this blog.
  7. HeyJude: Judy O’Connell blogs about technology, education, and libraries in her blog.
  8. Brian McCall’s Economics of Education Blog: See what this professor has to say about the impact of the state of economics on education.
  9. Teach42: Formerly a kindergarten teacher and currently working at Discovery Education, Steve Dembo writes about education, with an emphasis on technology.
  10. NeverEndingSearch: This blog from School Library Journal is focused primarily on school library topics, but there is much information to offer on teaching and learning in general.

News and Politics

These blogs will keep you in the know about news and politics surrounding education.

  1. Buckhorn Road: Focusing on education, politics, and current events, the posts here cover it all.
  2. NYC Educator: Politics and policy both feature highly here as does information and opinion about education news.
  3. Intercepts: This blog from the Education Intelligence Agency covers public education and teachers’ unions.
  4. Eduwonk: Covering news and analyzing what is happening to the world of education, the posts here offer a look at education today.
  5. Politics K-12: From Education Week, this blog focuses on state and federal politics of education.
  6. Teacher Beat: Another Education Week blog, this one provides the latest on politics and policy important to teachers.
  7. Democrats for Education Reform: This political action committee works with the Democratic party to reform education, and its blog discusses important issues surrounding education and reform.
  8. GothamSchools: This blog is written by two education reporters with outstanding credentials and focuses on what is and is not working in the New York schools.
  9. Whether national or international, commentary, or breaking news, if it has to do with education, it will probably appear in this blog.
  10. TeachMoore: Renee Moore writes about politics and news in the education community on her blog.


These Twitter microblogs are full of information, resources, news, games, lesson planning assistance, and more.

  1. Homeschoolers: Free help for homeschool teachers.
  2. Standards Toolbox: The Standards Toolbox is a free suite of K-12 online teacher tools, including a lesson planner, grade book, class web page, and more.
  3. Futurelabedu: Develops innovative resources and practices that support new approaches to learning for the 21st century.
  4. JustAskEdu: Parents, teachers, and others invested in education come ask for advice, ideas, and support.
  5. education_com: Offers information to support classroom education that caters to both educators and parents.
  6. DEN: Discovery Education connects teachers to their greatest resource: other teachers!
  7. techlearning: Great for computer science educators.
  8. New Teacher Survival: Get daily tips about how to survive at your new teaching job.
  9. Teachermagazine: A leading source for k-12 teacher leaders covering instruction, school environment, classroom technology, curriculum, and more.
  10. Scholastic Teach: Resources for every teacher to reach each and every child.
  11. Teaching Ideas: Provides free ideas, resources, links and news to teachers around the world.
  12. A Gift for Teaching: These Tweets come from a non-profit that gives away free school supplies and experiences to teachers and students in high-need schools through various programs.
  13. TSL Events: Exhibitions for education professionals in the early years, primary, secondary and special needs sectors.
  14. Teacher Corner: Provides free worksheets, lesson plans, bulletin boards and other free educational activities to teachers, parents and homeschoolers worldwide.
  15. Teacher Created: Teacher created resources, free lessons, and more for Pre-K to 8th grade teachers.
  16. For Teachers Only: Follow these Tweets to receive teaching tips, jokes, new product alerts, promotions, and much more!
  17. Tips for Teachers: Joel Heffner was a New York City teacher and teacher trainer. He now writes and conducts workshops. Follow him.
  18. KDS for Teachers: Innovative e-learning for teachers.
  19. Outwit Me: On this site, you’ll find brainy Twitter games.
  20. Plinky: With Plinky, get a daily prompt question or challenge to answer.

Teaching Myths

From "Advancing The Teaching Profession" blog:

We Need to Dispel the Myths about Effective Teachers

If you want to reflect for a moment on education half-truths and the imprecise diagnosis of teaching quality problems, take a look at two articles published in the October 18th edition of the Los Angeles Times — one on value-added teacher evaluations and the other on challenging education myths.

Both pieces raise important issues related to the role of teacher education as well as student test scores in developing and identifying effective teachers. But in addressing those issues, the journalist-authors actually embellish current myths rather than dispel them — and may send us down the wrong policy road.

Myth: Teacher tenure rules make it impossible to get rid of poor teachers.

Fact: A recent study by the New Teacher Project clearly shows that the difficulty in removing ineffective teachers has much more to do with poorly trained administrators who have few skills and inadequate tools to distinguish between excellent, average, and poor teaching. Another report, from the Center for American Progress also concluded that poor evaluation procedures, not tenure, are most likely to account for a school district’s inability to fire poor performers.

