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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Commentary on "Education Cuts" in Sunday's La Prensa, 6-12

Commentary: Education Cuts
Judge Steve Walker

With all the current budget cuts to Texas education, NISD Superintendent Dr. John Folks recently stated the obvious, that classroom size will noticeably increase this next school year.

As a retired classroom teacher, I can assure you the larger numbers in the classroom will have an adverse outcome on the quality of education of those students in soon to be over-crowded classrooms.

As a Justice of the Peace who deals with truancy and disorderly students and their ramifications in six school districts, I can safety predict I will be seeing more of those cases in my courtroom than previously, due to the overcrowding.

Logic would tell you that the more students you attempt to squeeze into a classroom, the more the likelihood of fights, disruptions and lack of learning that will inevitably take place. It will also lead to dropouts.

Back in the 70s when I began my teaching career it was not unusual to have 30-35 students in a class in high school or middle school. Over the years I taught both. I actually taught one Freshman English class of 42 students at Roosevelt High School in NEISD.

Many of them were forced to sit on the floor, the heaters by the window, makeshift tables with folding chairs or they stood on occasion. If it wasn’t for the fire code I would have seen even more students in my classroom. When a student was absent, another took his seat. The more students that were absent, the better chance the remaining students were able to sit in a desk! It was a great excuse for students to skip class. Do we really want to go back to those days?

With the pending cuts to the special education programs, many of the special needs students will be mainstreamed back into the classes from the self-contained units. This will acerbate the problem. Regular classroom teachers will be expected to address the special needs students in the same way the trained Special Education teachers do, but with limited or no training to deal with their unique needs.

That is a blueprint for disaster! As one who also taught special needs students as a certified Special Education teacher, I can attest that the probably for success with the upcoming scenario does not bode well. Even now special needs students fall though the cracks and are sent to my court for disorderly conduct and many of them haven’t a clue as to why they are in my court.

Imagine what it will be like when they are mainstreamed en masse and untrained teachers (funding) write them up and ship them off to justice court, not knowing that Special Needs students fall under federal guidelines, not state guidelines for education.

Legal Aide attorneys were already lining up in my court to defend those particular cases. I fully expect to see more legal aide attorneys filing motions in my court in defense of those special needs students and their parents. In the long run it will cost the taxpayer more than the savings the legislature thinks they are accomplishing. Good intentions sometimes have unintended consequences.

This past year I have been working closely with SAISD, Supt. Dr. Robert Duron and in particular Joann Cockrell the principal of Jefferson High School who was hired out of retirement to streamline procedures at that school dealing with truancy, disorderly conduct and the skyrocketing dropout rate.

In less than a year she is making an impact and turning it around. With the deep cuts coming, her school and all of the other campuses now face an additional burden of large classroom numbers and the fallout from those numbers.

As Judge I will continue to address the students who come into my court. I know Ms. Cockrell, her staff and all other school district staffs will do all in their power to do their jobs despite the setback we are facing in public school education.

Let’s hope next year we can continue to improve the test scores and despite our challenges of large classrooms we ensure our next generation of students a chance for a better life. Maybe some of them will become Judges!

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Journalist.

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