October 6, 2013
Dear Ms. Pinckney,
I write as a concerned professional AND parent. I have worked with hundreds of children for over 25 years, specializing in language-based learning, attention, processing, and the speech-language-reading connection. I have had extensive training on neuro-based learning, early childhood development, and how curriculum and teaching methods are truly at the root of our educational challenges.
It would appear the school calendar is irrelevant – and that is not my opinion, but what 20-30 years of study and analysis indicates. This is NOT a novel idea, there are numerous schools who have tried a ‘modified’ calendar with minimal to no benefits AND significant costs and frustrations thrust onto families. Based on last night’s forum in Essex, the superintendents know this as well.
I understand this idea started nearly six years ago when you visited Vail, Colorado; and, although you report the assistant superintendent at that time, Joseph Sassone, credited student improvements on their curriculum (2), you felt their “modified” calendar had more influence??? In my research on Vail’s school district, reports are very clear – they attribute their turnaround to Reteach and Enrich program (1). This is a direct instruction approach with very successful and measurable gains. Unlike our current movement toward “constructivism” which means letting the students ‘construct’ some or all of the essential information for themselves; for example, whole language vs. phonics, and currently our use of Everyday Math and Connected Math. The research is very clear – “… overwhelming evidence that, for everyone but experts, partial guidance during instruction is significantly less effective than full guidance.”
“Evidence from well-designed, properly controlled experimental studies from the 1980s to today also supports direct instruction guidance.”
By the way, Vail School District runs on a Full-Year-School calendar – which means they have June and July off, but attend school for the ENTIRE MONTH OF AUGUST.
2. WHY THE CALENDAR?
Based on my research, traditional school calendars have been “modified” since the 70’s across the US. It seems to have started due to over-crowding in larger metropolitan areas (LA, Chicago, DC). The fact that this is NOT a novel idea, actually provides a lot of information we can review: achievement outcome measures, pros and cons to families, local businesses, tourism, intersession performance, as well as cost analysis and possible benefits. I’m sure you have reviewed all of this information, as I did, and yet I’m surprised this proposal is truly being considered. The benefits just are NOT there. If there were specific benefits, I am sure you and any other school would be stipulating each one.
This report is quite extensive (I did read all 50 pages because I feel it truly is that important), but if you jump to page 38 – 40 there is NO measurable benefit. http://sitemaker.umich.edu/carss_education/files/extended_day_cooper.pdf
As a result, I go back to my original question – why the calendar? If you really want to have a conversation about ‘quality education’ – let’s talk about what happens between 8 am – 3 pm (give or take) for 175 days each year. That’s 35 out of 52 weeks each year. Currently we have a 10-week summer, which leaves the students and teachers 7 weeks vacation during the school year. LET’S TALK ABOUT CURRICULUM AND TEACHING METHODS.
I do agree ½ days are not very productive (I did work at CVU for 6 years), and partial weeks are often looked upon as ineffective by students and faculty, lacking in consistency and purpose. Adjusting these should not radically impact the summer?
3. Do you really believe it could be cost-neutral?
I heard you say and read on numerous occasions we could “re-allocate money from the summer fund.” Does that mean we would no longer have any summer programs? What about the students on an IEP (learning disabilities) who have had to provide evidence that a significant regression would occur to qualify for a summer program? By the way, how are those ‘programs’ doing? Have you measured summer school progress? This would be similar to “intersession.”
You also indicate we could “possibly” save money on substitutes as teachers’ professional development would be taken during “intersessions.” I think it would be important to see a line item on how much each school / district actually pays out on substitutes. I agree most classes are lost when a sub is called, but that’s again another conversation.
I agree with many before me, any good ‘business’ idea needs to be itemized. (I do believe you are in the ‘business’ of educating our children and there are financial limits and responsibilities.) There needs to be some kind of cost analysis. I cannot recall anything a school district has done in recent years that was cost-neutral?
