Subtract Teachers, Add Pupils: Math of Today’s Jammed Schools

By MOTOKO RICH, New York Times, December 21, 2013

COATESVILLE, Pa. — The recession may have ended, but many of the nation’s school districts that laid off teachers and other employees to cut payrolls in leaner times have not yet replenished their ranks. Now, despite the recovery, many schools face unwieldy class sizes and a lack of specialists to help those students who struggle academically, are learning English as a second language or need extra emotional support.

Donna Guy’s fourth-grade class at Caln Elementary School here is too big — 30 pupils — for the room, so some of them sit halfway into a coat closet. Across town at Rainbow Elementary School, the 36 third graders in Kristen Pleasanton’s gym class rotate on and off the bench during 25 minutes of seven-a-side soccer games, because she cannot supervise all of them playing at once.

And during social studies class at Scott Middle School, Keith Lilienfeld tries to keep control of a class of 25 students, 10 who need special education services, four who know little or no English and others who need more challenging work than he has time to give.

“I’m up there putting out fires like you wouldn’t believe,” said Mr. Lilienfeld, who used to have the help of two or three classroom aides. “There’s only one of me, and there’s a need for about five of me in there.”

Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Coatesville, a diminished steel town with 7,200 students, used to employ more than 600 teachers, psychologists, reading and math specialists, and other certified personnel. Since 2008, the district has cut close to one-fifth of that staff, according to Angelo Romaniello, the district’s assistant superintendent.

“We didn’t cut to the bone,” said Audra Ritter, a middle school special education teacher and president of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association. “We cut into the bone.” …

read more in New York Times

County gets good grades in education report

By Kendal Gapinski, Daily Local News, 11/20/13

Chester County is a leader in the region’s public education sector, but a lack of state investment and a rising number of low-income students could threaten future performance, according to a new report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, or PCCY.

The report, “The Bottom Line is Children: Public Education in Chester County,” looks at the county in terms of public education and focuses on low-income students, graduation rates and funding available for the county’s educational system.

It finds that while the county is the wealthiest in the state, the number of low-income students is increasing.

According to the report, approximately 15,400 students in the county qualified for the free or reduced lunch program in 2012, a 33 percent increase in four years.

Even wealthier districts saw an increase of low-income students. Both Great Valley and Tredyffrin/Easttown saw the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch increase. Great Valley saw its number of students eligible for the program double between 2008 and 2012, while Tredyffrin/Easttown’s number rose by 58 percent.

“With the increase of low-income students, often comes the need for districts to put in more effort,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of PCCY.

Kate Shaw, Chester County resident and education supporter, said that while the county seems to be doing well in public education, it is important that the system be fair for all students.

“One of the things I would like to see in Chester County is that with diverse populations, districts should pay attention that the lowest performing students are receiving the highest quality teachers,” Shaw said.

According to Cooper, as districts diversify, gaps between low-income students versus their peers continue to increase.

The report also shows that the average high school graduation rate for Chester County is 93.2 percent, the second-highest in the five-county Southeast Pennsylvania region. (Montgomery County has a graduation rate of 93.3 percent.)

Every district with schools in Chester County, aside from Octorara, has a graduation rate that meets or is above the state average of 83 percent.

Cooper said that while graduation rates are one way to measure the success of education, statewide tests like the Pennsylvania Statewide School Assessment shed light on the skills students are graduating with….

read more at Daily Local News

Download the full report at PCCY.

CASD board continues to disrespect citizens

By Kathleen Brady Shea, The Times of Chester County, November 17, 2013

Tirade by Joe Dunn sadly typifies group’s overall tenor

Few jobs on the planet are as thankless as serving on a school board, a duty that routinely subjects members to all manner of vitriol. In fact, when school district operations go smoothly, those folks rarely hear a peep from constituents; so even the good times go unrewarded.

