What issues are involved in setting a school calendar?

Yesterday, the Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Colorado summarized the major issues involved in setting a modern school calendar. In an op-ed in  PostIndependent.com, Rob Stein contradicts the common assertion that the that traditional school year with a summer vacation was designed to assist with work on farms.

You know the myth: We still have an agrarian calendar that allows kids to go to school in winter and work in the fields during the summer. But think about it: The busy times for agriculture are during spring planting and fall harvest. If we really had an agrarian school calendar, we would have two breaks, one in planting season and the other for harvest. Midsummer, when days are long and there is less work to do in the fields, would surely allow kids time after school to tend crops.

In reality, our current school calendar is actually a byproduct of urbanization. With the rise of industry in the 19th century, more people crowded into cities. Urban areas were unpleasant places during summer: horse manure and primitive sewage systems, combined with heat and population density, made them stifling and disgusting. Upper and middle classes would escape the urban heat for country getaways. So schools, which at that time were not universally attended (the first state to legislate compulsory attendance was Massachusetts in 1852; the last was Mississippi in 1917), shut down for summer vacation.

He notes that schools can now serve students during the summer and that the academic year is too short:

According to the National Center on Time and Learning, students should have at least 1,440 hours of school per year — that number makes more sense when you realize that it equals 180 school days times eight hours per day. However, very few schools around the country have that much time in session. Most states require 180 days of school per year; Colorado is one of only five states that requires less than 175 days. Roaring Fork Schools have more days per year than most districts in Colorado at 174, as well as slightly longer days at about seven and a half hours. Factoring in early release Wednesdays, our students still spend about 200 hours less per year than recommended.

He advocates investing in full-day kindergarten for all students. He also says it is a worthwhile to provide more extended-day and extended-year enrichment opportunities for low-income students.

He also notes that teenagers need more sleep and could  benefit from a later start to the school day. “This is challenging because transportation schedules, after-school activities schedules and schedules for students who care for younger siblings are all forces of resistance for a later start.”

Stein also points out that teachers need time for planning, collaborative planning, and professional development. “Though parents may be inconvenienced by shortened school days on Wednesdays and professional development days throughout the year, that professional learning time for teachers pays dividends for their children’s learning,” he asserts.

 

 

Teacher compensation in Prince William County is studied

According to a consultant’s report presented to the Prince William County School Board, teachers leave Prince William County school to go to Fairfax at the same rate that an equal number of staff members go to Prince William from Fairfax.

The Prince William Times reports that Prince William County Public Schools is behind other Northern Virginia school divisions in the lower steps of the teacher salary scales; however, they “are fairly competitive at mid-range, and above average at the top end of the scales.”

Segal Waters Consulting recommends several changes to the pay scale to help retain teachers. “They include adjusting the scale to reflect market rates throughout the salary scale and boosting tuition reimbursements for teachers and support staff, with a focus on encouraging staff to pursue teacher certification.”

The 2015-16 Total Compensation Market Study reports that PWCS has a teacher turnover rate of 10 percent. Exit surveys show that the top three reasons staff leave are spousal transfers, long commute, and family responsibilities.

Rapid City schools might end early dismissals

The Rapid City school district is studying how to eliminate early dismissals on Wednesdays while still providing professional development for teachers. In 2012, this South Dakota school district started dismissing students an hour and a half to two hours early on Wednesdays.

“But the early-release day has created its own problems for parents, educators and district officials in the last few years,” the Rapid City Journal reports. “The logistics of transporting and keeping students occupied and safe once they get out of school early on a midweek day had proven difficult for some parents.”

Superintendent Lori Simon has created a task for of teachers and principals to discuss possible alternatives. Simon is opposed to the current early dismissal policy, citing its negative effect on attendance:

“Wednesday is usually the best attendance day for schools, and that used to be the case for us in Rapid,” she said. “with the early-release Wednesdays, we are seeing it have a very negative impact. It’s now one of our worst attendance days.”

Rapid City schools already suffer from some of the worst attendance in the nation, and fixing that problem has been one of Simon’s top priorities since she took the helm in July.

Fairfax County students to start school before Labor Day next year

The Fairfax County School Board recently approved the Calendar for School Year 2017-2018, which sets the first day of school as Monday, August 28, 2017, and the last day as Friday, June 15, 2018. In February, the Virginia Department of Education informed the school board that Fairfax County Public Schools qualified for a waiver to begin the school year prior to Labor Day.

This waiver is granted if a division misses an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years due to weather conditions or other emergency situations. During the last 10 years, FCPS had five years in which the average number of snow days equaled more than eight days.

At the December 1 school board meeting, Megan McLaughlin (D-Braddock) supported the pre-Labor Day start, which gives more time to prepare for national tests, but she noted that the community was almost evenly split on the issue. A survey was sent out March 30 and 36,000 responses were received from parents. “Some of us were raised on the beauty of summer, which began in June and you didn’t go back until after Labor Day.”

Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) will make a request at an upcoming school board forum to create a calendar subcommittee of the Human Resources Advisory Committee. “If approved, this group would work with staff in the development of future calendars and incorporate community feedback,” she wrote in Providence District School Board Newsletter, December, 2016. “In addition, it will engage members of the inter-faith community to ensure we are being as thoughtful as possible about student religious observances.”

Karen Corbett Sanders (D-Mount Vernon) said she supported the proposal to have a community group help develop the calendar. “We have a commitment to allow community members to provide feedback.” Jeanette Hough (R-Member-at-Large) said she absolutely agreed with the need for more public community input. Elizabeth Shultz (R-Springfield) noted that by the time there was opportunity for the public to have input on the calendar, it was draft 7 or 8, “It was a binary choice.”

Ilryong Moon (D-Member at Large) noted that the calendar provides two full weeks of winter break plus January 1, and one full week of spring break plus the Monday after spring break. This is a better way of describing the actual amount of time off for students than the FCPS press release, which refers to a two-week winter break and a one-week spring break.

The last day of school will include a two-hour day for high schools and secondary schools, and a two-hour early dismissal for all other grades. However, Schultz said she thought that June 15 was rather late for the end of the school year and she heard from a lot of families who questioned why it wasn’t earlier. She advocated greater engagement with the public over tightening the school year. “All of the three-and-a half and four day weeks wreak havoc on students and families as well.”

Schultz suggested that more professional development days for staff could be added before or after the school year starts or ends for students. Although Schultz strongly supported the pre-Labor Day start, she voted against the 2017-2018 calendar, “trying to foreshadow some of the work that needs to come.”

All the other school. board members voted in favor of the 2017-2018 calendar. Jane K. Strauss (D-Dranesville) said that the teacher workdays are very important to staff.

Chair Sandy Evans (D-Mason District) noted that a few years ago three schools (Stuart High School, Falls Church High School, and Glasgow Middle School) had the experience of starting school two weeks earlier and ending two weeks earlier than the other schools in the school system. They had quickly adjusted to the earlier schedule.

November 11, Veterans Day, will be on a Saturday next year. Schultz and McLaughlin both promised to bring back their advocacy for a student holiday on Veterans Day for the following school year.

Graduations will be held on or after June 7, 2018. Ryan McElveen (D-Member-at Large) noted that this was the first time he had notice that a “G” had been put on the school calendar for graduation. Chief of Staff Marty Smith explained that graduation is scheduled seven days prior to the last day of school.

Critics cite negative effects of a post-Labor Day start for schools

In response to Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order that schools must start after Labor Day, the Baltimore Sun reports that Democrats are saying that that local decisions are best left to local officials while Republicans are supporting the decision.

During the first Board of Public Works meeting since he announced the order last week, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp turned to Hogan on Wednesday morning and flatly called the move an “abuse of executive power.”

“It was a misuse of authority,” said Kopp, a Democrat who serves on the three-member panel with the Republican governor. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

She said she was awaiting Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s formal opinion on the matter.

Could a late school start mean an end to spring break? The Washington Post notes that some school districts might end school breaks or cut teacher work days or certain holidays. The Post reports local needs weigh heavily on how school years are designed.

Snow, for example, is a big factor in the school calendar for Garrett County, home to Deep Creek Lake and Wisp ski resort. The school district has a calendar that is already “down to the bone,” said Jim Morris, a school system spokesman. A few years ago, 20 days were lost to snow, he said.

Morris said the greatest concern is if the new state mandate means that, when snow days pile up, school years get cut short of their required 180 days. “That would give our kids an instructional disadvantage,” he said.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jennifer L. Steele  says the big question is how the order will affect student learning:

Decades of research have shown that students forget some of their learning during the summer, especially in math — a phenomenon known as summer slide. Worse, the size of the slide depends on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, with those from low-income backgrounds losing more ground, especially in reading. Why? One factor may be that wealthier students have greater access to enriching summer activities — camps, travel and internships. They may also spend more time on literacy-related tasks.

Steele noted that the executive order could end up slashing teacher planning days and midyear breaks. “Though the research on compressing vs. expanding the instructional calendar is mixed, there is at least some evidence that distributing breaks at regular intervals across the year may benefit the lowest-income students.”

 

 

 

 

 

Montgomery County elementary school teachers have comparatively more planning time

Statistics on planning time for elementary school teachers show that the teachers in Montgomery County, MD., have more planning time than the others studied by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Montgomery county elementary school teachers have 7 hours per week, or an average of 84 minutes per day for planning time. NCTQ’s Teacher Contract Database contains teacher policies from over 140 school districts and two charter management organizations.

The Washington Post reports that Tom Israel, director of the Montgomery County Education Association, said that the seven-hour weekly figure includes mandated meetings and trainings. The amount of individually managed planning time is just three hours and 45 minutes a week, an average of 45 minutes a day.

The Post also notes the analysis showed that “teachers in Virginia’s Prince William County had 45 minutes of planning time daily and Fairfax County teachers had 39 minutes a day. The most common amount of planning time for elementary school teachers nationwide is 45 minutes a day.”

