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Budget Cuts vs. The Changing Face of 21st Century Education

Officials say mandatory education reform difficult with potential budget cuts.


Now that Governor’s education plan has passed, the Newtown schools will be faced with added pressure to fully implement education reform. With a proposed budget cut of one million dollars, resources are already stressed. 

Principal, Charles S. Dumais, explained, “We are expected to make a million dollar cut and the challenges are already there. The budget becomes a little polarizing.  If you keep full day Kindergarten, they say, ‘Well, clearly there is room to cut.”

Superintendent Janet Robinson, Ph.D. said that full day kindergarten is one of the programs that has become imperative in today’s educational climate. “Full day kindergarten is almost a necessity to meet the standards that are set out for the Kindergarten level. There simply aren’t enough hours in the total year without the total Kindergarten day. You really need that extra time.”

In the last two years, 48 states, including Connecticut, have adopted Common Core Standards, which standardizes education. Robinson said, “The part that is critical is a bigger picture of coherence. If you move from here to Oklahoma, there would be the same Common Core Standards. There is an assurance for parents that kids are going to have these common things taught by the time they graduate from high school. There is a minimum level that you all have to establish within these content areas.”

Robinson said that until recently, what was taught depended on the teacher and the school. “You could have that English class in one school and another math program in another. It was divisive in terms of teaching, but now we have grade level standards.” 

“In the past, it was acceptable to have schools operating independently,” Dumais said, “but we are handling budget solutions systemically now. If there is not a systemic solution to education problems right now, you are not going to succeed.”

“Whether you are talking about common core standards, Malloy’s SB24, we have an accreditation visit in 2015, and you have secondary school reform in the State of Connecticut. Those are all things that will have to be in place between 2015 and 2018, and there is no funding for that,” Dumais said.

One recent challenge in education has been the movement for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education. Robinson said, “STEM is about trying to do deeper, more meaningful work. We are looking at increasing rigor.”

Rigor is not about making education more difficult, according to Robinson. She said, “It’s about requiring the kids to use their brains. Science is perfect for higher order thinking skills, you learn to do problem solving, you learn to do experiments, find out which variables contribute to the outcome.”

Even elementary grades now have expectations that go “way beyond learning to read and write by third grade,” Robinson said, adding that the skills needed for first grade today cannot be learned in half-day kindergarten.

“The kind of writing that students are expected to do in first grade is phenomenal. It's beyond one or two sentences. They now write little books,” she said.

The Internet and use of technology in the classroom is bringing more information into the hands of students than ever before. “Technology plays a very big role in the classroom,” Robinson said.

“We have Smart Boards in the classroom, and the students are adept at using them, it’s almost intuitive for them. In our second grade classrooms, they can’t even reach so they are on a bench, and it's so cute,” she said. 

“Technology has allowed us to show the kids the rest of world easily," Robinson noted. "You can take a virtual field trip kids can ask a question and we can say, ‘Well, let’s go see,’ and you can actually take them there.”

“The expectations are much greater now," she cautioned. "The school that everybody remembers, it is just not that way anymore. Every budget season somebody will come up and say, ‘You know, when I was a kid we had 45 kids in the classroom and we did just fine.’ It doesn't happen that way anymore.”

NHS Senior Alex Kelly enjoys science and math classes. He said, “You have to be self motivated. Teachers are more of a guide to show you what you have to do, but you are responsible for how you use the information they give you.”

Robinson agreed with Kelly’s thoughts.

“Once a month all of the administrators go into a school, and we visit different classrooms. We come back and ask, ‘What is it we observed in there? Is the teacher talking like crazy? Were the kids sitting there quietly and playing school, or how engaged are they? Are they really participating in their learning? Are the questions causing them to think deeper and harder?”

Kelly said that his education in NHS has been great. “One year I will say it was the best teacher I ever had, and then the next year, I will say the same thing.”

