Why I Go to School Board Meetings

Do you watch school board meetings? Do you read the e-packet that goes to the school board members and which is available on the D65
website before each meeting?

Maybe you read about the meetings in the newspaper after they've happened. I used to be like you - I read about decisions made by the school administration and school board after they happened, and felt frustrated by the changes that were affecting my child's education.

If you will be the parent of a middle school child in District 65 next year, your child's education was compromised last night and you probably missed it. As part of the new math textbook pilot (yes, they are planning to test two different middle school math curricula in different schools), the board approved a plan to increase instructional time for math from one period to two. So, what's wrong with that? Well, they are not planning to increase the number of hours in the school day, so the time devoted to math is going to have to come from somewhere else. And that somewhere is science, social studies and foreign language.

To find the time the administration is proposing an elaborate shell
game called "block scheduling." Block scheduling involves teaching in
larger blocks of time, essentially in two periods instead of one for
most subjects. Some subjects, like math and language arts will meet
every day, others like PE and fine arts will alternate, as will
science and social studies. According to the administration, by
moving to block scheduling, less time will be lost moving from class
to class, student behavior will improve because students won't be in
the halls as much, teachers won't spend so much time starting and
stopping, and students will have more time to be engaged in longer
activities in classes. A real win for both students and teachers.

But the administration is considering a schedule which moves from nine
40-42 minute periods per school to ten 37-38 minute periods. That
means that 7th and 8th graders who used to get one 40-42 minute math
period will now get math "block" of 75 minutes every day. And a
social studies block today and a science block tomorrow.

Take a few minutes and crunch the numbers and you begin to see the
problem. 176 school days per year. One class each day for 41 minute
= 7216 minutes. One 75 minute class every other day (88 days) = 6600
minutes. 7216-6600=616 or approximately 10 hours less time. Ten
hours of instruction time equivalent to 15 class periods (of one 41
minute class per day).

Don't get me wrong - I am not opposed to block scheduling in
principle. Block scheduling will allow the teachers more opportunities
for differentiation and project-based inquiries, which will be good
for the kids. But block scheduling will not make up the instructional
time lost. Foreign languages will not be scheduled in blocks, so any
benefits won't accrue to them. Do you really want your child to lose
more than two weeks of instruction in foreign language next year?

Well, I have bad news for you. It's going to happen. The board voted
last night to approve the administration proposal to pilot two middle
school math curricula which require a minimum of 60 minutes for math,
which necessitates a change in schedule for all the other disciplines.
Of course, maybe it doesn't matter. After all, science, social
studies and foreign languages are not part of No Child Left Behind.

Yes, I read the e-packet in advance. Yes, I went and spoke before the
board and made my concerns known. And yes, I still feel frustrated
and helpless about the changes being made to my children's education.
But at least I tried.

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Comments

Middle schoolers need gym every day

One aspect of the proposed middle school block scheduling that's easy to overlook: the children will no longer have gym every day.

That's a real loss for a group of 11-to-14-year-olds.

It's much easier to sit through a 60 to 75 minute math class if you've taken a break and had some physical activity.

Our middle school is doing a great job this year of getting each child into the habit of personal fitness, a habit that can potentially last a lifetime. Exercise for brief periods every day -- not every other day -- is key to this.

They're big kids, and we can expect a lot of them at school. But they're still kids, and they need their playtime.

NCLB

I teach in a school that uses block scheduling and it does have great benefit. The flexibility, ability to modify schedules and class time to fit project based instruction as well as provide enrichment or extra help is fantastic.

However we are also changing because of NCLB demands. We also are loosing instructional time in SS, PE and Fine Arts. NCLB and standardized testing pressures means that emphasis is being placed on a narrow field of skills. Assessment dominates our year. Teachers are both formally and informally pressed to teach only those skills that are tested.

NCLB and the changes it's had are a product of politicians elected to office. Until the public really starts caring, testing will remain a focus of our public schools. Only those students in private schools will get the well-rounded education that will benefit them long term.

Only teaching what's tested

This December 2007 report, Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era, found that “approximately 62 percent of school districts increased the amount of time spent in elementary schools on English language arts, and or math, while 44 percent of districts cut time on science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch, or recess.” While the study primarily focuses on elementary school students, it also demonstrated that middle schools across the country had also spent more time focusing on those subjects (LA and math) that were tested under NCLB and had reduced time on other subjects.

But while this is a national trend, that doesn't make it right, and it doesn't justify the changes being planned by D65.

It also raises the question: How has D65 changed the elementary school curriculum to accommodate NCLB?