High school students should have no more than two hours of homework per night

“The best research we have on the link between homework and achievement — that of Duke University’s Harris Cooper — suggests a homework cap of two hours per night, across all subjects, for high school students,” Mike Miller says.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Miller notes that the National PTA, the National Education Association, and Fairfax County Public Schools have endorsed these findings. Miller serves on a subcommittee on homework at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where he teaches English.

“Talking is Teaching”

“Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor,” the New York Times reports.

“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail, an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country. “We want to move the needle from this being an optional activity to a must-do activity.”

Ann O’Leary said her group would experiment with slogans such as “Words bring your child’s mind to life,” and “Talking is teaching.”

Several other groups around the country also sponsor home visiting programs and workshops to help parents learn how to talk to their children.

Fairfax considers alternative ways to provide sufficient time in school

Kate Yanchulis reports on  future options for snow days in Fairfax County. “This year, the school system has added two days to the end of the year to help make up for the large number of closings, pushing the last day of school from Friday, June 20, to Tuesday, June 24. Extending the length of the school day and building more cushioning into the calendar from the start were both offered as ideas to consider.”

This report avoids mentioning the gaping hole in the current Fairfax County schedule for the elementary schools. Dismissing all elementary school students either 2 ½ or 2 hours early every Monday is shortchanging the students from having the number of hours in schools supposedly guaranteed by the Standards of Accreditation.  Since September 2007, Fairfax County Public Schools has had a policy limiting recess to a maximum of 10 minutes per day. This is absurdly restrictive. The time for recess should be expanded. It is true that most, if not all, Fairfax schools do allow more than 10 minutes per day for recess. However, that means that the schools are not providing the number of instructional hours required in the Standards of Accreditation.

Extending the length of Mondays in the elementary schools is not merely an idea to consider–it is something that must be done. Period. The Fairfax County School Board must stop Monday early dismissals and provide more recess time.

Linz proposes longer high school day in Fairfax

In a letter to the Fairfax Times, Ed Linz says, “Here in northern Virginia where I taught for 25 years, most high school students are now receiving over 10 percent less classroom instruction on new material than just 10 years ago.”

What can be done? First there must be an awareness of what has taken place. Then school systems must be forced by parents and taxpayers to make some hard choices: either cut out remediation during the school day along with these new “socially-driven” areas of instruction, or, more preferably, increase the length of the school day to allow additional time for this larger menu of instruction. I have proposed a plan to increase the length of the high school day, with no increase in costs, to the Fairfax County School Board and was met with deafening silence.

I posted some comments about the relationship between the lengths of the school days in high schools and elementary schools.  “I agree that Fairfax needs to focus on time,” I said. “A good first step would be providing full-day Mondays in the elementary schools.”

Maryland board of education urges reduction in suspensions and explusions

On January 28, the Maryland State Board of Education adopted new regulations guiding student discipline.  The regulations are designed to keep students in school and maintain progress toward graduation, while strengthening school safety.

The regulations require local school systems to adopt policies that reduce long-term out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, and use such actions only when a student poses an imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff, or when a student is engaged in chronic or extreme disruptive behavior.

In addition, the regulations seek to expedite the student discipline appeal process by allowing local boards of education to hear and decide school discipline appeals with an opportunity to extend that time period in complex cases.

“Safe schools grow out of a positive school climate,” said State Board President Charlene M. Dukes.  “Maryland is dedicated to maintaining safety while increasing student achievement.  In order for students to achieve success, they must be in school.”

The regulations also seek to eliminate the disproportionate impact of school discipline on minority students and students with disabilities.  MSDE will develop a method to analyze local school discipline data to measure the disproportionate impact on minority and special education students.

Local boards of education will be required to update their student discipline polices based on the new regulations by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.  The proposed regulations were published in the Maryland Register on December 13.

The vote represents the culmination of more than four years of study by State Board members, a process that has included unprecedented collaboration with educators, local board members, and other stakeholders.  The State Board invited dozens of educators and interested organizations to testify and provide input as part of that process.  Board members have been concerned by the number and length of student suspensions, the impact that loss of class time has on academic success and the achievement gap, and the effect that suspensions have on certain student subgroups.

Here is a link to a Washington Post article on the new guidelines: Maryland school board approves new discipline regulations.

Preschool enrollment lags as localities don’t provide matching funds

The Washington Post reports that more than a quarter of state-funded preschool seats went unfilled this year.

Across Virginia, about $23 million designated for preschool was left on the table because localities — citing limited resources, lack of classroom space and politics — did not contribute the required matching funds to take full advantage of the program. As a result, more than 6,000 disadvantaged children missed the opportunity to go to school before kindergarten.

Community members discuss change in school schedules in Montgomery County

Gazette.Net summarizes the comments made at a Monday night forum on proposed changes to school schedules in Montgomery County.

The recommendations are to push back high school bell times by 50 minutes, with the school day beginning at 8:15 a.m., instead of 7:25 a.m. Middle schools would start ten minutes earlier at 7:45 a.m., and elementary schools would start at the same times (8:50 a.m. or 9:15 a.m.), but run 30 minutes longer (ending at 3:35 p.m. or 4 p.m.).

