Archives for June 2012

Summer recess could mean malnutrition for students in Senegal

“The end of the school year could mean the start of the malnutrition season for many children in Senegal as a result of the devastating drought that is sweeping through West Africa,” Jeff Baron reports. He writes that the success of programs to feed children in school have helped to erase malnutrition while reducing illiteracy: “Well-fed children do better in school and miss fewer days.”

With the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Counterpart International organized a school-based program that combined short-term commodity donations with long-term community-run solutions, including school gardens and behavioral change activities.

The schools will distribute all of the commodities they have left to help the children get through the summer. In some schools parent groups have enough training and capacity to manage over the summer, while groups at other schools still need some support and technical assistance.

Discipline problems are common during recess and lunch

In an article in Education Week, Peter DeWitt says that the single best way to improve recess is to improve the way it is staffed. He quotes from a survey of elementary principals that was conducted in 2010. He said students need to be properly supervised with good staff to student ratios. Playground management training could help staff deal with discipline issues and know how to play organized games.

As much as there are many benefits to recess, principals know that recess has its drawbacks as well. It is often the place where they receive the most discipline referrals because kids do not always know how to play well with one another. Recess is also one of the areas where bullying happens because kids can hide from the adults who are supposed to be supervising them. “Principals report that the majority of discipline-related problems occur outside of class time (87%) with the majority of those occurring during recess or lunch (89%).”

Institute of Medicine studies physical activity in schools

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has a committee that will develop recommendations regarding the current state and needed expansion of physical activity and physical education in the schools. It will also study the strategic approaches needed to strengthen and improve physical activity and physical education in the school environment, including before and after school programs. The committee will examine the influences of physical activity and physical education on the short-and long-term health and intellectual development of children and adolescents.

IOM has also created an ad hoc committee that is charged with developing a plan for measuring progress in implementing obesity prevention efforts. The committee will draw on the recommendations and recommended indicators of progress from the IOM committee and report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention; consider currently used tools and measures (e.g., indicators, trend analysis, community/local measures) and new metrics and tools to measure progress; and develop a plan for a national level evaluation of obesity prevention efforts by sector and, if appropriate, across sectors.

Elimination of Monday early dismissals would have a positive effect on bell schedule changes

Five years ago staff members in the Office of Transportation Services for Fairfax County Public Schools suggested that eliminating the Monday early dismissals in the elementary schools would have a positive impact on flexibility in bell schedule planning and adjustment. The school board  decided not to include that option in its studies of how to schedule later start times for secondary school students.

This year the school board will decide which topics to include in the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the consultant who will analyze possible improvements in the bell schedules for all the schools. I hope that they will include full-day Mondays as one of the options the consultant should analyze.

The following FCPS staff document, entitled “Parameters Requiring Definition,” was presented at a school board work session June 11, 2007.  The staff also noted the advantages of making the elementary school student day equal in length to the secondary school student day.

Parameters Requiring Definition

Will ES Early Closings on Monday be eliminated?

  • Elimination of the Monday early close with the addition of two hours to the Monday elementary day will have a positive impact on flexibility in bell schedule planning and adjustment.
  • A standard length day for ES will eliminate the changes in drivers on Monday – enhancing safety and pupil management
  • The extra midday time on Monday will enable all schools to take Monday field trips and will allow SE to do the same shuttles on Monday that are done from Tuesday through Friday.
  • Secondary schools would not have earlier late runs on Mondays. ES day length
  • A length of elementary day equal to secondary schools will make bell schedule adjustments easier and will minimize layover time during the morning or afternoon.
  • Bell schedule adjustments will still be constrained by the larger boundaries served for secondary schools.

Maximum run length

  • Shorter runs will increase total bus numbers and will increase the number of buses into some schools without loading space for the larger numbers, resulting in increased traffic problems.
  • Other traffic problems might be somewhat diminished by a decrease in kiss and ride traffic resulting from increasing numbers of parents willing to allow their children to ride the bus.
  • Base – in regular school boundary: <60 minutes might be impossible in a few schools with very large base boundaries
  • GT in GT boundary: <60 minutes might be impossible in a few schools with very large base boundaries
  • SE runs: Should be no longer than other special runs (GT, TJHHST, alternative, administrative).
  • Admin placement, ALC, Summit: Currently, it is possible for HS AM runs to simply start run earlier and tack these on. That will be impossible with HS on any bell other than the first.

