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.

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Seminole County superintendent threatens to cut music, art, and athletics

Schools in Seminole County, Florida, could cut music, art, and athletics to make up for a $22 million budget shortfall. WFTV Orlando. reported that the county could also close down schools or go on a four-day week.

Superintendent Bill Vogel said he doesn’t support cutting the programs, but doesn’t have many other options. He wants to put a voter referendum on the presidential primary ballot in March, so it won’t cost anymore money.

The board is asking for a one mil increase, which would bring an extra $25 million to the district every year. The board will discuss budget cuts again in September.


Crayola launches program to encourage creativity through art

Crayola LLC has launched the “Champion Creatively Alive Children” professional development program to empower art teachers to become the “chief creative officers” in their schools. Crayola has teamed up with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the National Art Education Association (NAEA) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) to create this program to emphasize creativity as a 21st century skill and address the need for arts-infused education in schools.

On August 9, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a professional development event  based on this program at its national headquarters to put Department staff in touch with teachers and principals. All participants, including principals and teachers from the Northeast, were told “don’t come as you are, come as you were” with a child-like spirit.

“We’re hosting this event today because Secretary Duncan and the Department recognize the importance of integrating the arts into teaching and learning from cradle to career,” said Suzanne Immerman, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Education.  “Our students today really need more than knowledge and skills to succeed. They need ingenuity and imagination, and arts education is the ideal way to infuse creativity and critical thinking in their efforts to be productive citizens in a global workforce.”

At the session, Rachel Goslins, Executive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, l presented key findings from the Committee’s newly-released report, “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.”

The “Champion Creatively Alive Children” professional development program includes videos showcasing how arts-infused education builds the 4Cs – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication. A fifth video devoted to arts-infused education advocacy helps art teachers become the chief creative officer in their schools. Each video tells the story of a school that was awarded one of 20 “Champion Creatively Alive Children” mini-grants from Crayola and NAESP for the innovative ways they are integrating art across the curriculum. Five facilitator guides accompany the video series to enable principals and teachers to lead workshops and staff and parents’ meetings around art as a way to building 21st century skills.  The entire series is available at no charge on Crayola.com.


Indiana school district switches to paraprofessionals for elementary school music, art, and PE; adds Rosetta Stone instruction

The New Albany-Floyd County Schools system in Indiana will substitute paraprofessionals for teachers for  elementary school art, music, and physical education, according to  Harold J. Adams of courier-journal.com. He reported that the school system is “designating lead teachers certified in art and music who will develop the curriculum for those subjects and train the noncertified paraprofessionals to teach them.”

And physical education has been changed to something called “physical movement,” which will be coordinated by a teacher who also works fulltime in a middle or high school.

Also, a computer-based curriculum using Rosetta Stone software will be used to make foreign languages available to all students in kindergarten through eight grade for the first time. Rhonda Mull, director of middle schools, told Mr. Adams that middle school students will go to the computer lab one day a week and elementary school students will have two foreign-language lab periods per week. All students will have the software available to them to use at home as many times as they want. The languages offered will be Spanish, French, German, and Chinese.

via Floyd school district announces plan to teach art, music and PE at elementaries | The Courier-Journal | courier-journal.com.


Time and Learning Task Force called for additional resource teachers for schools that might choose full day Mondays

Starting in 1999, Project Excel provided full day Mondays for 16 elementary schools in Fairfax County.  However, the school board ended this program because the cost was considered too high. The last three schools which had the full day schedule will switch back to early dismissals on Mondays this September.

Clearly it is time to reconsider some earlier models for full day Mondays that would not be as expensive as Project Excel.  The Time and Learning Task Force presented a major proposal  to the  school board’s Instruction Committee  in 1996. That year I wrote a summary (shown below) of the task force recommendations. There have been some slight changes in the school hours since that time. All figures are based on the schedules in 1996.

Time and Learning Task Force Proposes Plan to Give Elementary School Students a Full Day on Mondays 

Since the early 1970’s, Fairfax County elementary school students have been dismissed 2 or 2 and 1/2 hours early on Mondays so that teachers would have a block of time for planning and meetings. There have been various proposals over the past nine years to keep the students in school on Monday afternoons while making other provisions for planning time for teachers.

“If American students are to meet world-class standards all children will need more academic time.”  –The National Education Commission  on Time and Learning, 1994.

The most recent proposal was presented to the Fairfax County School Board’s Instruction Committee on May 2, 1996, by the Time and Learning Task Force. The Task Force proposed that each elementary school should be given the option of voluntarily choosing whether to provide a full-day on Monday for students and additional resource teachers for the school. Each school would design its own collaborative decision-making process to ensure broad school and community agreement.

According to the Task Force, “Some schools may want to follow the process used by high schools to decide on block scheduling in which: a) a committee investigates models; b) the committee makes recommendations to parents and faculty; c) parents vote; and d) faculty votes.”

