Actually, maybe “funding annoyances” might be a better title.
Annoyance #1: Project Lead the Way (PLTW)
They’ve revamped three of its courses’ curricula in the past two years, and with the new curriculum for each course they are requiring thousands of dollars of extra spending on new equipment. I can see some of the reason behind the new curricula: to make sure their engineering pathway and course content is motivating and engaging to students, while also meeting higher education and engineering industry standards. But stagger the courses out please!! We can’t afford all this new equipment at the same time, even if we weren’t in the middle of a recession!
At recent meetings with teachers from other schools across the city, state, and region, various people have expressed their frustration that PLTW had them buy a robotic arm for an estimated $15,000, that now — less than two years after purchasing it — is no longer part of the curriculum while PLTW is requiring purchase of several thousand dollars’ worth of Lynx Robots instead. Or similar stories for the other PLTW courses and equipment. Additionally, many teachers have mentioned that they don’t yet have the required equipment for a course that began in August, due to a combination of a lack of funds, illogical bureaucratic ordering schedules (see next topic), and several-month-delays in shipping. All in all, though I’ve been a fan of PLTW’s exciting and relevant program since I’ve begun teaching engineering, this was not well thought-out.
Annoyance #2: The Perkins funding schedule
Who on Earth designed a system wherein you apply for funds (from the federal Perkins grant, which sponsors a variety of career and technical education programs) in April, don’t hear back how much got approved until October, thereby not ordering equipment and supplies until November that actually arrive in December, for a course that began back in August?!?! What’s even worse is when you have a prescribed (though not scripted – ew) curriculum, like we do for PLTW, where we are expected to be using certain equipment and supplies on Day 1 (in August) and specific other equipment on Day 40 (in October), equipment which has not yet even been approved for ordering! What’s even more worse is if you’re teaching a semester course instead of year-long, so your course ends in January, meaning the equipment arrives and you have three weeks left to use it!
The short answer, I believe is that Congress (who wrote the Perkins law) is who designed that ludicrous schedule. [I see a lot of heads nodding in understanding now.] But it appears they wrote this education law/grant without talking to a single educator, all of whom could have told Congress that the school year is not the same as the calendar year. That getting supplies in December (80% through a semester-long course, or 40% through the school year) is not a good or sensible time frame.
Now, to those who say, then plan ahead and use this year’s Perkins funds to pay for next year’s equipment, I say: Excellent idea! If only we can catch up from using this year’s funds to pay off what was urgently needed last year or at the START of this year and still have some money left over, that would work well. But a few factors get in the way: bureaucratic reality (most schools start behind, and so will never catch up), the need to plan super-far in advance (really ordering things you’ll need a year and a half from now), and PLTW changing the things you need to order (see point #1).
The best solution to me would be to (approximately) reverse the timeline. Have teachers and schools submit what they will need for the next year in October, hear back in April, and put in orders in May, for equipment which will then arrive over the summer, be set up, and be ready to go the first day of school! A revolutionary concept, that! This is not perfect: the equipment needs will not be as clear in October as in spring, but hopefully the big equipment needs are somewhat clear, since the teacher is teaching the course (as opposed to April, when that teacher may not have been there if it’s her first year). And the impatient among you might say getting equipment in December is better than not getting it until the school year is out, but at least this plan makes it 100% clear that you are buying for the year ahead, instead of the gray area under the current plan where people think the Perkins money is for this year but don’t get it until halfway through, and then you’re trapped in a bad cycle.
Anyway, we teachers have brought up this scheduling issue time and again when meeting with our district office, and while they are not the ones in charge of the schedule (the federal government is), it is a continued point of conflict (though not heated, everyone keeps their cool): how can our district be expecting us to raise test scores (not to mention tie our pay to test scores) when the test will be on equipment, and procedures for using and understanding that equipment, that we do not even have when we are teaching the course?
Dealing with my anger issues
So, to make a long story short (too late!), we just found out a few weeks ago that we only received 16% of what we requested through the Perkins grant. And what we requested was not frivolous or padding, but required equipment to add a PLTW course and upgrade our existing course curricula. No justification was communicated to me as a teacher for why this was so low, or what specific parts were rejected while delineating the 16% that were approved. Combined with our overall fiscal situation in rough times, this means we have a budget crisis. Even though PLTW may not like to hear me say this, it also means that I won’t be able to keep up with all the new curriculum, and shall try to teach my students with some muddled combination of ideas and concepts from the new curriculum, taught with equipment from the old curriculum plus whatever I can scrounge from our science department, the dollar store, and the local sidewalk.
On a positive note, we have also been looking more deeply this year into grants we can apply for. One we are working on right now is the NACME STEM Innovation grant (my math teacher readers, your ears may want to perk up here!), up to $1000 which can be applied toward any STEM-related project at an inner-city school.
Do you know of any other grants to look into?