Petitions challenge proposal for longer elementary school day in Montgomery County

The Washington Post reports that parents in Montgomery County have started two on-line petitions opposing adding 30 minutes to the school day in elementary schools. Superintendent Joshua Starr has proposed the longer elementary school day in conjunction with later high school start times.

Currently, the Montgomery County elementary school students are in school six hours and 15 minutes each day, the second shortest school day in the state. Even the current short hours are longer than the minimal weekly time allotted to students in Fairfax County. Averaged over a five-day school week, Fairfax County students have the equivalent of 6 hours and 10 minutes per day.

Emily Butler Ball, whose children are in first and second grade, signed the petition. However, she said she would be more open to the idea of a longer school day if it included more outdoor time and exercise.

In an interview this week, Larry A. Bowers, the school district’s chief operating officer, said officials are forming a work group to recommend ways to use the extra class time. Options include foreign language, technology or perhaps more art, music or physical education.

Fairfax County officials should also be considering all the various options for expanding the time for students by eliminating the Monday early dismissal policy. Perhaps the school officials in the two counties should have a joint study group to share ideas.

Monday early dismissals were discussed at recent forum

The December issue of the Fairfax Voter, the newsletter of the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, features an article about the new school year and a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post in September. The discussion was titled “Behind the Headlines: the State of Education in Fairfax County.” Topics covered included the budget, discipline policies, and school schedules. Here is an excerpt covering some scheduling issues:

The moderator of the panel, Post columnist Robert McCartney, read an email about the short day Mondays in elementary schools and its impact on working parents that stated “The early dismissal on Monday causes me to miss hours and wages.”

Dr. Garza answered, “How do we structure the school days and year? We have to consider Art, Music, P.E. Teachers do need time to work together and plan.  Teacher expectations have increased, but the time is still the same from a century ago.  We need more time.”

Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said, “Monday afternoons are critical for collaborative team planning – not only at the school, but across the county. We already have low teacher morale.  We need the planning time.”

Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said that if teachers sacrifice planning and development time on Mondays, the quality of instruction could be jeopardized. He also said that early dismissal Mondays is not a sustainable model and that we need to look overall at how schools are scheduled. He said Fairfax should focus first on later start times.

Garza said she supports later high school start times. “In my former system, high schools started at 8:20 and elementary schools started a little earlier.”  She noted that Fairfax is complicated because we have 395 square miles to coordinate and that people also have their routines. She said, however, “This issue has been debated since 1985.  I am not that patient.  We’ve got to decide this issue and be done with it.”

Source: Fairfax Voter, December 2013, p.3

The 1991 proposal for full-day Mondays would have cost only $3.6 million

There are many different ways of providing for planning time for elementary school teachers while also providing a full day in school for the students on Mondays. The most economical option was proposed in 1991 for a cost of $3.6 million for all schools. One of the costs included in this proposal was for 39 additional art teachers. Since that time, Fairfax went ahead and added more art teachers anyway. So it was really a bit misleading to include this cost as part of the cost of full-day Mondays. Having additional time for art instruction by specialists was a long-standing goal of the school board.

That is one reason why it is so frustrating to hear dire warnings about how eliminating Monday early dismissals could cost “tens of millions” of dollars, etc. The Fairfax County School Board should not avoid considering a better schedule for the elementary schools simply because there would be some additional cost. The cost issue can cut both ways. Historically, critics of switching to full-day Mondays have said that it would be too expensive; or, when a more modest plan is presented, they complain that it is not good enough for Fairfax County. That was some of the criticism leveled at the proposal made by former Superintendent Robert R. Spillane in 1991. At the time, some people criticized his proposal to increase the use of paraprofessionals. I think he was right in his approach and it is well worth revisiting the option of making greater use of paraprofessionals, such as instructional assistants.

At a January 3, 1991, meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, Spillane presented the proposed FY 1992 budget.  At the conclusion of his proposal for a restructured elementary week, he said that he was “confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.”

Here is an excerpt from the proposed FY 1992 budget:

RESTRUCTURED ELEMENTARY WEEK

This revised proposal for restructuring the elementary school week has the important educational advantages of the earlier plan:

  • It creates a 6 ½-hour uniform student day in grades 1-6 and a uniform 3 hour day in kindergarten
  • It provides all students with additional instructional time in the core curriculum.
  • It provides larger blocks of teacher planning time during the student day and introduces planning time for kindergarten teachers.
  • It fully implements the School Board priority to provide one hour per week of art instruction by art specialists.

