Friday, May 8, 2015

How not to schedule the school day

Our school districts’ administrators released the proposal to lengthen the elementary school day, and it’s pretty much as described in the update on my previous post. Elementary school would be half an hour longer, going from 8:30 to 3:30. Junior high and high school would be the same length as they currently are—seven hours and ten minutes—but would start and end twenty-five minutes earlier, running from 7:45 to 2:55. One consequence is that the school year would be five days shorter, ending on May 25 next year.

The only justification identified in the article is that “more time on task is great for our students.” “We’re able to provide them 30 more minutes of instruction each day.” What’s the logic there? More time in school is always better? No matter what the baseline is, and no matter how young the kids are? If that’s true, why end five days earlier? And why not have an eight-hour school day, or a nine-hour one? More is always better, right?

It’s hard to take the administrators’ rationale at face value. They seem unbothered, for example, by the fact that the new schedule results in thirty-three fewer hours of “on task” time for junior high and high school students. The real reason for the proposal may be that school staff prefer the shorter year to the shorter day. (The proposal was negotiated with the local teachers’ union, since it affects the work schedule.) But the calendar needs to serve the students’ needs first. There is no good reason to keep elementary-age kids in school for seven hours a day. And having teenagers start their day at 7:45 is plainly a change for the worse, educationally.

In any event, one thing is clear: If the elementary kids will be getting thirty more minutes “on task,” that means the district won’t be giving the kids even five more minutes for their measly lunch period.

According to the superintendent, lengthening the school day has gotten “a universally negative reaction from parents” in the past. Why, then, does the administration keep pushing the idea? Why does our administration’s agenda so often differ from what the community wants?


Unknown said...

Does the schedule change help busing logistics somehow?

If more on task is great, why cut almost thirty-six hours from the junior high/high school academic year? Does that better meet their educational needs?

Chris said...

Karen -- If there's any busing-related rationale, it was not mentioned in the article. I suppose there would be five fewer days of buses to pay for -- but then why not cut five more days, and five more after that, just by making the day longer?

Yes, good question about the shorter junior high and high school year. I just hastily amended the post to include that point. So much for "time on task."

Unknown said...

I confess that I don't know that much about the busing, but I have it in my head that I was told a few years ago that they could have fewer buses/drivers if the start and end times of the schools weren't too close together to have each bus run two routes in the morning and afternoon (an elementary and a high school route)? I could be remembering this completely wrong though.

Of course, five fewer busing days would help too.

Chris said...

Karen -- There may be something to that; I just don't know. I still wouldn't get why they couldn't have the older kids start later than the younger kids, instead of vice versa.

pooter said...

My older kids went to school for several years in a school district in Maryland that ran a separate schedule to save money on buses. They also had the older students start earlier, which never made sense to me as in my experience teenagers need more sleep and younger children are more amenable to earlier bed times and rising times.

Meanwhile, Chris hit the nail on the head with his final paragraph. Why does the administration consistently pursue a path that seems contrary to the majority wishes of the school district? I can't answer that.

Chris said...

Pooter -- And in fact we're already running a separate bus schedule, and already making the older kids go to school earlier than the younger kids. The proposal would just worsen that aspect of the schedule.

Michael said...

Karen and Chris: The hope is that by staggering the times that there will be no net loss in busing cost. The elementary school routes are shorter, and so it works presently to run them last in the morning and first in the afternoon. But you need it to be more staggered in JH/HS goes last in the morning or first in the afternoon. So, the busing rationale plays some role in the selection of specific times here, but it is purported to be budget neutral.

Chris said...

Michael -- Thanks for the info; that's helpful to know.

Chris said...

The article says that the proposal would add fifteen minutes to teachers' work days. But, at least as to the elementary school teachers, if the school day is a half an hour longer, and they're working only fifteen minutes longer, doesn't that mean that they'll have less after-school work? If we're willing to cut the amount of after-school work they have, why not just keep the current schedule and the let the teachers go home fifteen minutes earlier?

