Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Schools and PTA Fundraising

New article in the Times today Schools Bank on Parents' Ability to Raise Cash about PTA fundraising. Some of these sums take your breath away but that 's the reality of the system we live in and work with. There seems to be a growing awareness of this inequity but there seems to be little that can be done because between no one in leadership wants to address it. The article doesn't go very deep and I think there are deeper issues than the ones addressed here.


Anonymous said...

I ran across an old article the other day that said the disparity in funding was generally greater than could be overcome by fundraising. The two schools contrasted were High Point and Whittier, and if I remember the numbers correctly High Point had about $5500 more per student. (That was of course at the extremes -- typical differences are probably much less.) I will try to find the URL later. I don't, of course, mean that there isn't disparity, only that the numbers aren't telling the story the way you'd think they would. As usual, the reality is more complicated.

Anonymous said...

yes, but...

see the differences between High Point and Whittier with respect to teachers' years with the district.

2 to 5 years.
High Point 41%
Whittier 18%
District 21%

6 to 10 years
High Point 18%
Whittier 13%
District 20%

10 plus years
High Point 24%
Whittier 61%
District 39%

teachers with more years get paid more. salaries are not included in weighted student formula. So Whittier is costing the district more than the average in salaries, High Point costs much less.

Anonymous said...

The longer a teacher teaches isn't often worth the increase in pay to me. The school my kids went to (North End) used to have inovative teachers who really tried to challenge each of the kids.

I have three kids over 10 years apart. They all had the same teachers in grade school and do you know past first grade they are teaching the same exact stuff to my third child in the same exact way as they did ten years ago (we get the same handouts).

The world has changed but not for these teachers who are near retirement.

I wish they would just give them their retirement early like they do in the business sector and get some new energetic teachers in there who care about the kids.

The school is concidered a good school but we are just living on our pass reputation now.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The Gates Transformation was supposed to shake up some of that older teacher thinking by getting schools to reflect on how they present academics. I often wonder in, say, 10 years or so if the whole Gates transformation money was a waste or did it kickstart initiatives that last (or kickstart initiatives that couldn't be sustained without the money)?

I know that at Hale, for example, they really did undergo a transformation. Unfortunately, they didn't clearly transmit the vision to current parents or incoming parents and there has been stress over it. I think they would like to continue their plan but again reality rears its head. They are scheduled for a rebuild under BEX III for a school of about 1500. They don't want to grow bigger but if the taxpayers build them a new school, it needs to be filled both from a capacity needs standpoint and a fulfillment standpoint (filling a new building paid for by taxpayers). It can't be a choice by Hale to remain smaller when Roosevelt has to get filled beyond the size it was built for.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think that many schools embraced the transformation process and I don't think the District really required them to do so. This is actually another example of a lack of leadership from the District.

School Transformation Plans were supposed to be these grand documents about how the school would create a distinctive curriculum, theme, and means of addressing the unique academic needs of their students. They have become these prefunctory boilerplate forms with no real life or meaning.

Anonymous said...

Always so interesting to read the remarks of parents. I appreciate your interest and ideas.

At my school - north end - we spent a year using our staff meeting time researching best practices in writing. Not a lot out there actually. But, I did quite a lot of reading and did you know that at that time there were very few writing programs that showed success. In fact, the only study (and this was about five years ago) with any sort of conclusive results correlated writing achievement with teacher experience. Interesting, huh?

Young and energetic looks good and sounds good but doesn't always reflect what works. I have accumulated a year-long set of units and activities that work. Why should I reinvent the wheel?

I have changed my math instruction because the District has changed it's math program. I like the current program and expect that I will continue using it for a long time.

There is no reason to think that teachers, schools, currliculums should change just for the sake of change . . . when I started teaching, I was told it was pretty well accepted that it takes about five years to adapt to a new grade level and teach it well.

I believe teaching is one of the professions everyone thinks they can do. I also believe teachers are sometimes considered babysitters . . . not that you send your kids to school to be babysat but that you think it is roughly the same thing.

It is a battle teachers will always lose. I can think of no way to convince you that teaching requires specialization and continued study and that, as in any profession, there are people who do it well and people who do it poorly.

