Will Montgomery County revert to earlier school start times?

On January 10, the Montgomery County Board of Education will discuss concerns regarding the impact of bell times. The Washington Post reports that a teachers’ union in Montgomery County has asked the school board to revert to earlier school start times for elementary schools and return all schools to the schedules they had in 2014-15. The Post reports that the union that represents principals and administrators has made the same request.

In 2015 the high school start times were changes from 7:25 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. “Elementary schools, which open in two waves, now start at 9 a.m. or 9:25 a.m., 10 minutes later than before, and their dismissals come 20 minutes later, so the length of the school day has been extended,” the Post reports.

Many teachers say they notice that elementary school students, especially the youngest, grow tired as the afternoons wear on, said Valerie Coll, a teacher at Flora M. Singer Elementary. “They tucker out,” she said. “Not all students are able to develop the academic stamina.”

The Post reports that school board member Patricia O’Neill, 3rd District, does not back a return to earlier hours at high schools, but she would like to work toward a solution of later-scheduled elementary schools.

Eric Guerci, the student member of the school board, said that leaders of Montgomery’s countywide student government passed a resolution in December against returning to the bell times of the 2014-2015 school year. Although the current hours may not be perfect, he said, many see them as a benefit overall: “They’re seen as representing a positive change.”

More schools avoid assigning homework

Are we giving students enough time in school or not? If they do have a long enough school day, should teachers also assign homework? This question is especially relevant in elementary schools. Valerie Strauss recently wrote about an experiment in not giving homework in second grade:

Second-grade teachers at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, Va., had an idea: Look at the research on how homework affects young students and do what it says.

They read studies done by Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and Duke University psychology professor, and learned that he found no solid evidence that elementary schoolchildren benefit from academic homework. They hatched a plan to stop assigning it and only ask kids to read, which Cooper and other researchers have found to be useful for young children. Principal Harold Pellegreen gave them permission to go ahead — as long as they evaluated the impact by looking at test scores during the year.

Also, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Kelly Elementary School banned homework for all students this year after the district extended school by two hours a day. Now I would be interested in the reaction of parents in the schools which had two hours more in the school day and then still expected the students to lug home backpacks full of homework.

Hillary Clinton supports expanding school day and year

At the CNN Democratic Town Hall on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said she supports expanding the school day and year, particularly for disadvantaged students. During the question and answer session, John Loveday, the principal of a charter school that offers 230 instructional days, noted that countries like India and China require their high school students to attend 220 days on average, 40 days more than our high school students. “Do you think that puts our students at a disadvantage?” he asked. “And if so, would you work with states to help modernize that policy?”

Here is Clinton’s answer:

Here’s what I think it does — and thank you for being involved in education. It’s so critically important. I think we need to focus on disadvantaged kids, low-income kids, kids with learning difficulties, because they do need more time on task. Others could also benefit from it, but we understand — and you do, I’m sure, from the research — that the more time that kids who need that time have, the more likely they will make gains in their learning.

In fact, there’s a lot of research which shows that, you know, for most middle-class or, you know, well-off kids, they get out of school in the spring or early summer, having gone to 180, 185, whatever the days are in their state, and then they do things over the summer that keep them learning, where a lot of disadvantaged kids get out and they actually lose some of the learning that they’ve gained during the year.

So I want very much to expand the school day and the school year and provide more structure, starting with kids who would be most benefited from it. But I am in favor of states looking at how they might do that for every student. But I’m most concerned about the kids who are left out and left behind and need more time on task.

The research on this is very clear. In fact, you know, I have said I want to be a good partner for educators and teachers, but I want to help them do what they know they’re supposed to do. We need better and fewer tests, not more tests. We need more support in the classroom, because a lot of kids come with needs. And as the reverend was saying, a lot of kids who have challenges at home, you know, the school is the only place other than the family where they might get some additional assistance.

So we need to look at this from a broader perspective. And you’re right, more days, more hours actually does produce results, particularly for kids who need that kind of structure and support.

Source: CNN.com – Transcripts

Montgomery County ends final exams

Montgomery County moves ahead with plans to scrap high school finals. The Washington Post reports that, “Montgomery’s association of administrators and principals supported the plan, saying students would gain nearly 10 days of instructional time and would be more frequent feedback on their progress.”

On the other hand, “More than 90 percent of 214 staff members opposed doing away with the county’s semester-end tests in recent public comments submitted to the school system.”

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.”



