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EDUCATION: Find economies, not new revenue

Letter by Ora Clark, Federal Way on May 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm with 33 Comments »
May 3, 2012 4:13 pm

I see that Gov. Chris Gregoire is urging her successor to find new funding to support the schools (TNT, 5-3). I would beg to differ and suggest that her successor search for economies instead.

I say this from the viewpoint of my 87-year-old memory banks and several years of volunteering in the local elementary schools.

• Textbooks: When I was a child, parents were expected to purchase the students’ books each year. The book store would then buy them back at the end of the year. Depending on the condition, the turn-in value could be almost as much as the purchase value. This also has the advantage of teaching the student responsibility. Texts were used for several years before a new or revised edition replaced it.

Today, texts are replaced almost on an annual basis. Take math as an example. When a new theory on teaching math is put forth, new books are ordered. A year or so later it happens again. Result: The poor students become so confused that they never do grasp the essentials of math.

• Administration: There is little doubt that empires have been built. We had a superintendent for the entire county, no assistants.

• Sports: The overemphasis just was not there back then. But I will not get into that because of the emotional issues.

Just a few thoughts from an old geezer.

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  1. The only time I paid for school books was in college. Most books need to be replaced on a regular basis. The thicker the book the worse they hold up. The Calculus book that I used for four quarters is covered with duct tape.

    That being said, physical books will eventually become museum pieces.

    I don’t know about one superintendent for the whole county. I’m not that old. However, clearly we don’t need the number of separate school districts if the state is responsible for basic education. I also have to question the need for two vice-principals at the high school level. Clearly there is some fat that could be trimmed at the administration level.

  2. cclngthr says:

    Instead of buying books, why not use electronic forms of books which use an iPad like devise that offers a multiple form of software files which take the place of physical books.

    Texts are replaced since the information becomes obsolete once it is printed.

    Pawl,

    Back then, with one-room schoolhouses, one superintendent was only needed because the population is not like it is now. You might have seen the county having an equivalent of the current population of the City of Tacoma for all of Pierce County. Tacoma has 56 schools and back then, that number of schools might have encompassed the entire county, Likewise with student population, Tacoma has approximately 25,000 students. That number might have been throughout the county when Ora Clark was going to school.

  3. cclngthr says:

    A lot of people would propose this:

    1. Eliminate SPED services, including all related services including Title 1, LAP, ESL, and similar services.
    2. Eliminate bus services.
    3. Eliminate food services.
    4. Require one administrator per building.
    5. Have one administrator to cover each level of schools, such as elementary ed, and secondary ed.
    6. Eliminate school nurse and counseling services.

  4. sandblower says:

    ccingthr, are YOU actually proposing those measures?

  5. cclngthr says:

    sandblower,

    No, a lot of comments I read about education lead to those proposals. People claim that SPED kids bring down education and cost too much, and by eliminating them, schools would be better. People also complain about bus service, school lunch programs, and the top heavy administration (which I happen to agree with) as well as nurse/counseling services are costing the districts too much. I won’t get into sports because they generally are providing enough funding through other sources dedicated to that. But of course, people might even complain about that and might want to eliminate that as well.

    In my earlier comment, I do think if we eliminate textbooks altogether and start using Ereader software with the iPad, textbooks could be networked into the district internet network and whatever the teacher wants the class to work on, students would use the iPad rather than the physical book. Then students would be able to have up to date information and can work on the iPad and print out their work on the classroom printer; saving a bunch of paper and textbook costs.

  6. bobcat1a says:

    Why don’t we descend even further into the glorious past and have the students use a small chalkboard at their seat to do lessons. Oh, and we could have most of our students terminate their education at 8th grade; that would save tons of money.

  7. ccingthr – you’re funny, iPads for each student? Where are districts going to get the money for that? The teachers are using out dated laptops now and the districts can’t find the money to replace them. Also you know text books have copyrights don’t you? You think the text book companies are just going to let a district buy one electronic copy of a text book and allow it to be put it on network for all students to use? There would be a law suit in a New York minute. Also if you had to buy everyone an electronic copy then the savings would be minimal at best and then to be able to print excerpts for students for additional costs.

  8. Old-geezer – My wife is a teacher and let me assure you in her district text books are used for several years.

    Afet – try e-readers which retail for as little as $80. E-books are about half the price of a hardback book.

  9. cclngthr says:

    afret,
    Software licenses are issued to schools to use software (copyrighted material) that can be one copy and it be reproduced on a intranet network that is password protected for the use of a single or multiple use depending on the license.

    For example, a textbook on a Ereader file, the single file is placed on a server and licenses are issued to individual schools to use that file.

    iPads are getting cheap, and district technology funds should be able to fund the purchase of iPads when the current computers are replaced, which is every 2-3 years.

  10. cclngthr says:

    xring,

    My suggestion of using an iPad is because they can be used as Ereaders as well as do other word processing and tasks that are combined. Students can use apps to do many tasks with one component.

