Glendale schools opened on Aug. 12, the earliest start date in history, doing away with the traditional September-through-June school calendar that hasn't been all that traditional for a while now. The back-to-school ads that once appeared in newspapers and on television before Labor Day now surface after the Fourth of July.
The rationale behind this "August creep" is for students to finish the fall semester before winter break, and for students taking Advanced Placement tests in May to receive more instructional days earlier in order to maximize their success.
In others words, the school calendar is skewed toward secondary students who have semester finals, and in particular, the minority of students who take AP tests. For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, there is no reason.
The argument of having students take their fall semester finals before winter break so that they don't forget the material while on vacation isn't sound. Students used to come back after vacation for a couple of weeks of school and then take their finals.
Now, they come back after one week off for Thanksgiving for two weeks before finals — not much different than before.
The notion of providing students more time to prepare for AP tests so that they produce higher results is also not valid.
Students this year actually have one less school day before the May AP exams than last year. While the school year began one week earlier, there are additional days when school is not in session before AP testing: two extra days during Thanksgiving and three extra days during winter break.
Carly Lindauer of the college board said that she is unaware of any "evidence to show that simply starting school earlier, and having two to three more weeks of instruction, automatically leads to higher AP exam scores."
And what about the energy costs to run air conditioning during August, which has an average of about 11 days that reach 90 degrees or more, based on Weatherbase statistics? Notice how hot and muggy it has been this week.
The district frequently sends out emails to staff about turning off lights, copiers and computers. Yet the amount of money it costs to run the air conditioning all day at all of its schools must exceed the savings of turning off coffee makers. I was unable to get a district official to comment on this.
Where I work, there are older buildings that use a chiller that has to be turned on as early as 4 a.m.; otherwise, classrooms will not be properly cooled that day. If students can't focus on a teacher in a stuffy room, who cares how many school days there are in August?
Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Year, said that evidence suggests that "states with the highest cumulative scores on college entrance exams, Advanced Placement testing and the National Assessment of Educational Progress share some of the latest school start dates in the nation."
The quality of the instruction and parent involvement have more to do with kids doing better in school than spending more time in school in August does.
If school districts care about what's best for kids, then perhaps an examination of the start of the school day, rather than the start of the school year, is where their focus should be because more studies show the academic benefits of starting school after 9 a.m., rather than starting in early August.
“Man of Steel”, the reboot of the Superman film franchise, had the biggest opening of a film in June, earning over $125 million.
That’s a real shame that a film that depicts catastrophic destruction of huge swaths of city blocks is entertaining to the masses.
I don't care how many people go see this movie or how much money it makes, the critics are right on this one. To borrow from Shakespeare, the film is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. After 30 minutes, I was bored.
The original 1978 “Superman” had the right tone balancing scenes of Superman flying with lighthearted moments. Hey, comic books were originally written for children and that tone was carried over to the TV Batman TV series of the 1960s and the Superman films. Somewhere along the way, though, the superheroes became complicated, angst-filled figures, with comic books giving way to graphic novels.
Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot series, The Dark Knight, clearly was geared toward a more adult audience. The problem with going in that direction is that movie studios need a PG-13 rating in order for a film to have a chance at earning blockbuster box office dollars. So what’s been happening with too many recent movies is that the filmmakers push the action/violence envelope right up to the lip of an R rating. That way parents bring their children and boost earnings.
My 9-year-old son loves the Ironman character, but even I was tempted to cover his eyes during a scene that depicted an airplane disintegrating in midair with passengers freefalling from it (do you recall those horrible images from the Twin Towers of people jumping to their deaths?).
It's wrong for parents of young children to take them to movies like “Man of Steel” which, while rated PG-13, is too intense with its realistic depiction of collapsing city buildings and screaming people. Why do so many films nowadays use the real Sept. 11th attacks as a template for film entertainment?
