Houston increases time in school, copies successful charter schools

More time in school is one of five policies common to successful charter schools, according to an excellent article in the New York Times written by Sam Dillon.   Houston Schools Look to Charters for Guide explains that Houston public schools are working with Roland G. Fryer, a researcher at Harvard, to implement five key tenets of successful charters: “longer school days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls “high-dosage tutoring”; and a “no excuses” culture.”

One person watching the experiment closely is Mike Feinberg, who co-founded the first KIPP school here in 1994, and now serves on the program’s national board and runs its 20 Houston-area charters. Mr. Feinberg sees Houston’s education marketplace as akin to when FedEx emerged to challenge the United States Postal Service. The result: Priority Mail.

KIPP, “Knowledge Is Power Program,” a national charter chain, gives students about 1,734 hours in school per year.  Last year Houston implemented the five key tenets of charters at nine district secondary schools–  giving students 1,434 hours in school.  This school year “they are expanding the program to 11 elementary schools. “

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Broward and Palm Beach counties skimp on physical education

Scott Travis of  the South Florida Sun-Sentinel  reports that some Florida schools are not meeting the state requirement for 30 minutes of physical education each day. Although a law passed in 2007 requires 30 minutes of P.E. instruction every day, schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties only offer traditional gym classes once or twice a week.

The law, signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, initially required elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of P.E. per week. But some schools tried to get around it by counting three-minute walks to the cafeteria or classroom toward the total. The next year, the Legislature changed the requirement to 30 minutes of continuous physical activity each day.

Travis reported that at  Nob Hill Elementary in Sunrise, regular classroom teachers handle the half-hour P.E. instruction once a week, then on the other days they are supposed to take the students out for recess. He noted that Roseanne Eckert complained to the principal that her son was not getting the required 150 minutes of activity per week.

Nob Hill Principal Patricia Patterson said that was an isolated case and most teachers welcome the opportunity to take their students out for recess.

“Am I the P.E. police? No,” she said. “They’re professionals, and I trust that they’re following the standards and implementing organized games.”


Professional Learning Communities do not need to resort to early dismissals of students

Are Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) part of a nationwide scheme to justify early dismissals of students? That is the question I wondered when I noticed how many school districts were justifying early dismissals by saying they were promoting PLCs.

Checking the website of  the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement,  I found that early dismissals were the very last choice listed as a means of scheduling PLCs. Even in this case, the examples do not mention the irresponsible option of weekly two-hour early dismissals, a practice seen in both Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia. The examples given by the Center for this type of adjustment are much less disruptive: “For example, every other Thursday, student start time is delayed 20 minutes; classes start late one day and teachers arrive 30 minutes earlier on that day.”

Since there are much better ways of scheduling PLCs, the option of early dismissals should never even be considered. The other options mentioned by the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement  include scheduling classes to create common planning periods, expanding particular school days to “bank time for professional learning,” building the schedule so that teachers are freed up by “specials” (music, art, physical education, student assemblies, etc.); using monthly faculty meetings and district professionals days for PLCs; and combining classrooms to free teachers to meet.

The use of specialists, such as art, music, or physcial education teachers could also seen as a means of job creation, an urgent national priority.  Some districts  also use paraprofessionals for duties such as monitoring recess to give classroom teachers more planning time. Those who may argue that budgets don’t permit this are very shortsighted if they think that the drastic step of dismissing students early is at all acceptable.


Child care costs continue to increase

According to a report released August 24 by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the cost of child care continues to increase  while families struggle to afford quality care. Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2011 Update provides results from a survey of Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) State Networks and local agencies, which asked for the average fees charged by child care programs in 2010.

The report, which provides the average cost of child care for infants, four-year-olds, and school-age children in centers and family child care homes nationwide, reveals that in 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and related fees at a four-year public college. In every state, center-based child care costs for two children (an infant and a four-year-old) exceeded annual average rent payments.

“Child care is essential to working families and working families are key to economic growth,” said Linda K. Smith, NACCRRA’s Executive Director. “But, child care today is simply unaffordable for most families.”

According to the report, in 2010, in Virginia the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center is $8,800, for a four-year-old the cost is $6,650, and for a school-age child it is $5,600. Fairfax County, which has higher costs than the state average, makes the cost of day-care for school-age children even more burdensome by dismissing  students in elementary schools school two hours early every Monday. Arlington County dismisses 12 of its elementary schools two hours early on Wednesdays, another burden on many parents.

The report states that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 a year in the District of Columbia. Parents of a four-year-old child paid average fees of $3,900 in Mississippi to $14,050 a year in the District of Columbia. In New York, parents of school-age children paid up to $10,400 a year for part-time care in a center. The report also found that in 2010, the average annual cost of full-time care in a family child care home was as much as $12,100 for an infant and $11,300 for a four-year-old in Massachusetts. Read the rest of this entry »