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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Seat Time Matters

UPDATE Number 2: I asked Communications today about the lack of information in this Action Item. I was told that they would be following state regulations and all would have the same seat hours. Am I sure this is correct? No. But, I find it hard to believe that both the news release and the action item would not mention seat hours if they were to be voted on. So I'm going to be patient and see what actually happens.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the News and Calendar page on this issue. You will note there is NO mention of the vote including the variance of seat time at high schools. Now did staff not tell Communications staff about this or were Communications staff instructed to leave it out? Either way, if they believe this is the right thing to do, why is it not in the motion for the Board vote OR in the news release? Speaks volumes about this district.

An op-ed appeared in the Saturday Times by Garfield parent, Kevin Larensen. It was about the issue of seat time in Seattle public high schools. A lot of this we have all heard before: there is a big difference in the number of hours that students spend in class at different high schools. So 1) does it matter and 2) why is it allowed?

The "does it matter" vote seems to go to yes. I have heard several Hale parents saying they support how things are done at Hale (which has one of the lowest numbers of seat hours). I do wonder if parents are told on tours that there are more late-start days at Hale than any other school (in the interests of full disclosure). But when I talk to parents, most say time with the teacher does matter. I know it sounds small if you are talking 10-15 minutes in a day but it adds up (as the research these parents have done shows).

From the op-ed:

"In districts outside Seattle Public Schools, 150 hours or more of classroom time fulfills each high-school credit. Inside the district, with the exception of Garfield and Roosevelt, the comprehensive high schools provide the lowest number of classroom hours among major districts in the state and the greatest range of classroom time inequity, according to an analysis by a group of parents whose children attend three Seattle high schools."

I hadn't known if the seat hour requirement was being met by other districts but it seems it is.

Also from the op-ed:

"Seattle high schools do not follow present district policy with regard to classroom time and the high-school credit definition. Instead, as a function of the Seattle Education Association (teachers union) contract, individual school staffs are free to create their own calendars and bell schedules that have, in many cases, miserably failed to respect the time component of learning."

Ah, and this is what I mean when I say that staffs are very invested in their schools and we see this is from the point of being able to set calendars and bell times per their contracts. When teacher contracts come around again next year, this is something to address to the Board.

The most damning part of the op-ed which I hadn't known about (bold-faced mine):

"I and other parents voiced concerns last year to the Seattle School Board and district executives regarding low and inequitable high-school classroom times. Without engaging the community, district staff has responded by introducing policy redefining the district's high-school credit definition from 150 hours of classroom time down to as low as 120 hours while providing no board discussions or comparisons to other districts. On Wednesday, the School Board will vote to approve the lowered requirement for classroom time, along with the policy reforms making a "D" average sufficient for graduation and for sports participation.

This is not reform. It is organizational avoidance that directly conflicts with student achievement. The bar is not being lowered; it is being removed. The School Board must vote against these proposals."

What?! I thought that staff told the Board they were going to talk to parents about this issue. How can these parents do all this work and be ignored? I went and looked at the Board agenda for Wednesday and did not find this issue on it. However, it is still a draft agenda. I hope it doesn't somehow pop in there as an Introduction item on the sly. Whether or not it is on the agenda, the fact that staff may be discussing this without also bringing parents in is not right.

He closes with a strong argument about the new SAP:

"Seattle parents are on the verge of a new assignment plan whereby families are essentially forced into their neighborhood school, regardless of that school's quality or classroom time delivered. The lack of equity will define upcoming discussions and conflicts. Addressing equitable delivery of classroom time will offer great hope to parents relying on district promises that the more elusive delivery of overall quality will also be steadily improved in years to come. Now is the time to start the heavy work required to make all our high schools equitable and help all our students achievement."

And he's right. Where's the baseline that you can expect in every high school if the district is now marking boundaries for high school and you will likely have less opportunity to go to a different high school?

Another reason for a parents' union. Where is our voice at the table on any issue? We'll see with the SAP boundary meetings.

25 comments:

adhoc said...

Besides the late start where Hale students start school at 10A instead of 8:30A every single Tuesday (and don't stay later to make up for it), Hale also has 1 hour a week of silent reading, 1 hour a week of reflective scholarship, and 1.5 hours a week of Mentorship. That's 5 hours a week that a Hale student is not in a core class. And that doesn't include the district early release days, assemblies, and other things that come up.

I know some parents don't think this matters, but I do. Five hours a week is almost a full day. Imaging a Hale student just about has a 4 day week.

ParentofThree said...

It does appear that Hale has tipped the scales a bit to far. I would guess that when 300 -500 families get it as their assigned high scbool the situation will get self-corrected. Or they will need to make it a Choice/Option school whatever they are called these days.

Sahila said...

I'd venture to suggest that its the quality of what happens in the hours at school/in class, rather than the quantity of the hours themselves...

I'd rather my child was spending numerically less hours in school really learning and loving that process, with mentorship and reflection, than more hours in school bored to tears, not present to what is going on, frustrated, gazing out the window, fidgeting in his seat, getting into mischief with other kids...

We have a habit of being very simplistic in our thinking, I think, when we are presented with anecdotal evidence that runs counter to our beliefs/expectations....

BullDogger said...

MW...

The credit classroom time definition is embedded in the Grade Marking Policy being voted on Wednesday night (with the new graduation policy as a package).