On the streets: There are concerns that students should not be walking to/from schools or bus stops in the dusk.

  • Earliest pick up: Civil twilight – 6:50 – 6:58 a.m. from 12/17 – 1/28
  • Latest drop off: Civil twilight – 5:17 – 5:25 p.m. from 11/13 – 1/28

School start times: Walkers – see civil twilight

  • Earliest AM: Now is HS at 7:20
  • Latest AM: Now is Fort Belvoir ES at 9:25 and South County Middle School at 9:20

Bell order

Movement of HS from first bell means a significant reduction in the effective length of the operating window as we will lose the 10 -20 additional minutes we get from dropping HS students early, at 7:00. Currently, administratively placed students can be added at the beginning of high school runs in the morning, or first bell MS, without impacting other students’ time on the bus. That will be impossible with HS or MS on any bell other than the first. [Read more…]

Investing in recess can improve students’ readiness for class

Strengthening recess transforms the school climate, paving the way for less bullying and more focus on learning, says a new study from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University. The randomized control trial  looked at what happened when schools partnered with Playworks, a national nonprofit that is currently providing healthy recess and other playtime to schools in 23 cities nationwide.

Researchers found that investing in recess and organized play can prevent bullying, improve students’ behavior at recess and readiness for class, and provide more time for teaching and learning. The study is one of the most rigorous scientific trials to find an effect on bullying in schools, and one of the first that evaluates a recess-and play-based program as a potentially promising school-based solution.

“Our research shows that Playworks makes a difference. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess relative to control school teachers,” said Susanne James-Burdumy, Ph.D., associate director of research at Mathematica. “Playworks also facilitated students’ transitions back to classroom learning.”

The study compared schools using Playworks to a control group of similar schools without the program during the 2010-2011 school year in five cities across the country. Researchers found the following ways in which Playworks improves the school climate:

  • Less Bullying. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers in control schools.
  • Better Recess Behavior and Readiness for Class. Teachers at Playworks schools tended to report better student behavior at recess and readiness for class than teachers at control schools, and they were more likely to report that their students enjoyed adult-organized recess activities.
  • More Time for Teaching. Teachers in Playworks schools reported having fewer difficulties and spending significantly less time transitioning to learning activities after recess than teachers in control schools. Playworks students were also more likely than control students to report better behavior and attention in class after sports, games and play.
  • Safer Schools. Teachers in Playworks schools perceived that students felt safer and more included at recess, compared to teachers in control schools.
  • Satisfied Teachers. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in Playworks schools reported that they wanted the program in their school again the following year.

[Read more…]

Los Angeles shortens school year, reduces teacher pay

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) recently approved a one-year labor contract that shortens the school year and reduces pay. The Los Angeles Board of Education had previously approved the labor deal.  The Los Angeles Times reports that teachers would forfeit up to 10 days of pay and the 2012-13 school year could be reduced from 180 days to 175. “It would be the fourth straight academic year shortened because of budget cutbacks,” The Times reported. ” More than 1,300 UTLA members still would lose their jobs because of declining enrollment, reduced state and federal funding and program cuts.”

The vote tally was 58% in favor of the contract and 42% opposed. Roughly two-thirds of all union members cast ballots. UTLA represents nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists and psychiatric social workers in addition to classroom instructors.

In another article in The Times, Critics decry further shortening of L.A. Unified’s school year, Dan Schnur, director of the Jess Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. was quoted as saying the trimming the school year could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding.

“Shortening the school year sets off alarm bells,” Schnur said. “You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits.”

Administrators in Los Angeles have also agreed to a one-year salary reduction: Administrators reach tentative deal with L.A. Unified.

Under the pact, which must still be ratified by the Board of Education and by the rank and file, administrators will lose up to 10 paid work days, a wage reduction of about 5%. The concession would save the Los Angeles Unified School District about $12 million.

Manatee schools end early dismissals on Wednesdays

On June 11 the Manatee County School Board voted unanimously to end the Wednesday early dismissals of students. reports that the board members supported the recommendation of Superintendent Tim McGonegal to revert to a consistent five-day schedule in when school starts in August.