The revised plan improves upon the earlier plan, however, in several ways:

  • It provides an additional 156 positions to support the instructional program—39 art teachers and 117 Instructional Assistant II positions. This more flexible staffing eliminates concerns raised about space for additional physical education classes or about differences in the way schools schedule physical education and music.
  • It allows local-school scheduling flexibility, so long as the principal adheres to these guidelines:
    • all additional time is in the core curriculum
    • fragmentation is not increased for students
    • teachers have 270 minutes of planning time per week within the school day
    • It expands use of Instructional Assistant II positions to support the delivery of instruction which is planned and evaluated by the classroom teacher.
    • At $3.6 million, the plan reduces the cost of the previous proposal by nearly 40 percent.

Besides being more flexible and less costly, this revised proposal would begin to make greater use of paraprofessionals, as many national education reports have recommended. The Personnel Department is reviewing job descriptions and performance standards for Instructional Assistants, and I think we have an exciting opportunity to rethink some of the ways we organize the instructional day and integrate technology into the curriculum.

Our teacher professionalism efforts of the 80’s have broken down much of the isolation of teaching, encouraged more professional interaction, and led to more diversified roles and responsibilities for teachers—as math or science lead teachers, observation and intervention team members, Career Level II, or colleague teachers. Now, greater use of paraprofessionals will increase that flexibility and openness, enabling teachers to delegate certain responsibilities and to plan on having instructional support. This is a slight shift in our traditional view of instructional assistants in Fairfax County but, given all that we have heard about them and from them in the past year, I believe it is a timely change.

Obviously, there are many more details to this plan than I can include in my comments tonight, but I will be meeting with elementary principals tomorrow to discuss more details, as well as sample schedules that we have developed. I am confident that we have resolved both the instructional and financial objections that were raised to the prior plan. And I am equally confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.

Lansing teachers avoid pay cuts by agreeing to eliminate elementary school planning time

Writing in lansingstatejournal.com. Guillermo Lopez, president of the Lansing Board of Education, explained the recent decision to eliminate funding for special teachers in the elementary schools. He explained that the teachers were asked whether they would prefer to take a pay cut of about 15 percent over the next three years or eliminate teacher-planning time. At the elementary school level, the classroom teachers have 225 minutes of planning time per week when their classes are taught by an art, music, physical education, or media teacher.

The annual cost of replacing the classroom teacher with another teacher is approximately $6.2 million. The teachers chose to eliminate the planning time and need for a second teacher for their class instead of taking the pay cut. The result was that some people believed this was a plan to eliminate art, music, PE, and media in elementary schools. Not true! Every classroom teacher is already certified to teach all of these subjects in their grade level, and now will be teaching these subjects in the future. In fact, more than half of the special art, music, PE, and media teachers we were using do not have special endorsements in those areas.

Lopez said the school district plans to keep a group of specialized teachers “to work with the classroom teachers and to engage the arts community in the greater Lansing area to directly work with our students in each school.”

Time and Learning Task Force proposed plan to give elementary school students a full day on Mondays

Since the early 1970’s, Fairfax County elementary school students have been dismissed early on Mondays so that teachers would have a block of time for planning and meetings. Originally students were dismissed 1 ½ hours early. Later this was increased to two hours or more. There have been various proposals keep the students in school on Monday afternoons while making other provisions for planning time for teachers.

In 1999 Project Excel provided full day Mondays for 16 elementary schools in Fairfax County.  However, the school board ended this program because the cost was considered too high. The last three schools which had the full day schedule switched back to early dismissals in September 2011.

Clearly it is time to reconsider some earlier models for full day Mondays that would not be as expensive as Project Excel.  The most recent proposal to provide full day Mondays for all elementary school students was presented to the Fairfax County School Board’s Instruction Committee May 2, 1996, by the Time and Learning Task Force. The Task Force proposed that each elementary school should be given the option of voluntarily choosing whether to provide a full-day on Monday for students and additional resource teachers for the school. Each school would design its own collaborative decision-making process to ensure broad school and community agreement. In my opinion this attempt to finesse the controversy of this issue is impractical. The school board has a responsibility to provide the best schedule for all students, and that clearly involves five full days of school for the students. On the other hand, I agree with the Task Force that a school which is planning for full day Mondays could be allowed to decide which types of resource teachers to hire. (They could also be given the option of hiring additional paraprofessionals.)

