Vote “Yes” for the Meals Tax

Fairfax County voters: Be sure and vote “Yes” on the meals tax referendum. “The meals tax is intended to diversify county revenue and to supplement and not supplant support for school and county services,” Chairman Sharon Bulova of the Board of Supervisors and Chairman Sandy Evans of the School Board said today. “The meals tax is intended to diversify county revenue and to supplement and not supplant support for school and county services.”

Bulova and Evans explained the meals tax:

The meals tax would create a new revenue source, paid by diners in Fairfax County who are county residents, tourists, and workers who live in neighboring jurisdictions.

The School Board has committed that its share, estimated to be almost $70 million in new funding, will be used primarily to address teachers’ salaries, which have lagged behind neighboring communities.

Almost $30 million would be available to address general county services or capital improvements such as in public safety, mental health services, libraries, and parks, as well as providing for property tax relief.

More information on the meals tax referendum is available online.

Note: the meals tax, if approved, would not be levied in the Town of Clifton, or in the Towns of Herndon and Vienna, where a meals tax has already been implemented.

Carroll County considers two calendars for next year

The Carroll County Times advises the local Board of Education to go ahead and choose the proposed calendar for the 2017-18 school year that would start after Labor Day. Although there might be a legal challenge to Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order to start schools after Labor Day that year, “there is no requirement that schools must start before Labor Day if Hogan’s order is overturned in court or in the State House.”

Last week, Carroll County Public School’s introduced two possible calendars for 2017-18 school year — one that fits the requirements of the governor’s executive order to start class after Labor Day on Sept. 5 and wrap up by June 15; another in which school begins Aug. 29, finishes a day earlier and includes longer spring and winter breaks. The Board of Education is expected to approve both calendars at its November meeting after soliciting feedback from the public, and then decide which to use after the dust settles on the legality of Hogan’s order.

The Times says, “we think they should just adopt the post-Labor Day calendar later this fall and see how it works out, regardless of what might happen with the executive order. “

Legality of Hogan’s order on starting school after Labor Day is questioned

Hogan may have exceeded authority with order on school start. According to a lawyer in the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), “I can not say unequivocally that the Labor Day executive order exceeds the Governor’s authority, but I believe it likely that a reviewing court, if presented with the issue, would conclude that it does.”

According to the Washington Post, “The review from Frosh’s office comes more than two weeks after Hogan ordered the state’s 24 school systems to start after Labor Day and to end by June 15 starting next year. Systems may petition the state Board of Education to be exempt from the order.”

Critics cite negative effects of a post-Labor Day start for schools

In response to Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order that schools must start after Labor Day, the Baltimore Sun reports that Democrats are saying that that local decisions are best left to local officials while Republicans are supporting the decision.

During the first Board of Public Works meeting since he announced the order last week, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp turned to Hogan on Wednesday morning and flatly called the move an “abuse of executive power.”

“It was a misuse of authority,” said Kopp, a Democrat who serves on the three-member panel with the Republican governor. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

She said she was awaiting Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s formal opinion on the matter.

Could a late school start mean an end to spring break? The Washington Post notes that some school districts might end school breaks or cut teacher work days or certain holidays. The Post reports local needs weigh heavily on how school years are designed.

Snow, for example, is a big factor in the school calendar for Garrett County, home to Deep Creek Lake and Wisp ski resort. The school district has a calendar that is already “down to the bone,” said Jim Morris, a school system spokesman. A few years ago, 20 days were lost to snow, he said.

Morris said the greatest concern is if the new state mandate means that, when snow days pile up, school years get cut short of their required 180 days. “That would give our kids an instructional disadvantage,” he said.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jennifer L. Steele  says the big question is how the order will affect student learning:

Decades of research have shown that students forget some of their learning during the summer, especially in math — a phenomenon known as summer slide. Worse, the size of the slide depends on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, with those from low-income backgrounds losing more ground, especially in reading. Why? One factor may be that wealthier students have greater access to enriching summer activities — camps, travel and internships. They may also spend more time on literacy-related tasks.

