Life In Another World

November 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Brooks Igo
bigo@smu.edu

Susannah Crumley says she has been living in a world most people don’t know about. It’s a world that has been scrambling to survive the recent state budget cuts to education.

Crumley, who works for the Plano Independent School District (PISD), has been teaching special education for the past 14 years. She has spent the past seven years providing one-on-one support and serving as the eyes and ears for a student who is deaf-blind.

The budget passed by PISD in June included $23 million in cuts this year and an additional $10 million reduction in 2012. There was about a five percent overall staff reduction, which has been felt across the board, including in special education.

The state allocates $33 million annually to Regional Day School Programs for the Deaf with an additional $5 million coming from federal funds, according to the director of deaf services for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Brent Pitt. These schools provide special programs for students who are deaf through school districts like Plano’s. The $33 million allocated by the state has been the same amount since 1995, which has posed a problem as the demand for specialized services for the deaf continues to increase.

This leaves special education professionals like Crumley worried about their future and the future of students receiving services from their local Regional Day School Program. When the

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with disabilities across the nation, passed in 2004, the demand for those services increased.

Crumley says special education teachers are having to do the same job with fewer paraprofessionals, leaving educators feeling overwhelmed and worried about who’s going to be there to help.

“I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in a year,” she said.

For students who are deaf and need specially trained teachers, this poses a real concern.

According to Angela Johnson, the executive director of the Deaf Action Center in Dallas, only 10 percent of mothers and 5 percent of fathers of children who are deaf know sign language.

“Parents have limited resources,” she said. “How can we expect them to be on the same levels as students who aren’t deaf or hard of hearing without specialized teachers?”

Johnson is hopeful to provide more of those resources next year. The United Way cut this year’s funding to the Deaf Action Center from $225,000 to $75,000. The Deaf Action Center, which has offices across the state, has its headquarters in Dallas and serves around 350 students who are deaf or hard of hearing from schools in Dallas, Mesquite, and Plano. While the local Regional Day School Programs are responsible for providing the students with the services they need, the Deaf Action Center offers additional educational support services.

Parents like Jill LaMorge, whose son Christopher is deaf-blind and works with Crumley, rely on the state to continue to provide the specialized services their children receive.

Crumley, who has worked with Christopher since he was in sixth grade, says she fills in the gaps a sighted, hearing person would have. With the help of an AV radio and headphones, she is able to pull out background noise to help him hear better. She also customizes his reading material by enlarging the font to help him see.

In addition to Crumley’s help, Christopher also receives services from a deaf itinerant teacher through Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf. LaMorge says she hasn’t noticed a change in the services her son has received and said that Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf has been very consistent throughout the years.

She says the relationships she and Christopher have developed with the staff at Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf have been fabulous.

“It’s almost like a small family,” she said.

The services her son is able to receive are so valuable to LaMorge and her husband that they have chosen to remain in Plano despite several opportunities to move because of her husband’s job.

That’s why Crumley, who speaks with an easy British accent, is worried about the future of funding for special education. She knows the importance of what she and her colleagues do and the services they provide.

“All teachers do things people aren’t aware of,” she said. “Special education teachers do things other teachers aren’t aware of.”

DISD Offers Teachers Incentive to Resign

April 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By EJ Wall
ejwall@smu.edu

Rebecca Hays is leaving the Dallas Independent School District after 33 years of teaching, but she is not leaving empty handed. DISD is paying her to retire—up to $10,000. And she isn’t alone. DISD recently offered all eligible teachers an incentive to resign. Teachers who took the incentive would receive 15 percent of their salary, or up to ten thousand dollars, if they would resign now and work until the end of the current school year.

DISD schools have already lost more than 700 teachers to the incentive program and will continue to lose hundreds more as the budget cuts become finalized.

The school district is offering the incentive as a way to cut the budget and prevent more teacher layoffs. Across Texas, school districts are slashing budgets and laying off teachers to cut costs. The state could have an estimated shortfall of up to $27 billion next year and education is on the chopping block.

The “worst-case scenario” for the DISD budget would be an estimated loss of $253 million in state funding, according to the DISD’s Preliminary Budget Reduction Plan, which was presented to Trustees last month.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa recently revealed the district’s latest budget-reduction plan outlining $150 million in cuts. That figure is based on four assumptions that have yet to happen, one of which is that the state will give the district $40.2 million from the Rainy Day Fund. Texas lawmakers have yet to put forth any bill that would allow tapping into the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, which is made up of revenue from oil and gas taxes.

“It is important to know at the outset that this plan does not replace the worst-case scenario plan presented last month,” Hinojosa said in an online message to the district. “The plan presented today would obviously be an improvement over the previous plan, but not by much.”

Under the proposed plan, the teaching staffs of all DISD schools would be cut by almost 13 percent. At the minimum, 1,298 teachers will be laid off next year, saving the district more than $68 million dollars.

“In either scenario we’re going to have to have personnel cuts, this is our reality,” Hinojosa said.