The Task Force noted that with a uniform 6.5-hour day Monday through Friday, students would gain a total of 2.5 weeks of additional instructional time per year.

Elementary School Weekly Schedules

Comparison of elementary schedules in the school year 1995-96 to the proposed changes recommended by the Time and Learning Task Force

Student activities  Grades 1 – 6

Current time
[1995-96]

Proposed total time

Proposed change

Subjects taught by classroom teacher 25 hours/week 25 hours/week none
Instruction by PE and music teachers

2. 5 hours/week

2 hours/week

-0.5 hour/week

Instruction by an art teacher

.5 hour/week[1]

1 hour/week

+.5 hour/week

Additional resource teachers identified by school (e.g., reading, math, computer, science, foreign language, health, music, PE.)

none

2 hours/week

+2 hours/week

Subtotal of instructional time 28 hours/week 30 hours/week +2 hours/week
Lunch 2.5 hours/week 2.5 hours/week none
TOTAL student time in school 30.5 hours/week 32.5 hours/week +2 hours/week

The total time mandated for music, art, and PE instruction each week by specialists is the same under the proposal as it was under the 1995-96 schedule: 3 hours.

  • Music—minimum of two 30-minute sessions each week, for a total of 60 minutes.
  • PE—minimum of two 30-minute sessions each week, for a total of 60 minutes.
  • Art—minimum of one 60-minute session each week. This is an objective the School Board has been working towards even without any increase in time for students.
  • Under the Task Force proposal, the additional time for instruction by specialists to be chosen by each school is 2 hours. The school could choose resource teachers for reading, math, science, a foreign language, computers, health, or other subjects. The school would have the option of choosing to have additional instruction above the mandated amounts for music, PE, or art.
  • The Task Force said that schools should choose measures to reduce fragmentation in the student schedule. For example, language arts instruction by the special education teacher could be scheduled during the time the classroom teacher is covering this subject.

Under the Task Force proposal, kindergarten teachers and specialists would be guaranteed five hours of weekly planning time. [All kindergarten classes were half-day at that time.]

Teacher planning time
Grades 1 – 6

Current
[1995-96]

Proposed total

Proposed change

 

Planning time during student day 2.5 hours/week 5 hours/week +2.5 hours/week
     music and PE teachers

2.5 hours/week

2 hours/week

-0.5 hour/week

     art teachers

none[2]

1 hour/week

+1 hour/week

     additional resource teachers

none

2 hours/week

+ 2 hours/week

Planning time before and after the student day (including Monday afternoon) 7 hours/week 5 hours/week -2 hours/week
TOTAL planning time 9.5 hours/week 10 hours/week +0.5 hour/week

Under the Time and Learning Task Force proposal, each participating school must provide a minimum of five hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full-time teacher, with a minimum of two of the five hours provided for grade-level or team planning.

Schools would need to develop alternatives for a school-based staff development delivery system other than designated Mondays.

Cost

Although the Task Force did not recommend mandatory implementation in all elementary schools, it estimated the total costs if all schools adopted the schedule to be in the range of $11- $13 million per year.

[1] The art teacher visited each class approximately every other week for one hour under the 1995-96 schedule.

[2] The 1995-96 model for art instruction was that the classroom teacher stays in the class with the art teacher. (However, in some schools, the art specialist time was used as planning time for the classroom teacher.)

Note: This is a revised version of a post I wrote two years ago.

Arts Education Working Group stresses importance of arts education

Three years ago, The Arts Education Working Group, a coalition of national arts and arts education advocacy organizations including the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, invited state and local organizations to join the movement to keep the arts in public schools by signing-on to a statement in support of arts education: Arts Education: Creating Student Success in School Work and Life. Here is an excerpt from this four-page statement:

