Some high schools have homework-free weekends

Several high schools in Maryland have scheduled homework-free weekends  this fall. The Washington Post reports that no homework was assigned this weekend at Poolesville High School in Montgomery County. Last weekend Watkins Mill High School, also in Montgomery County, had a homework free weekend.

“Wootton High School in Rockville, which gave its students a homework-free weekend in September, offered sessions to help seniors with their college essays and provide information about the federal financial aid application,” Donna St. George reports. “The concept goes back to 2008.”

Nationally, dozens of schools have created occasional homework-free weekends as students take more advanced and honors classes and have become increasingly over-scheduled with other activities, said Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education who has worked with schools across the country on such efforts as part of a nonprofit called Challenge Success.

In response to the Post article, one comment from “webg” was, “This year MCPS reduced the school year from 40 weeks to 39 weeks but didn’t reduce the amount of work. The number of hours in school might be the same, but the amount of time left for doing homework and other tasks is reduced by a week.”

“ThinkTwiceWriteOnce” commented, “Homework is highly overrated, just ask Finland and note their academic outcomes. There IS a better way.”

Block scheduling proposal is controversial in Arlington school

Jay Matthews reports that parents are questioning a proposed change to block scheduling at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington.

I began writing about block scheduling 20 years ago, when the idea was quickly adopted by most Washington-area high schools. Policymakers felt that teachers could be more thoughtful and creative in much longer periods. Research since has shown no significant differences in achievement rates between students using traditional and block schedules. I asked Arlington officials for studies that support the reform but got none.

Middle schools have been less eager than high schools to adopt block schedules. They are still dealing with basics, where repetition has value. Williamsburg is a great school that might make it work, but not without additional discussion and clarity about the level of support.


Bill would require nurses for Virginia schools

Delegate L. Mark Dudenhefer, (R-Stafford) has sponsored a bill calling for every school district to employ at least one full-time equivalent school nurse in each elementary, middle and high school, and at least one full-time equivalent school nurse position per 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) is the co-patron of HB1757. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Fairfax County has 65 nurses and 200 aides serving about 185,00 students at 19 schools.

The Times-Dispatch reports that the Virginia Association of Superintendents argues that the requirement would be difficult to put in place.

 They say many areas, particularly in Southwest and Southside Virginia, are dealing with nursing shortages. How, the association asks, is the district supposed to find nurses when hospitals are having a difficult time finding staff.”

“A different reality”

Education was mentioned in President Donald Trump’s inaugural address in the context of a “different reality” –

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

He then said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Who are the nefarious schemers who are showered with cash and then deprive our students of all knowledge? It is jarring to see the American education system included in a dark vision of “American carnage.”

Bulova says she will be reluctant to raise taxes again in Fairfax County

The Washington Post reports that Sharon Bulova, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, said that the school budget proposed by Acting Superintendent Steve Lockard asks for more than double the growth that the county anticipates it will be able to provide. “Early estimates show that county revenue will grow by about $72 million, with $49 million of that extra funding going to county schools. Bulova said she would be reluctant to raise taxes again.”

Lockard proposes $2.8 billion budget

Today Interim Superintendent Steve Lockard proposed a budget increase of 4.9 percent for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget for Fairfax County Public Schools. This represents an increase of 5.7 percent in the Fairfax County transfer in the general fund compared to last year.

The proposed increase of $130.4 million in the $2.8 billion budget includes $44 million for an average step increase of 2.5 percent for all eligible employees and $41.2 million for anticipated increases in health insurance and contributions to the retirement systems. The proposal would also increase teacher pay by $33.2 million to move FCPS teachers closer to the regional market average. An increase of $7 million would go to new salary scales for school-based administrators, classroom instructional support positions (i.e. instructional assistants, public health training assistants, and public health attendants) and nonteacher salary scales.

The FY 2018 budget includes an additional $10.0 million to cover the cost of 1,932 additional students. Also, a one percent market scale adjustment for nonteacher scales would be $7.9 million.

The cost for textbook adoption for social studies would be $7.8 million, “of which $2.7 is a new investment.”

The budget also calls for $2.4 million for an assessment tool to identify remediation and accelerations needs.

The budget overview on page 5 of the FY 2018 Proposed Budget includes this bullet point:

“Budget reduction for Compensation Base Savings–$27.5 million.”

I couldn’t find a quick explanation of this. Perhaps this was explained in the presentation to the school board. Meanwhile, it is time to start reading the 296-page budget!

Bulova asks General Assembly for more funding for Fairfax

At a January 7 public hearing before the members of the Fairfax Delegation to the General Assembly, many speakers addressed education.

 The Alexandria Gazette Packet quoted Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova:

“Of the $21 million in additional state funding the county was expected to receive in FY2017, $4.4 of that is already at risk due to the cancellation of funding for raises for teachers and other instructions personnel,” Bulova said. “We must get that funding back and we must make sure that funding for those raises is included in the FY2018 budget.”

Bulova and Fairfax County Public School Board vice chair Jane Strauss said the Virginia Retirement System rates were accelerated by one year last year, which increases the costs for FCPS by more than $25 million in FY 2017.

“We ask for help in avoiding funding reductions to our local programs and services,” Bulova said, “and opposing restrictions on our local revenues.”

Matthews says “credit recovery” may not lead to real gains in learning

Jay Matthews questions the widespread use of “credit recovery,” which allows students to substitute a few weeks of online classes for courses that usually take months. “Before educators get too excited about the results from credit recovery, they need to assess how much those students have learned in a few weeks compared with those who spend months in class.”

Matthews said that although high school graduation rates are soaring, “there is no research indicating they reveal any learning gains in our high schools.”

A report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning says “too often credit recovery ‘solutions’ have lowered the bar for passing.” It recommends valid tests of competency before awarding credit, something D.C. officials say they hope to do. Arlington uses credit recovery usually for students well past age 18 or who have had trouble with the law.

Vote “Yes” for the Meals Tax

Fairfax County voters: Be sure and vote “Yes” on the meals tax referendum. “The meals tax is intended to diversify county revenue and to supplement and not supplant support for school and county services,” Chairman Sharon Bulova of the Board of Supervisors and Chairman Sandy Evans of the School Board said today. “The meals tax is intended to diversify county revenue and to supplement and not supplant support for school and county services.”

Bulova and Evans explained the meals tax:

The meals tax would create a new revenue source, paid by diners in Fairfax County who are county residents, tourists, and workers who live in neighboring jurisdictions.

The School Board has committed that its share, estimated to be almost $70 million in new funding, will be used primarily to address teachers’ salaries, which have lagged behind neighboring communities.

Almost $30 million would be available to address general county services or capital improvements such as in public safety, mental health services, libraries, and parks, as well as providing for property tax relief.

More information on the meals tax referendum is available online.

Note: the meals tax, if approved, would not be levied in the Town of Clifton, or in the Towns of Herndon and Vienna, where a meals tax has already been implemented.

Colleges should place more importance on the teaching of political history

Political history was once a dominant specialization of American historians. In today’s New York Times, Frederick Logeval and Kenneth Osgood ask the good question: Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?

  “American political history as a field of study has cratered,” Logeval and Osgood say. “Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion is disappearing.”

These two history professors conclude:

Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.