More than 700 teachers signed paperwork committing to the incentive program, costing the district $6.5 million dollars. This loss of teachers, coupled with the 3,900 lay-offs that could happen under the worst-case scenario, means DISD could lose almost one-fourth of its educators. Many teachers who accepted the resignation incentive are those who have been with DISD the longest.

“I feel like DISD is losing some of its best teachers because most of those leaving are veteran teachers with many years of experience and expertise,” Hays said.

Some special programming will be cut under the proposed budget and stipends will be decreased. But what DISD will be losing the most of is its teachers. The loss will result in increased class sizes, to a 30-to-1 average student-teacher ratio from the current ratio of 25-to-1. Larger class sizes have some DISD teachers concerned for the future of their students.

“I work with young children and they need as small a class as possible to help them learn when they are in this critical, developmental stage,” Melissa Alloway, a first grade teacher at Stonewall Jackson Elementary, said. “Cutting teachers will mean that children will make less progress, feel less supported, and perhaps less motivated to learn.”

The increase in class size will also change the role of teachers, according to Nancy Roberts, a professor of education at SMU.

“When classes reach sizes of 30 to 35 kids, the teacher becomes more of a classroom manager rather than an educator,” she said. “This is true for elementary school classes all the way to up high school classes.”

DISD parent Dana Bleakney said she definitely thinks an increase in class size will affect her daughter’s education and suggested alternatives to cutting teachers.

“I would not be opposed to a combination of using some of the Rainy Day Fund with a small tax hike,” Bleakney whose daughter attends Stonewall Jackson Elementary, said. “Whatever it takes to preserve the quality of our schools.”

The district is cutting teachers first and Roberts said they are the one asset that should not be cut.

“DISD schools are struggling already, cutting the teachers will only make it worse,” she said.

In 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics ranked Texas 43 in the nation in per-pupil expenditures. Cutting the education budget could drive the ranking down further.

There is little to no funding for new teacher salaries, and the DISD caps salaries after a number of years, which makes it that much harder to entice good teachers to the profession.

“Really good teachers might be motivated to stay if there was an incentive,” Alloway said. “This buyout only made it easier to leave.”

Roberts said the quality of DISD education depends on the caliber of teachers the district can retain.

“Education is personal, there has to be a direct contact,” she said. “This contact does not exist without the teacher, the bottom line is, if we want to have well-educated Texans, we have to have good teachers.”

Dallas County District Attorney Speaks at SMU

February 24, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Bridget Bennett
brekow@smu.edu

Dallas County District Attorney Speaks at SMU from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins spoke at an SMU Faculty Club luncheon Wednesday. Watkins, a Dallas native, is serving his second term as the first African American District Attorney in Texas. He has partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas to exonerate the wrongfully convicted in Dallas County.

Watkins’ spoke about these exonerations, touching on the role media played in raising awareness. Watkins said wrongful convictions are deplorable for the pain they cause those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. But the involvement does not stop there, Watkins said.

“When we make a mistake, when someone has been convicted for something they didn’t do. Inevitably, the individual that did do it continues to commit crimes,” Watkins said.

The majority of people who are in jail, Watkins said, are addicted to some illegal substance, uneducated, or without a skill set. Watkins expressed the importance of rehabilitation programs to prevent future prosecutions. He also talked about the ratio of taxpayer money spent on one inmate in a prison versus the amount money spent on his education before he committed that crime. The latter had far less invested.

Equality and trust in the criminal justice system also came up in the speech. Watkins said that citizens do the sentencing during jury duty and need to take their job seriously for the justice system to properly function.

Referring to SMU, Watkins said students are the future of change for this country. He charged the faculty with the important role of teaching students to be involved in government and politics, but to also have the courage to stand up for what is right.

Campus News Blog: Is a $10,000 bachelor’s degree possible?

February 23, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

Posted by Elena Harding
eharding@smu.edu

Gov. Rick Perry has asked state lawmakers to change funding to colleges and universities and issued a challenge to schools, to create a $10,000 bachelor’s degree with the cost of books included.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea. Each year would cost $2,500. Most student loans at SMU are much more than that.

However, lawmakers are not too sure this idea is feasible, doubting whether universities can create a $10,000 four-year degree. Other cost-saving measures include awarding funding based on number of degrees awarded and closing or combining institutions.

VIDEO: SMU Childcare Center

November 23, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Bridget Bennett
brekow@smu.edu

VIDEO: SMU Childcare Center from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

SMU Costs More Than Ivy League’s Yale

March 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

by Sydni Brass

Yale University is ranked the number two university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. SMU is ranked 68. It’s much tougher to get into Yale than SMU, and Yalies are more likely to have graduated at the top of their high school class.

Yet, it costs more to attend SMU than Yale:  $37,230 at SMU versus $36,500 at Yale.

Those figures, which exclude room and board and other fees, come from the College Board, which gathers data from higher education institutions around the country. SMU’s tuition is also as high, or nearly as high, as at most other Ivy League schools ranked in the nation’s top 10, including Harvard and Princeton.

So why, in a city where the cost of living is fairly low, are we paying more for an education that may arguably be not quite as good?

