Rhode Island mandates at least 20 minutes of recess

Today Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimonda said she will sign a bill mandating at least 20 minutes of recess at elementary schools.

WPRI.com Eyewitness News reports:

She said she’s pleased by a “big and positive” amendment to the bill that gives teachers more leeway. Instead of prohibiting schools from taking away recess as a form of punishment, the amended bill asks teachers to make a good-faith effort not to withhold recess.

Handwriting and cursive writing are helpful in learning to write

Why handwriting is still essential in the keyboard age. According to Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing.

She was the lead author of a study published in The Journal of Learning Disabilities that “looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.”

She told Perri Klass that “handwriting—forming letters—engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

“As a pediatrician,” Klass writes in the New York Times, “I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways.”

Klass says, “There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.”

See also: More time might allow more teaching of cursive writing,
Students should have enough time to learn cursive writing, and
The Declaration of Independence as a model of good writing.

Elections can be improved

Many people are not wildly enthusiastic with the way we elect our presidents or our local officials.  Clearly there is room for improvement, from the national level to the local level.

Kathleen Parker says, after Trump, the GOP may need a better voting system. People pay more attention to the presidential voting system than to how votes work for other offices. But the idea of an “approval” ballot is something that might be useful for local elections such as school board elections.

In Virginia, school board elections are supposedly nonpartisan. Practically speaking though, in a large school district such as Fairfax County, it would be difficult to be elected without an endorsement from either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Parker reports that one ranking method, “advanced recently in the New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was developed by 18th-century mathematician and political theorist Marquis de Condorcet. This process called for ranking candidates in order of approval — or not ranking them at all, as an indication of disapproval. The candidate with the highest approval ranking would win.”

There are several other ways of winnowing candidates and selecting the ultimate winners. It’s a good idea to think of ways of improving our elections.

Fairfax will start school one week prior to Labor Day in 2017

Tonight the Fairfax County School Board voted 11-1 to begin school one week prior to Labor Day for the 2017-18 school year. Superintendent Karen Garza will present a detailed calendar incorporating this change for the school board to consider in late fall.

Ryan McElveen (D-At Large), made the motion, saying “We wanted to give the community as much advance notice as possible.” He said there were 56,000 responses to a survey on the proposed change in the start date: 56 percent of the parents and 64 percent of the staff members supported starting school prior to Labor Day. Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, testified that his group supported the change.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax (D-Lee District) voted against the proposal, saying she would be the lone voice speaking for those who prefer to start school after Labor Day. She said that the earlier start would have minimal impact on the “summer slide” or on SOL prep.

Several  board members cited having extra time to prepare AP tests as a welcome benefit of the pre-Labor Day start. Elizabeth Schultz (R-Springfield) said she wished that students had been included in the survey. Ben Press, the student representative to the School Board, agreed. He said students and teachers were stressed out trying to prepare for the AP exams, which start next Monday. He had earlier advocated a reconsideration of the current policy of requiring all students in AP classes to take the exam. He suggested that this should be a matter for the student to decide.

The discussion showed some ambivalence about the role of tests, but clearly the issue of test prep (particularly at the high school level) was a major concern of the board.

I will be interested in learning more about the rationale for the current schedules of the AP and IB exams. I liked the old tradition of starting school after Labor Day.

Top high school has a late start time

Can the best high school in the country thank its 9:15 a.m. start time for its success? For the fifth year in a row, the School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas has been ranked the top high school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

The rankings are based on a wealth of data, including graduation rates and student performance on state proficiency tests and advanced exams, as well as other relevant factors—like the percentage of economically disadvantaged students the schools serve,” Lisa L. Lewis reports. “But there’s one key metric that isn’t tracked despite having a proven impact on academic performance: school start times.”

Board of Supervisors increases funding for Fairfax County Public Schools

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted this morning to increase funding for schools by $104 million. In amending County Executive Ed Long’s FY2017 Advertised Budget at Budget Mark-Up, the Board voted 7-3 in favor of a $1.13 tax rate for FY2017, an increase from the FY2016 rate of $1.09 per $100 of assessed value. Chairman Sharon Bulova wrote, “The 4-cent increase will generate approximately $93 million in additional County revenue that will invest in valued County services such as education, public safety and human services.”

Here are more details from her email:

This Budget provides a needed “booster shot” to support our excellent School System and to ensure the quality services our residents expect and rely upon. Throughout these past months, our Board heard from thousands of residents advocating for an increase in taxes to address our community’s needs.

Thank you to the Virginia General Assembly for increasing State funding for FCPS by an additional $16.8 million. In addition, this budget strongly supports public safety in Fairfax County and allocates funding for Diversion First, which provides persons with mental illness treatment rather than incarceration in the case of minor offenses.