This is just one site that spells out their costs: fees paid directly from families, transportation, food, and staffing. http://www.acps.k12.va.us/mtvernon/faq.php
4. To date I have not found any specific plan for the Intersessions – a lot of “possibles” or “maybe” or “opportunities” for this or that. I listened very carefully to your radio interview on 9/24, in which you stated, “some kids may only need a few hours, once or twice a week during the intersessions.” Really, you can “fix” or “close the gap” in a few hours in the fall and then perhaps in the spring? If this is true, why not do that before or after school??? With all do respect, I have been working in this field for well over 25 years, “closing the gap” doesn’t work that way; it’s not a ‘quick fix.’
You did mention a school in Essex who are actually trying a different weekly schedule. Teachers have a four-day week with longer days to meet with students before or after school. Perhaps we should measure how much progress those students can make over the year before we turn 1000’s of lives upside down by changing a whole annual calendar.
5. You also stated, intersessions would be ‘voluntary’ – which means teachers may or may not step up – and even if they do, they would need to be paid. Knowing this, you clarified by stating we could use, “highly trained paras.” Who would train them? Who would supervise them? How many would we need? When would the roster be determined, so you could make sure you have enough ‘highly trained paras’ available? Again, I ask, how much will that cost? Also, when would the training take place? (Typically, most summer programs are overseen/run by a few licensed teachers and several paras. More often than not, they are the paras who need the extra income during summer. They are NOT the students’ regular teacher – the one who truly knows and understands their challenges, but yet another type of “sub.”)
6. Intersessions have also been described as an “opportunity for enrichment, or more in-depth, focused projects, job-shadowing or internships” … Who will supervise these? How will they be measured? Will they be credit bearing? Pass/Fail?
Seriously, I am concerned with who will determine which students will be “eligible” and for which type of intersession. Also how will a “program” or “method” be selected? Since we are to measure efficacy and progress – how will that be demonstrated? There are just too many variables that seem to go unanswered in your posts or interviews.
My concerns center on vague language, too much jargon, a lot of “hope” and “imagination” … at this point children, parents and taxpayers need facts. Research lacks empirical evidence to support this “change,” and in fact, it shows the opposite.
So let’s talk about the REAL ISSUES – how is the time being spent each day? What curriculum is working and what is NOT? Current research is fairly clear – the human brain learns best through full instructional guidance. It is more effective and efficient than partial or minimal guidance for novices (comprising virtually all students).
-Speech Language Pathologist specializing in neuro-based learning methods
October 5, 2013
Here are my concerns with the new proposed CC Regional Calendar 2.0, given from the perspective of someone who works with struggling learners and their families, the needs of whom this proposed calendar seeks to address. I am a reading teacher in Colchester, VT.
There are many reasons why I object to this proposed calendar, but I’d like to share with you the top four. I present these to you with the limited amount of information I have gathered either on-line or in other forms of media. I understand that you may be able to refute these arguments using information I have not yet been privy too.
I had read in one newspaper article that someone mentioned funding as being a stumbling block, and the response to that (as I remember it,) was “…but we have to do something different given the unique needs of learners today, and starting with the calendar makes sense. We have to start somewhere…we can worry about logistics as they unfold.” My analogy to that is this: let’s start building a house we know is needed, then once it’s built, we can worry about finding perkable soil and putting in the foundation. You might be able to live in this house for a short while, but in the long run, you will have a house in ruins with no septic. This doesn’t make any sense. And so, lack of funding is the first (although not the most important) reason I have concerns with the new calendar. Who is going to pay for these intervention times? You will have to have staffing. One rebuttal I have heard to that is “…well, teachers won’t work more days, but they might work different days. Specialists might work during these times, while classroom teachers will do more of the “regular” days.” When I was writing my capstone for my Master’s degree, (entitled “Components of an Effective Title 1 Literacy Program”) one of the top four necessary pieces was consistency between the reading specialist and classroom teacher. This won’t happen if we are working on different days. It also does not allow us to “double dip” students during the school day when they are primed to learn. Taking intervention programs out of the school day in place of daily interventions will not be effective. If you read Richard Allington’s book “What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs” he is very clear on this. Funding continues to be a concern not just for the specialized teachers needed to make this time successful for students, but for the other pieces as well, including but not limited to transportation costs, support staff costs (many of these students have health issues…will we need a nurse there? Many of these students have emotional and behavioral challenges; will there be a behavior specialist and social worker there?) food costs, and the costs of keeping the school running more days during the year. These MUST be considered (as perk tests are,) BEFORE we build a calendar (or a house.)
