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Apodaca: Education solutions rely on funds

April 28, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Administrators at some Newport-Mesa schools that fail to meet federal standards have come up with some compelling ideas to try to turn things around.

There's just one problem: They all cost money.

Last week, the school board voted to allocate $1.1 million to one such program, which calls for additional instructional time to help the 11 schools in the so-called Program Improvement category boost student test scores.

The move requires some financial acrobatics, since the money must come out of the district's existing budget — what Deputy Supt. Paul Reed calls "cobbling together" funds from various sources that are intended for such purposes.

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Some of the funding sources are one-time only, so they'll be used to pay for the new curriculum, while other revenue streams will go toward staff development and an optional extended school year for struggling students this summer.

Although all the funds in question come from federal coffers, nearly $500,000 of the total still depends on approvals from Sacramento. If the district gets the go-ahead on allocating those funds, the extended-day part of the intervention program could be implemented in the next school year.

It's a lot to wrap your head around, but suffice it to say that Reed has become something of an expert in the art of stretching a buck in these depressed times.

Funding issues aside, will the program work?

There's a lot to recommend the concept. More teaching time is a popular idea these days, and it continues to gain traction throughout the nation.

Indeed, it's not surprising that Newport-Mesa administrators favor extending the number of instructional hours as an antidote for failure. No less than President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan are advocates of the same.

Supporters point to other developed nations — including many that outperform the United States in math, science and literacy — that have significantly longer school years. Advocates also argue that low-income students — the ones whose families can't afford after-school and summer enrichment activities — would benefit the most, and test scores would improve as a result.

But not everyone agrees. Dissenters argue that the relationship between instructional time and student achievement is far more complicated than many would have us believe. Yes, many countries have longer school terms, they acknowledge, but they contend that the actual time spent in the classroom teaching is higher in the United States.

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