I criticize the critics of additional funding for the schools

It would have been absurd for the school board to reject a much needed improvement solely on the grounds that it would have been more pleasing to the bureaucratic workings of the Fairfax County budgeting process to have approved the proposal in January.”

This is a quote from the additional comments I have posted on why the Board of Supervisors should provide more funds to the school system.

So far there are nine comments on the Washington Post article Fairfax full-day Mondays meeting ends with tense exchange on funding.

Someone who often posts under the name “1bnthrdntht” noted that the other days were lengthened decades ago when Monday was shortened, stated “FCPS has always provided the required number of hours for classes,” then asked me, “So how is this Monday change the ‘right thing’?”

My response:

Yes the other days were lengthened over 40 years ago. Meanwhile other school districts have also lengthened their days, all of them. FCPS has not been consistently providing the required numbers of hours for classes for the past 7 years. In response to my complaints about the lack of sufficient time for recess, FCPS lengthened the hours of some schools slightly, of others quite a bit, to allow just enough time in the week for 10 minutes per day for recess. At that time there were 16 schools with full day Mondays who did not need to have a very short recess. However, all schools reverted back to early dismissals in the past few years, so all of the elementary schools had enough time in the day to provide only 10 minutes for recess. I know that many, and perhaps all the schools actually provided more time for recess, so they were not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation. In your experience, were recess periods limited to 10 minutes per day? Do you think this is an adequate amount of time for recess?

So far I have received no reply to these questions.

Another commenter, “cosmic9393,” accused the school board of lying about the budget, saying, “For once, Frey is absolutely right.”

I replied:

Last January the FCPS administration did NOT have a plan for full-day Mondays. However, let’s give Superintendent Karen Garza credit for tasking the new Interim Deputy Superintendent, Dan Parris, with the difficult task of leading a working group to come up with a plan for providing an affordable way of providing full-day Mondays for the students AND alternative planning time for the teachers. This working group was still in the midst of its deliberations when I met with Mr. Parris in March. Even though he was optimistic that they could come up with a good plan, there was certainly not sufficient grounds for amending the budget request to the Board of Supervisors in April. For years and years the prospect of changing the elementary schedule has been such a controversial issue that it was hardly even talked about. The Board of Supervisors would have paid no attention whatsoever to a request for an additional amount of money on the chance that a plan would be developed and approved by the school board sometime in the following weeks.
So, Frey is absolutely wrong. The school board was not hiding any cards under the table when it made its request in April. When they were given some good cards in May, in the form of a golden opportunity to improve the disgraceful and inadequate elementary school schedule, they rightly decided to play the good hand that was dealt them.
It would have been absurd for the school board to reject a much needed improvement solely on the grounds that it would have been more pleasing to the bureaucratic workings of the Fairfax County budgeting process to have approved the proposal in January.
It would have been criminal to continue with the status quo for another whole year, all the while failing to be in compliance with state standards for the school day.
It is time for the Board of Supervisors to give a resounding vote of support to the Fairfax County School Board for finally doing the right thing. Give more money for the students.

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.

Schools set to expand language programs in Fairfax County

The Fairfax Times has an article on the expanded language programs in Fairfax County. Part of the plan is to increase the number of two-way immersion programs in the elementary schools. The other part of the plan is change the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program to a Language through Content program. Currently FLES serves 46 schools. The Language through Content program would expand to all elementary schools over the next five years.

There are two good reasons to expand this: one to give more students foreign language instruction, and two, to give classroom planning time during the student day. I have been advocating this for several years, and I see no reason for a slow approach. I agree with Kathy Smith (Sully) who expressed frustration that the planned roll-out would take five years: “I’d like to do this tomorrow.”

Perhaps this might be possible for this September, but I don’t see any reason all schools couldn’t have Language through Content taught by specialists by September 2015.

“While the move to Language Through Content would reduce costs at current FLES schools, adding the language program at 93 additional schools would bring the overall cost to $7.5 million annually once fully implemented,” the Fairfax Times reports.

The choice isn’t between spending the money and not spending the money. The choice is between spending the money on foreign language teachers or other specialists. The school system has already committed to providing more time for students through full-day Mondays while providing alternative planning time for the classroom teachers. Foreign language instruction would still be only a portion of the added time needed.

Update on the Fairfax Master Calendar

Revisions to the proposed master calendar for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) were presented as new business to the Fairfax County School Board at its business meeting on Thursday, July 10. The Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar at its July 24 meeting.

