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The Upside of a Budget Defict for California Schools

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In 2003, with the state facing a $32 billion deficit, actor-turned-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger promised desperate Californians that he would "end the crazy deficit spending.”  Now five years later with his own $14 billion deficit, Governor Schwarzenegger’s original campaign promise seems devoid of any connection to reality, much like the words from a movie script. 


But I’m not here to lament how voters have once again been crushed and dismayed by a political candidate who failed to live up to our expectation. No, no, no. This is the beginning of a new year and the end of the nightmarish George W. Bush administration.  Not only does hope springs eternal with a bevy of presidential candidates whom we can naively believe in, but it is the dawn of a new era.  It’s time to cast pessimism and negativity out the door and look at the bright side of things.


 This is why I have put my own rose-colored glasses on and decided there is an upside to our $14 billion deficit, even when it comes to funding public schools.  Budget cuts can be made in education that will save our state money and help improve our public schools.  As a teacher and born-again optimist, I am happy to educate our Governor and explain to him why California’s education glass is half full.


Contrary to what the teachers’ unions might say, here are three things we in K-12 education could easily sacrifice for the sake of balancing our state budget and will never be missed.


Teacher training.  First on the chopping block, all funding earmarked for “teacher training.”  Do teachers really need more training beyond a college degree and fifth year? If we do, then maybe colleges should do a better job teaching future teachers so extra training on the job can be eliminated. The reality is, this extra teacher training the government requires hasn’t helped the students. Test scores prove that.

Most of this superfluous training is nonsense created by businesses who want a piece of that education dollar pie.  Also, if teachers didn’t have to go to more trainings, they could actually stay at school and teach students.  What a concept! One extra financial benefit: school districts would save money by spending less on substitute teachers. If money is to be spent on training, perhaps it would be better spent on training parents how they can help their child be more successful in school.


Textbooks.  Could this be a mistake? After all, how can you have school if there are no textbooks? The reality is, public schools currently have lots of textbooks.  Instead of buying new ones every seven years, maybe we could make them last longer. How much has algebra really changed over the years? Also, when it comes to buying new textbooks, maybe the state of California could stop buying such huge and expensive ones? My high school’s language arts textbooks are over 400 pages, much too big to adequately finish in a 180-day calendar school year.  Thus, lots of money is given to huge textbook publishing companies for information that will never be taught. 

In addition, most of our language arts textbooks only have excerpts of stories. Maybe we should bring back paperback novels to the classroom.  This would be a win-win situation.  The state could save money and the students could gain a better appreciation of great literature. They might even be encouraged to read books for pleasure. 


There are other problems with textbooks as well. The “bad” teachers that everyone hates usually only teach by having students read from their text book and answering questions at the end of the chapter. They don’t discuss the material or engage the students with thought-provoking activities.  If there weren’t textbooks, teachers would be forced to do real lesson plans. Finally, some students don’t learn by reading from textbooks but by hands-on learning.  This is another good reason to bring back shop and home economic classes and vocational training to our public schools.


Standardized tests.  I’m sure it surprises no one that as a teacher, I pony up the end-of-the-year standardized tests that schools must administer to at least 95 percent of their students thanks to the No Child Left Behind legislation. But what might surprise people is my reason why.  I am a huge believer in giving proficiency tests at the end of a chapter or grading period to see how much students have learned.  How else will I know what kind of job I am doing as a teacher if I don’t give some type of assessment?  If most of the class failed, that tells me I need to do some re-teaching.


The problem with end-of-the-year standardized tests is, they are not designed specifically with what we taught. Furthermore, the government does nothing with these scores except use them to either praise or condemn schools. The ironic thing is, the tests don’t even compare the same group of students from one year to the next. Schools and teachers don’t use these scores to re-teach students or to place them in classes appropriate to their ability. So what really is the point of them? I say, get rid of them and let’s save money. Students will never miss them nor be worse off because they no longer are required to take them.

 I know sacrificing these three things isn’t going to completely solve the state’s budget woes, but I call this a good start in solving some of education woes.   #####
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Debra Craig is writer whose articles have been published nationwide. She is also the author of two books, the most recent one called, "Welcome to My Nightmare, I mean, Classroom: A Teacher in the Trenches Shatters the Myths, Lies, and Half-truths (more...)
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