My second (and for me, even more important) reason I have concerns about this calendar is the nature of the students and their families this proposal might address. Quite frankly, these are students we have trouble getting to school even during the “regular” school year. These are the students with many tardies and absences. Do the proposers of this calendar really think families will jump at the chance to try and navigate school even more than they already have to? These are the students who already hate school. Now we are going to make them come to school during breaks? “These aren’t breaks…they are times for students to get caught up.” Really? Do we think parents will perceive this as such? What if there are 3 children in a family and only one has to come to this intervention time. Think about being a parent in this family. Families WILL view this as vacation time, and we are foolish to think otherwise. (This, of course, brings up the issue of childcare, but since this is not an area of concern for me personally, I won’t address it in this letter, although it does need to be addressed.) And while this calendar is focused on providing extra learning time for struggling, (and hopefully enrichment for gifted) learners, what of the children who want to work during their summer? The high school student who NEEDS to work during summer? Shortening their summer may put them at a disadvantage, not increase their chances for success.
My last and most important thought on this matter has to do with the way the struggling learner actually learns. I have the proposed calendar in front of me now, and what I see is a very choppy school year in the hopes of shortening up the time during the summer break when the “summer slide” happens. Educators can be clear about this-whether a break is 2 weeks long, 6 weeks long, or 10 weeks long, learning is interrupted and regression follows. In other words, ANY and ALL breaks cause a “slide back” for struggling learners, and shortening summer will not prevent this. However, with having so much broken up learning time during the school year, more regression will occur than what currently happens now. After every break, I spend at least a week and a half reviewing material learned before the break. In this proposed calendar, I will spend more of my time reviewing than advancing student’s knowledge. “Oh no, students who struggle won’t miss that time…they’ll have educational opportunities.” I think I’ve addressed my concerns with that actually happening as it should. I have very real concerns that we will be harming struggling learners much more than we are helping them with this proposed calendar. The damage in the summer is done; lessening it by a few weeks will not lessen the damage. However, I fear increased breaks will increase the damage. We tried a similar tactic with extra educational opportunities as this calendar purports with offering summer school free of charge to eligible students. I’m sure you remember that the gain was very short term, and the program was terminated because it was not successful enough to warrant the funding. We could not get all of the students who needed it to come, the skills being taught were not a progression of the skills learned during the school year, and there were other reasons for its demise as well. The proposed calendar is this experiment on a larger scale. This extra schooling didn’t work then, why do we think it will work now?
No criticism of an idea should happen without a solution. I take my ideas from research, again based on Richard Allington’s aforementioned book. I highly encourage all powers that be that are making the final decision on this calendar to read this book for ideas that have been proven to work. I would be more likely to see the merit of this proposal if someone could show me some statistics of districts where this has worked. I am assuming that such a drastic change has already been studied by the parties making the proposal, and I hope to see these numbers at the forum. Regardless, here are my ideas on helping these students more than just switching up the calendar and decreasing uninterrupted, viable learning time.
The proposed regional calendar 2.0 will undoubtedly cost money. There is no question about that. What is up for debate is its effectiveness. So I propose we use that money to do what research and what educators in the field tell you is effective. 1.) Hire another social worker for each school. These people are the ones who help families navigate school and parenthood. They are the ones picking up students who miss the bus (again) because the parent was unable to get them on the bus (for myriad reasons.) They are overworked and understaffed, yet they accomplish what teachers cannot. They help provide structure and security for students and those families who need the most help. They advocate for these struggling learners. They help teach teachers what we need to know to help these students. Unfortunately, one per school is no longer enough. 2.) Hire teachers to do monthly parent workshops on working with their students at home. Provide free child care, transportation, and dinner for these families. Many families of struggling learners struggled themselves and have poor study skills. Hire professionals to teach them how to read with their kids, set up spaces for homework, and set limits. 3.) Hire guidance counselors to provide monthly evening parenting workshops, again providing child care, transportation, and dinner. Help them teach families how to set limits, provide structure, and organize their lives in the limited space and time they may have to deal with on a daily basis. Let us teach these families the importance of school, instead of disrupting their lives, and providing them with services which penalize children and have the potential to make struggling learners hate school even more than they already do. 4.) Add more days to the school year so we have LESS times of uninterrupted learning. Make Thanksgiving break not start until 11:00 am the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Get rid of the February and April break and make one 2 week break in March. This would give us more teaching time, and require less review time.
