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.
Last month Wayne C. Sweeney, superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools, wrote a letter to parents 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. After receiving this letter sent home with their children on the last day of school, several parents spoke at the June 23 school board meeting to protest the decision and the way it was made without consulting parents.
According to the meeting minutes, Amy Mackey asked why parents were not notified or included in this decision by way of a public forum so questions could be asked and opinions could be heard. Kevin Brace discussed the economic effect this will have on parents. He said his employer is not going to be willing for him to leave early every Monday to retrieve his children from the school bus. Jennifer Webb said she was appalled that she received the letter about this new policy on the last day of school. Andra Morrell and Mary Ellen Smith pointed out that other districts have PLC time before and after school so students will not lose any time.
Jason Harris of the Windsor Locks-East Windsor Patch reported that parents had another opportunity to criticize this decision at the July 14 school board meeting.
Parent Douglas Hamilton said that Windsor Locks ranks 146th out of 161 school districts in the state. He said that the cutting back on the number of interactive hours between students and teachers is “heading in the wrong direction.”
“Can our children really afford to lose those 33 hours of instruction?” parent Jennifer Webb said. “The assessment data is telling us no,” she added.
I posted a comment stating that parents deserve a voice in important decisions regarding school hours.
How did the Fairfax County school board approve early dismissals on Mondays? There was no motion to approve this major policy change, it was simply reported as a consensus of the board. Here are two excerpts of the minutes of the school board meeting held February 25, 1971:
Summary of Actions Taken
Length of School Day. It was the consensus of the Board that the Superintendent and staff could assist schools in moving to a modified schedule where desired (no motion by the Board). [page 1]
Mr. Davis [Superintendent S. John “Jack” Davis] made some introductory remarks to the report on the modified elementary school day, indicating that several elementary schools that have extended their day are closing one-half day early per week. He stated he had not realized before the extent to which this adds to the clerical and administrative burden of these staffs, and expressed appreciation to the principals for the way in which they were handling this problem. Mr. Harold Ford, Area IV Superintendent, presented the details of the report regarding the elementary school day, indicating it was desirable from the standpoint of bringing about the program going on in the elementary schools. He reported one elementary school in Area IV switched to the modified school day during the second semester of the prior school year. By means of visual aid supplies, Mr. Ford showed the basic schedule for the elementary school and the modified school day. The present regular elementary school schedule contains 30 hours and 50 minutes per week, while the modified schedule calls for 31 hours per week. The modified schedule runes from 8:30 a.m., to 3:00 p.m., except one day per week from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mr. Musick, Principal of Kings Park Elementary School, was also present together with Mrs. Rita Gillespie, a teacher at the Laurel Ridge Elementary School. Mrs. Gillespie explained the application of individualized instruction under this modified school day and stated that it requires a large block of uninterrupted planning time for the faculty in thinking about the individual child and the diagnosis of his total needs, and the faculty planning together to meet those needs. In this way, they build viable relationships and realize the goal of individualized learning for the unique problems of each child. Mrs. Music also advised that their school used a plan of early closings on the modified schedule so that groups of teachers could plan together in carrying out a program for a group of children assigned to them. The faculty thus needs a large block of time for this cooperative planning and discussion. She stated this work has resulted in better diagnosis of the individual child’s needs, better planning, and better teaching. Also, there are more choices for groups of different skills. Mrs. Musick described how teachers evaluate pupils about the movement of children throughout the building, and indicated that multiage groupings are easier to accomplish. The teachers know the pupils better and have fewer discipline problems. The teachers have a better understanding of the child and do a better job in the total instructional program. She felt the most important advantages were that the children seem to be happier in their educational experience, and there was better teacher morale. Read the rest of this entry »
On June 24, the The North Carolina State Board of Education approved a policy outlining the process for local school districts and charter schools to apply for waivers to the new 185-day instructional calendar for the 2011-12 school year. A press release from the State Board of Education explained the policy:
The General Assembly recently approved legislation that requires local school districts to increase instructional time for students to 185 days and 1,025 hours per year. This is an increase from the 180 days and 1,000 instructional hours requirement that has been in place for many years.
In the waiver process, the State Board granted authority to the State Superintendent to approve waivers in cases where local school districts or charter schools have submitted a plan to use up to five instructional days as teacher workdays for professional development on the new essential standards and Common Core. The new essential standards and Common Core standards are scheduled for classroom implementation in the 2012-13 school year. Read the rest of this entry »
Let’s not forget that positive steps were taken towards fixing the elementary school schedule in Fairfax County in recent years. On June 2, 1994, Gregory J. Lock, Jr., the president of the Fairfax Association of Elementary School Principals, sent a letter to Gary Jones, the chair of the school board, on this topic. Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Dr. Jones,
The Fairfax Association of Elementary School Principals heartily endorses Mrs. Laura McDowall’s “Resolution Establishing A Task Force To Study The School Day & Year,” which she plans to offer at the June 9, 1994 School Board Meeting.
As you know, The Elementary School Study – 1993 Update describes in detail our suggestions for restructuring the elementary programs fo the Fairfax County Public Schools and includes our recommendation for a uniform elementary day. Simply by eliminating the Monday early closing for elementary students, we can add nearly two weeks of instruction annually, without adjusting the school calendar.
To be done correctly, there will be substantial costs to ensure that teachers will continue to receive adequate planning time and that schools will have the time and resources to provide local staff development. We see Mrs. McDowall’s resolution as being key to implementing a systemwide emphasis on elementary initiatives and providing the foundation necessary to support middle and high school programs. We hope that a vision can be created that will receive the full financial support of the community, and we look forward to helping it become a reality.
Please vote in support of Mrs. McDowall’s resolution for the elementary children of Fairfax County.
Teachers in Green Bay, Wisconsin will have a 40-hour work-week next year.
Mark Leland of Fox 11 WLUK-TV reports that the school district is adding a half hour to the teacher workday, but not increasing the number of minutes the students are in school.
“The whole purpose behind this is to help close the achievement gap to improve student outcomes by having teachers working and learning together collaboratively,” said Assistant Superintendent Margaret Christensen.
Christensen says the elimination of most collective bargaining rules allowed the district to move forward on adding teacher prep time. She says it is something the district and teachers have been working on for years. Last year, time was added by starting school late on a few days. This time student schedules won’t change.
Toni Lardinois, president of the Green Bay Education Association, said that after an initial meeting on teacher scheduling, the teachers were left out of the plan. She said teachers had a problem with the process.
Lardinois says the teacher’s union was assured when collective bargaining on such items disappeared that both sides would still be able to work together.
“It’s like the district just decided you know what we’ve got control and we’ll take full advantage of that,” said Lardinois.
The report states that the school board had scheduled a special closed door meeting for Friday morning (June 24) to “discuss among other things concerns raised regarding changes in working conditions.”
That sort of closed door meeting for a discussion of policy would not be allowed in Virginia, which has strict requirements for open meetings.
Alana Listoe of the Independent Record (Helena, Montana) reported that members of the Helena Education Association voted 51 to 49 percent to try a slightly longer elementary school day for two years in exchange for gaining four days of professional development.