Archives for July 2011

Teachers march on Washington

Approximately 5,000 teachers marched in Washington today.  Michael Alison Chandler and Sarah Khan wrote about the march  for the Washington Post.   According to the article, Sonya Romera flew from from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend because “No Child Left Behind is demoralizing New Mexico.”

Her school is one of the majority of schools in the state labeled as “failing” under the No Child Left Behind law.

Under that “failing” label, Romero’s school has cut back time for physical education and recess, and she has been required to use a new reading curriculum, she said. The regimen “stifles imagination,” she said.

Summer school can help close achievement gap

The RAND Corporation recently published Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning. Rand provided a summary of the report:

 Research has shown that students’ skills and knowledge often deteriorate during the summer months, with low-income students facing the largest losses. Instruction during the summer has the potential to stop these losses and propel students toward higher achievement. A review of the literature on summer learning loss and summer learning programs, coupled with data from ongoing programs offered by districts and private providers across the United States, demonstrates the potential of summer programs to improve achievement as well as the challenges in creating and maintaining such programs.

Jeff Smink, the vice president for policy for the National Summer Learning Association, wrote in the  New York Timesthat “study from Johns Hopkins University of students in Baltimore found that about two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income ninth graders could be explained by summer learning loss during the elementary school years.”

Smink also said, “This learning loss is cumulative, summer after summer. It has a tremendous impact on students’ success, including high school completion, post-secondary education and work force preparedness.”

Julie Aranibar votes against 9 a.m. lunch time for high schools in Manatee County, Florida

Congratulations to Julie Aranibar, a wise school board member who voted against early dismissals of students in Manatee County. For the past four years, this district has dismissed students two hours early every Wednesday.  Hours are extended the other four days. Merab-Michal Favorite of the Bradenton Times  reported high school students eat lunch at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and some people say “the crunched schedule can sometimes mean less time to complete important tests.”

At a meeting on July 25, the school board voted 3-1 to continue this schedule, with Aranibar dissenting. Favorite included the following information in her article in the Bradenton Times:

 Several parents came forward claiming they liked early-outs because it allowed periods for other extracurricular activities and tutoring. However Aranibar pointed out that the shortened schedule negatively affects working-class parents, like waitresses, who can’t leave work when they make the most money at a specific time of the day.

“For parents who are involved and are able to make the arrangements, early outs can be a very good thing. For parents who work and are lower-wage earners, shortened days are a scheduling nightmare.”

In an earlier article,  Favorite gave the following summary of the scheduling issue:

On Wednesdays, elementary schools let out at 1:15 p.m., middle schools at 2:10 p.m. and high schools at 12:30 p.m. in order to give teachers more time for training and planning classes. However, opponents of the early dismissal point out that it is a hardship for working parents, a scheduling nightmare and a chance for kids to get into trouble.

Playground intervention gets Florida first-graders moving

Peaceful Playgrounds, a group that provides blueprints and activity guides for playgrounds, reported that a Florida school that implemented the program found that 96 percent of first graders were active at recess, up from 52 percent in 2008.  The results of a study of a three-year effort to combat childhood obesity through increased physical activity were recently published by the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) .

At the start, more than one-third of the Martin County school district’s first-graders were identified as overweight or obese.  The study team, convened by the Martin County Health Department (MCHD), observed a combination of limited available playground equipment and baseline data showing a high rate of sedentary behavior at recess, with 21 percent of the students avoiding any physical activity.

The study team researched intervention options and chose the Peaceful Playgrounds Program, which promotes active play and structured activities by employing a wide variety of multi-use stenciled shapes, grids and games painted onto the ground. Nearly 100 different games can be played on the multi-use, brightly painted shapes, which include circles, letters, number grids, and hopping and skipping lines. Detailed guides, training manuals and DVDs are included for teachers and school staff.  The MCHD study findings also indicate that teacher, staff and volunteer participation in helping facilitate the activities enhances the program’s success.

Peaceful Playgrounds was originated by Dr. Melinda Bossenmeyer, Ed.D, a former elementary school principal, physical education teacher, and member of California’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity.  According to Dr. Bossenmeyer, “My goal was simple – get more children involved in physical activity without a huge investment in new playground equipment.  A child who burns off energy not only reduces the risk for obesity, but increases their focus in the classroom, and helps create a more peaceful playground.”