Myth: Teach for America, a rapid-entry alternative certification program designed to recruit bright young people into teaching, produces more effective teachers than traditional university-based programs.

Fact: Nationally, the Teach for America program produced about 4000 new teachers this school year, a very small contribution given that U.S. public schools need to hire about 250,000 new teachers annually. Studies show that TFA recruits tend to produce student achievement gains only slightly better than comparison teachers — and only in math, not in reading. Most importantly, the comparison groups in these studies tend to be teachers in the same or similar schools who have even less formal pedagogical preparation than TFA recruits. Why? Because the high needs schools in which TFA’ers teach often have to rely on substitutes and other poorly qualified individuals. Studies also show that more than 80 percent of Teach for America recruits, much like other recruits who enter with little formal training, leave the classroom by their third year of teaching, becoming part of the revolving door of novices who pass quickly through high-needs classrooms. This does not mean that tradtional teacher education has it right. It doesn’t. But less is not more in preparing teachers for high needs schools.

Myth: Standardized tests now in place are always the most accurate means of assessing student progress and teacher effectiveness. Scores from these tests should be the primary metric for evaluating teachers and increasing accountability.

Fact: Today’s “value-added” systems for measuring teacher effects can provide useful information, but the data are not always reliable for making high-stakes decisions. Assessments based solely on scores from tests currently in use are not designed to help teachers become more effective. Also, recent studies show that most value-added student academic gains are attributed to teacher teams, not individuals. Drawing on very sophisticated analyses, these studies reveal that the most powerful predictor of student achievement over time seems to be whether small groups of teachers are learning from each other as they teach. This suggests that policymakers should not just focus on replacing the “bottom 6-10%” of ineffective teachers, but devise strategies so that “teachers raise their games when the quality of their colleagues improves.”

Policymakers and practitioners do need to think much differently about assessing teachers and transforming teacher education. But that new thinking will not be productive if we cling to the educational equivalent of urban legends about what makes for effective teachers and successful students.

Monday, October 19, 2009

York County School Boards To Meet On Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The 4 York County School Boards will have a joint dinner meeting on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 beginning @ 6:00 PM, in McBryde Hall, Winthrop University. Winthrop will be the host and the discussion will be on how stimulus money is being spent and whether it is being spent as originally intended. The meeting is expected to last until around 8:30 pm.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bridging Differences - by Edweek.ORG

Bridging Differences

Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch have found themselves at odds on policy over the years, but they share a passion for improving schools. Bridging Differences will offer their insights on what matters most in education.

« We Are Lying to Our Children | Main

Is What's Good for CEOs Good for Teachers?

Dear Diane,

Let's explore, one by one, the separate elements of the federal education agenda, Diane. Are they based on reason and evidence or ignorance and irrationality? (I could have asked myself the same thing about our differences regarding the trade-offs and risks involved in a national curriculum.)

Merit pay is high on the list of the new business-oriented reformers and naturally difficult for unions to swallow. For unions, the big issues are above all aimed at providing employees with a fair system that won't place them at the mercy of their bosses when it comes to the basics of the job. It's obviously of less concern to people entering the field for a short period. (Ditto for retirement, seniority, maternity leave, etc.—all of which are safeguards of concern, mostly, for those in for a lifetime career.)

Merit pay involves a set of related issues of concern to me. I speak to this as a former teacher, trade unionist, parent activist, and principal. On most of these we agree, Diane, even though they have never been directly connected, as they have for me, to "self-interest."

In each of these roles, I was glad that teachers' pay benefits and seniority rights were not at stake in the disagreements we might have. I could always see how dangerous it might be if powerful parents, principals, community members, or union "bosses" were in a position to annually decide how much my own child's teacher was worth paying. Oddly enough—am I right, Diane?—most of the reforms being threatened preceded unionization of schools and exist in states in which there are no labor-management contracts. They came into existence to protect teachers from the political pressures that affected their jobs and their profession. They mirror the protections of most public employment. Union power helped to make these safeguards and benefits more secure, but their history—as you have documented, Diane—has other roots.

I'm reinforced in my attachment to these by my own personal experience and that of two of my teaching offspring! Two out of two have at some point in their teaching lives been fired, and one was blackballed. And, in both cases it was related to out-of-class behaviors: remarks made at public meetings and union activity.