Michelle Green, a junior at BHS, said she wished there were more opportunities for engineering in the school. Kelly said that he thinks the school will suffer if there are major budget cuts. “I take a lot of engineering classes, and other kids may take art. There are different needs for different kids. If they cut art, parents will fight about that.”

Dumais said, “I support full day kindergarten and nine years from now, it is going to make a significant difference in the HS. Programs that are susceptible to the budget cuts are anything that is outside of the core academic area, and potentially the arts. The hard part is the town wants us to tell them what you are going to cut, but in reality there are so many pieces involved, we have to see what happens on May 15.”

"We have great kids and great teachers. Everybody is working hard," Dumais said. "The analogy with the budget is, if we were to slightly dim the lights, it might be a little harder to read, but we could still do everything. But if they kept getting turned down more, well...”

“This is one of the larger school districts," he added. "A lot of communities have an ability to absorb some of this, but once you get into a pattern where you keep cutting, you get a little limited.”

For more information of how education is changing across Connecticut and the country, visit these links:

Newtown Newbie May 10, 2012 at 02:52 PM
FDK is not an idea composed by NSD or Conn. It's the norm throughout the country. Present day school requirements consider a full day schedule. To try & squeeze a full day into 2.5 hrs is chaotic for teachers & students nor does it create a positive learning environment. You cannot put 5lbs of flour in a 2lb bag. Conn. doesn't have a Parents as Teachers program nor a specified program to facilitate the development of our pre-schoolers. Birth to Three program stops just when our children are starting to talk, write & master fine motor skills. If there is a deficiency in any of these areas, it is usually the Kind. Teacher that finds them. When you consider a Kind. teacher in Newtown has 2 classes of 15+ 4 & 5 yr olds, with a 6hr day curriculum that she has to squeeze into 2.5 hrs , with success because her job depends on it, then maybe you will see the benefits of FDK. Many of us that support FDK are very active with our children's education & it's insulting to be accused otherwise. I support it bc I have seen the benefits first hand, as a parent. I have witnessed a child go through 1/2 day & FDK . I would love to have the school day shorter to spend more time with my children, however it isn't going to help them in the Future. The fact that I do "try" to help my children with their work only convinces me further. My children have much more patience with their Teachers than with us. Come on people... The School is not the Enemy nor our the FDK supporters.
Sam Mihailoff May 10, 2012 at 03:39 PM
*** get with it folks, the state has finally come out and admitted that education shall be same for everyone in all 50 states...little robots, made in the U.S.A....fill bubble, get little star on test, move on, repeat The end of all creativity has been rubber stamped...from sea to shining sea
Newtown Newbie May 10, 2012 at 03:48 PM
It's a little difficult to "fill bubble" with Science and Technology. A part of the recommended changes to the educational programs through out the Country cycle out Standardized Testing. Seems to me that they are promoting more Creativity.
NewtownRocks May 10, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I do not think of anyone as the enemy in this argument. However until I see some conclusive evidence that FDK provides benefits worth the cost I will not support it. I have two more children entering kindergarten in the next couple of years. My experience with my son and likely my daughter is that a full day is too much. There are studies on both sides of FDK. The footnotes to this article are well written. http://newtownbee.com/Opinions/2011-03-03__14-09-02/Rethinking+Full-Day+Kindergarten I am not as concerned about Shrt term property values at this time. A path to sustainable spending will do much more for Newtown property owners then throwing money at problems and hoping it solves them. I would like to see a comparison do SAT scores and colleges attended by high school seniors as a real indication of value for dollars spent. That is the real goal. I have a very hard time drawing a correlation between FDK and where children end up going to college.
Judy Dubois May 10, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Mary Ann, I used to think you were a school supporter. You are now saying that our schools do not put in any time or effort to improve what they have. What a vote of confidence in our system! I have four kids and I see many efforts in Newtown to improve teaching and ways to do things. I am disgusted by all those that put down our systems! We can't accomplish a lot when we are so stretched too thin. You are right in that teachers can't be piled on any more but then who will pick up the slack. In Newtown, we are reducing and delaying costs for teachers and assistants and administration and programs and technology. Whats left?
Sam Mihailoff May 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
