The Governor has announced a $475 million plan for education in Tennessee. It calls for reworking the BEP funding formula, fully funding the cost of at-risk students, paying for student growth in the year it occurs, fully funding the cost of educating students who can't speak English, and paying 75% of the total for teacher’s salaries.
Many are asking how will reworking the BEP actually improve education in our schools? One concerned teacher told me that 90% of the students in her school are "at-risk."
The BEP is a funding formula not an education plan. It funds the expenses of the classroom; it doesn’t dictate what occurs in the classroom. It can’t change the teacher in front of our students nor can it improve classroom expectations or discipline.
Governor Bredesen’s plan calls for full funding for teaching at-risk students.
In Tennessee, the definition of an at-risk student is income based; defined by whether a student is entitled to the free and reduced lunch program based on his or her parent's income.
At the start of the school year, students are sent home with a free and reduced lunch form – income information on the form is not verified for accuracy. Not that anyone would lie just to get lunch but we’re basing a huge increase in state spending on that form.
In years past, the definition of an at-risk student was actually performance based; defined by whether a student was two or more years behind in his or her grade level for reading.
Under the income based definition, the number of at-risk students in Tennessee is very large. The 2006 Statewide Report Card doesn’t have an “at-risk” category. But it does state that 53% of Tennessee's 933,688 students are defined as economically disadvantaged; or 493,921 children.
However, according to the same report card, being economically disadvantaged doesn’t necessarily mean one is a poor student. For instance, 85% of economically disadvantaged high school students rate proficient or advanced in reading. For K – 8, 82% of the students rate as well.
Obviously, being economically disadvantaged does not mean one is intellectually disadvantaged.
So the problem is, how will we measure if the extra money is helping at-risk students? If being at risk is based on income, what if a parent’s income doesn’t improve year after year? Might we be better off simply giving money to the parents, improving their income, and decreasing the number of at-risk students?
I’m just being silly to point out that we need to look at test results, and teacher’s opinions of student classroom behavior and willingness to learn, to define at-risk. Not whether a student receives free and reduced lunch.
The concerned teacher above told me that there is an attitude problem affecting learning in our schools. She stated that while 90% of the students in her school are at-risk, most are well behaved and good students. Only 10% are actually two or more years behind in reading grade level; these same students are also the major cause of the majority of discipline problems. For these students, it is a badge of honor to receive in-school suspension where they literally do nothing all day. It is a badge of honor to be taken from the school in hand-cuffs by the police – sadly, these students are in middle school.
She’d like to see a helpful daylong in-school suspension program that actually teaches skills such as; how to behave in the classroom; how to study and do homework; research skills; reading and math skills practice.
Sure more money will usually make any operation easier to run. But somehow I think we should listen to teachers when it comes to at-risk students. More money will not automatically translate into better results if we're measuring the wrong factor.
Report card Part I: http://www.k-12.state.tn.us/rptcrd06/state1.asp?S=999
Report card Part II: http://www.k-12.state.tn.us/rptcrd06/state2.asp?S=999