Today, Peaceful Playgrounds can be found in more than 8,000 schools nationwide.

Fairfax needs to change the way it selects school board members

The “nonpartisan” rules for school board elections in Fairfax County are a hindrance rather than a help in selecting citizens willing to serve on the school board.  This label was used to help sell the idea of elected school boards. It was a classic bait and switch scheme.

Under Virginia election law, the political parties are not allowed to have primaries or conventions to select candidates for endorsement in nonpartisan races. Primaries and conventions are the only way the average voter can participate in selecting which candidates should be endorsed

It is impractical to run as an independent candidate in an election where the parties endorse candidates. So the “nonpartisan” school board elections give undue influence to the local political committees.

Some local officials have cited the ability of federal employees to run in a “nonpartisan” election as an advantage of the current system.  With every school board election, the partisan nature of the elections becomes more entrenched.

At a meeting held July 20, the Fairfax County Republican Committee selected three candidates from the six who asked for endorsement for at-large seats.  Steve Stuban, who is an employee of the Defense Department, was one of the candidates who did not receive an endorsement.

Since Stuban is covered by the Hatch Act, he was not allowed to speak at an earlier meeting where candidates presented their cases to the party members.  Erica R. Hendry of the Falls Church, VA Patch reported that Supervisor Pat Herrity said that this may have affected Stuban’s chances with committee members.

“[Not being able to speak] hurt his ability to reach out to the members, and that’s important in votes like this,” Herrity said.

Clearly the current rules are a disadvantage to federal employees interested in getting endorsements for nonpartisan races. If the “nonpartisan” label isn’t actually helpful to federal employees, what is the benefit of having this label applied to school board elections?

One way of giving a fair chance to federal employees would be returning to an appointed school board. Another way would involve changes in state laws. Surely Virginia can come up with a better set of election laws that don’t give undue influence to the local activists in the two main political parties.

(By the way, an earlier version of this article was inadvertently deleted from the website. Sorry for any inconvenience.)

Students still need to spend time in school buildings!

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale will lead the school board members in a discussion about the future of education at a meeting this Friday. He says:

So, do you think we should design a new educational model? Perhaps a model based on creating… perhaps without the constraints of time, particularly time in a brick building… perhaps available 24/7/365 … perhaps one where technology can replace the routine, static portions of our current education system and where advanced thinking, and team learning becomes the purpose for the ‘public’ portion of our education system. (Or, perhaps this still is too constrained …. after all I am a digital immigrant!)

I think we need to challenge ourselves to design a new system and design it at perhaps 70% – 80% of the cost of the current system. (I think resource constraints will continue to be a major issue for us for decades to come. I also look at the current outsourcing that is occurring, and the substantially lower costs for that outsourcing!)

Students still need time inside a brick building! In fact, they could use MORE time, not less time, in the building (and on the playground).  Latchkey children can cope on their own for a certain amount of time, but too much time alone, even with computers, books, etc., is not good for these students, particularity elementary school students. With all the excitement about technology and advances in curriculum, let’s not forget that  many children in Fairfax County spend  a certain number of hours home alone or with siblings without the benefit of direct adult supervision.This is particularly true on Monday afternoons. While Dr. Dale is challenging himself and others to design a new system, let’s hope this design includes five full days in school each week for all students.

In addition to considering the time some children spend alone, we need to consider the additional costs parents would have if they needed to pay for additional daycare or if they needed to reduce their work hours.  I applaud Dr. Dale’s interest in cutting costs, but these savings should come within the school day for students, not by shortening the time students have in school.

New ways of arranging responsibilities within the school day could include different types of outsourcing, as Dr. Dale suggests. For example, some school districts are using outside companies to provide recess monitors. Perhaps Fairfax County could consider this option.

Does recess before lunch lead to increased consumption of fruits and vegetables?

Do students eat more fruits and vegetables if they have recess before lunch? That is a possible explanation why one school in the Thompson School District in Colorado had less plate waste compared to the other two elementary schools studied. Rebecca Jones, Education News, Colorado , reported the school with less waste, Cottonwood Plains Elementary, schedules recess before lunch, while the other two schools have recess after lunch.

