Monthly Archives: February 2014

Education’s Netflix Moment

Education find itself at a critical juncture. Fettered to old school calendars, schedules, methodologies, social significance, state and national testing mandates, it is measured as a community and found wanting. Every other organism changes to fit into the current environ but education. Everyone outside the system feels qualified to pass judgement. The public calls for change. Demands it. Yet still wants snow days. A parent’s recent comment was just add the days on the end of the school year! What’s the big deal? Got to have a summer vacation, fall break, holidays off, spring break. Need to get your kid his lunch? Just make an announcement disrupting class, it’s only school? Threat of snow? Yes, out of school but they must go to work, mall, the basketball game. What can local education administrations do? What do they have power over to make the type of impact demanded by the public?
Ever wonder how many actual school days a teacher effectively gets to teach? I did, several times. The average is 150 to the end of school: That is not an effective number in and of itself because as many a senior in high school will ask you immediately after taking whatever final exam is required, why am I here? Their gpa is reported in the spring, the ACTs were taken the year before, the state tests were in March or April, so why delay the agony, strain the very limits of teacher classroom management skills and disturb the school environment with a quarter of the school’s population really upset at being required to sit in classes that make no “real time” sense just to “wait it out” until the end of the official school calendar year? Yet from April through the end of May or beginning of June we force students to sit in classes where the videos play, nap time is normal, and not much of anything is accomplished.
If you were to ask every student in school if they got up at 4 this morning to feed the chickens, and when they got home do they have farm chores, do they plant during spring break? Do they harvest during fall break? My guess is perhaps not, yet we have an entire school working around their calendar. State tests occur in March and April primarily. That is for the state’s convenience, not the schools. In a heated debated at a school board meeting recently in a community suburb of Nashville, TN., the local small business leaders had formed a coalition against proposed changes made to the school’s calendar because they relied on the part time workers and the change would negatively affect their business. The entire length, breath, and depth of the school calendar is in the local school authority’s power to change. Here is a place that right now much good can be done to eliminate the worry about providing students and teachers with enough preparatory time to become successful at taking these state tests and to bring the school into a more realistic schedule reflecting today’s values.
First a test. This test determines whether your district needs go any further. The first and most important question to ask is, is the primary goal of school a social developmental staging area with educational benefits secondary, or is education, specifically academics, the primary goal? If it is a social development staging area go no further, keep the pep rallies, sports focus, existing school calendars and beg out of national testing and evaluations.
If it is academics then the next question is, does this ( social v. academics) apply across the board, K-12? To me I don’t think so but that’s a subject for another time. With academics as the school’s focus (duh) then the business of identifying a start & end date of school is next for the traditional calendar and if there must be specific dates it should revolve around the final testing dates for the school year as dictated by the state. The school calendar as a whole ought to take a holistic view of academics and begin building the senior class for the next year for example, in late April or early May after the annual tests with the current year seniors out of the building, the juniors “move-up” and the next school year begins! (I’ve actually seen this practiced at one high school) The summer ” break” should not be dictated by parental vacation needs as much as school building maintenance and education cycle schedules. With this approach, with school running year-round, a better prepared student body can take the ACT test in March of every year that impacts not only college entry but future employment possibilities. This schedule does not include snow days. This schedule has plenty of preparatory time for all students to meet the requirements of the scheduled testings despite weather issues.
If the school system is inflexible in changing the actual calendar, they can still change the promotion of students schedule to allow them to begin classes in late Spring in their new grades thus eliminating the dreaded ” Senioritis” a disease that spreads throughout the school building infecting students and faculty alike. Elimination of “snow days” by requiring every teacher to have on-line coursework established that students will do during the course of the academic year because it is a CCSS converted into a “flipped” classroom reserved for those days lost to weather. If there are no lost weather days the “flipped” classes are still used because they are an integral part of their curriculum!
Across the nation there are a number of school districts rebelling against increased standards and the rebellion is based on simple truths: They cannot accomplish the current curriculum given the schools already crowded calendar how can they “do more with less” time available?
There is not a business that can successfully operate and produce if they had to operate under the conditions that teachers currently must utilize. If you want a quality student product you must look at the amount of time put into the production, the education time, allotted for the student. Fall, winter, spring and summer breaks are archaic. Constant classroom interruption for class rings, pictures, assemblies for sports, recovery time from school breaks, weather issues, are educational mine fields. A year round schedule that would accommodate educational needs, professional development for teachers, first designed to maximize student learning and not student social advancement, is the first step in reaching the goals the nation so desperately needs.