I also wonder: what happened to the concern about "summer learning loss"? It's not a concept I put much stock in -- but is there any basis for saying that it makes sense, educationally, to make the days longer but the year shorter?

Unknown said...

If I counted right, kids get thirteen weeks of summer vacation next year (fully one quarter of the year).

Those end of year test scores will be super useful when kids return to school in August, so many weeks later. Totally worth it to have students take much longer tests.

In all seriousness though, I wonder how cutting five days from the school year might affect the end of year testing window plus whatever instruction we might hope will still be happening in the last quarter of the school year.

Chris said...

The “more time on task” justification really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even on its own terms, especially if it’s true that the district plans not to make up the hours that are lost to weather closures.

If the proposed calendar had been used this year, and weather closures were not made up, elementary schoolers would have gotten about 32 more hours of school. But junior high and high schoolers would have gotten about 58 *fewer* hours of school. So it would have been a net loss of instructional time.

Chris said...

Karen -- I count thirteen weeks of summer under the proposal, too. Personally, I'd like the idea of my kids getting a longer summer, if it didn't mean a longer school day. But I know that a lot of people need to line up child care for those summer months. I wonder how much this plan will cost people who are in that position.

Chris said...

Which raises the question: will after-school care for elementary school kids cost less under this proposal (since there will be less time to cover)?

Julie VanDyke said...

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"More time on task"? Really? If that's coming from our top administrator that's really funny. "More time on task" coming from him, our senior district administrator consultant serving, or should I say that WAS serving, the Chicago Public Schools now that his other employer's, "The Supes", 20.5 million un-bid contract with CPS has been dropped like a hot potato? What's that about casting the first stone?

And task? What task are they talking about? More towards standardized testing? Hmmm, 155,000 children and their parents in NY showed their district what they thought about that by boycotting the first day of testing this year in a remarkable display of time on task. BOYCOTT!!!

Oh I don't know Chris, the proposal to potentially extend the elementary school day could be a conveniently timed way to point a finger of blame towards you and parents that agree with you on the real need for a longer elementary lunch period, attack board candidates in the upcoming election that support or have supported a longer lunch for K-6, and/or a veiled or implied threat to the teachers with a longer day all at once?

Hmmmm, wonder if that teacher contract, or the other contracts under negotiation with HR. Chace Ramey and the district have been settled yet?

Seems to me that almost every time there's something really stinky going on here we get a fat red herring tossed out potentially to distract and cause "confusion and delay".
Unless you're fond of herring Chris, perhaps you should spend more time on task? You know, on task about things that smell overlapping some of our top administrators, David Dude not included as he is quite clean and a man of integrity.

Denmark is ever so stinky these days and the FBI is investigating "The Supes"/ProAct/Synesi activity initially in regard to the Chicago Public Schools scandal extending in wider circles by the moment and two top administrators here have lovely consultant highlight pages showing they work/worked for “The Supes”, yes, two. Rest in peace Phil Hansen, Synesi isn't the same without you and I'm sorry if you felt your integrity was compromised by your having worked for them because I think you did the best job you could without being given everything you should have had to do it. Synesi and ProAct have both crossed the books of the Iowa City Community School District in consent agenda items some of which have recently been approved by currently seated board directors here…and “The Supes” would quite possibly have overlapped items on the books in regard to travel reimbursements or contract afforded consulting work Mr. Murley did in Chicago to consult for them which, per his contract, would have been approved by current board president Chris Lynch and past board presidents Sally Hoelscher and Marla Swesey…hmmmm, wonder if there are any conflict of interest issues there with their attempts to, in my opinion, attack my credibility and assault my First Amendment rights?

Chris said...

One correction to my comment above: It looks like it would basically be a wash -- pretty much the same number of junior-high and high-school hours lost as elementary school hours added. If there were more snow days than this year, it could end up a net loss. More on that in a future post.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have children in school watching more movies at the end of the year?

The brighter students don't need more of the school we have, and the struggling students need more individual or small group time with qualified instructors.

Kids don't need to start school earlier.