Publishers vs. librarians: PPS chooses publishers

7:21 am

In an unsurprising vote Monday night, the PPS Board of Education moved to spend $1.2 million on middle school history materials, the first such adoption in over 20 years.

I differ with some of my activist cohorts on the degree to which standardization is necessary to ensure equity (I’m pleased the district is moving toward more standardization in general, though I have doubts about the kind of “canned” curriculum we’ve just committed to purchasing). But these differences aside, we can agree that something we’ve dealt with for twenty years, for better or worse, does not constitute a crisis for our middle school students.

Nearly half of our middle school students are in crisis, though. In recent conversations with parents from the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson and Grant clusters about the PK-8 conversion, it is clear that the lack of full funding for this transition is causing irreparable harm to an entire cycle of middle schoolers at PPS.

This is the emergency situation that needs the school board’s attention and funding, not the curriculum-in-a-box we just dropped $1.2 million on.

At the top of the list of unfunded operational needs are libraries. The budget, as approved two weeks ago, is short three to five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions for librarians, and does not provide for appropriate middle school materials in the elementary schools that now must serve middle schoolers.

It also does not provide funding to guarantee computer labs, age-appropriate restroom facilities, lockers or white boards, among other things.

Just to start filling these basic needs, based on documentation provided by the district, would cost around $1.6 million. (It will surely be more, as the district gets a better accounting of the state of all schools.) This does not even begin to address the lack of FTE budget to offer any kind of depth in electives, after school programs or arts education.

To fully address the immediate, critical PK-8 operational funding deficit would probably cost many times this amount (I guestimate $3-6 million, which would still not cover the FTE needed to provide real breadth and depth of curriculum in the smaller PK-8 schools), but we’ve got to start plugging these critical holes now.

When I addressed the school board Monday night, I asked them to postpone the 6-8 social studies curriculum adoption for one year, and instead use this $1.2 million to start closing the gap in PK-8 operational funding.

Nicole Leggett and Michele Schultz have together identified several other sources to fully fund the PK-8 transition:

  • Cap administrative wages for one year. (All non-represented district level and principals etc.) Savings: $1.18 million
  • Reallocate Non-Instructional Personal Professional Services Fund. Savings up to $3.63 million.
  • Reallocate to spend Internal Services Contingency Fund. Savings up to $3 million.
  • Spend from the reserve.

The point is that this constitutes a real emergency for our children. New text books, which we have lived without for 20 years, are not as critical as well-stocked, fully-staffed libraries and age-appropriate facilities.

In board discussion before the vote, it was suggested that adopting this new curriculum and staffing libraries can proceed on separate tracks. But we’re not proceeding with libraries, and we are proceeding with this text book adoption.

There is a real disconnect between the school board and the parents I’ve been conversing with. The board does not have a sense of urgency to get the PK-8 transition right. Carole Smith has assembled a smart, experienced team to plan and implement the transition (two years after it began, but that’s not her fault). But they can only do so much without full funding.

What I suspect is that the board is hedging until they are forced to acknowledge the obvious: those who supported the PK-8 transition are now in a minority on the board, and there is significant doubt as to whether this model can deliver a comprehensive middle school education in a cost-effective manner.

With most PK-8 schools having fewer than 100 middle school students, and the superintendent’s staff acknowledging a need for more like 180-200 students to do it right, it’s clear we’re on a collision course with reality.

As much as I’d like to take that strategic issue head-on, we’re not changing course for the coming school year. Meanwhile we have thousands of middle schoolers who will not have access to libraries, computer labs and age-appropriate restrooms in the coming school year.

It’s time to stop asking the children to pay for the mistakes of adults. Instead of sending $1.2 million to text book publishers, we should be using it to hire the librarians we need, and stock their libraries.

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Curriculum, Equity, Facilities, K-8 Transistion, Libraries

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5 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Wow, you and Peter and Nicole are right on it. I also believe that having the availability of standardized material is a positive thing. But the lack of library materials, staffing, etc. is an incredible sorespot in the district. I guess if you look at certain schools they have library budgets and staffing. The middle school problems have been my baby for years and we are making almost no progresss in those lower income neighborhood middle schools (now middle grades). Of course, since certain neighborhoods aren’t nearly as bad off we don’t really have to consider it a crisis. Kudos to you all for fine presentations. Keep up the good work.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    Just curious: is the publisher located in Texas? It seems to me like PPS has been ordering a lot of materials from Texas ever since Mincberg came to town. Why the hell is she still here???

  3. Comment from Clyde Tolson:

    The principal at Mt. Tabor has closed the library and turned it into a DIY thing, while the teachers there request an “Extreme Principal Makeover.”

  4. Comment from Juande Ramos:

    Publisher of series of middle school social studies books is based in California

    plus Howard Zinn;cad=1_2

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thanks, “Juande.”

    I can’t argue with exposing our middle schoolers to Howard Zinn, and I didn’t argue specifically against the merits of the materials chosen. (But I do question buying “canned” kits vs. developing curriculum and materials in house. The district seems to have split the difference by augmenting with Zinn, which is better than nothing.)

    My argument was about priorities and timing. As far as crises for our middle school students, going without age-appropriate libraries, restroom facilities, or computer labs because of poor district planning two years ago trumps a 20-year lack of new text books.