School boards across the nation are faced with closing gaps — mostly in their budgets and in their achievement. The question has evolved into how to fix both when they are so closely related.
This is the bigger picture for members of the Columbia Board of Education as they try to figure out which gap to fill first and by how much.
Today the board will hear a report from Superintendent Phyllis Chase about student achievement gaps. Chase will report on achievement gap concepts in relation to data management and school reorganization, the agenda states.
Task force addresses achievement levels
This report comes in the wake of a presentation at the last board meeting by the Achievement Gap Task Force, formed last October to address differing achievement levels of subgroups of students. At the meeting, the task force was commended for addressing hard issues but was questioned about specific directions.
Concern with achievement disparities has long been a district concern, administrators say, but the recent scrutiny stems from the federal No Child Left Behind Act passed by President Bush in 2002. The act penalizes schools for not meeting adequate yearly progress on standardized tests. Penalties vary depending on the number of years the school has been on the list and range from school-provided tutoring and school choice to restructuring the school through staff replacements or new curriculum.
The Columbia Public School District had 17 schools that did not meet the progress standards last year. As the Missouri Assessment Program, the standardized test upon which the district is judged, approaches in April, the board is looking for options to help bridge the achievement gaps.
50 job cuts likely to widen gaps
But at the same time, the board is being forced to make cuts that could widen these gaps. The administration has come out with about 50 likely job cuts, a result of the $8.7 million predicted shortfall in the 2004-05 budget.
According to budget reduction papers from the district, 16.5 full-time teaching positions will be cut from elementary schools and 14 positions will be cut from secondary schools next fall. The documents say the direct impact of these cuts will be bigger class sizes.
Many supplemental programs that affect achievement are also facing cuts. The School to Careers' secondary program, two positions from the home school communicators and the multicultural department will be cut under current budget plans.
Media specialists and clerks, health coordinators, safety officers and other programs will have reductions in positions, along with cuts in administrative services and operating budgets.