The most recent revision to the Master Calendar was approved by the school board on June 26; however, due to testing conflicts, two minor adjustments are being proposed:

    • Strategic Planning Day on 10/14/14 was moved to 9/29/14
    • Strategic Planning Day on 5/4/15 was moved to 3/16/15

Here is the FCPS summary of the Revisions to the Approved 2014-15 Standard Year Calendar:

The proposed revisions include:

  • Adding four strategic planning days for teachers on September 29, February 2, March 16, and April 6. The strategic planning days will be student holidays.

  • Student holidays will be scheduled on staff development days, teacher work days, and strategic planning days.

  • The strategic planning day on Monday, April 6 follows spring break, providing a student holiday immediately following the break.

  • Students will be released two hours early on the last day of the quarter and the day before Thanksgiving break and winter break. Students will be released two hours early on the last day of school instead of attending school for two hours and then being dismissed. On early release days, teachers will use the time for teacher directed time, plus job-embedded collaborative time.

In total, the revised 2014-15 school year calendar includes seven teacher workdays to offer teachers time for staff meetings and professional development, as well as three teacher staff development days, four strategic planning days, and six days with a two-hour early release for teacher directed time.

The press release states that “The length of the school year remains the same, but the number of days for students has been reduced from 183 days to 180 days.”

I am not sure what is meant by the phrase “the length of the school year remains the same.”

However, I will put this question aside for the time being and simply note the ending sentences in the press release:

By eliminating the shortened Monday schedule for elementary schools, FCPS was able to make changes to the calendar that comply with state accreditation for 990 hours of instruction. The change to 990 instructional hours also eliminates the need to make up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.

Foreign language specialists can help elementary school classroom teachers as well as students

Edgar B. Hatrick III retired Monday after 23 years as superintendent in Loudoun County Public Schools. Michael Alison Chandler interviewed him about his career as a teacher and administrator. When asked about his biggest regret, Hatrick said, “I regret losing our foreign language program in elementary schools. I believe that offering is critical to kids living in a totally different world.”

By contrast, Fairfax is expanding its foreign language classes in elementary schools next year. This is part of the program to add instructional specialists to schools to provide more planning time for teachers while also providing full-day Mondays for all of the students.

There is currently a waiting list of nine schools for the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program. At the June 26 meeting, Superintendent Karen Garza said that at least five or six of them were ready to move ahead to implement FLES in September.

FCPS describes the full-day Monday plan

Here is the press release from Fairfax County Public Schools about the vote last night:

Fairfax County School Board Approves Full-Day Mondays for Elementary Schools Starting in September 2014

The Fairfax County School Board approved a master calendar change that will provide a uniform length elementary school day and eliminate the shortened Monday schedule beginning in September 2014.  This change will increase instructional time for students and will allow for 20 minutes of daily recess.  In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.
 
“After surveying both parents and teachers, we saw that parents overwhelmingly supported this change—and as soon as possible,” said Ilryong Moon, School Board Chairman. “In addition, elementary teachers have consistently cited in our working conditions survey that they need guaranteed, self-directed time for planning.”
 
The change also solves the challenge of meeting the annual 990 instructional hour requirement in state law, which Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) does not meet under the current shortened Monday schedule. Instead, FCPS has met the state requirement of a 180-day calendar, which resulted in sometimes having to add days to the end of the school year to make up missed days due to inclement weather. The new uniform elementary schedule will eliminate making up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.
 
A uniform length elementary day also provides an opportunity for an innovative school year calendar that builds in consistent holidays, such as a full two weeks for winter break, and strategic planning days throughout the year.  In addition, one master calendar will be followed for all elementary, middle, and high schools.
 
The change will add staff to elementary schools such as World Language teachers and other instructional specialists to provide planning time for teachers. There will be no changes in music, art, or physical education, nor changes to Regulation 4422, which limits the number of hours that librarians, and other school-based professionals, can be dedicated to providing for planning time coverage.
 
Superintendent Karen Garza and her staff will convene focus groups of elementary principals, teachers, school staff, and other key stakeholders in July to work out the details of the implementation. Then, each school will communicate their individual schedule changes to parents before school begins on September 2.
 

Details on the new 2014-15 calendar can be found here:  http://www.fcps.edu/about/14-15cal.shtml

Teacher reps discuss the Monday plan

Fairfax County Schools poised to scrap half-day Mondays. In this TV news report, Peggy Fox interviews Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association (FEA) and Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT).

Adams said “teachers think the plan is being rushed through without safeguards to ensure they have appropriate planning time.”