Of course, mourning the lack of gratitude for boom times is not an issue for board members in the Coatesville Area School District: There haven’t been many. History shows one problematic administration after another, going back decades. And it seems that somewhere in that toxic mix, school board members lost sight of their accountability to citizens.

Numerous board decisions in recent weeks have flouted taxpayers’ input – from failing to fire former Superintendent Richard W. Como and former Athletic Director James Donato for a series of racially-charged text messages to purchasing a $2.8 million administration building intended to double as a health-care center. That’s not to say that the board should rubber-stamp public opinion, but it shouldn’t flagrantly ignore it, either.

When hundreds of taxpayers make the same passionate appeal, the board owes them an explanation for disregarding the prevailing sentiment. Not in Coatesville. For the past couple of months, most of the board members have been totally unresponsive – remaining mute at meetings and leaving phone and email messages unanswered.

And the few times when board members have responded, the result has left frustrated taxpayers shaking their heads in disbelief. One such example occurred Tuesday night when a citizen’s remark unhinged outgoing Board Member Joe Dunn….

read more at The Times of Chester County

A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

from Progressive Network of Southeast PA, 10/12/13

by a Chester County elementary school teacher

Elementary school teachers spend hours upon hours, seven days a week, planning, prepping, grading, inputting data, conferencing and supporting the children who benefit from their instruction and watchful eye.

However, if you think the potential to take summers off, enjoy long holiday breaks and schedule appointments at four in the afternoon are some of teaching’s best perks, you are absolutely incorrect!

So, how do elementary school teachers spend their weekly hours? In short, they spend it richly. They are tasked with the responsibility of providing an effective elementary school education to each child that passes through their doors.

Elementary school teachers pack each day with the kind of experiences, relationships, skill-building exercises—and, yes, challenging, enriching lessons—that equip young children to succeed in school and beyond. See the schedule below for an example of how one 4th grade elementary teacher spends her day!

FOURTH GRADE TEACHER’S DAILY SCHEDULE:

7:00 – arrive at school, get more coffee and review lesson plans

7:30 – early meeting (faculty, team, primary/intermediate, I.E.P. meeting, progress monitoring, parent conference…) and any last-minute preparations

8:10 [in classroom] – Pledge of Allegiance; take attendance; take lunch/milk count; OOPS! I just realized I forgot to visit the restroom; make announcements; look at notes from home; pass out any needed materials; collect/check home assignments

8:25 – teach mini-lesson [based on students’ needs]

9:00 – accompany class to music, art or physical education [depends on the day]; RUSH to the restroom!; call 3 parents, leave messages on answering machines; check/respond to emails and phone messages; teacher planning, prepping, grading time???? NO TIME!!! Accompany students from music, art or physical education [depends on the day] back to classroom.

9:25 – teach social studies/science lesson [depends on the day]

10:45 – teach math lesson

Noon – accompany class to lunch/recess; rush to restroom (teachers alternate on lunch & recess duty, serving every other day)

1:00 –teach language arts lesson

2:55 – prep for dismissal

3:00 – teacher monitors as students go to car/bus line; after school care; rush to restroom

3:30 – late meeting (faculty, team, primary/intermediate, I.E.P. meeting, progress monitoring, parent conference…)… *and any last-minute preparations, grade papers; input grades online; prepare for next day’s activities

*These tasks can only be accomplished if you are fortunate to have someone to:

pick up your own children from day care or after-school activities
take your own children to doctors appointments
shop for & cook family dinner
clean up after family dinner
monitor homework
etc…

By 6:00 [HOPEFULLY] – Go home with any unfinished work.

By 8:00 [HOPEFULLY] – Your own children’s day comes to a close & you may have a few moments to chat with your significant other. So that you can grade papers, plan, prepare for next day’s activities…

By 11:00 [HOPEFULLY] – It’s a teacher’s bedtime.

The next day….

Between 5 – 5:30AM, my alarm sounds, I crawl out of bed, and….