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 »


Child care to be offered during early dismissals

Reacting to complaints from parents about the new policy of dismissing students an hour early every Monday, the board of education (BOE) in Windsor Locks recently voted to use paraprofessionals to provide one hour of child care for younger students affected by early dismissals.

Gregory A. Scibelli of Reminder News reported  that a protocol for parents wanting to have their children supervised at school is pending. School began August 29 in this Connecticut school district. BOE Chairman Patricia King said that parents will be responsible for transportation home at the end of the hour.

Superintendent Wayne C. Sweeney had written a letter to parents in June announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.


Longer school year does not justify weekly early dismissals

A longer school year does not justify early release days every week. In my previous post I reported that two school districts in the Phoenix area have a longer school year. However, these districts do not appear to be clearly committed to the value of extra time for students. Both the Balsz School District t and the Riverside Elementary School District dismiss students early every Wednesday.

This is absurd. Surely the administrators and teachers can figure out other ways of providing professional development for teachers.


Julie Aranibar votes against 9 a.m. lunch time for high schools in Manatee County, Florida

Congratulations to Julie Aranibar, a wise school board member who voted against early dismissals of students in Manatee County. For the past four years, this district has dismissed students two hours early every Wednesday.  Hours are extended the other four days. Merab-Michal Favorite of the Bradenton Times  reported high school students eat lunch at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and some people say “the crunched schedule can sometimes mean less time to complete important tests.”

At a meeting on July 25, the school board voted 3-1 to continue this schedule, with Aranibar dissenting. Favorite included the following information in her article in the Bradenton Times:

 Several parents came forward claiming they liked early-outs because it allowed periods for other extracurricular activities and tutoring. However Aranibar pointed out that the shortened schedule negatively affects working-class parents, like waitresses, who can’t leave work when they make the most money at a specific time of the day.

“For parents who are involved and are able to make the arrangements, early outs can be a very good thing. For parents who work and are lower-wage earners, shortened days are a scheduling nightmare.”

In an earlier article,  Favorite gave the following summary of the scheduling issue:

On Wednesdays, elementary schools let out at 1:15 p.m., middle schools at 2:10 p.m. and high schools at 12:30 p.m. in order to give teachers more time for training and planning classes. However, opponents of the early dismissal point out that it is a hardship for working parents, a scheduling nightmare and a chance for kids to get into trouble.