Democratic candidates for Maryland governor support increased funding for schools

Eight candidates for next year’s governor’s race in Maryland spoke to teachers at the Maryland State Education Association’s convention last weekend. The eight candidates will compete in the Democratic primary, which will be held June 26, 2018. Republican Governor Larry Hogan did not attend the convention.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Jim Shea, former chair of the Venable law firm in Baltimore, promised to provide more resources to high-poverty areas and greater future funding across the board.  “He promised universal pre-kindergarten and better prenatal care for pregnant mothers, paying teachers more and improving their pensions, and letting educators have greater control over curriculum.”

“We will argue about whether we can afford it, and I will say, ‘How can we not?’ ” Shea said.

He later added that he doubted Maryland would have to increase taxes to fund his plan. “It is about how you spend your money. Not if you have it.”

Universal pre-kindergarten was also supported by Alec Ross, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and Krish Vignarajah.

State Senator Richard S. Madaleno elicited gasps and applause from the audience “when he said politicians don’t talk enough about how teachers spend too much time in a classroom and not enough time preparing to be there,” the Sun reported.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker noted that he had proposed an increase in the property tax to send more money to schools and a four percent tax increase was eventually approved.

The Sun also reported on the comments by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentz, Ben Jealous, former CEO of the NAACP, and technology entrepreneur Alec Ross.

Note: Jim Shea is my brother-in-law.

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, 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.



Maryland school calendars updated

The Washington Post reports on the school calendar changes in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County:

Montgomery County school officials reset the final day of classes for next school year and shortened two teacher workdays as part of a new plan to meet Gov. Larry Hogan’s order that Maryland schools extend their summer recess through Labor Day.

The county’s school board voted unanimously this week to revise the system’s 2017-2018 academic calendar so that classes, which will start Sept. 5, will end June 12 unless severe weather forces school closings during the year.

“Chris Lloyd, president of the county teachers’ union, estimated that educators will lose about eight hours of grading and planning time during the instructional year,” the Post reported.

Prince George’s County officials announced their plans for next year on Tuesday: School will start Sept. 6 and end June 13. But makeup days for snow and other inclement weather could potentially extend the school year to June 14 or 15, shift the Presidents’ Day holiday on Feb. 19 to a school day or, as a last resort, shorten spring break by as much as two days.

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.”

Second thoughts on teacher workdays

My previous post urging some school districts to cancel the upcoming teacher workdays was written rather hastily. This afternoon I talked to a neighbor walking home with her son from Weyanoke Elementary School. She said that it is very time-consuming for the teachers to enter in the end-of-quarter grades.  One reason is that the computer program is rather cumbersome.

Perhaps Fairfax should go ahead and switch to a more up-to-date computer program.

Cancel the upcoming teacher workdays!

 The Washington Post points out that Prince William County has a scheduled teacher workday Monday, so students will have had 13 days away from school when they return on Tuesday: Some parents and educators fret about so many days lost to snow cleanup . This is an example of an overly bureaucratic approach to sticking to a schedule. Let the students go back to school on Monday!

Also, Fairfax should skip its scheduled 2-hour early dismissal on February 4 and student holiday on February 5. Let the students have more time at school!


Teachers shouldn’t be expected to work extravagantly long hours

Jay Matthews reports that teachers at J.E.B. Stuart High School put in lots of extra hours to try to help the students: This high school was struggling, but a community was able to turn it around. It is good to see that test scores rose, but Matthews didn’t give any helpful suggestions to other schools how to achieve similar results.

Teachers were staying late after school and working on Saturdays to help students who were furthest behind. One teacher ignored doctors’ advice that he take two or three weeks to recover from an operation and was back at work in three days, said veteran Stuart math teacher Bill Horkan.

As the SOL tests approached, “teachers gave up all their planning time, meeting time and just time in general to help out students,” Horkan said.

A commenter [Crunchy Mama] said, “Sufficient planning time during the school day might be a start, WaPo. Yes, the kids CAN learn, and sometimes they DO need more than we’re paying for. That doesn’t mean teachers should then work *for free* to make up the difference. That way Burnout lies.”

Another commenter [Urban Dweller] said, “I’m a teacher and I’m willing to give some extra time–with out remuneration or accolades. But this is over the top. A teacher went against his doctor’s advice and potentially sacrificed his own health?…”

Matthews concluded his column by saying, “A united school community almost always makes a difference, but that takes educators who are willing to make an extra effort, an element in educational transformation that rarely gets mentioned in speeches and commission reports.”

Let’s hope that there are not a lot of speakers who would attempt to say that the key to higher achievement is for teachers to work even more extra hours. If time for students is truly important to members of a community, they will ensure that sufficient resources are provided for the schools to provide this valued time. And of course these resources should provide for scheduled planning time for the teachers.

Re-Elect Pat Hynes

Pat M. Hynes’ recent experience as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring school district gives her a valuable perspective for considering alternative ways of administering the schools. She was elected as the Hunter Mill District representative on the Fairfax County School Board in 2011.

At the June 26, 2014, school board meeting to vote on full day Mondays for elementary schools, Hynes said, “Many parents have requested this for a long time. It’s been under consideration for years and it will allow us flexibility and control of our calendar which we have not had.”

“The promise and the challenge of this is to protect the teacher planning time and I think that’s the part of it that teachers have always worried about,” Hynes said. She concluded that Superintendent Karen Garza had not given her any reason to not have faith when she says we will get this done. [Read more…]

Re-Elect Janie Strauss

Jane K. Strauss has served as the Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County School Board from June 1991 to 1993, and January 1996 to the present. She is in favor of expanding Head Start and the Virginia Preschool Initiative. She voted for full-day Mondays for the elementary schools and later high school start times. [Read more…]