Loudoun County gradually expands full-day kindergarten

Why wealthy Loudoun County does not have universal full-day kindergarten. The Washington Post reports, “Fewer than a third of the school system’s nearly 4,900 kindergartners attend full-day classes, qualifying for the longer classes because they come from ­low-income households, are English-language learners or are ­special-education students.

At a School Board work session last week, Mike Martin, the director of elementary education in the county, put the cost of adding teachers and aides at schools where there is existing space at $1.4 million. And constructing 12 additional classrooms over four years could cost up to $36 million. Those estimates do not take into account what it would cost to hire teachers for those new classrooms. The county estimates it would be able to provide full-day kindergarten to about half of all 5-year-olds, starting in four years.

The Post also reports that some school board members argue that the benefit of full-day kindergarten classes has not been proved for most students. “Research has shown that full-day kindergarten has clear advantages for low-income students, English language learners and special education students. But the research is less clear for students who do not fall into those categories.”



Final exams are a relic of the past

Replacing final exams will allow more time for instruction. Patricia B. O’Neill, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, and Larry A. Bowers, interim superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, convincingly argue that getting rid of final exams is good reform for the high school schedule in Montgomery County.

Here is an excerpt from their letter to the editor of the Washington Post:

This change will restore instructional time that is lost during final exam weeks in January and June. Students will take assessments each marking period during the regular class period. These assessments may take different forms — such as unit tests or in-class projects — and each will be rigorous and consistently graded and count as a significant part of a student’s grade.

Our high school students will take plenty of other tests, including state assessments in algebra 1, biology, English 10 and government. More than two-thirds of them take at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam. And state law requires all 11th-graders to pass a college- and career-readiness exam, which in MCPS is the SAT, ACT or Accuplacer.

Loudoun County Public Schools has also eliminated mid-term and final exams this year. The Washington Post recently  reported that “the decision follows two stormy winters when classes and mid-terms were canceled due to snow.”

In May Loudoun County published an issue brief entitled “Perspectives on Mid-Terms and Final Exams.” It concluded that “most teachers and principals did not believe that teachers had sufficient time to analyze the data from mi-terms and final exams. Most of the respondents did not believe that the assessments are valuable learning experiences for students. Most students and more that 40% of parents believed that mid-terms and final exams lowered students’ grades.”

All school districts should re-evaluate whether it is worthwhile maintaining the old tradition of scheduling final exams.


New York City to offer more computer science courses

In a speech before hundreds of parents and educators, Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday laid out new reforms for New York City public schools. He committed to expanding Advanced Placement classes to every school; ensuring that all students take algebra by 9th grade or earlier, and providing every student with computer science classes in elementary, middle and high schools.

The New York Times reports  that at least two other American cities have decided to offer computer science courses to all students. Chicago has pledged to make a computer science  a high school graduation requirement by 2018. Also “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

Here is the portion of the mayor’s press release  dealing with computer science:

Every student will receive computer science education in elementary, middle, and high school within the next 10 years. Through this commitment, every student will learn the fundamentals of computer science, like coding, robotics and web design. This promotes critical skills like thinking creatively, working as a team, and interacting with technology, as well as technical skills that will power the 21st century economy. The Software Engineering Pilot (SEP) has brought computer science to 2,700 students in 18 middle and high schools across the city during the 2014-15 school year, and the number of computer science programs will be expanded significantly beginning in fall 2016.

  • Students reached: By 2025, all 1.1 million students will receive a computer science education in elementary through high schools.
  • Cost: $81 million commitment over 10 years. Computer Science for All will be funded through a public-private partnership between the City of New York, CSNYC, Robin Hood Foundation and AOL Charitable Foundation who have committed to a 1:1 match of City funds.
  • Full implementation: New classes starting in fall 2016 with full implementation in all grade levels by 2025.

The Post is unpersuasive in trying to dismiss critics of some school lunch regulations

I am disappointed by the cursory and biased editorial in the Washington Post that says, “Don’t let lobbyists decide what your children eat at school.”

Perhaps the editors are hoping that readers will recoil at the mention of the word “lobbyists.” If that isn’t enough to make the point, the editors ascribe all criticism of the new school meal regulations to the “School Lunch Industrial Complex.”

Perhaps the editors are too busy to notice the news printed in their own paper that would lead any reasonable person to be concerned about overly restrictive limits on sodium. I quoted the Post last April: Prevent drastic reductions in sodium in school meals.

