Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What’s the real reason for the proposed change in the school day?

The more you look at the district’s proposal to change the school day, the less credible the rationale is. District administrators said that the change is “aimed at increasing instructional time for elementary students,” because “more time on task is great for our students.” But while it increases the total hours in school for younger kids, it also decreases the total hours for the older kids. That’s because the junior high and high school day will be the same length as it is now, but the school year will be at least five days shorter. In the end, it’s likely to be a wash, or even a net loss of instructional time overall. (I’ll put the math in a comment, below). This is not a proposal designed to increase instructional time.

My best hypothesis: there isn’t enough money to give the teachers decent raises next year, so the teachers sought a shorter school year instead, and this was the only way to pull it off. If that’s true, then the only alternatives to the calendar proposal are (1) to give the teachers little or no raise next year for the same work schedule as this year, or (2) to give them a raise and then go through another round of program cuts like those we experienced last year.

Those are all unappealing options, and the blame needs to fall primarily on the state for putting the district in this position. Governor Branstad and the Republican legislators have made it clear that they would rather cut taxes than fund schools. Democrats aren’t blameless, either, since they supported last year’s bill creating the “teacher leadership program,” which ate up the money that would have been available for school aid this year. (Many of them also helped pass Branstad’s tax cuts.)

For what it’s worth, the teacher leadership money means that many teachers will be getting additional pay next year. Basically, the state decided that (1) our most experienced teachers should spend less time in the classroom and more time teaching other teachers, (2) we should fund that teacher-leader program with the money we otherwise would have gotten as supplemental aid, and (3) as a result, we should have that much less money to pay the remaining teachers, to keep class sizes down, or to fund curricular programs. Thanks, legislators!

The superintendent’s proposal essentially shifts the costs onto parents and kids, by making the young kids sit through a longer school day, making the teenagers start school at 7:45 in the morning, and making parents pay for more child care coverage over the summer, which will now be thirteen weeks long.

What a mess. If my hypothesis is right, the state is pitting parents against teachers, and the stinginess at the state level is falling ultimately on the kids and their families.

At the very least, the district should be up-front and transparent about what’s really driving the issue. Maybe my hypothesis is wrong and something else explains this proposal, but it’s impossible to believe that it’s about “more time on task,” as the district has portrayed it—since it’s not likely to add any instructional hours overall.


Chris said...

The math, for those who are interested:

Brief summary: The elementary kids get more instructional minutes every day. The junior high and high school kids get the same daily instructional time as they get now. But all kids will have fewer school days. And weather-related closures won’t need to be made up—which means even fewer total school days. So even though the elementary schoolers will get more total hours overall, the junior high and high school kids will get fewer, and it pretty much cancels out, or worse.

Full details: Under the current schedule, elementary schoolers are in school for 1071 hours, as I calculated here. (I’m not including lunch, since the state doesn’t count it. I’m also not counting parent-teacher conferences, even though the state counts them toward the total hours, since we’re talking about whether the kids will actually get more instructional time.) Under the current schedule, when there are snow days, the kids make them up, though they don’t make up late openings and early closings. This year, there were 19 hours lost to late openings and early closings, but that would only have been 14 hours if school had started on August 24, as it will next year. So if next year’s weather was like this year’s, elementary schoolers would have 1057 total hours in school if we use the current school day and the 180-day year.

Under the new proposal, here’s the calculation for total hours in elementary school (assuming a 20-minute lunch period, though I can’t find any official statement of what the lunch period is, and in practice it has been as short as 15):

6.67 hours * 137 full days (913.33) + 5.67 hours * 38 Thursdays (215.33) = 1128.67 hours.

But none of the hours lost to snow days, late openings, or early closures would have to be made up. There were about 31 hours lost that way this year, though 5 of them would have been avoided by starting school on August 24, as the district will start doing next year. So I’ll use 26 hours as lost to weather. So, if this year’s weather closings are any indication, the total hours in school would be around 1103. That’s about 46 more than they would have under the current school day.

The high school day is pretty much the same as the junior high day, so I’ll just analyze the high school day. The high school day, minus its 32 minute lunch period, comes out to 6.63 hours per day, and 5.63 on Thursdays. So, if we don’t shorten the school year:

6.63 * 141 full days (935.3) + 5.63 * 39 Thursdays (219.7) = 1155 hours.

Subtract the 14 hours for early closures and late openings due to weather, and you end up with 1141 totals hours in school.

Under the new proposal, the length of the school day would remain the same (though it would start and end earlier), but there would be five fewer days:

6.63 * 137 full days (908.76) + 5.63 * 38 Thursdays (214.07) = 1122.83 hours

But none of the time lost to snow days, late openings, or early closures would have to be made up, so, if this year’s weather-related closings are any indication, you could expect to lose about 26 hours, which would bring the total hours in school to about 1097. That’s about 44 fewer than you’d have if you didn’t shorten the year.

