Rethinking the Sequester


How investing in Rethink can help schools save – and save schools – under the looming threat of sequestration

Throughout the last year, the term sequestration has emerged as a household word. No longer reserved solely for the vocabularies of those employed by the government, the wide-reaching effects of the impending sequester and the public attention given to the congressional standoff have brought this word to the tip of the tongue of every American, from those who drive on highways, go to museums, and ride city buses, to the 83% of American parents with children in public schools.  For these parents who send their children to public schools, and particularly for the parents of children with special needs who rely upon the public school system to provide their children with otherwise costly care and therapy, the threat of these cuts is especially ominous.

While education spending has tripled in the last fifty years, most evidence suggests that our public schools have, paradoxically, gotten worse. The latest polls have revealed a steady decline in the United States’ international ranking in education, earning us the unremarkable label of “average” by this year’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report. And with more cuts set to go into effect in the 2013-14 school year, the future could hardly look more bleak.

With all of that doom and gloom, and the continuing standoff in congress, it does indeed appear that we have gone over the edge of the fiscal cliff, and it is difficult to stay optimistic about the forecasted future of public education.  With funding cuts threatening some of the most basic programs, we at Rethink understand why it might be hard for districts to justify the risk of spending money on technology that may or may not end up helping their students.

For a company like our own, one which admittedly depends largely upon public funds to stay in business (many of our customers are public school districts), we have given careful consideration to what these cuts mean not only for our business model, but for the thousands of students and educators for whom our product exists.  In one sense, we are lucky, given the dire state of education funding, to not only be doing something we believe in, but to be supplying a product that we – and many of our existing customers – consider indispensable.

Despite, but also because sequestration will inevitably mean cuts in one of the country’s already most underfunded sectors, special education, Rethink is more viable a product than ever, in that while it relies upon this special education funding to stay in business, it also has incredible cost-saving potential which can help ensure that the money that is available for education is directed where it is most needed.

Below are a few ways we are confident Rethink can help save rather than add to the cost of special education in this penny-pinching economy:

1.  Due Process  With stringent policies in place for what constitutes a fair and equal education for a student with special needs, and with the money that funds these mandates continually being cut and threatened, school districts spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars every year in due process trials over disputes as to whether a child’s IEP was properly implemented. Here, an investment in Rethink can act as preventative measure to avoid such costly disputes. The capacity of our program to specifically align with IEP goals can assist in helping educators develop meaningful research-based interventions that at once address their students needs and ensure that these lessons are aligned with the IEP, thus killing two birds with one stone.  Our forthcoming inclusion model will further mobilize Rethink’s capacity to streamline IEP goals into the everyday lesson planning of regular ed teachers, thus ensuring that a child’s IEP does not fall by the wayside, an occurrence which can eventually lead to costly litigation that can drain a district’s already-depleted resources.

2.  Professional Development   With sequestration forcing schools to strip down to bare-bones operations, professional development is likely to be one of the first things to go.  In addition to the extensive support and training that comes with a subscription to our product, our online lesson library, which offers over 1500 brief instructional training videos (2-3 minutes each) for teachers to learn from and implement in their classrooms, can stand in for the professional development no longer available to districts with impoverished budgets.  In this sense, Rethink offers a form of embedded professional development, one that does not take teachers out of their classrooms, but instead allows their classrooms to become places where they can both instruct and be instructed without districts having to pay for their replacements or for the services to provide PD.  A subscription to our product avoids the former all together while encompassing the later. The increasing mobility of our lesson library (all our videos are recently available for streaming on all mobile devices) increases the capacity of our product to help streamline professional development into the everyday experience of a classroom teacher, thus avoiding interruptions in instruction that impede student progress.   Finally, the versatility of our product to provide training for teachers, parents, administrators, and (the often overlooked) para-professionals alike has the potential to substantially enhance the effectiveness of special education teams by standardizing training for all those involved in implementing the IEP, particularly as inclusion becomes the dominant model and these professionals begin to operate apart from one another, spread throughout regular education classrooms.

3.  Data Collection  The trending emphasis on data collection can be tedious, draining, time consuming, and can take valuable time away from under-resourced educators with dwindling support staff.  For teachers whose time might be more effectively resourced in lesson planning and building rapport with students and families rather than data collection, our program does more than help a teacher develop curriculum for a student, but also helps the teacher collect and maintain meaningful data for these students.  By investing in Rethink to track data for you, our program can help free up time for administrators, support staff, and teachers to do what they do best–teach and engage with the students charged to their care, while using the data our program generates to do so more effectively.  Ultimately an investment in our program can help save schools the time, money, and energy that goes into tracking and managing the data they are now expected to produce.

One of the more practical concerns raised by this year’s PISA report is the way in which our economy depends upon well-educated citizens for growth:  “Boosting US scores for reading, math and science by 25 points over the next 20 years would result in a gain of 41 trillion dollars for the United States economy over the lifetime of the generation born in in 2010,” said the OECD who conducted the report.  If the cyclical nature of what we are talking about does not strike you, let me end by suggesting that if the government cannot afford to invest in our children’s future right now, then school districts are faced with taking on this investment themselves if they are ever to expect these cuts to be lifted.  A more educated America means a more prosperous economy – one, perhaps, with the resources to invest in our schools.  By investing in Rethink you might think of yourself as investing not only in the economy then, but in what is at the heart of the society that suffers or flourishes under the effects of this economy—an individual person.

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