Jose Bowen, dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, said a lot of what students wind up paying in tuition has to do with the size of the university’s endowment. Harvard, for instance, was able to radically change its tuition structure because of its large endowment after criticism that not enough poor students could afford to attend.

“The biggest difference is the size of endowment and the way schools can structure costs and scholarships,” Dean Bowen said.

Nine percent of students in the United States attend universities, including SMU, with tuition and fees of more than $33,000, according to the College Board. SMU senior Taryn Baker is concerned about SMU’s high cost.

“Students who graduate from SMU get less job opportunities than Harvard grads and most make less money than Harvard grads do,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair we’re paying Ivy League prices when our future income probably won’t be as high as theirs.”

Other students, though, say that they are getting their money’s worth at SMU.

“We’re paying for a private education and a great atmosphere here so it doesn’t bother me that it is in the Ivy League price range,” said junior Samuel Marasco.

Patricia LaSalle, SMU’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs, provided information gathered by Cambridge Associates, which provides research to universities, showing SMU is more expensive than Yale and Princeton. Harvard students, on the other hand, pay a little more than SMU students.

In recent years, SMU has been dubbed “the Harvard of the South” due to a more selective admissions process attributed to a larger applicant pool. In 2004, SMU admitted 64.3 percent of its applicants, while in 2008 it admitted only 49.7 percent of applicants.

Still, that’s not nearly as selective as Ivy League schools where they admit only a fraction of students. For instance, SMU admitted 53 percent of all the applicants who applied for the 2009-10 school years. Yale admitted only 8 percent.  At Yale, 96 percent of its students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. At SMU, only 43 percent of students graduated in the top 10 percent.

While there has been an increase in selectivity over the years at SMU, it is matched by an equally steady growth in tuition. Between the academic years of 2003-04 and 2008-09, there has been an increase of more than $8,000 per school year.

“SMU is in Dallas and our classes are small.  We have wonderful programs that Harvard does not have like Advertising, Journalism and fantastic arts programs,” said Bowen of SMU’s intrinsic value.

SMU is currently the most expensive private school in Texas, with tuition that is higher than Baylor University and Rice University.

In a letter to SMU students in December, 2008, President R. Gerald Turner wrote that “SMU’s tuition and fees compare favorably to other national universities.”

President Turner did not respond to interview requests for this story.

In the fall of 2009, SMU increased its tuition by nearly 6 percent. But due to the economic downturn, administrators have decided to increase tuition by a smaller percentage than in previous years starting in the fall of 2010.

Regardless, students on a tight budget or who are working their way through college still struggle to make it through four years without the burden of heavy debt from college loans.

Some students may not believe that the debt is worth it for an education that may not be as respected as an Ivy League degree.

“I had no idea we pay an Ivy League price to go to here. I don’t think our education is comparable to the education students get at Harvard and we definitely don’t have the Harvard reputation,” said SMU junior Anna McIngvale.

Global News Blog: Haiti Working on Strengthening Child Education

April 15, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Ashley Warmack

Children in Haiti deserve to have the right to education as much as anyone else in today’s world. Luckily, the Dominican Republic’s telecoms regulator Indotel will help these children in Haiti grow in the technology field. The goal is to strengthen Haitian kids by teaching computer skills and training them to search the web. This will give the children confidence to learn and grow.

According to a Dominican Today article, “The two digital rooms will be administered by Haitian telecommunications regulator Conatel or by civil institutions. Mobilizing the country’s population through a national program to create jobs to rehabilitate the natural and man-made environment and provide employment for Haiti’s youth is necessary.”

This is a great improvement for many children and adults in Haiti. This can create jobs and confidence to go out in the world and learn more. According to the article, “Haiti has a population of nine million, six million of whom live below the poverty line.”

Global News Blog: Selfless Act Helps Colombia to Succeed

February 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Sarah Stradtman

In this article published in the New York Times world section, a story is told about “Luis Soriano, a teacher from La Gloria, Colombia, [who] has traveled to the village of El Brasil with his Biblioburro nearly every weekend for the past decade.” Mr. Soriano has been mounting his two donkeys, and strapping book bags to their saddles with books for the less fortunate. “This began as a necessity; then it became an obligation; and after that a custom,” he explained, squinting at the hills undulating into the horizon. “Now,” he said, “it is an institution.” He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia.

As a fellow advocate of philanthropic behavior, this article really hit home personally. Growing up, I was active in community service for both middle school and high school. After school almost every Thursday for four years I went to a Dallas day care in a rough area to read to children who either hadn’t learned, were learning, or knew, but didn’t excel. It’s amazing to see how much these children long to be smart, and learn. I never would’ve known how highly children appreciate knowledge at such a young age, when it was something I never even thought twice about.

It is people like Mr. Soriano who are taking necessary steps to change this world, and I found this story truly inspiring. Because of this 36 year old man, the children of Colombia are getting a chance to succeed. Could you imagine what the world would be like if every individual took an issue they thought was important and worked this hard to achieve such an extravagant goal?