So, in summary, I am opposed to the proposed calendar because of: 1.) The lack of thought given to the implementation,(including, but not limited to lack of funding for extra staff, transportation, and food, childcare, and convincing families where only one child qualifies that this is a good idea.) 2.) The discontinuity it creates between intervention programs and the regular classroom. 3.) The improbability of students coming in to school during these intervention times, and most importantly, 4.) The multiple research that tells us interrupted learning time is disastrous for struggling learners. I propose we use that money to hire extra social workers, and provide opportunities for parents to learn about study and parenting skills. Finally, change the calendar around to provide for more long spans of uninterrupted learning. We need to make learning more accessible, not more challenging.
August 26th, 2013
An Open Letter to the Public and School Communities of Vermont:
I consider myself an agent of change but I am writing to share my thoughts that Calendar 2.0 is not the change Vermont is looking for. I am aware of and respect how much time has been put into this plan by the various committees and thank you for your dedication to Vermont’s learning community. As a ten year veteran teacher and an involved high school educator in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union, and as a mom of a play-schooler and kindergartener in the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, this matter deeply concerns me. I am a member of the Vermont Save Our Summer Coalition, and I am sure you are familiar with their ten point argument (http://www.vtsaveoursummer.org/?page_id=241). I support every single one of those points.
To expand upon points #1, 2 & 6 personally: this summer, I watched and helped my five year old learn how to ride a bicycle with training wheels and dare to take them off, paddle a canoe, fish, climb trees and orienteer and swim underwater. We visited family and friends whom it is too difficult to see during the harsh unpredictability of the winter months. The only time my children were “bored” was when I was tied up with catching up on long-overdue household chores, though that in itself provided lessons of respect for property, ownership, and a work ethic. As an educator, I participated in The Vermont Writer’s Collaborative, a wonderful week-long retreat where I developed new units to improve student writing and ensure competency of Common Core Standards. As noted in SOS point #6, this calendar would really wind up as a “treadmill for teachers.” I could not take a week long course like the Vermont Writers Collaborative within the confines of this schedule. My family couldn’t have achieved all of the things we did if summer were only four weeks long. Some may argue that Calendar 2.0 only loses two weeks, but when considering all parties and responsibilities involved, it winds up being more than that. As a teacher and leader in my district, I spend an additional three weeks after and before the contracted 187 days. The need for that pre and post school preparation for all stakeholders isn’t ever going to change. Even if you tried to take this professional development time and put it in the school year, that will provide school employees with less time to rejuvenate and spend time with our own children throughout the year. If our families become stressed by this, it only creates more difficulty on the part of our childrens’ teachers and their school. As a community member, I recognize that Vermont’s economic reliance on the tourism industry is undermined with this calendar. For many families the proposed break times are during peak tourism times- times when many parents are working, and working hard. Child care becomes an issue, and true family time and exploring non-academic interests is limited.
While I do not support this calendar in any way, I recognize that if implemented, it must be implemented across the state. I have actually always supported a state-wide calendar, but this is not the right one. It is common for teachers and families to be in different school districts. I am already too fully aware of the difficulties of my having off the first week in March and my kids having the last of February, or Veteran’s Day versus Martin Luther King Day. If the Chittenden and Franklin Districts make these changes, this calendar will only multiply the number of times these child care concerns will arise. In the rural regions, we tend to rely on the kindness of family and friends and flexibility of work schedules rather than on large day care centers that would adjust to the school schedule, as in Chittenden County. SOS has noted this in points 5 and 7; points that Calendar 2.0 doesn’t seem to take into consideration.
