This Test Brought To You By …

We have all heard the stories of how classroom teachers are forced to supplement instructional materials on their own dime.  Every fall, office supply stores offer discounts for teachers, knowing that supplies are being funded directly from the pockets of educators (and not just from the school districts themselves).  According to the National Education Association, the average teacher spends $430 of their own hard-earned dollars for books and supplies for the students in their classrooms.

When Edu-mom was teaching high school English, Eduflack knew this ritual all too well.  Yes, there were the annual visits to the office supply stores for the basics.  But there were also the add-ons — the videos, the classroom sets of novels, out-of-pocket cash for student lunches, and even dollars for class trips and events.  For her, it was all a part of being a classroom teacher.  If she didn’t provide it, her students wouldn’t receive it.  If her students didn’t receive it, they weren’t getting the full education they deserved.  Providing every student full academic opportunity was far more important than the number of bills in her wallet (and the same could be said for many of her colleagues, particularly those in the English departments of those schools in New Mexico, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and DC in which she taught).
So we definitely have to give California high school teacher Tom Farber an A for creativity when it comes to meeting classroom costs.  In a move to cut costs, Rancho Bernardo Schools cut their teachers’ photocopy budget by nearly a third, to a little more than $300 a year per teacher.  Over a 10-month school year, that means $30 a month, or roughly 1,000 pages a month.  Calculate it out over six classes, and that means about 150 pages a month for tests, quizzes and handouts (or by my calculation, about five pages per student per month, based on average class sizes).
Farber realized $300 wouldn’t cut it, particularly for the AP students he was working with.  His copy bill would be more than $500 a year for the basics.  But rather than dip into his own pocket (which I am sure he is already doing for other classroom supplies), he came up with a novel idea — selling advertising on his quizzes and exams.  The full story is on the front page of today’s USA Today, courtesy of Greg Toppo and Janet Kornblum — www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-12-01-test-ads_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip  
According to USA Today, Farber has already sold more than $350 in ad space, much of it to parents and local businesses.  These aren’t big print ads with photos and visuals and custom-designed logos.  Think more along the lines of inspirational quotes and simple “Sponsored by Eduflack, the leading voice in education reform communications.”  Minor mentions running along the footer of the photocopied material in question.
Some are up in arms about this, crying about commercialism in the schools and the corporatization of instruction.  But this isn’t requiring every AP English student to only show up to school in Nikes or declaring Coke the official beverage of chemistry students at Jefferson High School.  At the end of the day, this isn’t much different than the words of wisdom and inspirational messages sold in virtually every high school yearbook in virtually every public school across the nation.
No, Farber should not be attacked for his actions, he should be praised.  He realized his school couldn’t (or wouldn’t) meet the needs he had for instructional materials and supplies for his classes.  Rather than offer the bare minimum and complaining about the situation, he came up with a novel solution.  Now, his students get the study aids and preparatory materials they need to achieve on AP exams.
Could he have paid for it himself?  Of course.  But what other white-collar professions do we know that require employees to fund their own supplies (particularly since those supplies are going to others)?  Could he have asked students to pony up?  Of course.  But that sorta gets away from the notion of a free public education for all students.  What Farber did is no different than the public-private partnerships that we encourage in the schools on a daily basis.
The cryin’ shame here, of course, is that we aren’t providing our teachers the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.  The demands on today’s teachers are rising by the day.  We want higher student performance, smaller achievement gaps, higher grad rates, and larger college-going rates.  And we want it all in classes that are getting larger while teacher salaries are barely keeping up with inflation.  
It is offensive we expect public school teachers to pay out of their own pocket to photocopy tests or buy novels or other instructional materials.  It is equally wrong that we don’t provide the instructional materials we know are most effective, having to choose between replacing lost textbooks or paying for gasoline for the buses or electricity for the florescent bulbs in the halls.  
We know what it takes to effectively teach a child and have them succeed, both in school and in life.  If we are to empower teachers to provide that instruction, we need to give them the materials they need to succeed.  And if we don’t, we need to give them the flexibility to pursue “alternative” funding sources to get the job done.  If advertising is required to deliver effective instruction (particularly learning materials) then so be it.
 

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