Tennessee schools are required to provide time for non-structured physical activity

A new state law in Tennessee requires kindergartners and first graders to get 225 minutes of unstructured physical activity a week, and second through sixth graders must get 160 minutes per week.

News Channel 11 reports that the department of education is helping schools comply with the new physical activity law.  School districts were sent a memo in December explaining that “classroom activity breaks like Go Noodle cannot count towards the law because they are structured activities and the law requires activities to be non-structured.”

Channel 11 reports that local school districts would like to see more clarification or even changes. Greene County Director of Schools David McLain suggested that a law simply saying kids need 45 minutes a day of physical activity would be better.

Fort Pierce Library offers program for early dismissal days

In Florida, TCCPalm reports that the Fort Pierce Library is offering an after-school program on early dismissal days:

Middle school students looking for something different on early dismissal days can stop by the Fort Pierce Library to hone their S.T.E.M. skills with games such as Prime Climb, Escape Evil and Qwirkle.

Early release dates for 2017 school year are: Jan 25; Feb. 15; March 10; April 5; May 24; and June 1 and 2. The Early Release Day program starts at 2:30 p.m.

Food truck delivers lunch to students on Monday holiday

Capital Schools’ food truck now delivers: District to keep kids fed when schools are off. The Delaware State News reports that a new food truck run by the Capital School District delivered free lunches to children on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This was a test run for food deliveries this summer.

The new food truck cost an estimated $147,000 and was purchased with federal school lunch program grants.

The truck will visit communities Monday through Thursday each week during the summer break and provide a free lunch to anyone 18 years old and younger.

Rapid City schools might end early dismissals

The Rapid City school district is studying how to eliminate early dismissals on Wednesdays while still providing professional development for teachers. In 2012, this South Dakota school district started dismissing students an hour and a half to two hours early on Wednesdays.

“But the early-release day has created its own problems for parents, educators and district officials in the last few years,” the Rapid City Journal reports. “The logistics of transporting and keeping students occupied and safe once they get out of school early on a midweek day had proven difficult for some parents.”

Superintendent Lori Simon has created a task for of teachers and principals to discuss possible alternatives. Simon is opposed to the current early dismissal policy, citing its negative effect on attendance:

“Wednesday is usually the best attendance day for schools, and that used to be the case for us in Rapid,” she said. “with the early-release Wednesdays, we are seeing it have a very negative impact. It’s now one of our worst attendance days.”

Rapid City schools already suffer from some of the worst attendance in the nation, and fixing that problem has been one of Simon’s top priorities since she took the helm in July.

Advocacy group rates school food in Maryland

Healthy School Food Maryland recently published a report card on school food in Maryland.  “The group examined each of Maryland’s school systems based on 12 factors that organizers said are of concern to parents and public health advocates,’ the Washington Post reports.

The 2016 School Food Environment Grades considered the following criteria:

  • Consistent access to potable water,
  • Use of local produce and farm-to-school programs,
  • Policies prohibiting artificial colors, flavors and other chemicals in school food,
  • Access to healthier vending options both during and outside of the school day,
  • Existence and transparency about a district-level standing wellness committee or its equivalent,
  • Policies and practices to reduce sugar in school food,
  • Transparency about school foods,
  • Amount of scratch cooking,
  • Variety and repetition of meals,
  • Policies on the marketing of foods of minimal nutritional value in school, and
  • The existence and quality of salad bars.

The bullet point about policies prohibiting artificial colors, flavors and other chemicals seems to be overly restrictive. Here is how it is described:

Chemicals: While the federal regulatory system for allowing new chemicals in the food supply fails to follow the precautionary principle or address a preponderance of scientific evidence that should preclude certain additives, consumer watchdog groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest have brought to the public’s attention the need for concern over many chemical additives commonly found in school foods, such as synthetic food dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives like BHA, BHT and TBHQ. Kudos to Montgomery County, the sole school system in the state with a policy that goes beyond federal regulations, prohibiting certain chemicals such as MSG, BHA, TBHQ and several synthetic food dyes and artificial sweeteners in their food, thanks in large part to the advocacy of Real Food for Kids – Montgomery, the lead partner of the HSFMD coalition

Although Montgomery County was praised on this point, the Post reported, “Montgomery scored lower on easy access to drinking water at lunch, school-based salad bars and limiting vending machines to healthier items even after school hours end.”