Steele noted that the executive order could end up slashing teacher planning days and midyear breaks. “Though the research on compressing vs. expanding the instructional calendar is mixed, there is at least some evidence that distributing breaks at regular intervals across the year may benefit the lowest-income students.”






More schools avoid assigning homework

Are we giving students enough time in school or not? If they do have a long enough school day, should teachers also assign homework? This question is especially relevant in elementary schools. Valerie Strauss recently wrote about an experiment in not giving homework in second grade:

Second-grade teachers at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, Va., had an idea: Look at the research on how homework affects young students and do what it says.

They read studies done by Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and Duke University psychology professor, and learned that he found no solid evidence that elementary schoolchildren benefit from academic homework. They hatched a plan to stop assigning it and only ask kids to read, which Cooper and other researchers have found to be useful for young children. Principal Harold Pellegreen gave them permission to go ahead — as long as they evaluated the impact by looking at test scores during the year.

Also, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Kelly Elementary School banned homework for all students this year after the district extended school by two hours a day. Now I would be interested in the reaction of parents in the schools which had two hours more in the school day and then still expected the students to lug home backpacks full of homework.

Baltimore County doesn’t give grades for most homework

Baltimore County won’t give grades for homework. A new grading policy took effect at the beginning of this school year on a trial basis, the Baltimore Sun reports. “Under the policy, explained in a 60-page document available on the county schools’ website, homework is not graded, teachers cannot give a student a failing grade lower than 50, and students who don’t perform well on a test or assignment can redo it to get a higher grade.”

Teachers will report behavior, effort, class participation and whether the student has done homework on the report card, but it will not be counted as part of the grade. Homework will be assigned but not graded. There are exceptions for longer assignments such as an English essay or a biology lab report, which will continue to be graded, White said.

News of the new school year in the Washington area

The Washington Post summarizes the changes in local school districts this year. A new school year begins with changes, innovations, new facilities.

Two schedule changes were mentioned:

District of Columbia—Ten schools started a year-round schedule aimed at boosting academics at low-performing schools.

Montgomery County—School is closed for students on September 12. This was designed to be close to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

According to, Eid al-Adha is on Sunday, September 11. “Based on sightability in North America, in 2016 Eid al-Adha will start in North America a day later—on Monday, the 12th of September.”

According to, Eid al-Adha in the United States this year is on September 13.

Maryland schools start planning for post-Labor Day start next year

Maryland schools will not be allowed to start before Labor Day next year. Here is a roundup of news and analysis on this issue:

Anne Arundel schools consider shortening spring break. Anne Arundel County school officials say they might reduce spring break and cut the day before Thanksgiving and several parent-teacher conference days to comply with Governor Larry Hogan’s order to start schools after Labor Day.

A Capital Gazette editorial notes that the mandate to start after Labor Day and end by June 15 or earlier means that school administrators will need to provide 10 more instructional days in the 2017-18 school year. Our say: Hogan must handle Ocean City Order’s fallout.

Other consequences go beyond the schedule squeeze. Schools will now have less time to help students recover from the annual “summer slide” and prepare for standardized exams that cannot be rescheduled. This may impair efforts to close the achievement gap. And many children will lose a couple of weeks of free- and reduced-price meals.

The Washington Post reports, Md. governor’s order for post-Labor Day school start leaves Democrats squirming.Extending summer vacation may boost the first-term Republican’s already high popularity, analysts say, given that polls show large majorities of Marylanders favor the move. The governor’s action also gives him a new opportunity to publicly battle with Democratic legislative leaders, who have killed past attempts to mandate a post-Labor Day return to school because of concerns from school officials and teachers unions about test prep, snow days and limiting summer learning loss.”

The reported that parents expressed opinions on both sides of the issue. Elizabeth Drachman of Fairfax County noted that Fairfax decided to start before Labor Day next year partly to be more consistent with Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Hogan’s order does not apply to private and religious schools.