Even before the film started, my family was bombarded with back to back to back trailers of movies that contained scenes of a city’s apocalypse: “World War Z,” “ Elysium,” and “Pacific Rim.” I increasingly feel that when I go to the movies I’m watching an exhibit at some kind of computer tradeshow showcasing the latest special effects gadgetry. Where are the stories? Where are the characters? Where are the themes?
Once upon a time, Americans escaped to the movies to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers elegantly dressed and danced through the Great Depression. Today, civilization collapsing and people dying have become escapist entertainment. I certainly hope President Obama will not screen “White House Down” anytime soon.
When I was in elementary school we used to practice two emergency drills: one for fire which was an evacuation, and another for a nuclear bomb, commonly known as a duck and cover. During the Cold War, the Red Scare, a Soviet Union attack, was on everyone’s mind.
Then the 1971 Sylmar earthquake happened and all the schools began practicing earthquake drills.
After the shootings at Columbine in 1999, soon lockdown drills were added to the emergency drill repertoire.
I have experienced two real lockdowns. Thank God, neither one turned out badly. But I can tell you that remaining quiet and motionless on the floor, uncomfortably cramped under a table for two hours is terrifying, trying to peek through vertical blinds for any shadow approaching.
And now the history books will add Sandy Hook in 2012. I’m not sure if this stomach-wrenching tragedy will generate any changes in emergency procedures. However, here’s hoping smart people will reexamine the lockdown procedure.
I’ve never understood the logic behind the lockdown drill. Most school shootings are perpetrated by students who attend those campuses, meaning, they are fully aware of the lockdown drill: teachers lock the doors, turn off the lights, and everyone hides in a corner. No one is fooled that that classroom is actually empty. Of course, a locked door makes it a little harder versus an unlocked one. However, any killer can easily shoot out a door and find a classroom of sitting duck victims.
From what little is known about last Friday’s horror, the murderer calmly walked into rooms and executed kids who were motionless.
I understand the logic of not having kids run wild. A maniac is likely to shoot a moving target. However, at least there is a chance of escape. Crouching under a table only works on the completely random chance that the shooter doesn’t choose that classroom.
The only good that can come out of Sandy Hook is for security measures at schools be reevaluated, and for politicians to rethink laws on assault weapons.
While we all know these tragic events are thankfully quite rare, they unsettle all of us: parents, teachers, children.
It wasn’t that long ago when society feared a foreign intruder harming our nation. Now, that intruder is among us.
How many of you parents receive regular robo-calls from your child’s school, those automated phone messages sent home? I receive three of them a week: one from my son’s elementary school principal, one from my other son’s middle school principal, and one from my principal.
What began as an efficient way to communicate with parents about school events has turned into a regular running show that intrudes into one’s personal life, the calls occuring on the same day at the same time. Almost all of the messages are of the non-emergency kind (thankfully) and are mainly duplicative of what’s on the school’s website or physically sent home to parents via the students. It is very easy to tune out the recorded messages which is not what the people sending the messages want to hear.
However, our lives are overflowing with messages these days, visual and aural. Look at how many spam messages you get on your computer, junk mail you get stuffed in your mailbox, TV monitors in your face at restaurants, market checkout stands, and gas station pumps. Everybody wants to get our attention.
The problem is, when you do the same thing over and over, soon the message will not get through. When you have one person jumping up and down waving one’s arms, it is attention getting. But when you have five people doing it, it all becomes a blur, a kind of white noise.
Just because you can send a phone message home to all students doesn’t mean it’s effective communication.
I wish that those who have the technology used it more prudently and wisely for when a truly important message needs to get to parents, many may have already hung up.
Voters should consider seriously the consequences of voting “no” to Proposition 30 or 38, ballot measures which would raise taxes in order to raise revenue for schools. People get tax fatigue easily, especially when the economy is not doing well. So it’s natural for voters to oppose anything that impacts their wallets. However, as a 24-year veteran educator, I can vouch for the serious economic strait our schools are in. Without more funding, schools will close for business.
In America, we teach kids for 180 days or 49 percent of the calendar year.