Please see below for more details and links regarding this year’s budget. Thank you to everyone who called, emailed and testified at town hall meetings and budget public hearings to share your views and guidance on the budget. Community feedback and engagement is critical to the process of adopting a budget, and this budget is a reflection of what our Board heard from the community this year.

Some FY2017 Budget Details:Some FY2017 Budget Details:

[Read more…]

Fairfax asks parents and staff whether school should begin before Labor Day

The Fairfax County School Board is seeking input on starting school in 2017-18 prior to Labor Day. A survey has been sent to parents and staff to determine support. I am pleased to see that the explanation posted on the school system’s website is expressed in neutral terms, taking the time to mention community concerns about the proposal in addition to listing some benefits:

The calendar change is under consideration as Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is now eligible to waive the state’s post-Labor Day requirement for starting school.  FCPS qualifies for the waiver because, during five of the past 10 years, the district has averaged 8.4 days missed due to weather conditions and other events.  If school begins in August,  the school year would end earlier in June, and after the first year of implementation, summer break will be equally as long as summer break in the current calendar. The School Board has directed that only a change of one to two weeks prior to Labor Day will be considered.

FCPS qualifies for the waiver through school year 2019-20. In future years, dependent upon missed days, the waiver may be extended.

There is some community concern regarding the temporary nature of the waiver and the fact that, during its first year of implementation, the summer break will have fewer days. Also, some individuals have raised concerns about disrupting traditional summer vacation plans.

Starting the school year before Labor Day has some benefits that include: additional instructional time before winter break, and more school days to prepare for end-of-year exams including Standards of Learning (SOL) and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.  Many national tests, such as AP exams, are given on the same date around the country and currently other school systems in Virginia and around the nation have more time to prepare for exams because they start earlier than FCPS.  Additionally, an earlier start to the school year provides more flexibility for schools to report seventh semester grades to colleges and universities.

Each year, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) develops a school year calendar that aims to maximize instruction for students while at the same time schedules planning time and professional development days for teachers. The Fairfax County School Board is responsible for approving the school year calendar.

Reston Now has posted a news article about this survey.


Breakfast in classroom increases participation

This year Frederick Douglass Elementary School allows students to pick up their breakfast in the cafeteria and bring it to the classroom. Compared to last year, the number of students eating breakfast at this school in Loudoun has doubled, from 60 to 130. Children now eat their school breakfasts –which can include a cheese stick, a sausage sandwich, fruit, zucchini bread and other options — during morning announcements, the Washington Post reports. “They no longer have to sprint to class or chug a milk carton to make it to class on time.”

Parents call for more recess in Miami-Dade schools

Over 6,200 people have signed a petition launched by parents calling for 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary and pre-K students in Miami-Dade schools.

The Miami Herald reports that Florida does not have a state law requiring recess. “The Miami-Dade school district, the fourth-largest in the country, however, stresses that it already mandates recess at least twice a week,” the Herald reports.

School district officials say they leave it up to teachers and principals to follow the recess policy, and that any changes to the rules will have to take into account the variety of school buildings and academic programs throughout the county’s more than 200 elementary and K-8 schools.

Alice Quarles, the principal at North Beach Elementary in Miami Beach, said they simply don’t have the space for everyone to have recess every day. Classes have to be staggered to make sure there’s enough room for safe play.

“I think you have to look at your resources, what you have, and maximize that for your children,” she said.

When the district passed its current recess policy, an internal survey of principals and teachers found that more than a quarter of respondents said scheduling recess into the school day would be difficult.

Young students should not be suspended or expelled

Nancy Hanks, the chief of schools in Madison, Wisconsin, and Superintendent Jennifer Cheatman developed a new discipline policy that eliminated suspensions in preschool through third grade and greatly reduced the number of suspendable and expellable offenses in grades four through 12.

In a speech reprinted in the Washington Post, Hanks explained how she met a student she expelled, and it changed her approach to discipline.

Under the new policy in Madison, suspensions decreased by more than 40 percent across the district, “which restored 1,900 days of what would have been lost instruction—1,200 of which were for African American students.”

I think avoiding suspensions in preschool through third grade makes sense. Another article published in the Huffington Post in 2012 explains why suspension makes no sense in the early grades. Laura Bornfreund states:

Alternatives to suspension take more thought, time and in some cases investment — like making counselors available. But those investments are worth it to help children learn from their mistakes, and develop the skills that will ultimately keep bad behavior from repeating. In the early grades, discipline should be a teaching tool. Suspension does not teach. All too often, it is the canned response. When it comes to young children, even one suspension is too many.