As with anything, people improve with practice. Older teachers are generally more efficient, patient, better able to diagnose student needs, and more able to assess the value of new programs without having to actually spend the money and time doing it before they find out it wasn't worth it afterall. They are less likely to trust every new idea that surfaces.

I'm wondering if parents think they are better or worse at parenting the second and third children?

I hope you don't mind a teacher participating in this discussion group. It is so satisfying to be able to have a place where I can offer my counter points without getting into either a pissing match or joining a group of complaining teachers!

I confess I had more energy at the beginning of my career. I am now the better teacher, however.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who is a new teacher at a north end school and she says at the meeting on academics she is often rebuffed for suggesting new curriculm and approaches to learning that she learned in grad school and student teaching.

She has been told if she wants to stay she better stop trying to better these teachers. She is supposed to team teach with teachers who just want to tell her what to do (the way they have always done things).

She saw that a few of the kids were capable of higher math but was told not to give it to them--because that will move them up ahead of the next grades classes.

The teachers in the next grade above hers said something like she wasn't going to teach math at all different levels to 30 kids. The kids need to stay at the same first-grade level where the school has always taught math.

She says the young principal is powerless and cannot stand up to the teachers who have been there 15 years or longer.

Maggie said...

One more thing, Charlie. The Gates money didn't make much difference at my school. We found ways to spend it of course. But, it asked staffs to find a way to improve the school without committing that school to a reliance on additional money.

For an elementary school that seems to work well, I'm not sure we had a strong incentive to change what we were doing. I think some of the high schools were more innovative but are they still operating with those innovations?

I, for one, wish we could go back and rethink the Gates money. I'm more understanding of its possibilities now than I was when it was offered. Having said this, I'm still not sure what we would do. But, like everything else, creativity and innovation take time.

I agree the District was not helpful . . . but, then, I think the Gates people could have been more helpful. too. Along with all that money, they could have offered some help in finding ways to spend it creatively.

That money could not be used to buy anything with a shelf life. So, any change that would result in requiring additional funding beyond the Gates money was off the table.

It sounds like you think schools might have used the money to become magnet-type schools? Determined a theme and created a curriculum or expertise on that theme? Maybe . . . maybe not. Just not sure that that is the answer. Is it more change for the sake of change?

My thinking would probably be different if I were at an at-risk school. I have lots of ideas for raising the challenge and enhancing the attraction of school for kids currently not achieving. Although, again, can't add anything (like an after-school program or added faculty) that can be continued post Gates money.

I'd be interested to hear your idea/s for innovation that would fit the parameters of the Gates money at an elementary school. In fact, perhaps parents should have been included in the discussion to begin with . . . I've no problem with that.

Maggie said...

Sorry for posting so much . . . I'm using Maggie (my blog id) because I might as well use one voice.

I've been teaching sixteen years so I remember my first years very well. I, too, was gung-ho about a lot of stuff I learned in schools and I was very eager to take every workshop that came along.

But, please, experience is also a good teacher. Give those experienced teachers credit for having seen an awful lot of "new ideas" come and go. I use very little of the stuff I learned in ed school. I remember a professor who was very highly regarded in the area of social studies. He was big on a particular strategy that was innovative and current. In fact, he was one of those who helped develop it. Conflict of interest anyone? I did not like it then; I do not like it now. And, it has ceased to be used at all. In fact, it's shelf life was less than five years.

I admire your daughter for her energy and commitment to teaching. I love that! But, like everything else, in time that high energy will settle into confidence, understanding, and the willingness to tackle that which she thinks is worth the effort.

Having said that, I do not agree with teachers who put ceilings on their teaching so that the next year's teacher has something to teach. That doesn't happen at my school. No teacher complains (as far as I know) that someone taught the child too much.

You mention first grade. First-grade math is still very exploratory. Often parents think that arithmetic is math. You have cited a difficult area to discuss . . . just because a child can do algorithmic math doesn't really mean they understand and "think" mathematically. As I'm sure you know, we're having numerous discussions regarding math these days.

