1. This article raises a lot of interesting and important issues.
    First, a couple of the diploma offerings mentioned (standard and advanced) are not FCCPS created but state mandated. The state–the VA Department of Education–has been discussing the tiered diploma, along with a number of different policies aimed at changing the high school experience for VA students. Their conversations are focusing on opening up more options and choices for students, rather than fewer. This raises a very old and important challenge of balancing many choices AND supporting all students in making the best choices for themselves. There are, indeed, 2 schools of thought: (1) reduce choice dramatically and focus on ensuring all students do well in the core curriculum, (2) expand choices dramatically to provide many pathways to support students in finding their passion and pursuing their interests. Personally, I like #2, the challenge with this choice is ensuring that the pathways are all GOOD pathways that lead to somewhere/something and that students are supported as they make choices. Research has shown that when there are lots of choices, resources are put into the choices that high-performing, typically white, and wealthy kids choose and the other “choices” are not strong and are a bit of a dumping ground for the rest of the kids. So, as we look at our school system and the big achievement gaps that we have, how to we ensure that we are investing in the success of all of our children?
    This sort of brings me to another point raised in this article and that is the important of using data to examine quality, cost/benefit, outcomes. How do we make decisions about programs and other educational investments if we do not know how much they cost, how well they are implemented, and their impact on our teachers and students?
    It’s time to do an audit, an education audit examining programs, costs, benefits, on our system. We have new school board members who are not rubber-stampers and who bring a data-driven sophistication to the existing board.

    1. Right on, Alison & Becky. You, I and others have been saying for years now that FCCPS should do a forensic audit that will include the kinds of questions you describe, and that audit should inform how we configure school curriculums. We should also be rethinking which classes should be publicly funded and which are more appropriately choices that should be made and costs that should be borne by families. Case in point – music education. i would argue that basic Introduction to music and specific entry level instrument lessons are central to a broad-based educational program, as is a school band and/or orchestra. However, once students have had the opportunity of a semester with an instrument and decide to pursue it further, it should be up to families to seek advanced instrument lessons (Guitar II, III, and IV) as a personal, rather than a public decision and expense. Students willing to invest time and effort outside of school could still have the benefit of membership in the school band/orchestra. This is just one example; we should reexamine other pursuits as well, like the number of foreign languages to be offered and the variety of sports
      I guess what I am saying is focus on core curriculum and making it great and provide as broad a sampling of non-core, but nonetheless important, subjects as we can reasonably afford and that students can pursue to greater accomplishment as personal, and personally funded extracurricular pursuits. Shift the costs of some non-core educational endeavors to the heaviest users in the interest of public cost control and fairness to our taxpayers who get no benefit from broad expansion of the extracurricular expenditures. We are too small to compete with the ability of surrounding larger systems to offer so many more academic choices. One solution, if we want all the advantages of a larger school system is to give up our independent system and affiliate with a neighboring system.

  2. Kudos to Ms. Kutchma for asking the detailed questions about the school budget. When I watched a School Board meeting where they were reviewing the school budget, I was surprised that there was more time spent deliberating on 1) fees for parking, 2) copier leases, 3) athletic fees and small change items instead of the big portion of the budget: employees, benefits, etc. Also, there is little discussion about all the different programs available to the kids from pre-school to high school – STARS, MYP, IB, etc. All of these programs have costs associated with them and do we need all of them to educate our children or can teachers teach from the state approved curriculum? Where is the analysis especially in a time where the school budget is so tight?

    I hope our School Board members take charge and ask the important questions as Ms. Kutchma has done in her article.

  3. Sally:

    I have been surprised for a very long time. I have been asking questions for longer. Please help me convince our school board to see the need to share answers with the community they serve. I attended the October 14, 2014 school board meeting where the board reviewed the roll-out of the MYP program. I have copied the link to the meeting from YOUTUBE below. They start discussing MYP at 49:45 into the meeting. Please (anyone) comment here if you hear any questions about the cost of this implementation or requests for data about educational outcomes or how its success would be measured.


    I hope that link works for you. Thank you for your comments.

  4. I have been in Fall Church City for about 5 years. Whenever the school budget is discussed, there is little information presented on the costs and benefits associated with each program. The school board does not seem to ask detailed questions about the budget. Thanks to Alison Kutchma for continuing to ask for detailed budgets. Perhaps they will be presented one day soon.

    Each year the principals and other administrators speak to what funding increases they need but I have yet to hear them suggest ideas on what curriculum and process changes could be implemented to increase educational outcomes while being sensitive to tight budgets. Why can’t we hear their ideas on changes that may be better for our school?

    My suggestion would be to have an internal audit that would review a program-oriented budget and provide a concurrent cost/benefits analysis. Our school district has yet to conduct such a study and our school board never requests such information in order to make better informed budget decisions.
    School Board: Please have an internal audit to determine where we can improve our educational system.

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