The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Suggestions for School Survival in Hard Times

on May 6, 2017

As I promised, today I will suggest the things that can be removed from school budgets and explain my reasoning. Although I did some research I could find only the costs of one item: commercial tests, and they varied. The costs of other common school items depend on the number of students at a school and in each classroom, and the structure of school services.

 As I read the news about public schools everywhere, I saw that the funds provided by states and the federal government are decreasing year by year while requirements are expanding. In addition, many school buildings are deteriorating physically, and there is no money at the district levels to restore them. As a result, many communities are asking citizens to vote for higher taxes.* Is that the only solution?

In my view a better remedy is for states to allow schools to reduce or remove some of the things they have provided until now. From my own experience as an educator for 45 years and my awareness of today’s school operations, I will identify a number of items that I think can be reduced or eliminated without harm to students or teachers or put an additional burden upon parents.

My strongest feeling is that all commercial student testing should be eliminated. The only purpose it has served over the past 15 years is to show that many students are not improving their test scores enough to please government entities, critics, or citizens unfamiliar with the current situation of public schools. At the same time many parents, teachers, and involved citizens believe that those tests are not a fair measure of students’ abilities or teachers’ teaching. In my opinion it would be better for teachers to work together to design, execute, and score tests for their students. In that way students would be tested on what they had actually been taught, not the unrealistic expectations of the Common Core State Standards.

I also think that state and district efforts to improve teaching or introduce new programs by sending trainers to schools should be eliminated. Research shows little or no positive effects from these efforts. My own experience convinced me that positive changes almost always come from within a school when teachers believe they will be improvements.

At the elementary school level commercial workbooks and many textbooks should be eliminated. Materials created by teachers are far better for introducing skills and information to students and also providing them with the necessary practice. In addition, experienced teachers are the ones best qualified to know what supports students need for successful learning. My own teaching experience convinced me that copies of paperback fiction and non-fiction books are far better tools—and much cheaper ones– for teaching reading than textbooks. As a school principal I learned that most teachers are capable of teaching phonics, spelling and grammar without textbooks.

At the middle and high school levels—where I also taught–workbooks should be eliminated, and purchasing new textbooks should be limited to the times when current materials are no longer accurate or in decent condition. As far as possible, textbooks should be used in classrooms, not carried around the school building all day or assigned for homework. For teaching English, fiction and non-fiction are better choices than textbooks  which focus too much on technicalities and too little on interesting, well-crafted material.

School libraries at all grade levels should be the major sources of supplementary materials for classroom units. Librarians who consult with teachers are the experts in choosing what is of high quality and relevant for student learning.

As far as possible, all schools should become “community schools” linked to accessible and affordable health, recreation, and social services. For far too long schools have been the sole providers of all services outside the classroom.

School principals and district leaders should not race to purchase commercial programs for new ideas such as “personalized  learning” or teacher re-training.  The best approach is to designate a small group of experienced teachers and school administrators to examine new resources and determine their usefulness.

If a school’s budget becomes so stressed that the basic needs of students, teachers, other staff members, and building conditions cannot be properly maintained, the principal and district officials should consider making cuts in extra-curricular activities. Unquestionably, high school sports, music and drama performances, event uniforms, and popularity contests as they now exist are expensive. Since these are areas about which I am not experienced, I will not suggest any specific cuts; but I think that school leaders should consider reducing or eliminating those that are not absolutely necessary in times of inadequate funding.

Obviously, everything I have suggested above has grown from my own experiences as a teacher,  principal,  school district supervisor, and in retirement, a frequent observer in many schools. Others may have had different experiences or feel that I am no longer in touch with reality. In either case I welcome the views of those who disagree with me.  But I hope that anyone who does will also suggest ways for our public schools to do a good job with their current funding allocations.


*At present, Portland Oregon is asking citizens to approve issuing $790,000,000 in bonds to “improve health and safety, modernize and repair schools, and build education facilities.” If the measure passes property taxes will be increased.

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