Friday, October 17, 2008

Instruction Time

There is an article in the Seattle Times today about the number of hours of instruction a student receives in the 10 comprehensive high schools. Only 2 of the schools meet the criteria of 150 hours of instruction per class per school year.

I have to say that this is one of my biggest gripes. At Rainier Beach, we have twenty 2-hour late arrival and early dismissal days during the year. On those days, each of the 6 periods only meets for 35 minutes. I don't feel that is enough time for any sort of new instruction, so I have these days be "work and review" days. I hate this for a couple of reasons. The students get cheated out of instruction and the time the teachers spend in the morning or afternoon is usually very unproductive. Last year, for example, most of the twenty days was spent on district-mandated training for a Language Arts program called Reading Apprenticeship. Now I'm sure this is a fine program, but when I talked to our LA teachers about it, they kind of rolled their eyes and told me they were already doing all of these techniques. Of course, as math teacher, I found those days to be a total waste of my time. Is reading important? Absoulutely, it is. I have a sign in my room that says: "Reading is Freedom." I believe that totally and completely. However, I strongly believe that all that time could of been more effectively used, if the math teachers were meeting, working on how to be more effective teachers of math, not more effective teachers of reading.

In the article, there were many comments about how the methodology used to calculate time spent in the classroom was incorrect. Well, that may or may not be true, but the big picture question about instruction time is very clear. Students don't spend nearly enough time in class. At Rainier Beach, we have a 15 minute break in between 2nd and 3rd period and then we spend 20 minutes at the end of 4th period doing Student Silent Reading. All we need to do to have a 7 period day is do away with those two things and add 15 minutes to the end of the day. Now the students would get significantly more instruction and the students who are struggling in reading or writing or math could take a support class to help bring them up to grade level. That would be a much better way to increase student learning.


anonymous said...

My oldest son goes to a Shoreline School and they meet the state requirements for instructional time. If they can do it, why can't we? In addition Shoreline doesn't have any late start or early release days. They lump them into whole days, and give kids a three day weekend occasionally, or they give kids the Wed before the Thu/Fri Thanksgiving break. So instead of having 20 or so short (unproductive) days like Seattle schools, they have a few full days off. The full days off are great for families too as we can plan little getaways, or other fun stuff! Why can't Seattle consolidate the 20 short days into into 4 or 5 whole days?

SS said...

..."the big picture question about instruction time is very clear. Students don't spend nearly enough time in class."

Thank you to a well-spoken teacher, from many parents who believe the same thing. We need quality time in the classroom- time to absorb the instruction and time to practice what has been taught.

What amazes me is that even the State Board of Education Director Kathe Taylor doesn't get the bigger issue that Michael brings up. She asks in the article, "what difference does it make?" First, as we just heard from a teacher, it does make a HUGE difference; and second, it's the state law that all schools must deliver 150 instructional hours for each high school credit.

This is a minimum time regulation for instruction for each individual subject. Professional development (for reading, in his example), silent reading time, WASL test time, large breaks of 20 minutes between classes, and assemblies all take away from time in the classroom that a student needs to be successful with that individual subject.

The bottom line is that ALL our schools should be equitable in assuring that students get the proper amount of instructional time in each classroom, for each subject, for each student.

BullDogger said...


I'm glad to hear you respect this seat time issue. I'm fortunate my child is at Garfield where no late starts are used, except the district mandated, and we have the longer class periods.

I too was suprised by the SBE response. The challenge made by parents is much more detailed than the Times lets on. Basically parents are saying 8 schools fail to deliver enough hours to meet the definition of the high school credit and they have no state waivers. This means they're in violation of state minimum education requirements which could put SPS's state funding at risk... that is if the SBE does it's job and enforces current law/regulation. The comment in the paper today makes me think they're not up to the task if they fail to see the difference between 2 and 6 hours of class time.

If you'd like a copy of the report and package sent to the district and SBE drop me an email. Without teachers and parents taking an interest in this issue it will be hard to get a solution. SPS has basically locked it up in the High School Steering sub-committee with no estimated date of completion.

Kevin Lorensen

Charlie Mas said...

The State Board of Education does not fulfill ANY of their regulatory duties. They do not enforce ANY of the laws they are charged with enforcing.

I am not surprised that they do not enforce the instruction time requirement; I am not surprised that they don't even consider it necessary or desirable that they should.

I guess this is the extent of the engagement, involvement, and empowerment we get from an appointed Board.

SS said...

If the State Board of Education does not enforce state regulations that it is responsible for (and blatently question the laws in the first place), do we need to bring this to the attention to our elected state representatives?

Maybe a letter writng campaign from community members might help?

dan dempsey said...

There are 7 period day high schools that use 50 minute periods =5/6 hours.
180 days x 5/6 hr/day = 150 hours.
I would venture to say every single one of these school has less than 150 hrs of class time per credit. 1/2 days assemblies etc. The SBE looks as if they do not wish to go this direction of actually counting time in class.

Consider that the USA has one of the shortest school years in the industrialized world coupled with one of the shortest school days.

A high school 4 years in China has kids involved in study about twice the time as a USA 4 year high school experience.

WOW!!! were do we go next with trying to change this situation?

Anonymous said...

I was very surprised to learn of this situation with time in class. Thank you to the people being watch dogs for our children!
What struck me most was the fact that only two of the Seattle schools met the state requirements, and those two schools are the only ones that consistently show high achievement. Of course other factors are involved in this (demographics, APP program), but I feel certain that time in the classroom must be a piece in the equation of success.
What can we do to let the school board know that we want our school to meet the grade?