I keep getting back to this: in the last analysis, teaching is a complex skill. Just like kids who think parents don't know anything until one day those parents become pretty smart, new teachers can dismiss veteran teachers as apathetic and just putting in time. All veteran teachers were new teachers. We're smart and experienced. We keep reading and most of us continue taking classes and learning. Give some credit please.

Anonymous said...

I certainly used poor phrasing in my post. I said "older teacher thinking" and I was meaning an unwillingness to look at teaching in different ways. It is my experience that all teachers value professional development and I did not mean to denigrate experience (indeed, it seems that schools with large numbers of newer teachers suffer low morale and less academic effectiveness). My apologies if I offended anyone.

Anonymous said...

I just happened on this blog while googling the Seattle Schools. What a wonderful resource, and what thoughtful comments to postings! Thank you who put so much time into it. As a committed PTA parent and someone active in the SPS in general, I will definitely be back.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. Remember the post is about funding, how schools with middle class kids raise enormous amounts of money from parents while schools with poor kids can't. I posted the data about salaries just to point out (in agreement with Melissa and the first anon comment) that the whole money story is indeed more complicated. Regardless of whether experienced teachers are actually worth more, they do get paid more and that's a disparity between rich and poor schools that ought to be mentioned when discussing equity and funding.

I can sympathise with the Anon person who said that older teachers can sometimes seem stuck or not as engaging or energetic, my son has experienced some of that too. (But Anon didn't say that the 10 year old 3rd grade curriculum was bad, just old.)

However, as a former teacher, I agree with Maggie and strongly value the wisdom that experience brings to teaching. I taught for seven years. The last two years I was infinitely better at it than the first two. The most beneficial tool I had to become a better teacher was access to more experienced ones.

Yes there are bad eggs. It's too bad that the tenure system protects some that really ought not be in a classroom. And yes, a former principal at Bryant looked at me straight in the eye and said that yes, they accomodate gifted kids. but no, they absolutely would never let a third grade child do fourth grade math --- it would be unfair to the fourth grade teacher. I think that attitude is changing, sometimes way too slowly though.

In general, experience does make a better teacher, especially with classroom management. And a new teacher is going to become a better teacher while working in a building with more mature teachers than in a building where the majority are also new.

Maggie, thanks for taking part, we do need teachers and parents to talk. I have always been confused about the Gates Transformation Plans and found your comments quite illuminating.

The issue of poor kids ending up with less quality teachers is a widespread problem. See the New York Times 12/27 editorial "Bumping in Schools" which starts "The United States has a long and shameful history of dumping its least effective, least qualified teachers into the schools that serve the neediest children. The No Child Left Behind Act requires the states to end this practice. But the states are unlikely to truly improve teacher quality — or spread qualified teachers more equitably throughout the schools — until they pay more attention to how teachers are trained, hired, evaluated and assigned."

Back to funding. The district is about 30% on reduced or free lunch. Yet there are many schools at either 8% or 95% reduced or free lunch. What would happen if every school closely matched the district average? What would happen if every school closely matched the district average of 40% of the staff with 10 or more years experience?

Remember Mary Bass's out-of-the-blue plan to disperse elementary APP to two sites in her area? Grades 1-3 at one location, 4-5 at another. Remember that phrase she used about dispersing the resources? Seemed to me that experienced teachers (of which Lowell has been top-heavy with) and PTSA energy/dollars were the resources she wanted to spread around. Her plan was flawed, but the ideas behind them are worthy of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful discussion. The real issue is State funding, not what individual PTSA's contribute, or what individual teachers make. With the weighted student formula plus other sources (federal, LAP, I-728, Gates, other non-PTA grants), schools vary widely in per-student dollars- High Point gets around $9,000 per kid and Bryant gets around $4,000 per kid. There's an excellent case to be made for poorer schools getting the largest per-student amounts. But we shouldn't penalize PTSA's for making up the difference. (I feel the same way about transportation- folks that can afford to pay for bus service should pay, and the money should go to support transportation for kids/schools that cannot afford to pay). What we really neeed to do is bring all schools up to a high level of financial support, first and foremost from the State. We need to rise from behind Mississippi on the state funding line-up. At the same time, we need to get behind the Alliance for Education and encourage lots of private sponsorship for the public schools as a whole. We need to draw back market share to the Seattle schools. If we follow a divisive plan that seeks to limit/spread PTSA dollars against the wishes of school parents, it will lose us market share. Each student brings between $4,000 and over $8,000 from the State. It would not take the loss of very many students to leave us even farther behind as a district.