An op-ed in the New York Times was the inspiration for another blog post in July: Government should change overly restrictive limits on fat content in school meals .

I’ll provide more information in the coming weeks.

Fairfax County School Board praises the implementation of later high school start times

Tonight’s Fairfax County School Board meeting featured warm words of praise for the later high school start times that went into effect Tuesday. Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, and Phyllis Payne, co-founder of SLEEP in Fairfax, testified about many positive reactions and comments about this improved schedule. Superintendent Karen Garza gave a good summary of the effort that went into this significant accomplishment.

There were also very good comments from many of the school board members. Sorry I wasn’t taking notes while listening, but there will be plenty of time to give more reports on this good news.

The Washington Post reported that traffic on first day of school was smooth in Fairfax despite new start times.


Fairfax schools have fewer football injuries

‘Heads Up’ Keeps Football Injuries Down in Fairfax County Public Schools

Kudos to FCPS for techniques that have decreased the number of concussions and injuries in football as well as other sports.

Fruit and vegetable requirement is counterproductive

The new requirement that students take more fruits and vegetables in their school lunches has led to decreased consumption and increased waste. A study demonstrating this result was published in the Journal of Public Health: Impact of the National School Lunch Program on Fruit and Vegetable Selection in Northeastern Elementary Schoolchildren, 2012-2013.

While these data from one geographic area may not be generalizable to other regions, we based the measures of consumption and waste on validated, objective measures,” the study said. “Furthermore, the findings are consistent with those from other parts of the country where requiring a child to select an FV also corresponded with decreased consumption and increased food waste.”

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no,” Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement quoted by the Washington Post.

The Post article explains why the healthy school lunch program is in trouble:

What they found was worrisome on several fronts. Because they were forced to do it, children took fruits and vegetables — 29 percent more in fact. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables actually went down 13 percent after the mandate took effect and, worse, they were throwing away a distressing 56 percent more than before.

The waste each child (or tray) was producing went from a quarter of a cup to more than a 39 percent of a cup each meal. In many cases, the researchers wrote, “children did not even taste the [fruits and vegetables] they chose at lunch.”

My grandmother, Lois Hazlehurst Fitz, used to say, “Willful waste makes woeful want.”

It is time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abandon this unsuccessful experiment which has led to willful waste. Some may argue that more food going into the trash is still worthwhile because at least it will lead to increased consumption. However, since consumption has decreased, the waste is even more troubling. This is an inexcusable waste of food.

It is great to offer a nice variety of fruits and vegetables; however, it is counterproductive to serve unwanted food to students.

Advocates recommend more time for recess for Kansas schools

Refocus on recess, health advocates tell schools. The Wichita Eagle reports that “most elementary and middle schools in Kansas don’t offer 20-minutes recess, which has been shown to improve children’s behavior, academic performance, health and well-being.”

The Kansas Health Foundation funded a study conducted by the Kansas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance that showed that most schools are opting for shorter breaks for students, and “teachers at six elementary schools and 14 preschools said their schools don’t offer recess at all.”


Kasich whimsically proposes abolishing teachers’ lounges

Ohio Governor John Kasich, musing about what he would do if he were to become king, rather than president, of the United States, said he would abolish all teachers’ lounges. Speaking at an education forum attended by six of the Republican presidential candidates, Kasich imagined that the lounges are places where teachers “sit together and worry about “woe is us.”

Politico reportsAmerican Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fired back on Twitter.

.@JohnKasich -after u get rid of places teachers eat lunch,what’s next -getting rid of teachers’ chairs so they stand all day? #walkitback

And Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, bashed Kasich for his expansion of private school vouchers and past cuts to education spending.

“Educators will absolutely discuss how they can overcome these obstacles to help their students, as well as hold elected leaders accountable,” she said in a statement.

Politico also posted Takeaways from the GOP education forum, which was held Wednesday at Londonderry, N.H.

Teacher certification can be costly

Time has an interesting article detailing the often costly hurdles teachers must clear to become certified in the various states: What it really takes to become an elementary school teacher. 

Forty-four states require candidates to take a test or series of tests as part of their preparation; 25 states require students to have a specific grade point average before entering a teacher preparation program.

“These teachers are unnecessarily burdened by the increasing costs of standardized testing,” Linda Banks-Santilli says. “And this is even before they have an opportunity to enter a field in which the national average salary was $56,383 in 2014.”