So 46 more elementary school hours, but 44 fewer junior high and high school hours: just about a wash. If the elementary lunch is really 15 minutes, that would mean more of a small gain in instructional time. On the other hand, if there were more snow days than the two we had this year, that would potentially mean a net loss of instructional time.

Matt Townsley said...

Hey Chris,
I don't know the ICCSD schools' rationale for the schedule change, but I thought I'd share a few tidbits that may be helpful.

1) When districts move to an hours-based calendar, they're required to go by the school(s) with the least number of hours. By increasing elementary hours, its still not as many as HS and JH (per your calculations), but brings up the reportable hours for the purpose of meeting the state's requirements. Does that make sense? (This is an aside from your suggestion more instructional hours = better educational programming)

2) You also suggested "the teacher leadership money means that many teachers will be getting additional pay next year." I thought it would be good to note the teacher leadership legislation requires a good faith effort districts hire 25% of their internal teachers into TLC funded positions. What the specifics look like, depends on the local school district. For example, in my district, ~4% of our teachers will be fully-released from working with students (they'll be working with teachers) while ~21% will continue teaching full-time, but add additional responsibilities. One of the requirements of these TLC funded positions is that the teacher has at least three years experience, so I don't think its a given to assume those with the most experience are a lock for these positions either. Again, local decision who gets hired.

Chris said...

Matt -- Thanks for the info about how the teacher leadership grant works.

You're right that the elementary day would have to comply with the state minimum of 1080 hours if we start counting hours instead of days, but the current elementary school day would, in fact, comply, if we have 180 days of school like we do now (and if we make up any time lost to weather cancellations). (See this post.)

Chris said...

One difference, if we start counting hours instead of days, is that we would have to make up not only for snow days, but also for weather-related late openings and early closings, to the extent that they make us fall below 1080 hours. If that rule had been applied this year (and if we had started school on August 24, as we will have to next year), we would have had to make up the two snow days and also one or two additional days to keep the weather-related late openings and early closures from pushing us below 1080 hours.

(By my count, there were 14 hours lost to late openings and early closures after August 23. But with a 180-day calendar and the current school day, we'd have between 5 and 9 hours of leeway before we fell below the 1080 hours.)

Maybe that was the straw that broke the camel's back for the district (or for the teachers)? Still, the costs of the "solution" seem to outweigh the costs of the problem.

Chris said...

(Under the new proposal, on the other hand, we would *not* have to make up time lost to snow days and weather-related late openings and early closures -- but only because there would be so much additional time built into the elementary school day that cancellations would probably never push us below the mandatory 1080 hours.)

Unknown said...

Matt--I appreciate getting your perspective as an administrator.

My frustration with the teacher leadership program is that our district will be receiving nearly $4 million in new funds next year, not a penny of which will go toward reinstating teacher positions lost to last year's budget cuts. A lot more money for teachers but still no 4th grade strings teachers, still losing the German language program, and some number of junior high school students sitting in multiple study halls for want of classroom teachers for electives.

I know there are administrators and teachers who have great hopes for the TLC system, but it's going to be harder for (at least some) parents to see the benefits outweighing the costs.

Julie VanDyke said...

-I will not join in slamming the Democrats in the Iowa House though…not…at…all…most especially those fighting for our educational lives, and those of our children. I commend them for continuing to wage a fierce and difficult battle and for standing up for our kids, our teachers, and our schools over and over and over again. I thank them for continuing to fight and encourage them not to settle for 1.25% by whatever legislative means necessary. These are a just a few of them doing just that, there are many, many, many more:
Rep. Patti Ruff closing comments on increased school funding https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYbRoGC4SPQ
Rep. Sharon Steckman stands up for Iowa's students and teachers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcZxyhS2hSk
Rep. Phyllis Thede stands up for Iowa's students and teachers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vks6Qs95pVA
Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt standing up for teachers on the Iowa House Floor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGM1f3fSNro
Rep. Bruce Bearinger stands up for Iowa's students and teachers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H56TEJohOwY
Representative Timi Brown-Powers Stands up for Iowa Teachers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRYihFEw8Ds
Rep. Steckman fights for public school funding https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTzN0yWAqCw
Rep. Cindy Winckler fights for Iowa education on the Iowa House Floor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2ADKr7Qo3k
Representative Art Staed is currently at 441 view on this one and doing beautifully https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o9zLhGh3Fs
Rep. Art Staed Point of Personal Privilege April 21, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq_LcgZR1rY
Rep. Abby Finkenauer fights for increased school funding https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwTUpQUnRF4
Rep. Timi Brown-Powers fights for increased school funding (after the January hearing) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dq-Q06PEZnQ
Rep. Liz Bennett fights for adequate education investments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KR1ROhmjGA
Representative Dave Jacoby Point of Personal Privilege on School Funding 4-8-15
(ironically enough from Mr. McGinness talking about decisions having consequences though his letter is good, he’s even more belligerent to the Governor on Public Ed spending than I have been, and he says he’s possibly leaving the state!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDu7ZY2dlBU
Rep. Bennett stands up for teachers and students on the House Floor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWQQIO2HhUA
Representative Todd Prichard Speaks on Education Funding on the Iowa House Floor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixVpbZKVOZ4

