Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Legislative wrecking crew uses small hammers first, says SC Radio Network

Reporter Matt Long of the South Carolina Radio Network took note this week of several small changes to education policies that make incremental progress on the road to dismantling public education as we know it.

One of the changes listed by Long is a plan to exempt school districts from various state regulations, including -- you guessed it -- personnel cuts, or "several mandates the state requires that cost schools extra money for additional teachers and other faculty."

School district employees are no longer necessary to the instructional process; nowadays then just "cost schools extra money."

It’s hard to cut expenses when your biggest expenses are… salaries. You’ve got to have all of these people there who may, or may not, be classroom-related. You can free some of that up. That’s the thinking behind it.

Especially when parents expect the professionals in their children's classrooms to be certified: That costs even more money, so it shouldn't be required at all.

Under the bill, districts would apply for permission from the state Department of Education to exempt themselves from certain regulations, such as physical education or requiring certified teachers in non-core classes.

Why demand a certification from teachers in non-core classes? You really only need your core teachers to be certified. It's like saying that so long as the surgeon operating on your heart is certified, the nurses and anesthesiologist don't have to be. Certified anesthesiologists add unnecessary expense to the bill -- as do unnecessarily certified dental assistants, and paralegals, and commercial contractors.

Another big change is to the window-dressing of the budget's education section, if you believe taking down the heirloom drapes and replacing them with a fleece blanket is an appropriate change to the window-dressing.

The House passed a bill in early March that would simplify how the EFA funds districts, by eliminating lines in the budget and giving more to schools in five lump sums. That proposed change has already passed the House and is currently in the Senate.

This is exactly what former Governor Mark Sanford proposed several years ago, in the name of flexibility. In fact, Sanford's definition of flexibility included overall cuts to programs. If legislators are taking up Sanford's old proposal, it means two things: Schools will have fewer dollars to spend on teaching children, and lawmakers subconsciously wish Sanford was still in office.

Yet another proposed change: "Diploma" will no longer mean "diploma."

When I went to school, it was an article of faith in my family that I would graduate with a high school diploma. To fail that standard would mark my family with a stain of shame that would never come clean. I labored mightily to achieve it -- this means you, Algebra II -- and was exhausted, drained of all color and energy, when I marched with my class and collected that DIPLOMA. When I finally got a look at the real McCoy, I was surprised that it wasn't gilt-edged or gold-leafed.

According to Long's report, the "diploma" of today could be any one of several things -- like numbered "combo" options at a fast food restaurant -- from a "certificate of attendance" to the super-sized cheeseburger with fries and a jumbo Cherry Coke.

Right now, all students have to complete 24 credit units in order to graduate. However, Cooper said that was designed for students going to college.

He said officials are looking to create an alternative track for students who don’t plan to go to a four-year school.

"For kids who just want to go straight to work, or want to go to (technical college), or learn a trade, they can get a 20-unit diploma. That saves some money… for the districts, but it also would help with kids who drop out. They might go if they’ve only got to get 20 (credit units), instead of 24, to finish their degree."

He said legislators are also looking at creating a new diploma for special needs students, who are only presented with a “certificate of attendance” at the end of their high-school careers, regardless of how far they advance.

Does this mean there will be separate graduation ceremonies? Not likely, thanks to the present fiscal crisis.

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