As we routinely watch other countries’ schoolchildren test above America’s, it is significant to note that those young people attend school for 200, even 220 days of the year. That equates to another month or two of instruction.
Despite that discrepancy, school districts across the United States are whittling away at the previously sacrosanct 180-day schedule due to diminished state coffers. Why? Because the quickest way to significantly cut a school district’s budget is to decrease the number of work days since 85 percent of a district’s expenditures go towards paying for personnel.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the country behind New York City, has already cut out one week and is proposing to eliminate three more if neither Prop 30 or Prop 38 passes. The 180-day calendar may decrease to a 160-day one. That’s one month less of schooling.
It may make economic sense to do so, but it makes no sense in terms of improving student learning.
As a wage earner, I’m not looking forward to having my salary and benefits cut.
As a teacher, I cringe at imagining what lessons I would no longer teach.
And, if you are a parent, you may have to look into paying for additional child care.
Such a loss of instructional time would translate, in my teaching, to one great American novel not studied or one less student newspaper issue published. Students would still graduate, but with less knowledge and experience.
Teaching is the be-all and end-all in education. A teacher can’t teach math formulas or lead science labs when school is not in session. When you eliminate face-to-face time between teacher and pupil, you eliminate learning.
Imagine if your doctor had less time to evaluate you in his office. Instead of the obligatory 15 minutes he can only provide 11 minutes of his services. Would a shorter examination impact your health?
No matter how talented the teacher may be, excising days of instruction would mean math formulas never used, science labs never conducted, sporting events not played, essays never written, histories never read.
Closing a school even for one day is a day that can’t be replenished later. One more day for kids to stay at home means additional time for kids to sleep in, play video games, text each other, and another day for parents to scramble for child care or to lose a day from work. In other words, a non-school day translates to a non-productive day for all.
I’ve never been one to think that money is the answer to public education’s ills. When the money was flowing in the 1990’s, I saw wasteful spending on silly programs such as sending a whole grade level on a weekend retreat as a way to have them feel connected to their school. Now, however, I see the pendulum has shifted too much the other way with principals having to take on other duties that used to be the sole proprietary of other workers no longer employed. The core of the education budget is at risk, the money to pay teachers drying up. There is no fat left to cut.
A “no” on Prop 30 and Prop 38 is a “no” to children’s future, a selfish decision to save a few pennies that will harm the future. Children’s education cannot be downsized as if it were a corporation. If their knowledge is hampered over time, such weaknesses will reverberate throughout our society. The people who fix our cars, do our taxes, and take our blood will not be as skilled. We can’t ship our cars over to China to get a tune-up.
If neither of the propositions passes, I shudder to think which folders of lessons stored in my five filing cabinets will gather dust. One important story I teach is Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.” It’s about a stowaway on a spacecraft in the future which requires maintaining an exact weight limit. The quandary for the captain is that he must dispose of the stowaway or he, too, will die. I use the story as a springboard for a discussion on difficult decisions that we all deal with in our daily lives. Imagine students not analyzing the life lessons this story provides. How apropos the story is to the difficult decisions that await school districts.
One of this country’s primary goals is to have an educated populace. Educating kids for half of a year is barely realizing that goal. Shortening the school year even further will extinguish it. Jettisoning instructional days may save money, but at a great cost.
As a member of the teaching profession going on 24 years, a recurring theme threads through all the meetings and staff development sessions I’ve attended. Everybody wants teachers to work harder. The government, the school district, the administrators, the parents. Probably the only group who doesn’t cry out for more from teachers are the students.
Yet few of these folks who expect more feel the need to balance such talk with incentives. Teachers know that in order to get students to do work, kids need to be motivated either via grades or making them see the relevance of their task. The same concept is nowhere to be found in teaching. The reason why teachers should work harder and harder each year is because they love the kids. Sometimes that rationale is overtly stated, often though it hangs in the air. Few other occupations expect their employees to be good-hearted samaritans, offering them little else in terms of money, benefits, or even pats on the back.
