Archives for November 2011

Recess should not be eliminated to prevent bullying

“Imagine a world where we get as excited about funding access to recess as we do about funding access to computers.”

Lawrence J. Cohen and Anthony T. DeBenedet wrote an excellent article  in Time Ideas/ warning that we are in a “recess recession.” They say that a child attending a poor, urban or mostly minority school has on average 10 to 15 minutes less playground time per day than children in wealthier school districts. Sometimes these children have no recess at all.

They point out that more time spent on test preparation is one reason that recess is eliminated.

“Lately, however, another anti-recess argument has hit the scene. It stems from our nationwide consciousness and fear of bullying,” DeBenedet and Cohen said. “Essentially the idea (albeit mistaken) is that without recess, bullies will have less opportunity to victimize their peers. Bullying of course isn’t eliminated when recess is banned — instead it just goes underground, metastasizing in hallways, bathrooms, buses and on the Internet.”

The real solution to bullying on the playground is to train recess supervisors to know the difference between playing and aggression, and to recognize and respond appropriately to escalating situations. This, at its most basic level, means learning how to feel comfortable with children arguing about the rules of a game or about whether the ball was in or out. When this happens, recess becomes a wonderful working laboratory for children to develop their social competence, leadership abilities and conflict resolution skills.

Eight-period school day is controversial in Albemarle County

Some teachers in Albemarle County, Virginia, are asking the school board to abandon the eight-period day for middle and high school students and switch back to a seven-period day. The Daily Progress reported that other teachers cite advantages to eight periods:

James Huneycutt, a history teacher at Monticello High, said teacher workloads should be separated from conversations about the eight-period day. Teacher workloads increased concurrently with the schedule change, but the two issues are separate, he said.

Instead of moving back to seven periods, Huneycutt suggested reducing workloads for teachers while keeping the current schedule.

“The compromise in front of us would be to maintain the eight-period day and reduce the workload for teachers; that would be the best for both parties,” he said.

The two issues are indeed separate. They should also be kept separate in Fairfax County in discussions of the elementary school schedule. It is possible to allow students to stay in school for a full day on Mondays while taking other steps to alleviate teacher workloads. However these alternative ideas will never be explored if the idea of a full day on Mondays for students is considered a taboo subject.

In Albemarle County the change to the seven-period day was made at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

Reduce class size and increase the rate of employment

America will have to finally get serious about preserving and creating jobs. This is the message in a New York Times op-ed by Herbert J. Gans titled The Age of the Superfluous Worker:

Private enterprise and government will have to think in terms of industrial policy, and one that emphasizes labor-intensive economic growth and innovation. Reducing class sizes in all public schools to 15 or fewer would require a great many new teachers even as it would raise the quality of education.

Although a 15 to 1 pupil-teacher ratio in all public schools is not realistic, some reduction in class sizes is a worthwhile goal. Also, attention should be paid to hiring more specialists and paraprofessionals to ease the workload of the classroom teachers. This can give teachers more planning time during the student day.

Survey on school schedules MUST include the Monday issue

The Annandale VA blog reports that Fairfax County school board is considering making a request to the state to allow Fairfax County schools to start school the week before Labor Day, beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

Sandy Evans, the Mason District representative to the school board, told Annandale VA that FCPS will survey parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders on their views on starting the school year early. “The survey is expected to be distributed by February.”

Any survey about school schedules MUST include some questions about the current policy of dismissing all elementary school students two hours early every Monday. It should not be very hard to ask parents their opinions on this issue.

Several years ago I attended a school board work session where someone suggested surveying parents about this question. Stuart Gibson, the school board representative for Hunter Mill, said that everyone knows perfectly well that most parents don’t like the Monday early dismissal policy, so he did not see any point in asking this in a survey. Gibson, who is ending his term on the school board, has a very refreshing way of getting right to the main point of most topics under discussion.

I certainly agree with Mr. Gibson that the members of the Fairfax County school board are well aware that most parents would welcome full day Mondays and a survey isn’t needed to prove that obvious truth. Also, it is clear that elementary school teachers would like to keep the Monday early dismissal schedule. However, it does not necessarily follow that teachers would be opposed to ANY schedule that included full day Mondays. The problem here is that the school board has not allowed this issue to get to even the discussion stage–so of course there has been no opportunity to evaluate potential improvements in the schedule.

A survey covering calendars and schedules would be biased if it did not include questions about the Monday schedule. Such a truncated survey would be an implicit statement by the Fairfax County school board that it rejects in advance any discussion of full day Mondays. This would not be fair to parents and students.

Does the Fairfax County school board trust the principals?

Does the Fairfax County school board trust its principals to make decisions about surveillance cameras or not?   Draft Regulation 8614.5, Video Surveillance   seems to imply that principals need strict oversight by the superintendent and meticulous advice from the school board. This cumbersome rule would require the superintendent (or his or her designee) to review in minute detail the methods the principal used to determine whether there is “sufficient support for ongoing interior video monitoring.” This review is supposed to include

  1. the specific methods used by the principal to communicate the issue
  2. the number and types of meetings
  3. the sufficiency of time provided for engagement
  4. the responses received, and
  5. the specific plan for camera installation.