Anonymous said...

Dorothy is definitely on to something that had been on my radar. If low-income is tied to lower academic performance and the higher the number of low-income students at a school, the more challenges it faces, why not try to cap it? I seem to recall something like this getting vaguely thown into the recent Supreme Court transcript about using the racial tie-breaker.

This would be difficult to enact as many of the low-income students live in the south end. But, for example, if the district had put McGilvra on the list for the capital bond measure, you would be able to raise the capacity at McGilvra and help more MLK students. (Naturally, a new McGilvra would mean more neighborhood kids wanting in but that wouldn't be a bad thing either. Right now, McGilvra can't take in more kids.) If Pathfinder had been put on the capital list, it might draw more low-income kids as well as attract more private school kids. I'm not saying a new building solves problems but McGilvra and Pathfinder have good programs that could help more kids.

Anonymous said...

once again. the weighted student formula and federal dollars for poor kids overstate the impact of the extra funding poor kids get. Certificated salaries are 49.3% of the Seattle School district budget. Classified salaries are 17.6%. So almost 70% of the budget is salaries and the weighted student formula does not include salaries. There are a higher percentage of experienced (expensive) teachers in higher performing schools. I believe the recent UW study showed that when including salaries as well as all sources of extra $$ for poor kids, the district is paying more to educate a child at Laurelhurst than one at High Point.

I do not mean to slam PTSAs for fundraising. There are justifications for raising lots of dollars. Some that are universally acceptable and some that make some folks uncomfortable (even as we write our checks). I believe the uncomfortableness factor was the reason for the Seattle Times article and the reason Melissa wanted to discuss it. But please do not say that all they are doing is making up the disparity in funding. It is much more complicated than that.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's not forget that the additional funds put towards schools with high concentrations of students from low-income households does not put those students or those schools at an advantage. That additional funding reflects only a portion of the additional COST of educating these students. It does not provide equity but a step towards equity.

Maggie said...

I'm a little confused and perhaps I'm misreading but . . .

Aren't you all saying that Whittier gets less money from the District but has to put more of that "less" money into salaries because Whittier has a more veteran staff? So, High Point gets significantly more money to put towards academics? Right?

Whittier, to make up the difference, needs PTA fundraising or teachers will be lost. Whittier is the school that is having the harder time keeping constant.

BTW, as a teacher, I've been involved in budgeting. When schools write budgets, they have to assign average pay to every position for which they budget. Budgeting does not reflect "real" figures. So, even if a school has a staff of new teachers making less than the District's average, they must use the average salary when budgeting.

How that affects the money a school ends up with, I don't know.

But, you seem to be saying that it is schools in poor neighborhoods that already get the bulk of funds and that PTA fundraising does not provide parity. The middle class schools are actually working with less money?

Sorry to be so dense.

Anonymous said...

Good questions Maggie.

First. no school gets enough money. I bet you would agree. Money for full time librarian, art teacher, nurse, supplies, etc. Would appropriate (and realistic) funding from the state cover this? I do not know. (that's a big question all on its own. I suspect not, so I suspect that simply saying the main problem is not enough money from the state is just not a good enough response. but I do not know.)

The basic idea is that the district takes the money it does have and spreads it equally around. But, as most everyone seems to agree from the Feds on down, poor kids are already in an inequitable situation, so more money is provided for teaching them. The money comes from special funds from Feds (and state?) earmarked for poor kids. And in addition to that the district divides its pool of money up in a weighted way so that the schools serving lots of poor kids get more. (am I correct on this last here or is the weighted student formula just to account for other grants, I am not sure.)

What is it used for? Now I really don't know. Instructional aides, a nurse, counselor, extra training for the teachers? Would we agree that there are costs specific to the teaching of underprivileged kids? Costs that a school with 95% of kids on reduced or free lunch will incur but that a school with 8% on reduced or free lunch will not incur. So even though it looks like High Point gets more per kid than Whittier, in some sense it really is not getting more. That "extra" money is supposed to be used to compensate those kids for factors that Whittier's kids just don't face. It's not a bonus.

