Fairfax County students to start school before Labor Day next year

The Fairfax County School Board recently approved the Calendar for School Year 2017-2018, which sets the first day of school as Monday, August 28, 2017, and the last day as Friday, June 15, 2018. In February, the Virginia Department of Education informed the school board that Fairfax County Public Schools qualified for a waiver to begin the school year prior to Labor Day.

This waiver is granted if a division misses an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years due to weather conditions or other emergency situations. During the last 10 years, FCPS had five years in which the average number of snow days equaled more than eight days.

At the December 1 school board meeting, Megan McLaughlin (D-Braddock) supported the pre-Labor Day start, which gives more time to prepare for national tests, but she noted that the community was almost evenly split on the issue. A survey was sent out March 30 and 36,000 responses were received from parents. “Some of us were raised on the beauty of summer, which began in June and you didn’t go back until after Labor Day.”

Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) will make a request at an upcoming school board forum to create a calendar subcommittee of the Human Resources Advisory Committee. “If approved, this group would work with staff in the development of future calendars and incorporate community feedback,” she wrote in Providence District School Board Newsletter, December, 2016. “In addition, it will engage members of the inter-faith community to ensure we are being as thoughtful as possible about student religious observances.”

Karen Corbett Sanders (D-Mount Vernon) said she supported the proposal to have a community group help develop the calendar. “We have a commitment to allow community members to provide feedback.” Jeanette Hough (R-Member-at-Large) said she absolutely agreed with the need for more public community input. Elizabeth Shultz (R-Springfield) noted that by the time there was opportunity for the public to have input on the calendar, it was draft 7 or 8, “It was a binary choice.”

Ilryong Moon (D-Member at Large) noted that the calendar provides two full weeks of winter break plus January 1, and one full week of spring break plus the Monday after spring break. This is a better way of describing the actual amount of time off for students than the FCPS press release, which refers to a two-week winter break and a one-week spring break.

The last day of school will include a two-hour day for high schools and secondary schools, and a two-hour early dismissal for all other grades. However, Schultz said she thought that June 15 was rather late for the end of the school year and she heard from a lot of families who questioned why it wasn’t earlier. She advocated greater engagement with the public over tightening the school year. “All of the three-and-a half and four day weeks wreak havoc on students and families as well.”

Schultz suggested that more professional development days for staff could be added before or after the school year starts or ends for students. Although Schultz strongly supported the pre-Labor Day start, she voted against the 2017-2018 calendar, “trying to foreshadow some of the work that needs to come.”

All the other school. board members voted in favor of the 2017-2018 calendar. Jane K. Strauss (D-Dranesville) said that the teacher workdays are very important to staff.

Chair Sandy Evans (D-Mason District) noted that a few years ago three schools (Stuart High School, Falls Church High School, and Glasgow Middle School) had the experience of starting school two weeks earlier and ending two weeks earlier than the other schools in the school system. They had quickly adjusted to the earlier schedule.

November 11, Veterans Day, will be on a Saturday next year. Schultz and McLaughlin both promised to bring back their advocacy for a student holiday on Veterans Day for the following school year.

Graduations will be held on or after June 7, 2018. Ryan McElveen (D-Member-at Large) noted that this was the first time he had notice that a “G” had been put on the school calendar for graduation. Chief of Staff Marty Smith explained that graduation is scheduled seven days prior to the last day of school.

Baltimore Sun continues to advocate an end to the Electoral College

The Baltimore Sun editorial calling for an end to the Electoral College makes a good point: “It is the product of an 18th century compromise forged over issues that no longer apply and resting on assumptions about the wisdom of the average person we no longer hold, and it has not worked the way it was intended almost from the very beginning.”

The Sun provides helpful information about the Electoral College Compact:

There is another way, though. Ten states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation that could lead to a system that leaves the Electoral College intact but ensures that it deliver the presidency to the popular vote winner. This national compact stipulates that as soon as states comprising a majority of the Electoral College — 270 votes — sign on, each will award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Constitution allows states to allocate their electors as they choose — the winner-take-all system is not in the Constitution, and Maine and Nebraska have already abandoned it, choosing to split their electoral votes based on who wins in each congressional district.

So far, only blue states have signed on to the plan — Maryland was the first, and, yes, we endorsed the idea then, not just now that the candidate we supported, Hillary Clinton, has won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. But the idea has gotten some traction in places like Oklahoma, a state so red that no presidential candidate pays it any attention, and in some swing states, including Colorado and Nevada. The 11 jurisdictions that have signed on total 165 electoral votes, nearly two-thirds of the necessary total.

The Electoral College should be abolished.

Let’s not be lazy people! We can fix this!

The Electoral College should be abolished

A direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice President is essential to representative government. This is the position of the League of Women Voters of the United States. I enthusiastically support this reform of the selection of the president.

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on Selection of the President, as Announced by National Board, January 1970, Revised March 1982, Updated June 2004 and Revised by the 2010 Convention:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice-President is essential to representative government. The League of Women Voters believes, therefore, that the Electoral College should be abolished. We support the use of the National Popular Vote Compact as one acceptable way to achieve the goal of the direct popular vote for election of the president until the abolition of the Electoral College is accomplished.  The League also supports uniform voting qualifications and procedures for presidential elections. The League supports changes in the presidential election system – from the candidate selection process to the general election. We support efforts to provide voters with sufficient information about candidates and their positions, public policy issues and the selection process itself. The League supports action to ensure that the media, political parties, candidates, and all levels of government achieve these goals and provide that information.

Here is a link to information about the National Popular Vote Compact: Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.

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 When-Is.com, 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 timeanddate.com, Eid al-Adha in the United States this year is on September 13.