“We certainly don’t want implementation across this county of another program that doesn’t do what they intend to within the first few months and can be more of a stresser than anything else for their employees.”

However, Greenburg expressed confidence in the plan:

“Karen Garza is the first superintendent we’ve had in twenty to thirty years that we as employees inherently trust. She’s going to put this in regulation to make sure its going to happen. We have checks and balances in place in process. This is going to happen. These teachers will be protected.”

He noted that teachers have never before been guaranteed protected planning time.

FCFT explains benefits to teachers of improved schedules

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) says the proposed schedule reform the Fairfax County School Board will vote on Thursday answers the concerns of teachers regarding teacher time, planning, and workload. Here is the FCFT Update:

FCFT Members Heard: Address Teacher Time, Planning, and Work load

TEACHER TIME ISSUES ADDRESSED

FCFT Members Voices Heard – ACTION TAKEN

The last year of ‘school until June 25th’?

The FCPS school board will vote on Thursday, June 26th to FINALLY TAKE ACTION to address teacher work load and planning time concerns.  

Dr. Garza has listened to us, taken our suggestions, and provided a plan for action.

FCPS School Board actions to address workload will include:

  • Protection by regulation of elementary teacher’s unencumbered planning time; 240 minutes per week
  • Protection by regulation of teacher collaboration time (60 minutes)
  • Additional planning and professional development days for ES, MS, and HS teachers with the more flexible Master Calendar options
  • Staff meeting expectations (before and after school) limited by regulation to 2X a month, with time banked in return
  • Shortened school year for ES, MS, and HS teachers with snow days ‘built in’.

NO MORE GOING TO SCHOOL UNTIL JUNE 25TH!

FCFT has been listening to our members discuss TIME and PROTECTED TEACHER PLANNING concerns for ten years.

ENOUGH TALK.   TIME FOR ACTION.

Thank you to our school board and Dr. Garza for finally ACTING vs TALKING.

Thank you for completing your 2013 FCFT Member Perspectives Survey; we will use the information to move forward with the local actions, above!

 

 

Key points for full-day Mondays listed

The agenda for the decision on the Elementary Master Schedule has been posted for the Fairfax County School Board meeting this Thursday. Here is the proposal:

Key Points:

  • A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for 20 minutes of daily recess for children.
  • FCPS currently does not meet the 990 hour requirement in state law due to our current early Monday, thus we had to make-up three instructional days beyond the advertised last day of school so that we met the 180 day requirement. Having a uniform elementary school day – Monday through Friday – will prevent us from having to make-up days if we have less than 13 inclement weather days.
  • A uniform elementary day also provides us with the opportunity to utilize an innovative school year calendar that builds in consistent holidays, such as a full two weeks at the Winter Break, and it provides for strategic planning days throughout the year.
  • Our bi-annual working conditions survey has consistently revealed that our elementary teachers need more guaranteed, self-directed time for planning. This new uniform elementary day would only be implemented with new regulations/rules that provided all elementary teachers with at least 60 minutes of self-directed time four times per week and at least 60 minutes one time per week for collaborative team planning equating to a total minimum planning time per week of 300 minutes.
  • A uniform elementary day is responsive to our parents. Our FCPS parents have consistently asked for the elimination of the early Mondays due to the inconvenience this causes for many of our working families.
  • This proposed change in our current elementary schedules on Mondays and to provide elementary teachers with dedicated planning time is estimated to cost a maximum of $7.6 million. This is difficult in these tight economic times, but we believe that this is an important investment in our students and our teachers. As such, a growing number of County Supervisors have expressed that they will provide us financial support for this important change. They have some monies available that were not budgeted due to unanticipated revenues from law enforcement activities.
  • In addition, there are no changes anticipated in Music, Art of Physical Education, nor would there be changes to Regulation 4422, which limits the number of hours that librarians, and other school-based professionals, can be dedicated to providing for planning time coverage.
  • The All County Choral Festival will continue next year and is tentatively scheduled for April 24-25, 2015. The general music teacher association and the fine arts office are discussing options should early-close Mondays be eliminated. Typically, one site rehearsal is scheduled in each of the three months prior to the concert. One option being considered is to schedule the site rehearsals on the afternoons of the February and April strategic planning days, plus one afterschool site rehearsal in March. Once the 2014-2015 school calendar is finalized, adjustments to the rehearsal schedule will be made in order to coordinate with the approved calendar.
  • There are currently nine schools on the waiting list for FLES. We will work with the schools to see if a fall implementation would be possible.

