Shredding Back The Years

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 by

Recently, our after-school program was de-funded by the State of California due to the ongoing budget crisis.  With one swipe of the pen, Governor Jerry Brown wiped out approximately six million dollars of funding from our organization annually which was used to fund after-school program scholarships for the financially disadvantaged.

I’m here to say that I don’t think it was such a bad thing.

Now, mind you, before you consider me some cold-hearted, right-leaning, only-care-for-the-rich jerk, I’ll give you my reasons.

Well, reason, really.

The fact is that whenever you take money from the government, no matter for what noble cause, paperwork – ungodly, unjust, and vast amounts of paperwork – flows from the halls of power as if Mount Olympus had just been moved to Sacramento.

In the case of our funding, the paperwork was called “Desired Results for Families and Children”.  A fairly benign title, really.  After all, who isn’t for positive results for all Californian children.

Ah, but here’s the rub.  While I’m sure that plenty of time, sweat, and effort went into drafting these 31 “desired results” (the actual number fluctuated between 50, 31, and 13 over time), the government demanded that we rate each child’s progress ongoingly according to these standards that were seemingly handed to us from Mount Sinai (which also I surmise is now located in Sacramento, near Mount Olympus).

And rating each child was not enough!  We then, in accordance with our funding contract, had to tabulate and aggregate all the data we generated about each child’s progress, and re-design our curriculum every six months with the end goal being pushing each child’s “rating” up on each of the 31 standards.

Of course, one might ask… where is the room for original curriculum?  What if the emerging curriculum suggested by the children said we should investigate ladybugs… but we didn’t because we were busy making sure that kids understand how to wash their hands well enough to score a 3 on that particular standard?

Aside from the basic bristling of the government telling me what curriculum I must promote and is good for kids, these Desired Results Developmental Profiles (DRDPs in shop-talk) that we had to complete for each child, every six months took hours to complete (probably 3 hours of observation, 1/2 hour of assessment, and 2 hours of administrative number-crunching and curriculum re-designing… per child)!

Let’s multiply it out… if you figure 5-1/2 hours of work per child… and say, like our program, you had 35 children receiving subsidized child care, that comes out to 192.5 man-hours of work… times two (remember this is a semiannual requirement)… that comes to a total investment of 385 hours of work each year… or roughly the equivalent of 18.5% of a full-time job.

Now, the financial payouts are more appealing… in exchange for that 385 hours, we received approximately $122,000 to subsidize these kids’ child care expenses.  About $315 per hour for our work (of course, the workers don’t get that money… it goes into the general budget).

But, finances aside, the main problem with the DRDP is that the ratings are completely subjective.  That’s right… subjective.  Which means I could rate a child a “2″ in the category of self-confidence, and another teacher might see that child as a “3″ or a “1″.  While there are “guidelines” by which to select your rating, the fact is that the rating would still be subject to that teacher’s perception of how the child is.

Another fact is that, while Miss Bobbie might be rating the child now, six months from now it may be Mr. Jim that’s doing the rating.  Given the high turnover rate of workers in the child care field, it’s possible that a child may be rated by a different adult every time.  And this makes for somewhat shaky results.

And, then, we create our curriculum around these objectively suspect findings.

So, happy was I (however, probably not the environment) as I fed these DRDP tools from the past 7 years into the paper shredder this week.  Another win for common sense.

And, as a footnote to this story, the needy of the community were not left out.  Our organization budgeted creatively and started their own program for subsidized after-school care.  Win-win.

 

 

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