Teachers report heavy workload

The Fairfax Times reports that a survey shows workload remains stressor for Fairfax County teachers.

“The shift to full-day Mondays for elementary schools received support from 56 percent of respondents, despite drawing initial criticism from teachers who felt left out of the decision-making,” Kate Yanchulis reports. “But with the new schedule, teachers lost 2.5 hours of planning time on Monday afternoons.”

The survey was conducted from October 31 through November 21 by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers– “91 percent of respondents said they have as much or more work as last year,” the Times reports.

Fairfax County adds 64 positions for full-day Mondays

In addition to questions about recess, I also asked other questions about the change in the elementary school schedules now that Fairfax County has full-day Mondays. Here are the questions, along with the answers from Brandynn Reaves, public information specialist:

Question:  Would it be correct to state that nine additional schools added FLES [Foreign Languages in Elementary Schools] this September, for a total of 55 schools with FLES?

Answer:  There are 55 schools in Fairfax County Public Schools that have the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program.  They are listed on the FCPS website at http://www.fcps.edu/is/worldlanguages/fles.shtml.

Question: How many schools added additional instruction by music, art or P.E. specialists?

Answer: Below is a breakdown of added staff position for music, art and physical education:

Subject

FTE [Full-time equivalent] total 2014_15

FTE total 2013_14

PE

478

424.16

Art

265.13

257.57

Music

271.33

272.57


Questions:
 Do you have figures on how many of the additional FTE positions in P.E. and art are added solely due to increased enrollment and how many are added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule? Do you have statistics on the types of additional staff positions that were added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule?

Answer: A total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays.  The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (pe) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers. 

There were 755.2 art/music/pe teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/pe teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments.

Question: Do you have statistics on how many schools have 60 minutes per week of P.E., How many have 90 minutes? Are there any schools which now offer more than 90 minutes per week?

Answer: Statistics for how many minutes each school has devoted to physical education and music classes is not centrally maintained.  With the implementation of the full-day Mondays, each elementary school had the flexibility to determine how to best utilize the additional instructional time for students. Elementary school master schedules were reviewed by the regional assistant superintendent’s offices only to ensure the appropriate amount of teacher planning time was provided.

This information, which was provided to me in emails sent October 24 and November 4, was also included in the recent article in the Fairfax VOTER.

Fairfax VOTER describes schedule and staffing changes in FCPS

The December Fairfax VOTER features an article about the changing schedules in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This newsletter for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area includes a description of the switch to full-day Mondays for the elementary schools.

On June 26, the Fairfax County School Board voted to stop dismissing elementary school students 2.5 hours early every Monday. This has increased instructional time for students and allowed for 20 minutes of daily recess. In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.

As of November 2014, a total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays. Brandynn Reaves, a public information specialist with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, provided me and the other authors of this article with the following information:

The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (PE) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers.

There were 755.2 art/music/PE teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/PE teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments

The Voter article also describes the calendar changes this year and the school board’s decision to provide later start times for high schools and secondary schools next fall.

A shorter answer on full-day Mondays would have been better

One of the answers in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document posted by Fairfax County Public Schools regarding full-day Mondays is somewhat misleading.

The question:

Why this (Full-Day Mondays) is a priority when there have been severe budget cuts, pay freezes, and destaffs: Why are those needs being ignored and this taking priority?

The answer:

The priority has been to ensure we meet the instructional needs of students and maximize instructional time. The change to full-day Mondays for elementary schools was done to create dedicated planning time for teachers and meet state accreditation requirements for instruction. FCPS was only able to meet the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction when we had inclement weather by adding time or days to the school year. Additional staff may be hired to help ensure planning time for teachers.

Yes, it is certainly true that one of the main reasons for implementing full-day Mondays was to “meet state accreditation requirements for instruction.”

However, it is misleading to imply that inclement weather was the only challenging aspect of meeting the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction. Even if there was no time at all lost due to inclement weather, Fairfax County elementary school students were still short of the required time. The only way they could have met the state standards would have been to limit the amount of time for recess to 10 minutes per day.

So, a short answer to this question would have been better. As School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax explained in a letter sent to Sharon Bulova, “The timing of the decision after the FY 2015 budget was approved was not our normal process, but FCPS was not in compliance with state requirements to provide a minimum of 990-hours of instruction with an early release on Mondays.”

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