Implementation Plan:

  • In July, we will convene focus groups of teachers, including special education teachers, music and fine arts teachers, counselors, librarians and parents along with elementary principals to provide us input into the design of regulations and rules related to the changes in elementary schedules.
  • Create a cadre of elementary principal master schedule leaders by region to work with all other elementary principals over the summer on the design of master schedules for all elementary schools.
  • Once elementary principals have completed the design of their new schedule, we will ask that they convene a meeting of their parents prior to the start of school to inform parents of this new change in schedule and how it will benefit their children.

Recommendation:
That the School Board approve the Master Calendar Revision for the 2014-2015 school year, as detailed in the agenda item.

Attachments:

Proposed Master Calendar SY2014-2015.pdf (73 KB)

Recommendations to FCPS Master Schedule and Annual School Calendar.pdf (964 KB)

Master Schedule Work Session 061614 – Final SB Presentation.pdf (547 KB)

Congratulations to the staff members preparing the proposal for coming up with a good option for scheduling rehearsals for the All County Choral Festival.

Three cheers for Superintendent Karen Garza and everyone who worked so hard to bring this much-needed proposal to the school board!

Note (added June 25): The following paragraphs are now moot because the minor mistake in the first bullet point was corrected today on the BoardDocs website. I have also corrected that in the text above. Even though this is no longer in the agenda item, I am leaving the paragraphs below in this post since they explain the state regulation regarding recess.

One minor point I would like to mention. I think there is a mistake in the first bullet point, which states, “A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for the state required 20 minutes of daily recess for children.”

The state regulation does require each elementary school to provide students with a daily recess; however it does not specify a minimum amount of time for recess. The Virginia Administrative Codes states, “Each elementary school shall provide students with a daily recess during the regular school year as determined appropriate by the school.” (8VAC20-131-200(C))

Further study of full-day Mondays is not needed

“As the Fairfax County school system rushes toward a decision on whether to eliminate Monday early dismissals for elementary schools next year, lack of teacher and community input has some officials calling for a slowdown,” the Fairfax Times reports. “The absence of teacher voices in particular has proved a sticking point in the debate over an issue inextricably tied to teacher planning time.”

Time out.

Trust me on this:

If Steve Greenburg, president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, voices support for this, that is all the proof needed that not only did teachers have a strong voice, but they drove a good bargain for themselves.

Over the years that I have known him, Steve has sometimes annoyed me with his vehement and intransigent support of the Monday early dismissal policy. It is a very significant (and surprising) development that he is willing to support this specific proposal for full-day Mondays.

Greenburg supporting full-day Mondays is like Nixon going to China.

This plan includes new protections for teacher planning time and new regulations limiting the number and length of faculty meetings. The revised school calendar that is also being proposed would add three additional days that teachers work but students stay home during the  school year.

If parents not employed by the school system had been on the committee, would they have agreed to the additional teacher work days? Who knows. At any rate, I seriously doubt that a more inclusive committee would have come up with even more benefits for the teachers. The current committee pretty much gave away the store already. If the principals were pressured to make even more concessions, perhaps they might be forced to convert their offices into teachers lounges and work out of tents in the school parking lots.

The real bias in the membership of the Elementary School Master Schedule Committee is that it was entirely composed of employees of the school system.

A future committee might be unable to reach any consensus on the major issues and just report on the pros and cons of various options, in much the same way that the Meals Tax Referendum Task Force issued a long report without taking any position on whether the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should schedule a referendum on a meals tax.

Or, if a future committee did come up with a recommendation, the school board might decide to ignore it anyway, as it has done several times before, most recently in 1996. With its track record of ignoring previous task force reports on full-day Mondays, the school board should certainly not decide to appoint yet another task force.

The final report of the Elementary School Master Schedule Committee should be judged on its merits, not on the composition of the committee that drafted it.

Superintendent Karen Garza has done her job well in presenting the option of a greatly improved schedule to the school board. The school board should judge the recommendations on their merits and not spend time criticizing Garza for the way in which she sought advice from staff.

It is often true that taking extra time for further study is the safe and sensible choice. But not in this case. It would be a risky gamble to cling to an outdated and inadequate schedule that doesn’t provide enough time in the week to ensure compliance with the Standards of Accreditation for the school day.

Currently the elementary schools have only enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. Schools which allow students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess are not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.

Do supporters of the status quo support a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess? Or do they support not meeting the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation?

A 10-minute limit for recess is unreasonable. Ignoring state requirements is illegal. The substandard elementary school schedule in Fairfax should be fixed immediately. Fairfax should end the Monday early dismissal policy.