  11. RLangdon says:

    “Just a few thoughts from an old geezer.”

    Well, thanks for the thoughts Ora. Get the ball rolling. There’s got to be some way to improve the schools and better educate the kids for less money than what is being spent now. Not sure any of those ideas came up in the comments following your letter, but we live in hope that someone will come up with some new GOOD IDEAS rather than the same old lame old rehashed failures that have all bee tried before.

    Take care Ora!

  12. ccingthr – I work in IT and have worked with school district’s IT departments and I tell can you for a fact in the current budget situation what you are talking about is beyond most school districts. I understand licensing of software and e-books and in many cases it is only minimally cheaper than paper text books. Also who is going to support all this new stuff? Numerous districts have laid off many of their IT support personnel. Finally, districts replacing their equipment every 2-3 years, give me a break. Only the most affluent districts could afford this replacement schedule. In fact my kids go to the Puyallup school district and the teachers are using laptops in their classrooms purchased in 2005! They are just starting to get replaced.

  13. alindasue says:

    cclngthr said, “Instead of buying books, why not use electronic forms of books which use an iPad like devise…”

    Electronic devices tend to become obsolete even faster than the information in textbooks does. The only advantage I can see to e-books is that they are less to carry.

    Aside from that, good old fashioned low tech physical text books are still the better and cheaper way to go. With the exception of maybe Science and History, none of the information changes enough that we need to “update” the books more than once a decade or so. The books can be passed on to the next years’ students without worrying about the cost of updating or replacing the “readers”.

    I’m all for teaching children about technology, but even with the virtual schools (like Insight and WAVA), they’ll still send some books to the students. They’ve found that sometimes there’s just nothing quite like a physical book when it comes to learning.

  14. harleyrider1 says:

    We spend huge sums on education and spend more per student than we did 5, 10, 20-30 years ago.

    There is plenty of money. We simply need qualified teachers, participating parents, and zero tolerance for disruptive students.

    Time to return to the basics and insist that students meet expectations of each level, to move on to the next. We are not doing anyone a favor by coddling, being afraid to deal with the violent ones, pushing someone on to the next level when they cannot read, write, spell, and do math.

    If America is going to rebuild and remain productive, we need to do our part, not lower standards in light of political correctness.

    There’s substantial dollars. It’s how they are spent and what we set as expectations that will determine an educated student’s role in society.

  15. “We spend huge sums on education and spend more per student than we did 5, 10, 20-30 years ago.”

    http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66

    Yep, we are spending a ship load of money and not getting much bang-for-the-buck.

  16. cclngthr says:

    afret,
    Schools do not do IT in the way it should be. They overspend on various programs that do things that an experienced IT tech should be able to do without using programs to do that. For example, Tacoma uses Deep Freeze, a program that protects OS settings, but there are ways to do that without using any program.

    alindasue,

    It often is cheaper to buy a Ereader than a complete set of textbooks. Ereaders do not become obsolete; they are updatable and can be used for a long time. The textbooks are often replaced on an annual basis now, and tend to be very costly in the first place.

  17. “Instead of buying books, why not use electronic forms of books which use an iPad like devise that offers a multiple form of software files which take the place of physical books.”

    You don’t really think that will save money do you?
    You do know that no publisher in the world will let you willy-nilly down load 500 copys of their books.
    You will have to pay for each on PLUS the e-reader which will be lost or stolen in a matter of days.

  18. I’m sure it’s all the evil unions fault.

  19. I like the e-reader idea for text books. Several school districts around the country ahve tried it and saved big money. Also, kids don’t have to lug around heavy backpacks.

    If anyone is interested, here are some links to some pilot projects that list pros and cons. For a school district as big as Tacoma, tackling a few schools at a time would make sense, and reinvest the savings in converting the other schools:

    http://thejournal.com/Pages/CDWG/21st-Century-Classroom_E-Books.aspx

    http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2010/07/rewriting-the-book

    http://www.thenorthwestern.com/article/20120214/OSH0105/202140356/School-district-seeks-shift-digital-textbooks

  20. concernedtacoma7 says:

    E-readers are a good idea. With the big savings in textbooks, the savings in English classes would also be large. Most of the regular staples of middle and high school reading are free.

    I imagine the greens would also support e-books over paper.

    All that said, there is something about a book. I cannot imagine a subject like math done an e-reader, where one typically has to move back and forth throughout the learning process.

  21. cclngthr says:

    kluwer,
    All the district would need for an Ereader copy is ONE file copy of the book. The LICENSE to use that file would be enough to download as many copies as necessary since it would be on the network server and be instantly available within district administered machines.

    The iPad has the capability of being used within the district schools and would not necessarily need to be lost/stolen because the technology is available to ping the devise to determine where it is, and be remotely locked. GPS technology is very nice to have.

  22. One unexpected consequence of e-readers over books is we won’t have young kids hauling half, or more, of their body weight in books.