And that is just one reason why so little has changed in teaching and public education. Much good work does happen in our classrooms each day. Imagine what could be if teachers were properly valued.
A few blogposts ago I discussed how important it is for teachers to dress professionally on the job rather than dress for a backyard barbeque in order to garner respect for themselves as well as for their profession. I’d like to add a few additional pointers for my teaching brethren on how to be proactive in their professionalism.
Every teacher should have mounted on her wall behind her desk copies of her college diplomas and teaching credential. Think of a doctor’s office. In each examination room, plaques adorn the walls of that physician’s credentials. Teachers should do the same. Not many people are aware that nearly half of all public school teachers have a Master’s Degree.
Additionally, a teacher’s name should be at the top of every document a student receives. It takes long hours developing a lesson, writing up an assignment, then an assessment. Each part should show the student who created all the work. I actually learned this from a film professor at L.A. Valley College years ago.
So many teachers are kind-hearted people who don’t like to brag. Showing one’s students (and their parents) the work a teacher puts into her profession is not bragging—it’s stating the truth.
Getting lost during the national attention on the recent Chicago Teachers strike was that administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to have student achievement be part of their job evaluation, an unprecedented arrangement.
What remains to be seen is which specific results will encompass “student achievement.” Will class grades be used? How about AP test results? What about standardized test scores? These questions are to be answered before the one-year test run of this evaluation system commences.
What’s wrong about using numbers in evaluating administrators and teachers for that matter is that a statistic will not reveal if an administrator is communicating effectively with faculty members. Likewise, test scores say nothing about how engaged and involved students are with a teacher’s lesson. This issue was at the core the Chicago teachers strike, not salary and benefits.
There are ways to evaluate administrators and teachers. However, such a practical system of observing certain behaviors requires a high level of training and can be time-consuming. Numbers are easy—people-free, in fact. Cold statistics may work when doing one’s taxes, but when teaching young people, the numbers just don’t add up.
Last Thursday I had the privilege of being a featured speaker at the New York Times’ Schools for Tomorrow conference. There I was sitting in the green room next to Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the New York Times, and columnist David Brooks. For a journalism teacher, it was nirvana.
I enjoy having the opportunity to speak about teaching and public education, especially to a larger audience. The public needs to see more real faces of real teachers to understand that when the word “teacher” is bandied about, there are actual human beings representing that word. Too often the classroom teacher is overlooked as THE expert when it comes to student learning.
The main point I brought up at the conference was that teaching is viewed as a second-class profession due to the fact that 75% of the kindergarten through 12th grade workforce are female, and female-dominated professions earn less money and respect than male-dominated ones.
Let’s hope that more politicians will recognize the importance of the teacher, not through proclamations but through actions, putting real teachers in positions of decision-making.
Remember the old saying, “dress for success?” Ever since Presidents have been removing their jackets and rolling up their long sleeves as a way to appear “cool,” proper dressing habits haven’t been the same in quite some time. Nonetheless, I feel it’s important to dress appropriately when going to work.
One of the ways teachers can help raise the level of professionalization in their occupation is to dress properly for work. While I understand the urge to deliberately dress down as a way to be on the same level with one’s students, an important ideal of education should be to uplift pupils’ minds. Coming to work as if one is going to the beach doesn’t foster the notion that learning needs to be taken seriously.
I usually wear a sports jacket and most every day a tie when I teach. I view it as a teacher’s uniform. And while I would disapprove of a formal dress policy for teachers, some parameters couldn’t hurt (think the “What Not to Wear” TV program).
On the very first day of the school year, I saw one of my colleagues with an untucked shirt, shorts, and sandals. This shouldn’t be the initial impression given to one’s students. I wouldn’t want to see my doctor and have him come into the examination room with shorts and flip flops. And I wouldn’t want my children’s teachers dressing likewise.
A school is a special place where special things take place. Teachers should dress for those occasions.