But my critique of merit pay rests also on other prejudices of mine. First of all, I think schools need to be highly collegial settings and any system of financial (or other) rewards creates a setting that makes this harder, not easier to achieve. And, believe me, it's hard enough as it is. That's one reason that in NYC, the United Federation of Teachers agreed to an experiment only if the staff had the right to decide on how to spread the resulting bonus money. Secondly, I believe that schools work best when we can help young people see that the highest goal of learning is not some external reward, but the enormous satisfaction of learning, the "power of their ideas" (the title of my first book), backed by knowledge. They come to us largely untainted by a system of rewards for the most complex learning they will encounter—the knowledge and reasoning that leads them to language competence, an enormous vocabulary even under the worst of circumstances, the names and faces of thousands of objects and people, the "rules" of the game for any number of ordinary situations. They can "read" people's moods and make sensible predictions based on their theories, as they can with hundreds upon hundreds of other theories that apply to their daily lives. Learning is unstoppable—the trick is how to turn it to some "subject matter" that they don't encounter naturally, or which they don't uncover in its fuller complexity naturally. The aims of school—whatever they may be—depend on our keeping that drive alive, nourishing it, and deliberately doing as little as possible to undermine it. Ditto for teaching.

Thirdly, there is simply NO evidence on its behalf in public or private employment, and most previous attempts at this have been abandoned for that reason. The "evidence" falls on the other side. In fact, there is evidence of a lot of danger. It corrupts. Whatever is used to decide who "merits more" will—as most high-stakes indicators do—undermine the indicator(s) chosen: Campbell's law.

No better example of this has hit the headlines lately than what is known as the "C.E.O. compensation" problem. David Owen has written a startling and chock-full-of-lessons essay in the Oct. 12 New Yorker, "The Pay Problem." I'll be quoting from it in future weeks, so I hope our blogees get a copy of it. Have you read it, Diane?

To those reading us, I hope you will help me think about which of the above arguments are best or worst, and why you disagree—if you do.

Thanks, Deborah

P.S. Beware old-timers. I've just realized that the term "performance" assessment now refers to the paper-and-pencil test. As in a driver's test—who would imagine calling the paper-and-pencil test a performance test??? We're back to Alice in Wonderland where words can mean whatever we choose.

Dealing With Budget Cuts

Below is the information provided by the Oconee School District and the Rock Hill School District.

From the Lucas Blog

We found out earlier this year that we would have a 4% cut, but we just received the dollar amounts this week.

The funds that were cut by the state were in the Education Finance Act (EFA) funding source. This source funds the “Base Student Cost,” and districts receive an amount per student based on a local/state match (the “wealth” of the district impacts the percentage received from the state). State EFA funds are primarily from personal and corporate income taxes.

SDOC’s revenue shortfall from the state EFA funds is $1.1 million, but we expect it to increase when other accounts are identified by the state.

Our School Board has developed an extremely conservative budget this year and set aside funds ($700,000) for this purpose. In addition, we anticipated a possible 20% reduction in Education Improvement Act (EIA) funds (sales tax generated) of $1.2 million. The good news is that there have been no cuts in EIA funds because sales tax revenues are not down significantly.

Here’s the bottom line: Our district can absorb this initial cut, and we have a small amount in our operating budget for future cuts made by the state. Therefore, the district administration has not recommended that the Board consider any furloughs or school level cuts.

We can absorb these cuts because we have entered this year with an ultraconservative budget that made big cuts in district-level accounts for FY10. We can also absorb this cut because of the austerity measures that were put into place last year (e.g., no personal refrigerators, cutting school travel, …). The decisions adopted by our School Board last year kept our fund balance stable.

I wanted to let you know that the federal Stimulus funds have made a big difference for our district this year. We received three pots of federal funds from the Stimulus (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act): (1) Title I Stimulus (supporting all schools but Keowee Elementary), (2) IDEA (additional funds for special education and training), and (3) Stabilization Funds (paying for middle/high honors and advanced classes). The additional federal funds are paying for approximately 60 staff positions in the district.

Two-Year Financial Plan



Lynn P. Moody, Ed.D.


October 2009

Two-Year Financial Plan

October 2009

Under the direction of the board, the administration has worked diligently to provide a financial plan for reducing expenditures over two years beginning in 2010-2011. This plan has been developed with the assumption that our revenue will remain the same and we will lose all federal stimulus funding. Below is an estimate of the difference:

$5.1 + $ 3.8 M = $4.4 M avg. pr. yr.

