There were a couple of interesting meetings this morning, beginning with an impressive presentation by Greeneville City Schools on distance learning. We didn’t just hear about the technology, but experienced it: also participating in the presentation were folks who were physically in Greeneville and Scott County.
Greeneville is using distance learning to teach foreign languages. This year, French. Next year, French, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. Thus far, they’re found that the students who took French I remotely, actually outperformed the kids in the regular classroom — the same regular classroom that the distance class was taught from — when all the students were later combined in a traditional French II class.
In Scott County, they used to put 8th graders on a bus for an hour commute to the high school to take Algebra I. Now, they’re able to take Algebra I from a classroom in their own school, although it’s taught at the high school. They’ve maintained a 100% pass rate on the Gateway exam — the same as schools like ours.
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Next, I attended a legislative preview session with State Senators Joe Haynes, Bill Ketron, and Jim Tracy, all members of the Senate Education Committee.
Everyone agrees that funding is going to be the biggest issue this year. Most of us have seen the reports that the State is $800M behind in revenue collections, but the reality is worse. According to last week’s Fiscal Review Committee reports, the actual number is more like $1.25 billion.
That’s a deficit, folks. A BIG one. Maintaining the BEP 2.0 funding is a top priority… but that means we’re not even thinking about any new funding, just hoping we don’t lose any. At the same time, we must implement at least four new classes at the high school to meet the new graduation requirements (an extra year of math, an extra lab science, the new "personal finance" class, and the additional semester of PE), with no new funding from the state.
The Legislators expect the usual battle for elected superintendents to gain a lot more steam in the House, but feel that it can probably be stopped in the Senate. I hope so. We’re going to have to be vocal in opposing this one, educating both the public and the legislators about why it’s such a bad idea.
Also expected this year: an effort to give school boards taxing authority, some tweaking of the law relative to maintenance of effort in local funding of schools (some 20 counties offered residents a tax cut after the state increased BEP funding in 2007, simply allowing the new state funding to take the place of local funds previously allocated), and proposed legislation to mandate the starting date of schools.
I asked if the’d given any thought to what requirements might be eased, or consideration for other ways to earn credits, in light of the problem of many new requirements added while none were taken away, but the qustion really wasn’t answered. Sen. Haynes sort of put the blame off on No Child Left Behind… but that’s not really the problem.
Maybe he didn’t understand the question. I think I’ll rephrase it, offer some specific suggestions (like perhaps letting students test out of core requirements like health or personal finance), and see if we can’t get further by January or February.
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It’s really important to understand that, as good as Oak Ridge is (and we are), there are other school systems in Tennessee doing great things that we could learn from. We share what works for us, and they share what works well for them. That way, we can all get better, and that’s what it’s all about.