indeed...Professor Emeritus Malloy and the learned collegiate educateurs in the Hartford Legislature will fix it...keep dreamin'.........at the very least the attorneys and consultants are lovin' it
Newtown Resident and Teacher May 10, 2012 at 04:36 PM
What Dr. Robinson and Mr. Dumais are trying to say is that UPCOMING standards, due to various mandates (e.g. Common Core), are so rigorous that to teach the required skills and concepts that K students are expected to know, a full day will be required. They're not talking about the current curriculum.
Newtown Newbie May 10, 2012 at 04:39 PM
There a studies for both sides of the FDK issue. In order to value the benefits of the program and produce a complete study. The research needs to be conducted over the course of the child's school years, 12 plus years. A majority of the growth in FDK programs across the country has mainly occurred in the past decade. Using SAT scores is neither a fair comparison nor progressive. There is a much greater argument and class of studies performed that have argued against the SAT Test as an accurate method of knowledge and ability, than there are about FDK. Colleges attended? The choice of what College depends more on personal and financial ability, constraints and preference. Isn't it more important to concentrate on what College they could get into because of the Investment made into their Primary Education? It's unfortunate that you do not care, nor see the benefits for concern, about short term housing values. Rising home prices produce more revenue for the town and especially for our Schools. They create a positive Home buying market and add more taxes to the pot... for us all to benefit from. I do not see the value in waiting until it is "mandatory" to implement FDK especially now with the Gov.'s Education Reform plan on the horizon. Who knows what the next two years will bring this town or our schools in terms of costs. Success and Stability is much easier when you are proactive instead reactive.
Sam Mihailoff May 10, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Success and Stability is much easier when you are proactive instead reactive. AGREED 1000000000%.... plan it, organize it, then implement it
NewtownRocks May 10, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I am more of a procrastinator when I do not see value in something. I have two kids who will attend kindergarten in the next few years. I believe HDK is a better public option with private FDK available for those who choose. I am much more cautious on how my investment dollars are spent personally. I follow that same philosophy with regards to investing of my tax dollars. I believe the overall impact of FDK to be minimal over them long haul. As soon as there is conclusive evidence to the contrary I will support investing our limited resources in the endevour. The BOE and administration has some work to do to convince many voters they are being good stewards of tax dollars before I vote yes for additional funding. This is from a resident with three children in or soon will be in public school. My wife and I both value education. We have professional degrees and went through public schools systems. Put together a plan to make 2% increases the norm for 5 years and sign me up. This is the max in NY and NJ for property tax increases.
Newtown Newbie May 10, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Newtown Rocks- You typed in a previous comment; "If Newtown education goes to crap then I will either sell my home and move or just send my kids to private school. It is not about the money for some of the NO camp. It is about living within your means and making good management decisions. If our hands are tied from prior commitments then some pain is necessary in the short term to get on a long term path to sustainability." I am curious ... are these the same private schools that already have FDK? How are you going to sell this house if the schools go to "crap!" ? You and I have very different ideas of how to protect an Investment. Good management implements a mandatory change when it is able to forecast the reasonable and likely costs for doing so. Waiting until the last minute is not good Management.
Jenae Wexler May 10, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I am a student at the high school and I have to say that I agree with Mary Ann Jacob. There are so many things we have at school that cost so much money that we never, ever use. For instance, text books. I can honestly say that I haven't touched my Math or Physics text book once this year. I get that some are important... but text books are expensive, and that's a huge waste of money, especially when they go out and buy brand new ones that no one ever uses. My math text book is brand new... and I don't even know where it is. Also, Eno Boards. All the new building classrooms have them and teachers never use them. Obviously those were expensive. But they can become frustrating if the projector isn't aligned correctly or if it's not calibrated... so teachers never use them. My physics teacher wants to get rid of hers next year. So now we have a bunch of useless text books and eno boards... and the school no longer buys tissues for the classrooms; teachers have to buy the tissues themselves. Stupid spending... that's all it comes down to.