Should Fairfax consider a fee for after-school program for middle school students?

Supervisor John C. Cook (Braddock District) recently asked how much revenue could be generated if an annual $100 per student charge for the Middle School After School (MSAS) Program was instituted, exempting children eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Here is the response prepared by Mark Emery, the after-school program administrator:

The 2013-14 school year MSAS program had approximately 13,000 students that were considered regular attendees (i.e., U.S. Department of Education term denoting students who attend 30 or more days of after school programming in a school year). The extent to which a new fee will reduce participation is hard to predict, but it is assumed the regular attendees would be the most likely students to stay in the program in the event a fee is implemented. Assuming the current broader school population free and reduced price meals (FRM) rate of 28 percent applies to the regular attendees, 9,360 students would pay the $100 fee, for a total revenue generation of $936,000. However, as a result of outreach efforts, the percentage of after- school attendees who receive FRM is higher than the cited school-wide 28 percent. Therefore, revenues are very likely to be less than $936,000.

It should be noted that the MSAS program has been a key element in the County’s and school division’s initiatives to not just combat gangs but to improve student behavior, improve academic performance, and develop healthy and successful youth. The MSAS program provides safe, engaging, and enriching activities to students who do not have access to such opportunities otherwise. These students often come from a background where funding is not available for extracurricular activities. As such, significant effort was put into encouraging participation among as many middle school youth as possible. The decision not to implement a fee from the beginning of the program was a part of those efforts.

While the MSAS program receives the majority of its funding from the County’s General Fund, the program is officially a Fairfax County Public Schools program and as such any adoption of a program fee requires the approval of the Fairfax County School Board.

Source: FY2016 Responses

Fairfax announces the new bell schedules for the 2015-16 school year

Fairfax County has posted the Bell Schedules for the 2015-16 school year. They have also posted Frequently Asked Questions:

FAQs for Parents on Bell Schedule

What are the changes to the bell schedules for the next year?

Every principal will by notifying their school community about the new bell schedules for the 2015-16 school year. The Fairfax County School Board approved a recommendation to change start times beginning in September 2015. Under this recommendation, the planned start times for the 2015-16 school year will be as follows:

·         High schools will start at 8 or 8:10 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 or 2:55 p.m.

·         Middle schools will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m.

·        The elementary schools window remains unchanged, with elementary school students beginning their day between 8 and 9:230 a.m.

I checked my school’s bell schedule for next year and noticed that my child’s school day is five minutes longer. Why is that?

The new bell schedule was designed to ensure that FCPS has a standard length of day and every school will be in session for 6 hours and 45 minutes per day.

High schools are starting later, but I don’t understand why the new bell schedule has middle schools starting at 7:30 a.m.

Superintendent Garza and the School Board have indicated that the changes to the bell schedules are just a start. They want to work on making adjustments to the middle and elementary school schedules in future years.

Why did my elementary school start time change by more than 10 minutes?

Every effort was made to minimize the impact to elementary school start times. The change to the bell schedule for many elementary schools is only 5-10 minutes difference within the elementary school window. However, there are 8 elementary schools that did need to have their bell schedule changed by more than 5-10 minutes because transportation needed to build in more time for buses to complete their routes before arrive at schools.

When will I receive my child’s bus schedule for the 2015-16 school year?

The bus schedules will be sent to families this summer as has been done in previous years.

Will the new bell schedules mean traffic will be worse in the morning and afternoon?

The transportation team has been performing dry runs of all the bus routes in preparation for next fall. We do not anticipate traffic conditions to be impacted by the bell schedule. However, we will continue to monitor traffic patterns based on the new bell schedule.

Why are we making changes to the bell schedules?

In 2012, the Fairfax County School Board adopted a resolution to start high schools after 8 a.m. Last year, the School Board approved a recommendations to start high schools between 8 a.m. and 8:10 a.m. and cited research which demonstrates that school schedules should be aligned with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents in order to improve their mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety in order to improve their mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety.

What kind of agreement has been worked out with the Fairfax County Park Authority for swimming pool use and field use?

Currently high schools have to be off the fields at 5:45 p.m. and some middle schools have to be off earlier. We are currently finalizing the pool and field schedule with the Fairfax County Park Authority and will provide additional information in the next few weeks.

School board likely to approve later start times for high schools

The Fairfax County School Board will vote tonight on later start times for high schools.  In her newsletter, Chairman Tammy Derenak Kaufax says she will vote “yes,” because “changing start times gives our children the opportunity to sleep later and, in turn, our students can have improved health, greater quality of life and better school performance.”