Julie VanDyke said...

Hi Chris…If your hypothesis is correct: "the state is pitting parents against teachers, and the stinginess at the state level is falling ultimately on the kids and their families." Then I would say the superintendent and administration's proposal to extend elementary school day length, among other things, could probably be seen as a tag-team to also pit teachers against parents...which to me is even more inexcusable because it's at the most local level.

Whether planned by a de facto tag-team = Management (Governor and House Republicans following his line in the sand not to fund SSA at over 1.25%) + Management (Superintendent & District HR Negotiator) or not doesn't matter if both levels of management still effect a major anti-labor hit on. House Republicans have gone on record during this legislative session, and previous, using their bully pulpit in the Capitol to repeatedly vilify teachers as greedy, lazy, overpaid and underworked. If the Management tag-team Governor/House Republicans + Superintendents/HR Contract Negotiators (Murley & Ramey respectively so to speak in our school district) spin & blame them just “right”, it might be seen as an attempt to bring parents/families/tax payers in against our teachers as additional. I’d wonder if this is subtle union-busting at its finest, meaning unrecognized for what it is.

-Consider the petulance of our Governor ever since his previous attempt to kill the teachers union with the Blueprint for Education he called "One Unshakable Vision: World-Class Schools for Iowa" was thwarted. To me it seems like he’s been on a retaliatory mission to destroy public education for a while. Take a look at a good FAQ on that previous attempt to kill our schools: http://www.bleedingheartland.com/diary/5022/branstads-team-reveal-education-plans-but-not-price-tag

Consider this on last school year's Iowa State Supplemental Aid (source of General Fund that we use to pay for teachers in the classroom) big picture when you see the Governor's March 26, 2014 post vote statement, “This morning, the Iowa House passed an education reform plan that will set us on a path to again have the nation’s best schools,” Not only does Governor Branstad appear to have problems with seeing big pictures, apparently he can't count either. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA_Rankings_And_Estimates-2015-03-11a.pdf

-Add to that the Governor’s bait & switch teacher leadership grant (pitched as entirely separate, i.e., icing, on top of SSA now after the fact shell-gamed by the Governor and his House & Senate Republicans who are lumping them together as if they’d never pitched it as icing). *Note framework for teacher leadership grant was major component of Governor’s failed teacher-labor-union-gutting Blueprint for Education. Here is a earlier version of the shell game from March 15, 2012:

Mary Murphy said...

Chris, Here is a link to Iowa City's TLC application: https://www.educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/Iowa%20City.pdf. It's unfortunate that teachers who are leaders can't actually teach in the classroom while leading. Hopefully we won't see data collection run amok with this grant.

Karen W, I agree with you completely about budget cuts and the junior high curriculum. Plus, programming and selection for junior high talented and gifted curriculum could use an overhaul. One elective class in eighth grade is not enough.

Matt Townsley said...

Hi Mary. Thanks for the link to Iowa City's TLC application. Could you elaborate more on your statement "It's unfortunate that teachers who are leaders can't actually teach in the classroom while leading." When I read the application I noted a number of part-time and extra duty roles in addition to the fully-released ones.

Mary Murphy said...

Matt, my understanding is that a teacher can teach part time and be a TLC worker (for want of a better term) part time. While in the TLC role, the teacher can model for/lead/instruct the classroom teacher he or she is working with (or work on professional development) but could not, for example, instead spend the time directly helping a student who is struggling academically while the classroom teacher moves the other students forward academically. Assuming this is the case, this takes away a lot of flexibility in how the classroom is structured, and while it may be helpful, it might have been even more helpful for the principal and classroom teacher to have more control about how to meet the needs of the students in the classroom.

While the teacher, who also works part time as a TLC worker, is in the classroom teaching part of his or her job, he or she is teaching students (but not as part of TLC).

My further understanding is that TLC is categorical funding with specific constraints about how the dollars can be spent; whereas, students might have been better off if principals and teachers had more control over how the money was spent (so long as it didn't go to central office overhead).