Stabilization – Stimulus

$2.3 M

Budgeted Shortfall from 2009-2010

$1 M

Teachers’ Step Increase for 2010-2011

$1 M

IDEA Salaries - Stimulus

$.1 M

Title I Salaries - Stimulus

$8.8 million


Our focus is on reducing expenditures, which is in our control. It is important to note, however, that increasing revenue is the best solution. Therefore, the board and the superintendent need to continue working with our legislative delegation to get the revenue funding changed for public education. We need more stable and reliable resources from the State. We need to encourage voters to elect politicians who stand firm on the importance of public education.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity—it is a pre-requisite. The countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.

-President Barack Obama

The Board of Trustees does have the authority to increase our local revenue by raising 6 mills each year. This assumes the growth plus the CPI Index formula according to Act 388 will continue to allow at least 6 mills. A 6-mill increase would yield approximately $1.3 M each year for a total of $2.6 M over two years. Therefore, we would need to reduce expenditures by $6.2 M instead of $8.8 M if the Board votes to exercise the maximum tax increase.

The Board of Trustees can also choose to use the General Fund Balance. There was approximately $19M in the fund balance at the end of the 2009 school year. The 2010 school year budget anticipates using approximately $2.5M to cover expenditures. An additional $1M will be needed to offset recent cuts. This leaves approximately $15.5M. Ideally, the general fund balance should be 15% of the total budget ($19.5M) but no lower than 10% ($13M). Therefore, $2.5M could be used to offset some shortages over the next two years.

Below is list of actions we have already taken for 2009-2010 as a reminder:

· Reduced 54 school-level positions

· Reduced 13 district office staff positions

· Frozen salaries for all employees except step increases for teachers

· Delayed hiring for critical positions

· Agreed to furlough teachers 2 days and administrators 4 days

· Eliminated overtime

· Reduced mileage, professional development, and dues by 50%

· Implemented new guidelines on restricted travel for students and employees

· Cut school and department budgets by 5%

· Eliminated some student academic interventions

The ultimate goal of this plan is to cut expenditures in areas that have less effect on classroom instruction. In conversation and brainstorming sessions about this plan, we referred to the critical elements of our “Rock Hill Climb.”

· Shared Vision and Beliefs are stated in the professional code and the staff is guided by the code. The district has a strong community ownership.

· Future Focus with the 21st Century needs of the learner and effective, ethical use of technology in mind

· Nurturing environment for emotional, physical, and intellectual safety

· Quality Work Design and Delivery through collaboration, analyzing data, and providing interventions to address student needs

Vision without resources is a hallucination.

-Thomas Friedman

Everything on the following list affects instruction and hampers our ability to achieve our “Rock Hill Climb." Throughout our conversations and brainstorming sessions we continued to ask how this would affect instruction. Teachers and administrators provided input to the superintendent both corporately and individually. This plan synthesizes and summarizes many of those suggestions. It also assumes the flexibility options currently in place will be extended past this school year. As superintendent, I evaluated the cuts based on what I believe to be practical, fair, and realistic. Many hours of research have been put into this plan, and we are all still hopeful that it will never have to be “fully” operational.

Below is list of actions we should implement over the next two years:

· Replace critical positions in support and Operations by superintendent’s approval only. Do not replace non-critical positions when they come open. Transfer employees as much as possible to cover critical positions.

· Carefully review the status of staff employed by a letter of agreement.

· Require letter-of-agreement employees to insure with the SC Retirement System (health and dental) in 2010-2011.

· Do not replace K-12 teaching assistants’ positions when they come open. Transfer assistants as much as possible to cover mandated positions in Kindergarten and Special Education.

· Reduce 46 additional teaching positions through attrition (if possible) during the next two summers (27 elementary, 10 middle school, and 9 high school).

· Review elective offerings carefully and close low enrollment programs.

· Freeze salaries and supplements for all employees next year.

· Do not allow overtime. Emergency overtime must have the superintendent’s approval.

· Eliminate 6th and 9th grade transition day for the 2010-2011 school year.

The intent in developing this two-year financial plan is to give us a guide for future planning. It is only a tool for a specific point in time and is subject to change. For example, we received another 4% cut in EFA in September. We do not know if this will be restored. If not, it could require us to cut our expenditures another $1.5 to $1.9 M.

There are too many variables to determine this now, but this does give us some direction for where we are headed with these cuts. It also gives us the ability to use attrition as much as possible. Lastly, it goes without saying, but at some point the State of South Carolina must address the lack of adequate funding for public education.

Too often we are content to live off the investments previous generations made, and…we are failing to live up to our obligation to make the investments needed to make sure the U.S. remains competitive in the future.

-Bill Gates

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