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.

Zapping zeros in grades for students

Fairfax County is reforming its grading policies for high schools and middle schools  next year. I support the effort to limit zeros on grades. The Washington Post reports that other school districts are also discouraging or prohibiting teachers from giving out zeros.

In the past, some teachers have used zeros to punish minor failures to follow directions. This is not a productive learning environment. It is particularly unfair to students with attention deficit disorder. I agree with Gregory Hood, the principal of James Madison High School in Fairfax County, who says that a zero on a 100-point scale distorts a student’s overall grade. “A zero provides no information about what a student has learned, and it negatively impacts a student’s grade when averaged with other grades.”

The Post reports that critics of this shift argue that “teachers are losing important tools to enforce diligence and prepare students for college and the workplace.”

Drastic sanctions are just as inappropriate in the workplace as they are in school.

Fairfax County will implement four major changes in the grading policies for middle school and high schools next year:

Limiting or Eliminating Zeros in a 100 Point Scale

  • If a student has been given multiple opportunities to complete work and has not done so, a 0 may be entered in the gradebook at the end of the quarter.
  • If a student has made a reasonable attempt to complete work, teams are encouraged to assign a grade no lower than 50.
  • Schools that have established “no zero” polices in previous years may continue those policies.

Separation of Work Habits and Achievement

  • All grades entered into the gradebook will relate directly to the standards listed in the Program of Studies or other designated curriculum and should reflect a student’s mastery of content or skills.
  • Student’s attendance, effort, attitude or other behaviors will be communicated to parents through report comments or other means that do not include grades.
  • Late work will be accepted to document learning/mastery. Teacher teams must set reasonable guidelines for turning in late work to encourage work completion by their students. If a student misses an assignment, a placeholder (such as M for missed, I for incomplete, etc.) should be entered into the gradebook.
  • Patterns of late work should be reported to parents through email or other means.
  • Homework for practice or preparation for instruction may account for no more than 10% of a quarter grade.
  • Class participation may be included in a student’s grade if it is based on the quality of a student response and not the quantity of responses. If a team will include class participation in a student’s grade, guidelines for assessing must be included in the course syllabus.
  • Students will not be given extra credit or grades for activities such as bringing in classroom materials, providing parent signatures, participating in fundraising/charitable events or participating in non-curricular activities.

Maximum/Minimum Weights Grades Can Carry

  • Collaborative teams are encouraged to set grading design so that no one assignment/assessment counts more than 30% of the quarter grade.

Retakes with Associated Guidelines

  • For major assessments, at least one new opportunity to demonstrate proficiency shall be provided to any student who scores below an 80% and completes corrective action determined by collaborative team.

  • An opportunity to demonstrate increased proficiency may be provided to students who score at or above 80% at the discretion of the collaborative team.

  • If not all students are afforded the second opportunity then the highest grade that can be earned is an 80%.

  • If all students are afforded the second opportunity then the highest grade shall be recorded in the grade book.


Handwriting and cursive writing are helpful in learning to write

Why handwriting is still essential in the keyboard age. According to Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing.

She was the lead author of a study published in The Journal of Learning Disabilities that “looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.”

She told Perri Klass that “handwriting—forming letters—engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

“As a pediatrician,” Klass writes in the New York Times, “I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways.”

Klass says, “There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.”

See also: More time might allow more teaching of cursive writing,
Students should have enough time to learn cursive writing, and
The Declaration of Independence as a model of good writing.

Elections can be improved

Many people are not wildly enthusiastic with the way we elect our presidents or our local officials.  Clearly there is room for improvement, from the national level to the local level.

Kathleen Parker says, after Trump, the GOP may need a better voting system. People pay more attention to the presidential voting system than to how votes work for other offices. But the idea of an “approval” ballot is something that might be useful for local elections such as school board elections.

In Virginia, school board elections are supposedly nonpartisan. Practically speaking though, in a large school district such as Fairfax County, it would be difficult to be elected without an endorsement from either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Parker reports that one ranking method, “advanced recently in the New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was developed by 18th-century mathematician and political theorist Marquis de Condorcet. This process called for ranking candidates in order of approval — or not ranking them at all, as an indication of disapproval. The candidate with the highest approval ranking would win.”

There are several other ways of winnowing candidates and selecting the ultimate winners. It’s a good idea to think of ways of improving our elections.

Fairfax will start school one week prior to Labor Day in 2017

Tonight the Fairfax County School Board voted 11-1 to begin school one week prior to Labor Day for the 2017-18 school year. Superintendent Karen Garza will present a detailed calendar incorporating this change for the school board to consider in late fall.

Ryan McElveen (D-At Large), made the motion, saying “We wanted to give the community as much advance notice as possible.” He said there were 56,000 responses to a survey on the proposed change in the start date: 56 percent of the parents and 64 percent of the staff members supported starting school prior to Labor Day. Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, testified that his group supported the change.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax (D-Lee District) voted against the proposal, saying she would be the lone voice speaking for those who prefer to start school after Labor Day. She said that the earlier start would have minimal impact on the “summer slide” or on SOL prep.

Several  board members cited having extra time to prepare AP tests as a welcome benefit of the pre-Labor Day start. Elizabeth Schultz (R-Springfield) said she wished that students had been included in the survey. Ben Press, the student representative to the School Board, agreed. He said students and teachers were stressed out trying to prepare for the AP exams, which start next Monday. He had earlier advocated a reconsideration of the current policy of requiring all students in AP classes to take the exam. He suggested that this should be a matter for the student to decide.

The discussion showed some ambivalence about the role of tests, but clearly the issue of test prep (particularly at the high school level) was a major concern of the board.

I will be interested in learning more about the rationale for the current schedules of the AP and IB exams. I liked the old tradition of starting school after Labor Day.