At the elementary schools, nearly all the students took the offered entrée of the day and most of them opted for the canned fruit option. But fewer than half selected the fresh fruit or vegetable of the day. The students typically left 20 to 25 percent of their entrée uneaten. But at two of the three schools, the amount of fruit served that ended up in the trash topped 40 percent, while between 32 and 44 percent of the vegetables were thrown away.

The amount of uneaten food dropped significantly at the third school, however. There, just 29 percent of canned fruit, 25 percent of fresh fruit and 24 percent of vegetables went uneaten.

Stephanie Smith conducted the plate waste survey for the school district, using a digital camera to photograph the trays of the students before and after lunch. Milk was poured into a measuring cup. If a tray was hard to estimate the leftover food was weighed. “Since the district is very good about maintaining standard portion sizes, we can get to within 10 percent in estimating how much es eaten.”

“What research has shown is that when recess is before lunch, kids are settled down,” she said, “and they’re hungry because they’ve been out playing, so they tend to eat more food.”

Milk consumption was also better at Cottonwood Plains. Only 18 percent of the milk went undrunk, versus 33 percent and 45 percent at the other two schools.

At the middle schools, nearly half the fresh fruit was not eaten and more than a third of the canned fruit. At the high schools the proportion of fruits and vegetables that were uneaten ranged between 13 and 39 percent.


Superintendent takes time away from students; parents in Connecticut district protest

Last month Wayne C. Sweeney, superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools, wrote a letter to parents announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.  After receiving this letter sent home with their children on the last day of school, several parents spoke at the June 23 school board meeting to protest the decision and the way it was made without consulting parents.

According to the meeting minutes, Amy Mackey asked why parents were not notified or included in this decision by way of a public forum so questions could be asked and opinions could be heard.  Kevin Brace discussed the economic effect this will have on parents. He said his employer is not going to be willing for him to leave early every Monday to retrieve his children from the school bus. Jennifer Webb said she was appalled that she received the letter about this new policy on the last day of school.  Andra Morrell and Mary Ellen Smith pointed out that other districts have PLC time before and after school so students will not lose any time.

Jason Harris of the Windsor Locks-East Windsor Patch reported that parents had another opportunity to criticize this decision at the July 14 school board meeting.

Parent Douglas Hamilton said that Windsor Locks ranks 146th out of 161 school districts in the state. He said that the cutting back on the number of interactive hours between students and teachers is “heading in the wrong direction.”

“Can our children really afford to lose those 33 hours of instruction?” parent Jennifer Webb said. “The assessment data is telling us no,” she added.

I posted a comment stating that parents deserve a voice in important decisions regarding school hours.

Korean schools to decrease days in school year while keeping total hours the same

All elementary, middle and high schools in Korea are expected to adopt a five-day school week system starting next year. According to a report in Arirang, Korea’s Global TV, schools in Korea currently alternate between five-day and six-day school weeks, with a total of  205 days in the school year; however the annual hours are only 885–less than the school hours in many other countries.

This indicates that Korea has room for improvement in terms of managing school hours more efficiently while students are in class.
When the shortened school week goes into effect the number of school days per year will be reduced but the required school hours will remain the same.
And this is arousing fears among citizens that students may be burdened with a heavier study load during weekdays and on the weekends.

via Arirang | Korea for the World, The World for Korea –

Indiana school district switches to paraprofessionals for elementary school music, art, and PE; adds Rosetta Stone instruction

The New Albany-Floyd County Schools system in Indiana will substitute paraprofessionals for teachers for  elementary school art, music, and physical education, according to  Harold J. Adams of He reported that the school system is “designating lead teachers certified in art and music who will develop the curriculum for those subjects and train the noncertified paraprofessionals to teach them.”

And physical education has been changed to something called “physical movement,” which will be coordinated by a teacher who also works fulltime in a middle or high school.

Also, a computer-based curriculum using Rosetta Stone software will be used to make foreign languages available to all students in kindergarten through eight grade for the first time. Rhonda Mull, director of middle schools, told Mr. Adams that middle school students will go to the computer lab one day a week and elementary school students will have two foreign-language lab periods per week. All students will have the software available to them to use at home as many times as they want. The languages offered will be Spanish, French, German, and Chinese.

via Floyd school district announces plan to teach art, music and PE at elementaries | The Courier-Journal |