I don’t doubt that the district has chosen to shorten lunch to fifteen minutes to maximize instructional time, and that it’s at least partly in response to the number of subjects that the state requires the district to teach. And I know that the district can potentially face penalties, eventually, if it fails to raise standardized test scores. But it is one thing to say that the state requires you not to devote more than fifteen minutes to lunch, and quite another to say that you’ve chosen to minimize lunch to spend the maximum time possible on the teaching of state-required subjects.
From my Q&A with the district’s central administrators:
CL: It’s one thing to say [that cutbacks in recess are] a national issue; it’s another thing to say that we don’t have some leeway to do what we want.Readers: Are you convinced that our district is helpless to devote even ten more minutes per day to giving the kids a decent lunch break?
Superintendent Steve Murley: Well, but, again though, when you look at the argument, you look at the discussion in a holistic manner, you’ve got the U.S.D.E. pushing for more instructional minutes, you’ve got Governor Branstad pushing for more instructional minutes, you’ve got the state D.E. that gives us a minimum amount of instructional times that’s required. Now couple that with expectations that they place on us, especially as we move to the Common Core, and they say “these are the things that you will teach,” it’s very difficult to both meet the minimal instructional minutes and get all the Common Core content delivered in the classroom. You can argue –
CL: Isn’t it, though, the role of the district to push back against some of those things if they think they are not good for the children?
SM: Sure, we can push back against that, but at the same time you, you – well, you’re familiar with the law, you’re familiar with how that works – absent a decision that says that you don’t have to do it, you have to do it until such time as you are told not to.
CL: If it’s required, but some of this stuff isn’t required.
SM: Well, Common Core is required.
CL: But the cutbacks in recess – where were those required?
SM: Okay, Common Core is required. Can we agree that the Common Core is required?
CL: Yeah, but does that translate into a certain number of minutes that is required?
SM: Well, it’s translated into a certain number of things that must be taught.
SM: Okay. And Iowa Assessments are required.
CL: They’re required to take them.
SM: Okay. Right, we’re required to give them. Students are required to take them, that’s based on the Common Core. Okay? So therefore, if you give – if the end result is that you must do the assessments, and you must teach the curriculum, then, somewhere in there, we are required to find the time to teach that content.
CL: But there’s no set number of minutes that you have to teach that content.
SM: A minimum twenty-seven-and-a-half hours in a five-day period.
CL: But if we’re not exceeding that – if we’re not going below that number, and if recess does count toward that number, how does that translate into cutbacks in recess? I’m still mystified about that.
SM: We don’t have an answer to that. Becky and I weren’t here when that happened. It happened at the elementary level at which Ann didn’t work. We could get that answer for you.
Does anyone believe that ten fewer instructional minutes a day would prevent the district from teaching the required subjects? Or that children learn better when time for recess and lunch is minimized? Sure, the state should share the blame here. Yet our district – not the state – has decided that the best way to get our kids to learn the state-required subjects is to cut lunch and recess to the bare minimum. To pretend that it had no choice in the matter is disingenuous, and serves only to disempower our community from thoughtfully considering its options.