Prince George’s secondary school eliminates recess

A Prince George’s County charter school currently serving grades 6-8 is shortening the school day by eliminating the daily 25-minute recess period. College Park Academy opened in 2013 with grades 6-7. The charter school is adding a grade every year until it reaches 12th grade and 700 students.

The charter agreement calls for a 7.5 hour-long day, from 8:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. Last night the Prince George’s County Board of Education approved the school’s request to move the dismissal time to 3:20 p.m. and cancel recess. This waiver request was granted on an emergency basis so that the change can go into effect immediately.

“Students at College Park Academy have had recess since the school opened a year ago,” the Washington Post reports. “According to county school regulations, middle schools are not required to offer recess, and a schools spokesman said that the county’s middle schools don’t have it. County elementary schools ‘should’ offer recess for ‘no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,’ according to regulations in Prince George’s.”

Later high school start times and The Onion

Some of the reactions “quoted” by The Onion regarding later high school start times ring pretty true to other comments I have heard recently. “No way. It’s crucial to give teenagers the skills they need to slog through life half-asleep.”



More on salt and health

If you are looking for a good summary about the recent scientific studies on salt and health, the New York Times editorial board says, “There is considerable evidence that lowering sodium can reduce blood pressure, but there is scant evidence that reducing blood pressure from levels that are not clearly high will necessarily reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death.”

Previous studies have found little evidence to support those low recommended sodium targets. Now a large study by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries on five continents, has found that the safest levels of sodium consumption are between 3,000 and 6,000 milligrams. Consumption below that level (but higher than our current targets) showed increased risk of death and cardiovascular events. Roughly 10 percent of the patients followed in the study fell below 3,000 milligrams, a sizable number to put at risk. Other studies have found that very low levels of sodium can disrupt biochemical systems that are essential to human health or trigger hormones that raise cardiovascular risk

Clearly the U.S. Department of Agriculture should reconsider how far to reduce salt content in school meals.

Is too much transparency preventing problem-solving actions?

Transparency in government might be overrated. That’s the interesting argument David Frum makes. He says that in the name of reform, Americans over the past half century have weakened political authority. “Instead of yielding more accountability, however, these reforms have yielded more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision.”

Here’s a real-world example from the executive branch. Throughout most of American history, presidents and their staffs have been able to hold confidential meetings in the White House complex. The independent counsels who investigated the Clinton White House jolted this traditional understanding by demanding—and getting—access to White House visitor logs.

Frum explains that the George W. Bush administration attempted to restore the traditional confidentiality of White House visitor lists, then people sued to gain access to the logs.

Reformers keep trying to eliminate backroom wheeling and dealing from American governance. What they end up doing instead is eliminating governance itself, not just in the White House but in Congress, too.

This may be true even at the level of school boards. I think it is wonderful that the Fairfax County School Board voted 10-1 to eliminate the weekly Monday early dismissal policy in the elementary schools. I will be writing more about this vote and the debate in the future, since it was very significant.

However, it was so clearly the right decision–and the only logical decision–that the most interesting question might be–what took so long? Could it be that the Fairfax County School Board could use more flexible working arrangements?

Is state law too strict on open meetings? Could backroom wheeling and dealing have gotten this situation fixed years ago?

Clearly most parents did not support the Monday early dismissal policy. Those who complain the decision was made too quickly justify their opposition in the name of “process.”

Perhaps the school board should do a little soul searching about how such a terribly unpopular policy was allowed to drag on year after year. Whatever “process” was in place that served to prop up such a dysfunctional schedule needs to be reevaluated.

Some schools need to update their websites

There are some Fairfax County elementary schools that have been slow to spread the news that there will be no more weekly Monday early dismissals in the new school year. Some of the home pages still list the early dismissal times for Mondays.

Time to update your web pages! Let’s hope these corrections are made by tomorrow.

USDA should reconsider how far to reduce salt content in school meals

Just One Minute has an interesting summary of three recent studies of salt and health. Some news reports focus on the dangers of too much salt, other reports about the same studies say the currently recommended amount of salt may be too low. “New research suggests that healthy people can eat about twice the amount of salt that’s currently recommended — or about as much as most people consume anyway,” NBC news reports. “The controversial findings could potentially undercut widespread public health messages about salt.”

More from the NBC report:

An international study of more than 100,000 people published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that while there is a relationship between salt intake and high blood pressure, if you don’t already have high blood pressure and you’re not over 60 or eating way too much salt, salt won’t have much impact on your blood pressure.

In fact, people who consumed 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams per day had a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events than those who had more than 6,000 mg or less than 3,000 mg.

