January 19, 2009

Educational Budget Cuts and FCAT Challenges

Don’t Get Distracted by Educational Budget Cuts and FCAT Assessment
“ Get More Involved With Your Child’s Education”

Additional budget cuts are coming for not only Duval County Public Schools, but school districts across the nation. Despite this looming travesty to children and educators alike, the quality of education does not have to weaken, what is required are parents being more involved and active in their child’s education. There is a quote from Words for the Future (Creando el futuro) that solidifies the idea of, “parents are children’s first teachers”. Children are developing from the moment of birth, their environment and the exposure that they have create a developmental impact for future learning. Parents that actively engage their infant and toddler with developmentally appropriate and consistent feedback provide learning that is enriching, engaging and creates opportunities for brain and emotional development. Stated in Words for the Future (Creando el futuro),”parents who talk, sing, read, explain and explore with their children, even during their first days of life, are giving their children a gift that will last a lifetime”. This concept was developed to provide Latino families strategies to help raise their children in a culturally diverse world. These same strategies can be applied to all children because of the growing diversity in our classrooms. These diversities, as our teachers, teacher assistants and administrators are learning do not mean gender, religious or cultural diversity, but the diversity that comes from how children learn with styles of learning (http://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/).

Affects of Budget and Lottery:
In July and December 2008 Governor Crist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Crist) signed a budget that had more that 4 billion dollars worth of budget cuts to education and Medicaid. The implications are that per student spending is cut by 1.8 percent or $130.00 per child. The promised funding supplement to Education from lottery sales to assist in promoting student learning and educational achievement was the scope, but the reality is that the funding is not used the way that it was intended. As stated by Andre Grant, a Volusia County teacher, “every year the budget for Florida’s education is reduced by the amount the state believes it will take in from the Lotto. So dollar for dollar, the Lotto profits have gone right to the schools and teachers in Florida: dollar for dollar, the state has taken an equivalent amount out of the schools and teachers in Florida; net gain $0” (Florida Courier June 20-June 28). To date Volusia County (Daytona Beach, Florida) has closed four schools which are located in predominately African American neighborhoods to save money. Relying on the lottery to save the day is not a reality nor an option when educational budgets are in the billions.

Educational Successes:
Since 2004 there has been improvement in the academic growth of students statewide. Duval County has met with great success in the areas of reading, math and strong growth in science. The implementation of educational initiatives and the push for student’s improvement in literacy, comprehension and math have helped in this growth. District wide reading programs, instructional coaches, literacy and math coaches for schools and aligning curriculums to state standards of instruction all contribute to assist the teachers in their instructional models that encourages students involvement in learning. The use of Differentiated Instruction (www.scusd.edu/gate_ext_learning/differentiated.htm) allows for teachers to teach based on their students learning styles, the “one size fits all” concept is not used in the instructional process because of our diverse learners statewide. Diversity is not just in the form of ethnic, cultural, religious and gender diversity, but in learning style, grasping of concepts and exposure to materials and opportunities for cognitive growth in our children.

Team Effort:
The team effort approach is needed to help students continue to be successful; teachers cannot do it by themselves. More parents need to step up and help with their children, step into the classrooms to observe their child’s behavior, build up opportunities for learning at home with a home library not just TV or gaming time. Eric Smith, Florida Education Commissioner stated that,” we as a state need to move to the next step, the next generation of focus on reading achievement, and academic excellence” (Florida Courier November 28 – December 4 2008). Parents are encouraged by visiting the school more to observe behavior, attend PTO/PTA meetings, join school advisory committees, and attend school board meetings to learn about proposed budget/curriculum changes. When parent/teacher conferences are scheduled attend them with an open mind and willingness to help the teacher. It is important to be proactive instead of reactive to combat disruptive behavior, low self confidence, and fear of failure that some students exhibit.

FCAT Assessment:
Budget cuts should not affect students success, students should be vigorously preparing for the upcoming assessment in and out of school. Every grade level improved in 2007 and growth is expected for 2008 (Florida Courier November 28 – December 4 2008).
Testing Dates: http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcatpub4.asp
Preparation is the key to any successful campaign. There are available resources such as FCAT Explorer (http://www.fcatexplorer.org/), that are available online for all students in third grade and above; Starfall (http://www.starfall.com/) provides work in reading and math for primary grades, that help to build skills in later years. Churches are providing supplemental assistance: Bethel Baptist Institutional Church has a Saturday Academy (BEST Saturday Academy), other churches and civic organizations are providing tutorial services in and out of schools in our state, check with teachers and guidance counselors to see what is available, many are free. Visit local libraries for resources in CD ROM and DVD formats for interactive learning.

Foundation to Learning:
Parental concerns for their child’s success in school should not start in January, but should have started in August, the first day of instruction when the foundation is set. Parents need to understand for middle and high school students that, “the importance of comprehension, fluency and vocabulary increases as students move up in grade”, Education Commissioner, Eric Smith. These skills are needed to be successful on ACT/SAT testing and ASVAB for military entrance. The foundation to learning is based in the primary grades (PreK to 2nd) where parents are more noticeably involved, but their participation wanes in the middle and high school years where it should stay consistent or increase because of academic pressures, in middle school students a parents presence is needed because of the hormonal and behavioral changes of children at this age which can cause challenges in the learning environment.

Tara DuRant, Reading First Coach and Rhonda Jones, Standards Coach suggestions for parents: Mrs. DuRant suggests that, “parents can pre-arrange a date and time to come in to observe their child in the classroom setting, paying careful attention to only observe and not interact with their child. Parents can gain invaluable insight by doing this and then having a conference with the teacher at a later time. Also, parents can go a step farther to not only ask if their child has homework, but ask to see the homework and/or agenda book. This way the parent can see what the child is working on in class and they get an idea of how their child is doing with that skill”.
Mrs. Jones suggests that,” parents be familiar with what your child should be learning for each subject area, provide your child with newly learned skill or concept reinforcement at home by reviewing homework and asking questions about how they arrived at their answers and ask to see quizzes and tests, and review it with the child. These reinforce classroom instruction and helps you as the parent be aware of what is being taught”. Communication between the home and school allows each to be equally yoked in working towards a child’s academic success. Don’t let the threat of budget cuts, shortfalls, cut backs or downgrades keep you from working for the best education your child deserves.

Wm Jackson

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