Most opponents expressed concerns over days being too long for elementary school students, and high school students’ days ending too late.



Minnesota schools will be closed due to extremely cold weather

To protect Minnesota schoolchildren from forecasted dangerously cold weather, Governor Mark Dayton announced Friday that all of the state’s K-12 public schools will be closed Monday, January 6. The National Weather Service predicts that most of the state will experience the coldest temperatures in a decade next Monday, with lows reaching -30 degrees and wind chills predicted to reach as low as -50 degrees. High temperatures from International Falls to Rochester are forecasted to be only -15 degrees.

“The safety of Minnesota’s schoolchildren must be our first priority,” said Governor Dayton. “I have made this decision to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures now forecasted for next Monday. I encourage Minnesotans of all ages to exercise caution in these extreme weather conditions.”

The decision to close schools across the state was announced today in order to give school administrators, teachers, and parents sufficient time to plan for these closures. The Minnesota Department of Education will be coordinating with school districts throughout the day to notify the public about Monday’s school closings.

“Children’s safety is always our top priority, and as a former superintendent, I know these are never easy calls,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “I want to thank Governor Dayton for putting our kids’ safety first, and am relieved parents won’t have to worry about sending their children out in the dangerous cold on Monday, but can instead keep them home, safe and warm.”

State law provides the Governor of Minnesota authority to “authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities, or order schools closed.” The full statute can be found here.

ABC News reports that the decision has influenced other state officials across the Midwest to consider similar measures, with some already taking action.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has cancelled school for Milwaukee students on Monday, and is now considering closing schools statewide. Education officials in West Michigan have agreed to close schools if wind chills reach anywhere from minus 15 to minus 30, according to MLive. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office said closures for the whole state aren’t likely, and that further decisions will be left up to the superintendents of each county, according to Valley News Live.

Chicago Public Schools will be open Monday, but school officials said parents should use their own discretion in deciding whether to send their children to school Chicago schools will have recess indoors on Monday.

Some teachers on Fairfax do not have their own classrooms

The Washington Post recently published an article stating that in Fairfax, more teachers go mobile due to lack of available classroom space.

Students bustling in the hallways of Fairfax County’s James Madison High School hear Spanish teacher Shani Moser before they see her: The handcart she rolls from class to class is decorated for the holidays with bells.

Moser no longer has a classroom to call her own. Instead, she carries all her materials with her as she shuttles throughout the school to meet her students in rooms borrowed for the class period from other teachers.

The Fairfax County School Board will have a work session to discuss the Capital Improvement Program January 13. The agenda summarizes the lack of space in the schools:

The school system continues to face a challenging situation in which student enrollment is projected to exceed the school system’s ability to accommodate students within existing school buildings. This will necessitate an increase in allocation of capital dollars to build new facilities and capacity enhancement projects and will require continued use of temporary classrooms, modular additions, as well as boundary adjustments.

The CIP includes funding for five new elementary schools and a new high school.  The new elementary school needs are identified as follows:  one in the Eastern Fairfax area to relieve overcrowding in the Bailey’s Crossroads area; one in the Richmond Highway Corridor (Route 1 area) to relieve overcrowding in the Groveton/Hybla Valley area; one in the Northwest County area in the vicinity of Route 28 and Dulles Airport Access Road; one to relieve overcrowding in the Fairfax/Oakton area; and one on the army base to relieve overcrowding at Fort Belvoir Elementary School. 

It is also anticipated that beyond fiscal year 2019 an additional new high school will be needed to address the future growth in the western Fairfax County area. Funding for additions at South Lakes High School and two elementary schools to help relieve overcrowding in the Tysons/Vienna area (Westbriar and Marshall Road) are also identified. Capacity enhancements are proposed at both Herndon and Oakton High Schools as part of their renovations. Furthermore, the CIP includes construction funds for renovation at nine elementary and one middle school, plus a renovation at one high school, as well as planning funds for renovations at eight elementary, one middle, and two high schools. Many of the renovation projects will also include capacity enhancements.

Allocating funds for new schools will result in delays for some future renovation projects. Favorable construction pricing has helped mitigate these delays; however, they will occur if the school system does not receive additional capital funding authorization from the Board of Supervisors.

WIll the benefits of more sleep for teenagers lead to later start times in Minnesota?

Another study citing the health and educational benefits of extra sleep for teenagers was recently discussed by the Owatonna People’s Press. The article cites a University of Minnesota study thatfound that high school students who were given more time to sleep in the morning were more attentive, better behaved, less likely to be involved in accidents and healthier overall.”

Owatonna High School, which has a start time of 8 a.m., is about halfway between a typical start time for Minnesota High Schools and the late start time many schools have been trying out.

The state of Minnesota doesn’t regulate the start times of school districts but there are a number of areas that are testing the waters with a later start time for high school students with positive results.