SLEEP: Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal for Fairfax County VA Schools has posted a brief summary of the agenda item:

Moving Towards A Positive Change For Our Children!

The school board is another step closer to reaching its goal to start high schools at or after 8 a.m. With strong consensus, the board agreed to post Superintendent Garza’s preferred plan as New Business on September 18th and will vote on the plan on October 23rd. The preferred plan for implementation in 2015-2016 is a significant improvement over the current situation. In addition, Dr. Garza indicated her goal to continue working to get the middle school start times closer to 8 a.m. in the future! We support the board’s work and tremendous progress on this issue.


High school schedule

Middle school schedule

Elementary school schedule



7:20 – 8:05

8:00 – 9:20

Preferred Plan with length of day = 6 h 45 m

8:00 – 8:10


8:00 – 9:20

Implementation of this scenario means that all Fairfax students will have a start time after 8 a.m. for at least ten or eleven of their thirteen years in Fairfax County. And, secondary school students may entirely avoid start times before 8 a.m., which will be a relief to families who have had to suffer the painfully early starts for six years in a row up to now. This option may not be perfect, but it is a big improvement over the current schedule that has many middle and all high school students starting at 7:20 a.m.

This option retains the current schedules of the elementary schools and continues to dismiss older siblings in time to provide after-school care for younger siblings. The impact on sports and extra-curricular activities is minimal. FCPS will continue to offer a middle school after-school program five days a week that is free of charge.

One major accomplishment of the FCPS Transportation staff in the CNMC Blueprint for Change is the elimination of extra-early school arrival times, what is known as the “false tier.” High school students and many middle school students are currently delivered to school 20-35 minutes prior to the bell. The new plan narrows that delivery window to 10 or 15 minutes, and gives the extra time in the morning to families rather than having students cool their heels in school buildings. This means that high school buses will arrive at school 65-75 minutes later than many do now. The net effect also helps offset the change for middle schools that shift earlier.


Board of Supervisors should provide more funds

Fairfax full-day Mondays meeting ends with tense exchange on funding – The Washington Post. I posted these comments:

Superintendent Karen Garza and the Fairfax County School Board did the right thing by implementing full-day Mondays. The Board of Supervisors should support their decision to do the right thing for the students. When you have a choice between right and wrong, you choose what is right. It is as simple as that. I helped start a petition in February asking the school board to implement full-day Mondays and provide a longer time for recess. The petition stated:

“The Virginia Standards of Accreditation state that the standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5 ½ hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess. With a half hour dedicated to lunch, FCPS elementary schools theoretically have only 10 minutes per day available for recess. Thankfully, the 10-minute recess is rarely enforced. However, this leaves students with less than the mandated amount of instructional time.”

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said he was displeased with the way the school system implemented the change after budget negotiations were over. Would he have preferred for the school system to continue shortchanging the students?

As our Full Schooldays petition stated, “Fairfax County should expand the elementary school schedule to make it easier for schools to comply with the state requirements for the standard school day while at the same time officially ending the unrealistic 10-minute limit for recess. The Fairfax County School Board should end the policy of dismissing elementary school students 2 ½ or 2 hours early every Monday.”

This was a very serious problem that needed to be fixed. Now it is fixed. The Board of Supervisors (BOS) should provide some money to show their support for the only lawful and logical course of action that was available to the School Board.
The BOS will hold a public hearing on the supplemental appropriation of funds next Tuesday. They should wait to hear the speakers before deciding on their vote on the funding.

Prince George’s secondary school eliminates recess

A Prince George’s County charter school currently serving grades 6-8 is shortening the school day by eliminating the daily 25-minute recess period. College Park Academy opened in 2013 with grades 6-7. The charter school is adding a grade every year until it reaches 12th grade and 700 students.

The charter agreement calls for a 7.5 hour-long day, from 8:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. Last night the Prince George’s County Board of Education approved the school’s request to move the dismissal time to 3:20 p.m. and cancel recess. This waiver request was granted on an emergency basis so that the change can go into effect immediately.

“Students at College Park Academy have had recess since the school opened a year ago,” the Washington Post reports. “According to county school regulations, middle schools are not required to offer recess, and a schools spokesman said that the county’s middle schools don’t have it. County elementary schools ‘should’ offer recess for ‘no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,’ according to regulations in Prince George’s.”