A school which decided to provide the additional time for the students would then decide which types of resource teachers to hire. With a uniform 6.5-hour day Monday through Friday, students would gain a total of 2.5 weeks of additional instructional time per year.

Elementary School Weekly Schedules

Comparison of current schedules to proposed changes recommended by the Time and Learning Task Force

Student activities  Grades 1 – 6

Current time

Proposed total time

Proposed change

Subjects taught by classroom teacher 25 hours/week 25 hours/week none
Instruction by PE and music teachers

2. 5 hours/week

2 hours/week

-0.5 hour/week

Instruction by an art teacher

.5 hour/week[1]

1 hour/week

+.5 hour/week

Additional resource teachers identified by school (e.g., reading, math, computer, science, foreign language, health, music, PE.)

none

2 hours/week

+2 hours/week

Subtotal of instructional time 28 hours/week 30 hours/week +2 hours/week
Lunch 2.5 hours/week 2.5 hours/week none
TOTAL student time in school 30.5 hours/week 32.5 hours/week +2 hours/week

 The total time mandated for music, art, and PE instruction each week by specialists is the same under the proposal as it is under the current schedule: 3 hours.

  • Music—minimum of two 30-minute sessions each week, for a total of 60 minutes.
  • PE—minimum of two 30-minute sessions each week, for a total of 60 minutes.
  • Art—minimum of one 60-minute session each week. This is an objective the School Board has been working towards even without any increase in time for students.

Under the Task Force proposal, the additional time for instruction by specialists to be chosen by each school is 2 hours. The school could choose resource teachers for reading, math, science, a foreign language, computers, health, or other subjects. The school would have the option of choosing to have additional instruction above the mandated amounts for music, PE, or art.

The Task Force said that schools should choose measures to reduce fragmentation in the student schedule. For example, language arts instruction by the special education teacher could be scheduled during the time the classroom teacher is covering this subject.

Kindergarten student activities

Current time

Proposed total time

Proposed change

Subjects taught by classroom teacher and/or aide 15.00 hours/week 13.75 hours/week -1.25 hours/week
Instruction by PE and music teachers none 1 hour/week +1 hour/week
Instruction by an art teacher  0.25 hours/week)  0.5 hours/week  +0.25 hours/week
Instruction by other resource teachers none 1 hour/week +1 hour/week
TOTAL instructional time 15.25 hours/week 16.25 hours/week +1 hour/week

Under the Task Force proposal, kindergarten teachers and specialists would be guaranteed five hours of weekly planning time.

Teacher planning time

Grades 1 – 6

Current

Proposed total

Proposed change

 

Planning time during student day 2.5 hours/week 5 hours/week +2.5 hours/week
     music and PE teachers

2.5 hours/week

2 hours/week

-0.5 hour/week

     art teachers

none[2]

1 hour/week

+1 hour/week

     additional resource teachers

none

2 hours/week

+ 2 hours/week

Planning time before and after the student day (including Monday afternoon) 7 hours/week 5 hours/week -2 hours/week
TOTAL planning time 9.5 hours/week 10 hours/week

+0.5 hour/week

Under the Time and Learning Task Force proposal, each participating school must provide a minimum of five hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full-time teacher, with a minimum of two of the five hours provided for grade-level or team planning.

Schools would need to develop alternatives for a school-based staff development delivery system other than designated Mondays.

The total yearly amount of teacher planning time under the Task Force proposal would increase to a total of 180 hours. Even if every Monday afternoon under the current schedule were used for planning, the total yearly planning time would be 162 hours. However, at least seven Mondays are holidays or workdays, so a total of 14 hours of planning time is lost. Also, at least five Mondays are used for a variety of reasons (area meetings, central meetings, non-school-based in-service activities, and subject area meetings). Therefore, the total planning time minus holidays and other activities is currently 138 hours per year.

Cost

The Task Force recommends that the decision whether to implement a 6.5 hour uniform elementary school day be voluntary on the part of the individual schools, so it is not yet known how many schools will demonstrate an interest in this change. Therefore, costs can only be estimated at this time.

If all 134 elementary schools chose to adopt the 6.5 hour uniform day, total implementation costs could be in the range of $11,000,000 to $13,000,000 per year.

After School Programs

The Task Force recommends support of the extended day program implemented in February 1996 by the Hunters Woods Arts and Science Magnet School. There are four components: academic, technology, recreation, and community service.

Hours are from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Monday. A site director, one teacher, and a teacher’s assistant are needed. Approximately 50 tuition-paying students are needed to sustain this program. It is projected that about 10 additional students may be accommodated with tuition waivers for every 50 students.

We thank Task Force member Ed Grady and Chairman Maryanne Roesch for providing information for the tables in this article.


[1] The art teacher visits each class approximately every other week for one hour under the current schedule.

[2] The current model for art instruction is that the classroom teacher stays in the class with the art teacher. (However, in some schools, the art specialist time is used as planning time for the classroom teacher.)