  • The Arts Prepare Students for School, Work, and Life
    As this country works to strengthen our foothold in the 21st Century global economy, the artsequip students with a creative, competitive edge. To succeed in today’s economy of ideas,students must masterfully use words, images,sounds, and movement to communicate. The arts provide the skills and knowledge students need to develop the creativity and determination necessary for success in today’s global information age.
  •  The Arts Strengthen the Learning Environment
    Where schools and communities are delivering high-quality learning opportunities in, through, and about the arts for children, extraordinary results occur. A study by the Arts Education Partnership, Third Space: When Learning Matters, finds that schools with large populations of students in economic poverty – too often places of frustration and failure for both students and teachers – can be transformed into vibrant hubs of learning when the arts are infused into their culture and curriculum. Additionally, studies have found that 8th graders from under-resourced environments who are highly involved in the arts have better grades, less likelihood of dropping out by grade 10, have more positive attitudes about school, and are more likely to go on to college.
  • The Arts Can Attract and Retain Teachers Who Love to Teach
    Attracting and retaining our best teachers is a daunting challenge. It can be met, however, by ensuring schools embrace the arts. Schools, especially those struggling, can attract new educators and keep their best teachers by becoming havens for creativity and innovation; places where students want to learn and teachers want to teach. As we aim to improve the teaching environment, the arts can help us retain our outstanding future and current educators in our nation’s schools.

There are many ways of providing affordable time for students

Katie Fox explains how schools can afford more time for students.  “The underlying answer is if there is a will, there is a way,” she says in her post for the Time to Succeed Coalition.

How about it Fairfax County School Board? Is there a will? One you have the will, there will be a way. Obviously one way is eliminating Monday early dismissals and providing alternative teacher planning time.

Fox points out that specialist instructors for elective courses can provide planning time for teachers:

One factor to consider is flexible scheduling for teachers and staff. While students might be in school for additional time or days, staggering teacher schedules is one way to maintain the workload and compensation for teachers. Bringing in specialized instructors for elective courses can also help allow for more opportunities in the arts, music, drama, and technology while also freeing up instructors in the core classes for planning and collaboration time….

It’s time to provide five full days of school for Fairfax elementary school students

“Dorothy Bea’s two grandchildren were latchkey kids just one day each week, on Mondays,” Peter Baker reported in the Washington Post, January 26, 1989.  “Three days ago, during one of those periods at home alone, Bea’s unattended grandson found her loaded .32-caliber revolver buried deep in a bedroom drawer and fatally shot his sister.”

This article is titled “If It’s Monday, It Must Be Latchkey; Fairfax Schools’ Early Closing Each Week Worries Some Parents.”

I was one of the people that Baker quoted:

“It just worries me,” said Virginia Shea, a parent of two small children in the Lincolnia area, who cares for a neighbor’s second-grade daughter every Monday because of the early closing at Weyanoke Elementary. “It seems to me that with the number of mothers who work in Fairfax County that really should be carefully looked at. I just can’t help feeling that the safety of the kids has to take priority over the convenience of the teachers.”

Four months later Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane proposed that the school system stop dismissing students early on Mondays. In November of that year, the school board considered a plan to lengthen school hours with a seven-period day for secondary school students and full Mondays for elementary school students. The school board members approved the longer day for secondary school students, but said they would wait until the next year to do the same for elementary students, citing the $8.8 million cost of the program. This money would have paid for 220 additional teachers for art, music, and physical education.

On Monday, September 17, 1990, eight-year old Destiny Souza returned home from Newington Forest Elementary School at 1:20 p.m. When her mother returned home from work at 3:30 p.m., she found that Destiny had been beaten to death. Her murderer was later convicted and sentenced to a life term.

On November 15, 1990, the school board narrowly defeated Dr. Spillane’s revised plan to provide a full day on Monday for elementary school students while providing classroom teachers with larger blocks of planning time during the student day. The cost of the rejected proposal was $5.6 million for 128.5 additional teacher positions.

This year Superintendent Jack D. Dale is proposing adding $6.5 million to the budget for additional time for teachers without any additional time for elementary school students. It is time to remember the needs of the students.

Today, January 23, is the anniversary of the tragic shooting of the seven-year-old student from Springfield Estates Elementary school. Clearly it is time to provide full day Mondays for the elementary school students.

[The last paragraph was slightly edited since my original posting this morning.]

Cost of teacher planning time has been cited as the reason Fairfax does not provide full day Mondays

Since 1989 I have studied the scheduling issues in Fairfax County Public Schools. There have been several proposals during that time to provide full day Mondays for all of the elementary school students. These proposals involved various ways of allowing the classroom teachers to have planning time while the students were being taught by other teachers of music, art, or physical education. Other proposals have broadened the choices to include other specialists or paraprofessionals.