Maryland law does dictate that non-public schools, which include religious and independent schools, must have at least 170 days of school. Those schools are also required to have a school calendar and to build in three to five additional days that schools can close for bad weather.

Fairfax starts program to give laptops to students

New program will give some Fairfax students their own laptops. The Washington Post reports that Fairfax County Public Schools is giving laptops to every student at Chantilly High and its seven feeder schools for an entire year through an initiative called FCPSOn. It will cost $2.1 million to provide 7,800 laptops to students and train teachers.

Phase one of FCPSOn will also include five high schools that are part of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) e-Learning Backpack Grant.  Those schools are Stuart, Lee, Annandale, Falls Church, and Mount Vernon High Schools as well as Fairfax Adult High School. The grant provides funding for the purchase of a laptop device for every ninth grade student for up to four years to assist in the transition to digital learning. The e-Learning Backpack grant schools will be included in professional development opportunities and will benefit from the new learning resources developed for phase one of FCPSOn.

Walt Carlson, a long-time advocate of expanded use of computers in Fairfax schools, says he supports FCPS’s plan to eventually get to 1:1 computers in all schools. He disagrees with the recent warning by Thomas Hazlett in Politico that schools should not spend so much on broadband and educational technology.

Hazlett had reported that in 2013, Los Angeles United School District planned to spend $1.3 billion to give an Apple iPad to each of its 640,00 students. The program was a disaster and was suspended after $100 million was spent. “Kids almost instantly hacked their way out of the firewalls that limited access to inappropriate sites, while customized software proved inoperable,” Hazlett reported.

The Post reports that Deputy Superintendent Steve Lockard said that Fairfax “wanted to start small with its rollout, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that have hampered other one-to-one efforts.”

I’m not sure how starting small will help to avoid these pitfalls. This sounds like wishful thinking. When I mentioned to Walt Carlson that I was skeptical of the one-to-one program, he shared some of his thoughts in favor of the program:

  1. Our entire nation is becoming a wired nation. It is difficult to accomplish many tasks in commerce and government today unless you have adequate access to the Internet capabilities and know how to use them.
  2. Technology has had a major – mostly beneficial – impact on almost all major aspects of our society – except education and medical care.
  3. Many textbooks are no longer available in paper format.
  4. Newspapers are closing and those that remain are not performing many of the oversight functions they used to perform.
  5. Our students are going to have learn to survive in a wired world so they need a place to learn how to do that.
  6. Low income families will never be able to fully function in society unless they have easy access to them and are capable of using them.
  7. Teachers have not been able to use technology to improve their effectiveness due to several reasons, one being easily accessible, adequate access for students at home and in school.
  8. Technology may be able to help our schools address the growing shortage of teachers.

LoudounNow calls for earlier start to school year

A LoudounNow editorial says that local school systems should choose their own school year schedule.

Loudoun County schools opened Monday and the Virginia economy seemed to weather the storm just fine. It isn’t a pre-Labor Day class calendar that can be blamed for the state government’s under-performing revenue projections.

Students in three of Loudoun’s neighboring jurisdictions got a bigger head start. Students in Fauquier County and Jefferson County, WV, are in their third week of classes. Clarke County students got back to work a week ago. Prince William schools, like Loudoun’s, opened Monday. Only Fairfax County students are still enjoying their sleep-late summer schedule after their school board opted to maintain the traditional post-Labor Day start; however, they’re already on notice that next year’s classes will start earlier.

Each of those Virginia school districts is allowed to open before Labor Day this year only because they qualified for a weather-related exemption to the General Assembly’s Kings Dominion Law. Unless school districts rack up at least eight snow days during five of the past 10 years, they are prohibited from opening before the late summer holiday.

The editorial concluded: “Changing weather patterns may make the state’s restriction moot—at least for snow-prone Northern Virginia jurisdictions. However, there is no reason for either the whims of Mother Nature or the dictates of the General Assembly to control educational opportunities localities choose to offer to their students.”