Christopher O’Donnell reported that board members were concerned that the early dismissals produced too much hardship for working parents. “Concern also arose that the extra time for teacher training did not result in higher student achievement as officials had hoped.”

Manatee County in Florida has 34 elementary schools, 11 middle schools and eight high schools. There are 44,686 students in the school district. The school board voted to end the early dismissals even though a majority of respondents to a recent survey indicated they wanted to keep the early dismissal policy. The Bradenton Herald. gave the following summary of the survey results:

Just more than 6,800 people responded to surveys sent to school advisory council members or posted on the school district and teachers union websites. Of the 5,083 people who responded to the district website survey, 57.5 percent believe early-release Wednesdays should continue. Of the 1,345 teachers who responded to an online survey by the teachers union, 60 percent believe the early-release Wednesdays should continue.


Here are the school start and end times under the new schedule:

• Elementary: Start at 8:30 a.m.and end at 2:50 p.m.
• Middle: Start at 9:20 a.m.and end at 3:40 p.m.
• High school: Start at 7:45 a.m.and end at 2:05 p.m.

See also Manatee school board reconsiders early-dismissal Wednesday policy and


Tulsa Public Schools consider a monthly early dismissal day for students

In an effort to allow time for faculty and staff collaboration, Tulsa Public Schools is considering early-release days once per month for all TPS schools. The district  released a survey Tuesday asking parents and TPS teachers their opinions and personal preferences on early release.

By releasing students early one day per month, teachers, staff and administrators would gain a half-day  that could be used for Professional Learning Communities, where effective teaching methods and techniques can be studied and shared.

“Since the traditional school day requires teachers to supervise students continually, ending school early one day each month will allow them to capture valuable time to work together,” said Millard House, TPS deputy superintendent, in a letter accompanying the survey. “We are convinced it can go a long way toward having a dramatic impact on improving student achievement in the classroom.”

An early release would mean students would have one day per month where they would be dismissed in the middle of the day. The exact day and week for each month have not been determined, as parent input will play a role in selecting the best time. TPS executives have already determined that an early- release would be more cost effective for the district than the “late start” days other school districts have adopted. Once approved, all schools in the district would have the same early-release day of the month.

The survey’s intent is to determine the best possible day and time combination that would work district-wide, as well as weighing other factors that enter into the discussion, including after-school care and transportation on early-release days.

Responses are requested before 11:59 p.m., Sunday, June 24.

“So far a majority of parents and teachers support giving up half a day, once a month for teacher planning,” Tulsa’s Channel 8 reports. “But not everyone agrees it’s a good idea.”

Tulsa Public Schools is Northeastern Oklahoma’s largest  school district with nearly 42,000 thousand students, 7,000 employees, 88 campuses, 250 school buses and about 173 square miles.

League of Women Voters suggests that the school board should allow four weeks between the introduction of new business and a vote

Last night I spoke to the Fairfax County School Board on behalf of the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area:

….We are pleased to note that the school board is considering increasing the timeline between the introduction of new business and board action. This topic is included in tomorrow’s agenda of your Public Engagement Committee.

The League of Women Voters believes that democratic government depends upon the informed and active participation of its citizens and requires that governmental bodies protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.

The League recommends that the school board should usually allow at least four weeks between the introduction of a new business agenda item and the board vote. This would make it easier for some community groups to have time to consider and comment about a new business item prior to the vote. Our own board meets once a month, so a four-week space between the introduction of the agenda item and the vote would usually give us the time to consider whether or not to comment.

The LWVFA believes there is a continuing need for communication between local governing bodies and their constituents. We think that increasing the timeline between the introduction of new business and board action will result in improved communication between the school board and members of the community.

Thank you.



Katie Pyzyk reports that there will be no block scheduling in Arlington middle schools next year reports that although block scheduling in Arlington middle schools will not begin in 2013, individual schools have the option of exploring their own flexible block schedules. Yesterday I posted the recommendations presented to the school board Tuesday evening.  Katie Pyzky’s report in gives a summary of the status of this controversial issue.

Although block scheduling will no longer begin in 2013, it’s not permanently off the table. The board is examining ways to make it work in the future. Of particular interest is finding alternative ways to increase the amount of time spent on core content areas. The length of schools days and start times will also come under review.