NewtownRocks May 10, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Waiting until the last minute is often necessitated, especially in government. Fund accounting does not accurately match revenues and expenses. Instead it focuses on cash flow for the immediate needs. This is a product of government unique roll in society. When negotiating among parties with different interest it usually takes until the last minute before any movement. If I really felt Newtown Schools were that bad now or spending more money will make them better I would do it. The fact is the graduation rate is high and many graduates go to college. If those things change then I would strongly consider putting my children in private school. Newtown is pretty rural and I do not see that changing so unless a large piece of the community wants to pay ever increasing taxes above the rate of inflation there will be conflict. The only way to convince people that paying more in taxes is to make the benefits clear of increased spending. This has not yet occurred. How one views their house as an investment or not can weigh on perspective. At this point I have given up on my house as an investment.
Another LongTimeResident May 11, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Just wondering if you have read the common core standards for kindergarten... guess what... it's what Newtown kindergarten students have been required to know for the past 9 years. Nothing has changed for Newtown. So, my question is, "Why the big push for full day?"
Michael May 11, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Funny, we didn't have FDK and we turned out well enough to pay for all this over spending in Newtown.
Michael May 11, 2012 at 02:23 AM
FDK is just full daycare in disguise.
dave T May 11, 2012 at 01:56 PM
NewtownRocks, sound words... given the demographic of this town, without better business development, the taxing potential is limited and not sustainable for any affordable growth education or elsewhere... More importantly than education is how well the town manages for future growth and if there are high taxes with limited services, people will choose to live elsewhere....
NewtownRocks May 11, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Education is very important to many of us. As I have stated in other posts, most residents whether they have school age children or not want a strong public education system in Newtown. As many other towns we will muddle through this economic malaise until the tide turns. The important thing is to lay the ground work for sustainable government and wisely invest the resources we do have. I love living in Newtown and think the future here is bright. I would love to see voter turnout for local elections get up above 50% on average to be more representative of the populous. Property taxes from residential homeowners will continue to be the backbone of town funding for the forseeable future so we as a community need to find a way to balance priorities and make what limited resources we do have be invested as efficiently as possible. People will always have different priorities but most people want the same things. Which path to get there is the question. My preference is to use this economic slowdown to put sustainable polices in place.
Dawne Kornhaas May 11, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Jenae is correct. Both my boys, one in middles school and one in high school hardly use their textbooks. They bring them home at the beginning of the school year and leave them home for use because they are too heavy to carry back and forth. Most of the time they have a paper handout instead. Eliminate the heavy textbooks I am sure those are big bucks.
Andy May 13, 2012 at 01:49 AM
As I read these comments, I wonder.....why do people seem to think that the educational system is broken? What proof do you have that it is broken? We are the only nation that provides ALL children with an education. I suggest that the people who think our educational system is broken spend some time in an under developed country like India or Thialand and see how they live. Then talk to me about how the educational system here in the United States is broken. It has become such a political forum and it makes me sick to think that government officials use children in such a manner. It also saddens me that the people of this great nation think that unions are the downfall to our economy. Prove to me that the unions are the reason why education is falling behind. When I say "prove" I want hard evidence that is research based.
Liam Heller May 13, 2012 at 03:08 AM