Significant and needed change can happen within the current calendar structures. In the OCSU District, where we face the same VT Statute Title 16 requirements and must share a calendar with the technical center district, a calendar has been created that involves many of the same goals as the Champlain Valley- preparing kids and families for 21st Century college and career ready standards, while providing individual districts partial autonomy in structuring the school day (OCSU Calendar 2013-14). Teachers are highly involved in the Professional Learning Community process, following the goals of DuFour and Marzano as mentioned in Superintendent Nichols’ July 1st blogspot entry “Research Post #1” (schoolcalendar2.blogspot.com). Thanks to the leadership of Superintendent Urgenson, Curriculum Coordinator Davis, and Principal Messier, we are able to meet weekly and once monthly, frequently and purposely to determine our non-negotiable learning standards based on 21st Century skills and the Common Core to create proficiency based portfolio graduation requirement, and review student data. If this were to be done as Calendar 2.0 prescribes, it would be much more difficult to be collectively adaptive to student needs in real time. As Superintendent Nichols noted in his August third blogpost, “waiting until the end of the year to provide a student with necessary additional instruction and support is not very effective” (http://superintendentsmusings.blogspot.com). Waiting until the end of an approximate seven week period is no different. The OCSU district has been hard at working implementing Response to Intervention systems that allow educators to be adaptive in real time, without drastically changing the calendar. During the last school year I also attended the New England Secondary School Consortium’s conference on the League of Innovative Schools. We observed numerous approaches to re-creating our public education system. Schools were working much more purposefully on personalized education plans, re-structuring the actual school day, integrating performance based standards, removing seat-time requirements, and creating dual-enrollment systems with the state college system. Burlington High School shared their great new schedule of ending classes by Memorial Day (which makes more sense for AP courses) and providing all kids with experiential and more personalized learning opportunities in a special two week end of year “Unit.” At no point at this conference did I see a change as drastic as this calendar.
As an educator, I observe that this calendar is entirely “episodic” and does not provide for “ongoing and sustained” learning periods as stated in “Research Post #1”(schoolcalendar2.blogspot.com), and regression can still occur. The fall has always been the longest stretch of the school year. While the October break would provide much needed rejuvenation, it would be full of remediation for students and planning for teachers, this time is already given for two days in the OCSU calendar. The November break, after a short five weeks of instruction, is common in many districts, and is not a change. Then after another brief four week stretch, the December break is lengthened by a week; a week when everyone is exhausted and anxious for the holiday break; no one has the energy for remediation. I predict some parents will be pulling their kids out of any remediation planned, and teachers will once again be expected to fulfill extra duties, a problem that will be faced with all of these breaks. In the OCSU district attendance is already a major issue; Calendar 2.0 won’t fix that, and may even add to it. In addition, the way the semesters are structured does not change. It has never made sense to return from winter break and have a week and a half to finish the semester and complete final assessments. Now that is going to happen after kids had two weeks off instead of one? That will be a new place of regression! While the February break doesn’t seem too contentious, the April break throws a serious wrench in the works. AP students will not get a break, but then are expected to come back, take their exams the first week of May, and then have an extra six weeks of classes; they will have lost more time with this schedule. Schools are being encouraged to include more and more kids into AP programs. This schedule will deter the less motivated student from stepping up to new challenges. And as every teacher and learner knows, after a long Vermont winter, the warmth of spring makes it very hard to concentrate, and this calendar asks learning to be maintained for another three weeks.
The problem of regression is frequently considered to be a socio-economic problem, as Superintendent Nichols notes in “Research Post #2: Summer Vacation” (schoolcalendar2.blogspot.com). The blog’s references to the research on this issue are pertinent. However, Lake Region Union High School has defied this dynamic because of the methods employed that I discussed previously. Please reference the following article on Lake Region’s recent performance data for under-privileged learners, ranking the school the third best in the state (US News & World Report’s Findings). This sort of success is also referenced by Superintendent Nichols on his April 11th blog entry on Principal O’Brien’s work at Montgomery Elementary (superintendentsmusings.blogspot.com). Both of these schools have defied the socio-economic variable, and have done so through the traditional calendar.
Chittenden County has set dates for public forums on this matter. As of yet, I do not see a plan to do the same in the FNESU district. At the very least, I would like to see such forums occur in our community.
With respect and sincerity,
Teacher, Lake Region Union High School