Charlie Mas said...

The school board is perfectly aware of the situation. The issue of class time was discussed at the last meeting of the Student Learning Committee. Since the Student Learning Committee was, at that time, a meeting of the whole, almost every Board member was there.

At that meeting they were told by the staff that the topic had been investigated and every high school in the District meets the requirement. The staff claimed that a lot of non-instruction time, such as the bell time between classes, counts towards the 150 hours. The Board members did not question any of the assurances from the staff nor did they ask to see any of the data. That was the end of the discussion.

dan dempsey said...

If you want an international view of this topic watch the video "Two Million Minutes: a documentary film on Global Education".

More info at:

ms ws said...

Thank you west seattle parents who brought this issue to the news, district and state attention. I believe seat/instruction time is essential to increased learning for our students. Let's all continue to pressure these districts and boards to do the right thing for students. They need to follow the law and ensure the 150 hours per credit rule!

anonymous said...

Nathan Hale has the highest amount of early release days of any high school in the city. They have 40 early release days a year ***** FORTY **** In fact Hale has a late start day every single Tuesday the entire year, IN ADDITION TO professional development days off, and early release days.

How can they get away with this?? Why doesn't the district intervene? It really is a tragedy.

dan dempsey said...

Seattle Mom,

Thanks for the Hale update. Hale can not do this unilaterally. The district is complicit in this 40 day fiasco. I am sure the SPS admin can tell you all the wonderful things this schedule is accomplishing to bring about academic excellence at Hale.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Several years back, Roosevelt, Hale, West Seattle and Franklin had a DOE grant that required them to have regular meetings and so was born these late arrival days. However, since the DOE grant went away, many of the teachers/principals found that the late arrival days were useful. Roosevelt still has about 15 and you can see Hale has far more. I'm not sure about Franklin and West Seattle.

I had requested - about 3 years ago - all the start times, lunch times, etc. for all the schools. It varies more than you think (and naturally, especially at the high school level). At one point, we had some high schools with 25 minute lunches and some with 50 minute lunches. I think it has become more uniform now with the lunch hours.

The state requires a number of minutes in the school day. Saying that "Raw minutes," she said, "is nowhere near the whole story." as Hale's principal, Marni Campbell did is not fair. (And I know and respect Marni but we don't agree on this subject.)

She states that it is about student achievement but I would say that unless you can (1) point to achievement across all groups and (2) point to on-going excellence in teaching, then yes, the number of teaching minutes matters.

Just this last week our high schools had to give up one whole period for the healthy student survey and a whole morning because every freshman, sophomore and junior was taking the PSAT. Both of these are worthy and important things but the point is between all the late arrival days, early dismissal, one-day holidays, vacations, assemblies and things like the two I noted above, our kids aren't spending a lot of time in class. I submit they are losing listening skills because they don't spend as much time learning to listen.

But whether or not you agree about the time issue, as we move towards an assignment plan that will be a feeder pattern with most students being assigned to their closest school, then parents do have a right to expect some kind of baseline and uniformity in schools.

BullDogger said...


You said:

"I would say that unless you can (1) point to achievement across all groups and (2) point to on-going excellence in teaching, then yes, the number of teaching minutes matters."

Hale has the benefit of having the lowest free and reduced lunch rate in the district. Their achievement based on WASL, SAT's or whatever will be above average just because of socioeconomics... students walking in the door are, in general, better prepared and/or less distracted. If you'd like to verify that go plot free and reduced lunch percentages against WASL pass percentages across the district. You'll get a nearly straight, upward sloping line where income predicts pass rates.

Marni saying her school's test scores exceed avarage is misleading. The real question is whether her students would benefit from the 5 more weeks (the article says 4 weeks but it's closer to 5) that Garfield students get. Most parents would say students would benefit from more class time. Remember too, there are 7 other schools in question here. Some with student populations much more challenged than Hale's so let's not get too fixated, Hale was only the most extreme.

Melissa, you and I are in agreement that parents should expect some kind of baseline to provide uniformity. That baseline does exist though in the WAC, and for good reason. It protects the rights of families to get a minimum amount of class time for dollars the state spends. Also sets minimum expectations for graduation requirements. However, for that protection to occur someone must enforce the rules. SBE delegates that role to districts and seems to have little interest in the matter beyond that. SPS sees nobody will force them to conform and,rather than doing the work necessary to correct the issue, they invent silly ways to measure planned instruction. Rigor, equity, accountability, continuous improvement are all part of the district mission, values and core beliefs statement. I think the words are easy to say but the deeds require leadership and focus not presently being shown.

8400 students are affected by a lack of seat hours in SPS. 337,000 seat hours are denied annualy, enough to support Rainier Beach HS and more. "Whether or not you agree about the time issue" the students are, in the end, the losers. And many of those students are the most disadvantaged in the district.

anonymous said...

Just checked out the Nathan Hale website to see their schedule. It's true, every Tuesday is a late start day the entire year. Plus there are 4 early release days too.

The other thing I found alarming was that every Wed/Thurs the students have:
reading from 1005A-1025A
Mentorship from 1025A-1050A
reflective scholarship 230P-3P

All of these activities, while commendable, take kids out of their academic classrooms.

Exactly how much time do Nathan Hale students get in class??

BullDogger said...

A Nathan Hale student is in class, on average, 4 hours and 33 minutes per school day. Garfield compares at 5 hours and 20 minutes per school day. The difference is 47 minutes per day.

Again, Nathan Hale is not the only school in this condition. They are just the most extreme.