- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2009

School woes coast to coast

Remember the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds for schools? The money that was supposed to help retain teachers and reignite the push for school reform? Well, budget woes continue to place jobs and education programs in jeopardy. School districts are still hurting because states and localities are still hurting. In some places, including the District, that means layoffs are inevitable.

The 2009 economic stimulus package sent a piece of the stimulus pie to each state for public schooling, including higher education.

“The single best way to stimulate the economy - short-term and long-term - is to keep teachers teaching and keep kids learning. States are hurting, and schools across America are facing catastrophic cuts. We need to invest this money quickly, thoughtfully and transparently to protect kids, create jobs and drive reforms,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in February.

Late last month, the Obama administration announced that economic recovery aid had created or saved 250,000 education jobs.

Yet, while the stimulus dollars helped save or create teaching jobs, education jobs and programs across the cross are jeopardized by lingering budget crises. Budget shortages totaling $61 billion are being predicted in 27 states for fiscal 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In the nation’s capital, D.C. school officials laid off more than 380 teachers and other personnel because of budget woes. Arizona, which is projecting a $2 billion midyear budget shortfall and a $3 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year, is warning of massive layoffs. Hawaii has joined Florida and Georgia and begun teacher furloughs. California, meanwhile, laid off more than 20,000 teachers before the 2009-10 school year got under way.

Off-campus programs are on the table, too. Missouri officials announced Wednesday that a new round of cutbacks will hit the school busing program and the state’s online school. Gov. Jay Nixon named a two-headed culprit for the cuts in funding for schools and other services, including Medicaid. “These restrictions have become necessary due to declining state revenues caused by the ongoing national economic downturn,” he said.

In memoriam

Theodore R. Sizer, 77, a founding father of the contemporary movement to restructure high schools, died Oct. 21 at his home in Harvard, Mass., of colon cancer.

His resume included being dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, headmaster of the Phillips Academy, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, chairman of the education department at Brown University, founding director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and co-founder of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Mass.; and author of the “Horace” trilogy - “Horace’s Compromise,” “Horace’s School” and “Horace’s Hope.”

John Merrow of the nonprofit Learning Matters Inc., who interviewed Mr. Sizer many times, says his friend was a “remarkable” education leader.

“Make no mistake, Ted Sizer was one of the giants of American education, a force for good for more than 50 years,” Mr. Merrow wrote on his blog.

“Ted never sought the spotlight or worried about who got credit, which may explain why he accomplished so much. In 2006, I was asked to speak at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Commencement, and before I flew east from California, I wrote Ted and Nancy asking if we could meet for breakfast that day. We met at a small restaurant and exchanged news. Ted looked strong and waved away questions about the pump he had to wear as part of the chemotherapy. When he left the table briefly, Nancy told me how excited he was to be back because this commencement marked his 50-year anniversary with the school. I wanted to know how Harvard was honoring him. Nobody knows, she said, because Ted doesn’t want any fuss.

“Not on my watch are we going to fail to honor this great man, I thought to myself. After we parted, I made a beeline for Dean Kathy McCartney’s office and told her. Her powerful tribute to Ted, who was seated onstage with the rest of the faculty, produced a standing ovation that went on for many minutes. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house, certainly not mine.

“The greatest tribute we can pay to Ted Sizer is to keep alive his vision - that students must be respected, and that the highest form of respect teachers can show their students is to challenge them with work that stretches their minds.

“Rest in peace, my friend.”

Now hear this …

Construction on Madonna’s girls school began last month outside Lilongwe, Malawi. The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls will offer admission to 500 girls from across the nation, where HIV/AIDS has orphaned more than 1 million children.

The school is set to open in 2011.

“If this school is a success - and God willing, it will be - we will replicate it not only in Malawi, but in other parts of the world as well,” said Madonna, who has two Malawian children.

… and this

Texas Southern University has dropped Tavis Smiley’s name from its communications school. Mr. Smiley, a prolific radio and TV interviewer, and Texas Southern agreed in 2004 that he would donate $1 million and help raise another $1 million. Neither million-dollar payment has been made.

Mr. Smiley said his finances had to be restructured because of the economic downturn, and he had concerns about possible mismanagement at the school.

All the while, he said, “my intentions were to help the students.”

The university rejected his offer to restructure donations.

“Because you did not fulfill your original commitment to our partnership, TSU plans to treat the partnership as being at an end,” the Houston Chronicle reported the president’s letter to Mr. Smiley as saying. “TSU will therefore remove your name from the School of Communication and the KTSU Radio facility to allow us to provide other major donors with the naming opportunity.”

Texas Southern also has a new policy: Anyone interested in naming consideration for a department or school within a college must make a $2 million donation.

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