The NCTQ also reports that the average teacher teacher workday is 7 ½ hours. “Henrico County (VA) and Sioux Falls (SD) are the two districts where teachers’ scheduled workday is longer than eight hours, while teachers in New York City, Sacramento, Jefferson Parish (LA), and Toledo (OH) have the shortest scheduled workdays at six hours and fifteen minutes.”

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.”

More incentives needed for teachers

Frank Bruni says the news of teacher shortages demonstrates that we must make teaching rewarding “so that it beckons to not only enough college graduates but to a robust share of the very best of them.”

Better pay is needed. Licensing laws should make it easier for teachers to move from one state to another.

Dan Brown, a co-director of Educators Rising, which encourages teenagers to contemplate careers in the classroom, said that teaching might be ready for its own Flexner Report, an early 1900s document that revolutionized medical schools and raised the bar for American medicine, contributing to the aura that surrounds physicians today.

He also asked why, in the intensifying political discussions about making college more affordable, there’s not more talk of methods “to recognize and incentivize future public servants,” foremost among them teachers.

Fairfax County 2015-16 School Calendar is approved

On March 26 the Fairfax County School Board approved the 2015-16 school calendar which sets Tuesday, September 8, as the first day of the school year and Thursday, June 23, 2016, as the last day. There are 180 days in the calendar; apparently this will be the new normal for Fairfax County. In previous years 183 days were scheduled so there would be extra days in the event of snow days.

The press release announcing this decision stated that the 2015-16 calendar “was developed with input from a number of teacher, parent, and community stakeholders.” The only “parent” group participating in this questionnaire was the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. These groups were given the choice of two versions of a 180-day calendar. Clearly there is room for further discussion in future years on the topic of the optimum amount of time in the school year.

On the bright side though, elementary school students will continue to benefit from not having weekly early dismissals. The school board deserves credit for the major accomplishment of having eliminated Monday early dismissals, starting with this current school year.

Steven L. Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told the school board Thursday that FCPS management and labor continue to solve serious problems in a collaborative manner “so parents, teachers, and students all end up better than before’…we set a model for others to achieve success.” As an example he cited “Full day Mondays that help students learn, protect teacher planning, and fix calendar issues for parents.”

There will be seven days when all students are dismissed two hours early: October 30; November 25; December 18; February 4, 2016; April 21, 2016; and June 23, 2016. Student holidays are planned for the following:  teacher workdays on November 2; February 5, 2016; and April 22, 2016; a staff development day on January 19, 2016; and school planning days on October 9; November 3; and March 28, 2016.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed a motion to give students the day off on Veterans Day. Steve Hunt, a former school board member, testified in favor of this proposal. Speaking on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469, Hunt said that this should not be just another school day. “I know that there are schools that have special events. It is my hope that much like Martin Luther King’s Birthday or President’s Day those events will continue on a day other than the actual holiday.”

Steve Martinez also supported the amendment, but said “it does not go nearly far enough to fully recognize the 11th of November as a holiday for FCPS, as it should be.”

I have been addressing the issue related to Fairfax County Public Schools not recognizing Veterans’ Day, a Federal & State holiday, as a school holiday (i.e., day off) on the school calendar for over 3 years now. I am passionate about this matter since Veterans’ Day is the ONLY holiday which occurs during the school year that is not recognized with a day off for everyone…students, faculty & staff…by FCPS.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) also supported this amendment, which failed by a 10-2 vote.

Winter break is scheduled for December 21 through January 1, 2016, and spring break will be held March 21-25, 2016.  Makeup days may be used to ensure 990 hours of instruction during the 2015-16 school year.  Missed days, delayed openings, and unscheduled early dismissals are considered in the calculation of these hours.  State code requires school districts to make up the first five missed days of school, and then requires only every other day of missed school to be made up.  FCPS asserts that it has the equivalent of 13 days (78 hours) built into the 2015-16 calendar. If a 14th day is missed, no makeup is required by the state.  If a 15th day is missed, April 22, 2016 will be considered a makeup day.

More teacher training could lead to better math instruction

“Parents are rebelling against the Common Core, even though its approach–fostering intuition through real-world examples–is the best way to teach math to kids,” Elizabeth Green argues.”The real problem: No one has shown the teachers how to teach it.”

This New York Times Magazine article cites research showing that Japanese 8th grade students in the study initiated the method for solving a problem in 40 percent of the lessons; Americans initiated 9 percent of the time. “Similarly 96 percent of the American students’ work fell into the category of ‘practice,’ while Japanese students spend only 41 percent of their time practicing. Almost half of Japanese students’ time was spent doing work that the researchers termed ‘invent/think.’ (American students spent less than 1 percent of their time on it.)”

Green also notes that in Finland and Japan, “teachers teach for 600 or fewer hours each school year, leaving them ample time to prepare, revise and learn. By contrast, American teachers spend nearly 1,100 hours with little feedback.