This tends to lend support to the position of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which recommends suspending the implementation of sodium Target 2 pending the availability of scientific research that supports the reduction in daily sodium intake for children. To see the reductions scheduled to be made by school year 2017-18, as as well as the final target scheduled for 2022-23, see the table below:

Previous Nutrient Standards

Current Standards K-12 (as of 7/1/12)


Reduce, no set targets

Target  1: SY 2014-15


Target 2: SY 2017-18

Final target: 2022-23






















SNA makes the following recommendation:

Retain the July 1, 2014 Target 1 sodium levels, and suspend implementation of further sodium levels unless and until scientific research supports such reductions for children. Schools are already making significant reductions in the sodium levels on school menus to meet the first sodium reduction target, which goes into effect in July 2014.

Here are the reasons SNA gives for this recommendation:

The Institute of Medicine states that before advancing to Target 2, “it would be appropriate to assess progress and effects of the actions on student participation rates, food cost, safety and food service operations to determine a reasonable target for the next period. The committee recognizes that reducing the sodium content of school meals as specified and in a way that is well accepted by students will present major challenges and may not be possible.” (School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children)

Naturally occurring sodium present in milk, meats and other foods, make the later sodium targets extremely difficult to achieve. Popular and healthy choices such as low-fat, whole grain cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese and deli sandwiches could be stripped from school menus if manufacturers are unable to develop cheeses that meet these extreme standards.

Many schools have already experienced increased plate waste, increased costs, and declines in student participation as they have transitioned to lower-sodium foods. Before school meal programs are forced to make additional costly changes, more scientific research should be done into the efficacy of further reducing children’s sodium intake.

Petition launched for starting Maryland schools after Labor Day

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is launching a petition to delay the opening of public schools until after Labor Day.

This effort is supported by the tourism industry and opposed by the Maryland State Education Association, the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

On May 19, 2014, a state task force endorsed a post-Labor Day start by a vote of  12-3. Lillian M. Lowery, the State Superintendent of Schools, sent a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley, Mike Miller, Jr., the President of the Senate, and Michael E. Busch, the Speaker of the House, on June 25 explaining the recommendations of the task force.

See also Should Maryland public schools open after Labor Day? and Maryland comptroller says schools should start after Labor Day.

Should schools allow a recess break every hour?

Deseret News reports, “For every 45 minutes in a Finnish classroom, students get a 15-minute break.” An American teacher who started teaching in Finland was surprised by how much more attentive students were after having a recess break after every hour of instruction. When he started teaching in Finland, he first created longer blocks of class time with a longer break later in the day. However, a fifth-grader objected, “I need my 75 minutes of recess.”

Although Walker was providing the same amount of recess, he decided to revise the schedule, putting breaks at the end of each hour.

The difference in the classroom was immediate. No more zombies. Students returned from breaks with energy and better focus. They did more with less time. They enjoyed it more. Walker was a convert.

Olga Jarret, a retired education professor at Georgia State University, has written a white paper for the U.S. Play Coalition noting that there are multiple studies that show “improved focus and classroom behavior, including less fidgeting and hyperactivity and more participation in class discussion after recess.”

Play helps in brain development

Scientists say child’s play helps build a better brain. NPR focuses on how play relates to learning. According to Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

Pellis says children need to have plenty of time for free play without rules or coaches. He also says that play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of the brain. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”

I wonder whether further study would find other situations where the neurons are changed. Another question would be, what is the definition of play? Can’t work be experienced as play sometimes? I’ll have to find out more about these issues.

I’m glad that Fairfax County has officially ended the previous limit of 10 minutes per day for recess; however, I hope that the new 20-minute recesses being scheduled are not necessarily a maximum amount of time. If they are, further study needs to be made of the overall time in the elementary schedule for the 2015-16 school year. There should be enough flexibility in the schedule to allow 30-minute recess periods.

Lengthening the school day can be a complex task

Recently there has been publicity about a school in New Haven, CT, that tried, and then abandoned a longer school day after only one year. The National Center on Time & Learning gives an analysis of this example and concludes, “The bottom line…is that expanding time for schools is no easy task. It takes inordinate amounts of foresight, coordination, and patience to reap a payoff.”

David Farbman
David Farbman

David Farbman reports that the principal “decided in March of the first school year that students outcomes had not improved and, thus, the ‘experiment’ in having more learning time had failed. Anyone who has worked with schools undertaking substantial school reform will tell you that it takes at least three years before academic outcomes begin to show steady gains. The reasons for the delay, in large part, is that improved educational quality is not simply about having more minutes of learning time, but also about modifying instructional practices to take advantage of the greater quantity of lesson time.”

Farbmen also noted that although teachers were paid more for their longer hours, the contracts of secretaries and paraprofessionals were not amended. “Had the school planned sufficiently for the transition to a longer day and worked out all the contract issues for all school staff, such problems would likely not have arisen.”