Cold weather has presented challenges to bus drivers

The Fairfax Times reports on the difficulties faced by school bus drivers in Fairfax on cold days.

The school system has heat rails at some of its bus lots. Buses can plug into these and heat their engines over night, keeping the oil and fuel warm and making the buses easier to start in the mornings. But the school system only has enough heat rails to serve about 500 buses each night, less than a third of the fleet.

Also, “when winter weather threatens, the school system also calls in its bus drivers 30 minutes early. Drivers arrive at their buses between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to get their vehicles started.”


Slippery roads this morning

A station wagon took about five or ten minutes to spin its wheels in the snow on the street in front of my house this morning attempting to drive north. The driver inched ahead slowly, then went backwards, then finally made it to the flat part of the road. I think it would have been safer for Fairfax County Public Schools to have a delayed  opening this morning.

Success for All improves reading skills

Social Programs That Work, a New York Times op-ed by Ron Haskins, reports that evaluations “typically find that around 75 percent  of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect.”  He applauds the Obama administration’s efforts to use evidence to improve social programs.

Haskins cites Success for All as an example of a program that works.

Success for All, a comprehensive schoolwide reform program, primarily for high-poverty elementary schools, emphasized early detection and prevention of reading problems before they become serious. Students of various ages who are at the same performance level are grouped together and receive daily, 90-minute reading classes, as well as one-on-one tutoring and cooperative learning activities. We know it works because a study that randomly assigned 41 schools across 11 states to an experimental or control group found improved reading skills, including comprehension in students in the experimental group.

Herrity to seek federal reimbursement for unaccompanied minors from Central America

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says that there are 1,131 unaccompanied minors from Central America living in Fairfax County, 417 in Prince William County, and 227 in Loudoun County, according to a Washington Post article.

Fairfax County supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that Fairfax County would spend more than $14 million to educate these children if they all enroll in school, based on a per-pupil cost of $14,755 for each student served by the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Currently ESOL serves over 36,000 students.

“Herrity said he expects to request funding from the federal government after he knows what the costs are,” the Post reports.

“We’ll look at what avenue or avenues there are for us and hopefully make a decision to seek reimbursement,” Herrity said. “It really is a federal responsibility, and Fairfax County’s being hit pretty heavily.”

When I think of the budgetary constraints that have made school reforms in Fairfax so difficult to achieve over the past two decades, as well as the number of times that pay raises were put on hold, it is pretty discouraging to see that Fairfax is being burdened with such large costs. I agree that the federal government should provide some reimbursement.

Fairfax County crossing guards assist in traffic direction

Kate Yanchulis reports that Fairfax County crossing guards receive expanded training which adds a step to their routine. “After halting traffic to allow children to cross, a crossing guard can determine whether they should allow cars in or out of the school parking lot before letting traffic resume normally.”

The police department noticed that the crossing guards had been attempting to provide traffic direction when cars crowded school drop-off and pick-up lines. So the department decided to provide extra training so that they would be qualified to provide traffic direction.

The article notes that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school. “Forty years later, the total dropped to 13 percent, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.”

More private meetings should be allowed

I’m glad to see another skeptical view of the benefits of laws requiring overly broad requirements for open meetings. Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, writes “Deliberation, collaboration and compromise rarely flourish in front of TV cameras or when monitored by special interests.”

In regards to the Fairfax County School Board, I earlier asked the question, Is too much transparency preventing problem-solving actions?

We should allow groups of school board members to meet together without requiring that the public be invited to each event. The current restrictions on private meetings may discourage thoughtful discussions that could possibly lead to improvements or reforms.

Should use of electronic devices be discouraged in most classes?

Why a leading professor of new media just banned technology use in class. Clay Shirky says that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work:

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

Shirky concludes, “The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “No devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.”

He says, “Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class–it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.”

Shirky is discussing college classes in this interesting article cited by the Washington Post.

Free Bob McDonnell

I was very disappointed to hear the news that Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife will probably spend decades, or at least years, behind bars. This is an incredible waste. A fair sentence would involve fines and community service.

The money spent incarcerating them and many other nonviolent offenders would be better spent on teachers and education. I’m not sure why we have such a mania for building more and more prisons.

Are traditional methods of math instruction better for most students?

After I posted a brief notice about Elizabeth Green’s article on better math instruction, I heard several dissenting views. Also, there were 948 comments posted on the New York Times website. Here are some excerpts from some of the skeptical comments:

Frank commented, “Teaching in Japan now, I find the article disingenuous: Japanese largely learn math today the way people have for the last couple thousand years, memorization and repetition. The number one after school program is Kumon, which provides worksheet after worksheet of math problems.”

Mike Brady asked, “…isn’t the practice of constantly changing textbooks and methods a tremendous way to insure profits for the publishing corporations? Interesting how Math education in the USA worked well enough to educate USA scientists and inventors and technology experts prior to the Publishing Corporations’ New Math/Common Core.”

Barbarossa said, “The premise that the ‘classical way of teaching maths is ineffective” is simply wrong. This evidenced by all the countries that teach math the classical way (Korea, Iran, France, Russia, India, …) get good results and whose students populate all major STEM graduate programs in the US.

Barry Garelick said, “The education establishment may believe they are producing “little mathematicians,” but the increased enrollments in remedial math courses in universities tell a different and disturbing story.

johna  said, “My son, now 16, went to elementary school in the Seattle area, in a school district that employed the “discovery” method (similar to common core). Not only did the teachers do a poor job of explaining the math to my son, none of the teachers, the school district or the text books made any attempt to explain the approach to the parents. As such, not only were we ill-equipped to help my son with his homework, we were actively discouraged from helping him by using the traditional algorithms. As the article warns, the end result was to replace a familiar set of steps (which, though rote, actually work to get the right answer) with a set of even stranger rituals (that don’t work nearly as well). I’ll never forget the many nights my son spent drawing rows and rows of dots, rectangles, lines and other shapes, which, from his perspective, must appear to have been assigned for the sheer purpose of frustrating and confusing him, because they certainly didn’t help him understand math. That’ why all the parents in our neighborhood wound up sending their kids to Kumon.”

Kumon is an after school program. Another  traditional math instruction curriculum was developed by John Saxon. Nakonia (Niki) Hayes recently wrote that “Saxon literally popped onto the national math education scene unexpectedly and uninvited in 1981 after self-publishing his first algebra textbook.”

Saxon scoffed when reformists insisted that historically-proven mathematics, which had been developed over 2,000 years by diverse cultures from around the world, was effective only with “white males” in America—and “Asians.” Then, he would explode with anger over what he called disastrous teaching materials and methods being purchased without proof of their results.

World Languages in Fairfax

 World Languages Internationalization Working Group. This report presented to the Fairfax County School Board on Monday includes recommendations for the future of foreign language instruction in the elementary schools.