  23. RLangdon says:

    E-Readers and iPads to replace the 60+ lb book bags full of textbooks is a great idea! BUT, you don’t really think the textbook publishers are going to let anyone get away with that do you. The textbook industry in k-12 and colleges is one of the biggest rackets in America. It really should be investigated under the RICO statutes!

  24. bobcat1a says:

    xring, please ditch the “half their bodyweight” garbage. That’s nonsense. And half of what kids DO carry in their backpacks has nothing to do with school work.

  25. ccingthr – I love how you have ignored the point. There is no money for iPads, let alone all the staff to maintain them. Here’s a little math for you. At $500.00 a copy for an iPad for each student in a district of 20,000 students equals $10,000,000.00
    Where are you going to that money when a district like Puyallup barely has the money to replace 1000 teacher laptops?

    Also ccingthr I’ve been working in IT for 10 years as a civilian since I retired from the USAF. How long have you been working in IT? Maybe I might know what I’m talking about.

  26. kluwer says:

    So you really think they just give away the LICENSE for free?

    You are living in a dream world.

  27. spotted1 says:

    ipads and ereaders are probably the future of educational texts. Or more likely, moving away from texts. It does sound wonderful and great.

    Right now, most schools aren’t set up to handle the issues related to purchasing, updating, and maintaining them. Not to mention the fact that these things get damaged over time. Even by good kids who take care of things. The problem being that they will be used, as kids use them, for things that are not educational. No biggy there, until the district has to deal with a virus or broken tablet computer. Then, who pays for that? The responsible families will cringe but pay it. Those families who refuse to pay, or can’t pay, won’t. Then what?

    Until the myriad of issues can be sorted out, we are not quite there in getting the new technologies online. Sad really, when homes have better levels of tech than the schools who should be teaching about it.

  28. Since it appears that I am the only one that has an E-reader let me explain how they work.

    Libraries do not buy one copy of a book to lend to all. They buy a fixed number that are lent for a set number of days. JUST LIKE A PHYSICAL BOOK.

    The cost of a e-pub version of a new book is about half of what the physical book goes for.

    For older books the e-pub version is comparable to the paper-back version of the book.

  29. cclngthr says:

    afret,
    I have been at it for over 25 years, teaching and applying IT in the schools. Started by designing computer systems for disabled kids who require adaptive hardware. That involves hardware and software to run it. I am currently involved in using a Kinect system that teaches kids with autism communication skills using an Xbox system, and the computer technology to teach them appropriate interaction skills by playing games that require physical and verbal interaction with the console, and through the Xbox Live network.

    I also have a good friend directly involved in IT for 20 years, and he and I do things together. Not something I am new at.

  30. RLangdon says:

    xring, you are not the only one. I have a Sony Reader, and frequently download e-books from the local library FREE. I have also downloaded audio books fro the library (free) and iTunes (minimal cost) for my iPod and iPad. It’s all doable for educational purposes.

    Also, counting my Army experience, all in EDP, I have 35+ years experience in ADP/EDP/MIS/IS and IT. So I can tell kluwer with some authority that: No! Site licenses for software and electronic pubs are generally not FREE, but they are far less costly on a per use basis than buying physically printed books.

    Now, if you can get rid of the cost of al the actual physical books that schools purchase, the storage costs for them, the cost or personnel to manage them, then you will most definitely free-up quite a lot of money that can then be used to purchase e-Readers in bulks and site licenses for materials to put on those e-Readers for the students. It may be a little more expensive at first to do a switchover from printed to electronic, but in the long run I am sure the e-books will be far more cost effective.

  31. My family has six nooks, from the most basic (mine) to the tablet.

    Been a DBA for almost 27 years so am familiar with licenses etc.

    I agree with your cost / benefits statement but consider it long range planning.

  32. RLangdon says:

    Here you go! Just what we have been discussing, and its already happening….

    iPhones, Nintendos and Kindles — devices synonymous with “fun” — are taking a new role in the classroom, thanks to a new trend in education called Bring Your Own Technology – or BYOT.

    BYOT programs — like the one at Georgia’s Coal Mountain Elementary School — encourage students to bring in their own personal mobile technology — including iPads, Kindle Fires, netbooks — even gaming devices — to use during class.

    “It’s really a simple thing,” says Tim Clark, District Technology Specialist for Forsyth County School District. “Kids have technology in their pockets and [are] taking them to school, but trying to hide them from teachers and from their parents. What we’re trying to do is have the kids take them out of their pockets and use [them] for instruction.”

    http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/06/11567170-at-one-school-district-the-motto-is-byot-bring-your-own-technology

  33. MarksonofDarwin says:

    Tacoma already has some “virtual” text books. My kids access their math textbook on the internet for homework. They have their own user name and password. Most people have a computer, or access to a computer at the library, and even though I don’t own an Ipad, I believe you can access the internet from them, right? Anyway….it’s already happening, and it’s a great idea and works beautifully. No more “I forgot the book at school” excuses!!

    Not sure how the licensing for the texts works, but probably something close to what Afret was talking about.

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