Not only is it not a bonus, it actually disappears when you look at the whole picture. As you say, when schools budget they do not use the actual salaries, they simply factor in an average number. Let's say the average salary is 40K. Just as an example. So Rich school with 10 teachers uses 400K as salary number in budget. Poor school with 10 teachers uses that number too. However, Rich school has more experienced teachers so their true salary costs are really 500K, while Poor school, with many younger teachers really only spends 300K. There you go. Hidden in the accounting is the fact that the poor school just gave 100K to the rich school. A study from UW a couple years ago showed that this pretty much negates the power of the weighted student formula to provide equity --- equity including the notion that teaching underprivileged kids costs more.

Now back to the topic of active PTSAs raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. Something that some of us have mixed feelings about. This money goes to things like a full time librarian, a healthy budget for the library, assemblies with Theater groups, Artist in Residence programs, an extra teacher for smaller class sizes, all great things for a school.

However, I think that parents who defend this should know the facts. It is not making up any difference between what the district provides for middle class kids vs underprivileged kids. Instead such fundraising increases the gap.

Maggie said...

Dorothy, the poor school does not give $100,000 to the rich school. The rich school eliminates a teacher.

Your scenarios are confusing . . . I think you are right when you say there are an awful lot of different pots included and I don't know how they are all used.

I do teacher at a north end school and can say, for sure, that we simply lose teachers when we can't budget them. My school is having a tougher and tougher time but we have a very good PTA that fundraises constantly!

Unless somebody can be more specific here, it sounds like poor schools are getting a bigger piece of the pie. And that makes sense to me.

I think the District needs to communicate all this much better than they do. I'm in a fog!

Anonymous said...

Let's say you have a million dollar budget. With decentralization, your school gets to decide how to spend it. Let's say the district tells you to use average salary (and benefits) of $50K per teacher. How many teachers will you be able to afford? If all you do is pay salaries, you can afford 20. Of course you have other expenses, so you think about it and decide you can afford 15 teachers and $250K for other expenses.

Now, the reality is that your school (hypothetically, I don't know where you teach) has lots of experienced teachers. So at your school, the actual average salary is $60K. You did not have to include that extra $10K per teacher in your budget. The district just pays it and you get your $250K for your other expenses. You just increased your alloted district dollars by $150K, the hidden cost of your abundance of experienced teachers.

Likewise an underprivileged school with exactly the same number of kids might get 1.5 million dollars. these kids who need more help might need 18 teachers (and some instructional aides whom I am not calculating). Again, when they budget, they are told to use the $50K per teacher average. So $900K of their budget goes to teachers. However, since they have a higher proportion of less experienced (cheaper) teachers, the district really only shells our $40K per teacher, saving the district (but not the school) $180K.

so: hidden from public view is that the true budget for well-off school is $1,150,000 and for underprivileged school the budget is $1,320,000.

In my scenario, the school with more challenging job does still get more per kid, but it is far less than one would think.


And in http://www.schoolcommunities.org/Archive/portfolio/sbb.html
"The common practice of allocating personnel costs on the basis of average salaries results in a fifth type of inequity: seniority-driven inequity. A school with more senior – and therefore more "expensive" – teachers would actually receive more teaching dollars per pupil than one with more junior teachers. But these numbers are hidden even more deeply, since only the average salary numbers show in budget allocations per school. We are not aware of any districts that currently charge actual salaries to all schools, although Houston is moving toward this practice over a ten-year period."

Maggie said...

I see . . . thanks for the great explanation! I totally missed that.

Of course, you are right. I can remember when I was a reading specialist with only two years seniority in the District. My pay was pretty low! But, my budget (which I did myself because it was Title 1/Lap money) had to allow for an average salary which meant I didn't have as much to spend on my program. I was making $23,000 or so but my budgeted salary was $50,000. So, my program lost $27,000 of money to which we were entitled.

Doesn't seem fair does it?

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regards, saad from
University of the Philippines System