Marla Caplon, director of food and nutrition services in Montgomery, said the report card was too narrowly focused and not a fair reflection of the county’s approach. Twenty-five schools have salad bars, she said, but middle schools and high schools offer an entree salad daily, and fresh fruits and vegetables are offered at all schools every day. She also said elementary students who get school lunches are offered free bottles of water.

Howard County was given a grade of A+. The Carroll County and Frederick County school districts were given B+ grades. Most other school systems were given a C or C + grade. Allegany received a D+ grade and Garret County an F. The Post reports that Worcester County did not fully participate in the study. All the school systems met state and federal school food requirements.

South Portland schools to start later next year

Schools will start later for students in South Portland, Maine, next year. The South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry  reports that high school classes will start 40 minutes later, while middle school students will begin their day 35 minutes later than the current schedule, which is 7:30 a.m. at the high school and 7:55 at the two middle schools.

The five elementary schools in South Portland will start five minutes later, changing from 9:00 a.m. to 9:05 a.m., according to the school board agenda Proposed 2017-2018 School Start Times.

The Sentry reports that two other Main school districts (Westbrook, Biddeford and Saco) switched to later start times in recent years. Several other school districts are studying it for the 2017-2018 school year.

Westbrook was one of the first Maine school districts to adopt later start times, doing so in 2012. Biddeford and Saco did so last year, while Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk, among others, all have the concept on the table for the 2017-2018 school year.

Bulova says she will be reluctant to raise taxes again in Fairfax County

The Washington Post reports that Sharon Bulova, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, said that the school budget proposed by Acting Superintendent Steve Lockard asks for more than double the growth that the county anticipates it will be able to provide. “Early estimates show that county revenue will grow by about $72 million, with $49 million of that extra funding going to county schools. Bulova said she would be reluctant to raise taxes again.”

Lockard proposes $2.8 billion budget

Today Interim Superintendent Steve Lockard proposed a budget increase of 4.9 percent for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget for Fairfax County Public Schools. This represents an increase of 5.7 percent in the Fairfax County transfer in the general fund compared to last year.

The proposed increase of $130.4 million in the $2.8 billion budget includes $44 million for an average step increase of 2.5 percent for all eligible employees and $41.2 million for anticipated increases in health insurance and contributions to the retirement systems. The proposal would also increase teacher pay by $33.2 million to move FCPS teachers closer to the regional market average. An increase of $7 million would go to new salary scales for school-based administrators, classroom instructional support positions (i.e. instructional assistants, public health training assistants, and public health attendants) and nonteacher salary scales.

The FY 2018 budget includes an additional $10.0 million to cover the cost of 1,932 additional students. Also, a one percent market scale adjustment for nonteacher scales would be $7.9 million.

The cost for textbook adoption for social studies would be $7.8 million, “of which $2.7 is a new investment.”

The budget also calls for $2.4 million for an assessment tool to identify remediation and accelerations needs.

The budget overview on page 5 of the FY 2018 Proposed Budget includes this bullet point:

“Budget reduction for Compensation Base Savings–$27.5 million.”

I couldn’t find a quick explanation of this. Perhaps this was explained in the presentation to the school board. Meanwhile, it is time to start reading the 296-page budget!

Bulova asks General Assembly for more funding for Fairfax

At a January 7 public hearing before the members of the Fairfax Delegation to the General Assembly, many speakers addressed education.

 The Alexandria Gazette Packet quoted Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova:

“Of the $21 million in additional state funding the county was expected to receive in FY2017, $4.4 of that is already at risk due to the cancellation of funding for raises for teachers and other instructions personnel,” Bulova said. “We must get that funding back and we must make sure that funding for those raises is included in the FY2018 budget.”

Bulova and Fairfax County Public School Board vice chair Jane Strauss said the Virginia Retirement System rates were accelerated by one year last year, which increases the costs for FCPS by more than $25 million in FY 2017.

“We ask for help in avoiding funding reductions to our local programs and services,” Bulova said, “and opposing restrictions on our local revenues.”

Matthews says “credit recovery” may not lead to real gains in learning

Jay Matthews questions the widespread use of “credit recovery,” which allows students to substitute a few weeks of online classes for courses that usually take months. “Before educators get too excited about the results from credit recovery, they need to assess how much those students have learned in a few weeks compared with those who spend months in class.”

Matthews said that although high school graduation rates are soaring, “there is no research indicating they reveal any learning gains in our high schools.”

A report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning says “too often credit recovery ‘solutions’ have lowered the bar for passing.” It recommends valid tests of competency before awarding credit, something D.C. officials say they hope to do. Arlington uses credit recovery usually for students well past age 18 or who have had trouble with the law.