The main reason cited for failing to approve these plans has been fairly consistent: Fairfax County cannot afford to pay for additional planning time for the classroom teachers, even though the students would benefit during that time by instruction by other specialists. When faced with the option of spending a modest amount of additional money, a majority of the school board members have clung to the questionable premise that the very best solution for providing planning time for teachers is to send the children out of the building.

Starting in 1999, 20 schools were given additional resources in Project Excel. Sixteen of the schools chose to have full day Mondays for the students. Under this program, teachers, counselors, librarians, and instructional assistants added a half-hour to their workday so they had an 8-hour contract day and their pay was increased by seven percent.  This method of providing more planning time for the staff was much more expensive than the previous proposals. A couple of years ago Project Excel was eliminated.

So both options of providing alternative planning time have been rejected as too expensive.

That is why it is so discouraging to see that Superintendent Jack D. Dale is now saying, yes let’s have $6.5 million worth of additional teacher contract time; but no, let’s not even mention the idea that students could have full day Mondays. Not only is this missing an opportunity to provide more time for the students–if approved by the school board, this would make it even harder to ever figure out a way of doing so in the future.

I know that in the perception of many school members, once the teachers have additional planning time, that won’t be counted as an offset to any future method of providing alternative planning time for teachers while allowing more time in school for the students. That new proposal will have to come up with additional planning time over and above any additional planning time that is added now.

Moving the goal posts.

This is unfair to the students.

Note: This is a slightly revised version of the original post that was published earlier this morning.

Elementary school students in Fairfax need more time in school

“Don’t Forget the Students.” Four years ago that was the title of my testimony on the budget for Fairfax County Public Schools. I am more worried than ever that the students are being forgotten. Why is Superintendent Dale proposing paying teachers for additional contract time without students while completely ignoring the needs of the elementary school students for a better school schedule? Here is my testimony from 2009:

Virginia Fitz Shea
Statement to the Fairfax County School Board
Public Hearing on the FY 2010 Advertised Budget
January 21, 2009

Don’t Forget the Students!

Twenty years ago two students from Springfield Estates Elementary School were taken care of after school by their uncle, who returned from work at 3:00 p.m. However, on Mondays their school dismissed them at 1:10 p.m. and they took care of themselves until their uncle’s return. At about 2:30 p.m. on Monday, January 23, 1989, the eight-year-old brother found a gun and fatally shot his six-year-old sister.

In November of that year, Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane proposed a plan to lengthen school hours with a seven-period day for secondary school students and full Mondays for elementary school students. The school board members approved the longer day for secondary school students, but said they would wait until the next year to do the same for elementary students, citing the $8.8 million cost of the program. This money would have paid for 220 additional teachers for art, music, and physical education.

On Monday, September 17, 1990, eight-year old Destiny Souza returned home from Newington Forest Elementary School at 1:20 p.m. When her mother returned home from work at 3:30 p.m., she found that Destiny had been beaten to death. Her murderer was later convicted and sentenced to a life term.

On November 15, 1990, the school board narrowly defeated Dr. Spillane’s revised plan to provide a full day on Monday for elementary school students while providing classroom teachers with larger blocks of planning time during the student day. The cost of the rejected proposal was $5.6 million for 128.5 additional teacher positions.

If such a plan were implemented today, the costs would be greater due to inflation and increased enrollment; however it would still be more affordable than Project Excel, which covers only 20 schools and costs $7 ½   million this year. Sixteen of the Project Excel schools provide full day Mondays for students and the other four schools have modified calendars.

According to the proposed 2010 budget, the Project Excel program will be reduced by $1.48 million, a reduction of 20 percent. However, the budget states, “A project team is designing a process for identification and support of high-needs schools to replace Excel using existing (but reduced) budgets.”

So if Project Excel will be replaced, that means it is being eliminated. The budget should make this clear. The “Potential Tiered Budget Reductions Impacts” document states “Fewer schools will be served due to the reduction of funds and all elementary schools will revert to the same calendar, with early dismissal on Monday.”

Why is this statement left out of the 268-page proposed budget for 2010? Why is the alternative to Excel being developed by means of a secretive internal staff review? Parents deserve a chance to comment on the proposal to eliminate the full day on Monday.

Either one of Dr. Spillane’s proposals should be substituted for the expensive Project Excel method of providing full day Mondays and provide longer Mondays for additional schools.  Additional money in the budget for teacher planning time could be reallocated to provide funding for full day Mondays for all the schools.

Let’s remember the students!

Past, Present, and Future