What is the definition of sufficient support? This seems to imply that it is group decision, not a decision made by a principal. It is better to give the power for deciding on the installation of surveillance cameras for “ongoing interior monitoring” directly to the superintendent if he or she is the one who is really responsible for determining whether sufficient hoops were jumped through on this issue.  Clearly there seems to be a reluctance to give the principal authority to decide this matter. Furthermore, the vagueness of “sufficient support” could lead to people appealing any decision made by the superintendent to the school board.  If the school board wants to rule on every request for interior surveillance cameras that doesn’t fall into the category of “reasonable suspicion monitoring” it should just say so.

The proposed regulation makes no change in the current “reasonable suspicion monitoring” provision, which states, “Video cameras and other imaging devices also may be used to monitor particular locations on a temporary basis when there is reasonable suspicion of a violation of policy or regulation and reasonable suspicion that the potential violative conduct, or physical evidence relating to that conduct, may be found in the location identified for surveillance.”

Fairfax County: Home of the 10-minute recess

The results of a survey recently released by Fairfax County Public Schools shows that “about 81 percent of parents and 63 percent of non-parent taxpayers said they agreed or strongly agreed that the Fairfax  system is a trustworthy institution,”  Virginia Schools Insider  reported.

Would there be the same level of trust if more people were aware that Fairfax County allows widespread violations of  the  requirements in state law for the standard school day? Here are the comments I posted in response to this article:

The public relations staff at Fairfax County Public Schools needs to do a better job of ensuring that parents and citizens are well aware of the shortcomings of the current school schedules. The PR department at FCPS has failed to widely publicize the fact that the amount of time elementary school students have in school allows for only 10 minutes of recess per day. The PR department has failed to ask parents whether they think 10 minutes is enough time for recess. They should also explain that many students are allowed a longer time for recess, so they do not have the amount of instructional time required by state law. Many people “trust” FCPS to comply with state law. Would they still have this trust if they knew of the widespread violations of the requirements for the standard school day?
If the FCPS administration and the school board truly support a 10-minute limit for recess, they should be proud of it and publicize it widely. I suggest a bumper sticker that says: Fairfax County: Home of the 10 minute recess.



Fairfax County lags behind other school districts in providing time in school for students in grades K-6.

After I criticized Jack Dale for  discussing time issues for teachers, but failing to mention the need to change the student schedule, someone signing on to The Washington Post  as  1bnthrdntht   objected to my proposals for  providing full day Mondays students while giving classroom teachers more planning time during the student week.   This person said that  I seem not to realize that there are only 24 hours in a day, and teachers have a very definite limit, both physical and mental, as to how long they can work. Also,  “Few people remember that “early closing” was made by extending the hours of the rest of the week in order that planning time could be assured.”

My reply:

It is true that when Monday early closing was started 40 years ago the Tuesday through Friday hours were extended, as 1bnthrdntht wrote. However, over the past four decades most other local school districts expanded the hours for each day of the week for the elementary school students. Fairfax County is tied with Prince George’s County for last place in the amount of time elementary school students have in school. [Read more…]

Bagged lunch could lead to food poisoning

Bagged Lunch Could Lead To Food Poisoning, Study Finds. Huff Post Food reported that “according to the University of Texas, a whopping 99% of the 700 box lunches belonging to preschoolers contained foods that were kept at unsafe temperatures. These significant results revealed an accommodating environment for bacteria to grow, ultimately the cause of food poisoning and other bacterial infection.”

Since 40 percent of the lunches involved in the study contained an ice pack, “doubling up on the ice packs could be a safe alternative.”

The school board should prohibit the use of PowerPoint in budget presentations

PowerPoint should be prohibited in budget presentations to the Fairfax County school board.  The use of PowerPoint is one of the reasons that members of the community have great difficulty in understanding what budget maneuvers are being proposed.   I complained to my former school board representative, Kaye Kory, about this issue in an email I sent in 2009:

“FY 2010 Budget Reductions through Program Redesign” would be a good case study of the weaknesses of Power Point. I am shocked by the lack of information in this document. I recommend that the School Board request a translation of this BoardDoc into English and prohibit the use of Power Point. This translation should use one of the great inventions of written language, the paragraph. The whole section on Project Excel consists of 257 words, not counting the names and titles of the members of the Excel work team. Perhaps you might add an English teacher to each of the work teams.

It appears that Dr. Dale is recommending ending Excel and CETA, although the one-time windfall from the stimulus funds will allow one year of some of the benefits. Of course, I may be misinterpreting the cryptic words sparingly included in this document….


“PowerPoint Is Evil”

Edward Tufte wrote an article with the provocative title “PowerPoint Is Evil.” He was particularly concerned about the use of PowerPoint in schools:

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.