The "proof" you ask for, is in the experience of dealing with public schools. The experience in what both my wife & I, as well as what dozens of our friends & relatives have seen in the separate states we each went to school in & the experience we've seen here in town. The fact that you don't see it... Some people don't see what's in front of them. I hate to burst your bubble, but just because you don't agree with something, certainly doesn't mean those who you're disagreeing with are wrong or misguided. And it certainly doesn't require "proof". How can someone prove to another person, that the sky is blue, when that person refuses to simply look at it? It doesn't matter where you go; state, town, region, county, etc... American public schools are all the same. They all have a higher calling that tells them how to teach. They're all driven by the state and the state is driven by the federal government. Yet, they're all driven by money. Unions were well suited during the time when they were originally initiated, but since then, they've almost all gained a power that's above them. A corruptible power that feeds off of those it was originally intended to protect. Its own power gets the best of it, until others find a way to skew it and warp if for their own self gain. The same thing happens with governments (national, state & local), insurance companies, religion, welfare, civil rights, etc. http://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U http://youtu.be/Bx4pN-aiofw
Liam Heller May 13, 2012 at 03:18 AM
My driving reason to continually say "NO!" to raising our taxes, is not only due to the common sense of realizing that throwing more money at the schools isn't going to "fix" them... But also in the knowledge that the enrollment for all the schools is going to PLUMMET in the immediate future. Why are we being given the option to raise taxes to accommodate the school budget, when there's not going to be enough kids to fill the schools soon? Are we going to lower the taxes to an adjusted rate, based on the need? I didn't think so.
Alex Tytler May 13, 2012 at 10:15 AM
http://ctmirror.org/story/13769/11-school-districts-told-state-they-must-increase-spending OH HOW INTERESTING!!! All we have to do is give up state money, and we can do whatever we want with spending. I see a way out of this and it involves telling the state to take a hike.
Andy May 14, 2012 at 08:12 PM
@Liam....again, I ask for proof...not your personal thoughts and opinions. I am not saying that your are wrong...you said that. I hate to burst your bubble, but just because I don't see things the way you do means that I am wrong. Unfortunately, you had a bad experience in the public school system and you state that your wife did as well as many friends and relatives. I, on the other hand, had a very good experience as well as many of my friends and relatives who also live in various states. My children are having a wonderful experience here in Newtown. I haven't had a teacher that has not gone above and beyond to make sure that each of my children are successful. Again, when I say "proof" I want sound, educational research stating that our schools, primarily Newtown, are failing or as you put it "broken". Until I have that, you are entitled to your opinions and I am entitled to mine. Whether you agree with them or not.
Liam Heller May 14, 2012 at 08:44 PM
And again... http://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U http://youtu.be/Bx4pN-aiofw Prove otherwise.
dave T May 14, 2012 at 10:28 PM
No matter how gilded with gold the classrooms are, how much money is allocated to the programs, kids will still be lazy with everything but videogames, facebook and texting unless parents drive otherwise. You can pour water on a rock all day... only a sponge will absorb it though. Work ethic starts at home....
tiredofthehypocrisy May 14, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Those are eye opening clips there. Seems to be all the "proof" anyone could offer. I personally loathe when people ask for you to prove something to them when they're obviously going to be against it, no matter what evidence anyone puts forward. Asking for someone to prove something like this, is childish. Your sky analogy sums it up pretty well. Can't argue with that. I've found that anyone who enjoys public school, is bound to enjoy it, because that's the way their minds are wired. They "get" the classroom, cookie-cutter scenario. Either that, or they simply don't see the obvious. They just smile and blink and smile and blink.
Andy May 15, 2012 at 03:25 AM
@Liam and tiredofthehypocrisy......Your comments are all the "proof" I need that public school didn't fail you. They are well thought out, concise opinions. You were able to process my comments, rationalize them and form an opinion. AND you were both able to write your comments in a well organized manner. I would say that is all the "proof" I need to say that public education didn't fail you. Asking for "proof" is a way of challenging you and trying to understand another point of view. I don't just go by, "Well, its my opinion and that makes it right" motto. This is what makes living in America so great and also so frustrating when people are so one sided they can't get past it. I must say Liam at least you showed some character. You also challenged my thinking which I appreciate. You didn't criticize and that I also appreciate. Those who can't take a challenge, or are not up to it, are the ones to criticize and throw names around. That is what I loathe.
Mr D. May 15, 2012 at 04:07 AM
That's not as much of a factor as we're led to think. Not all home buyers have kids of school age. Not all home buyers have kids! And many also send their kids to private schools... And, high taxes are as much of a deterrent as good schools are an incentive.
tiredofthehypocrisy May 15, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Mmmm. Case in point.

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