Not one mention of the new definition occurs within Mr. Tolley's introduction pitch two weeks ago at the board meeting. No benchmarking to other districts has been done or addressing of potential financial implications (up to $350K/yr in lost state revenue).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you Bulldogger. Okay, folks get on the horn to your Board member. This is not right; these parents have a valid point that deserves discussion, not a rush job. If the Board votes this in, shame on them and hey, you should remember it when the time comes.

Charlie Mas said...

Class time matters.

Time on task matters.

If it did not matter, then why is a lot of money from the Southeast Initiative going to create extended hours at Aki Kurose? If it did not matter then why does Madrona sacrifice art, music, and recess to have more time on task in the core subjects?

We all know that it matters.

More than that, it is the law.

SP said...

Parents have been asking both the district and school board members to look at this issue for over two years now. It is an educational issue, first & foremost, but is tied to the actual definition of instructional hours making it also a legal issue. This is included in the policy D15.00 which the School Board votes on in 3 days.

A sub-committee of the district's High School Steering Committee met behind closed doors (with no public allowed at meetings, and no minutes available even through a public records request). They issued a report last April (also only available through public records request), which includes a new definition of instructional time for high school credits. Incredibly, this report is not even included as an attachment to the Board's Agenda for Wednesday's vote.

Additionally, over a year ago the district's legal department announced this about the findings of the sub-committee on Instructional Minutes:
"However, any findings generated from this Sub-Committee will become public documents, and any recommendations made will go through a community engagement and stakeholder evaluation process, particularly if recommendations involve action by the School Board." Obviously, this has never happened!

This week the board will vote on the graduation & grading policies as a bundled vote, with no clear definition of what "planned instructional activities" includes.

Of course quality "time on task" in the classroom counts and makes a difference! That is what the other districts in our area count towards their "Instructional" requirement. Unfortunately, Seattle wants to count everything else also, even time the kids spend at home during waiver days as "instruction" and time spent in the halls between classes and on extended breaks, etc. All of the other fluff & fun that Sahlia mentions should be INADDITION to the minimum standards of core classroom time, not INSTEAD of.

With the new assignment plan, families need all of our high schools to offer equitable instructional time. Garfield & Roosevelt are offering the proper amount of classroom instructional time- why can't the other comprehensive high schools at least offer that same as a minimum? Of course quality time with a teacher it matters! (just ask the teachers about this)

adhoc said...

Hale:

Reflective scholarship - A class which kids get twice a week for 45 minutes where kids can catch up on their homework, get missing assignments, and chat and socialize. All stuff they can and should be doing after school hours in my opinion.

Mentorship - A class that kids go to twice a week for a half hour where they read for the first 20 minutes. After the first 20 minutes they've been working on brown paper bag puppets. They've been working on these for a month now.

This is all in addition to the two 1/2 hour periods each week that students get for silent reading.

And this again is in addition to the hour and a half late start every Tuesday, where kids are doing nothing, but sleeping in.

I don't mind some time for silent reading being built into the day. But between mentorship, reflective scholarship, silent reading, and late start, it seems like a huge waste of precious class time to me.

SP said...

I just relocated an entry by Michael Rice about instruction time, from one year ago, which really impressed me when I read it back then.

"Instruction Time" Oct. 17th, 2008
http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com
/2008_10_01_archive.html

I remember it because it was a great explanation from a teacher's point of view of how important classroom time is. He is very clear about the big picture- that students don't spend nearly enough time in class and that students are being cheated out of instruction in our schools.

another mom said...

And here is a prime example of why many people do not trust SPS staff. This is something that needs to be fully vetted by the community and Board.

Jet City mom said...

I'd rather my child was spending numerically less hours in school really learning and loving that process, with mentorship and reflection, than more hours in school bored to tears, not present to what is going on, frustrated, gazing out the window, fidgeting in his seat, getting into mischief with other kids...

but those aren't the only choices
my daughter in private school had seven classes for a week, spring semester senior year for my daughter at Garfield after GTA was cancelled mid-term, was only in school for four classes a week ( she had also been a TA for GTA)

That situation has changed ( the tech program is now after school I believe, but
I think they need to be in school more not less.


Around kids, my impression is quality = quantity. You get to know what they need and build relationships which support learning with time, especially important in high school, where they have so many things pulling at them.

By putting less emphasis on seat time- emphasis will be placed on testing to assure students are meeting the " standards".

I can easily see more schools with more online courses, which don't serve all students,although it may save money and be useful in some situations

zb said...

Urgh -- Dannie's discussion suggests that this effectively reduces teaching hours for teachers. True? Do teachers at Hale also get late start (i.e. do not need to be in the building until later on Tuesdays, and have prep time during the times when students are "silent reading"? What's the supervision during "mentorship"?)

I believe teachers need more prep time for the class time they're asked to teach. But, I don't see why this should be different in different schools.

As I continue to say, a premise of taking away choice has to be standardizing options. You folks are starting to convince me that the school district doesn't understand that this going to have to happen.

zb said...

Oh, and I think Sahalia's needs could be met by just offering silent reading, and perhaps (though this is harder to arrange) a skipped first period to those students who *want* less school time. They could take fewer classes, if they wanted to, while still allowing others to take a heavier course load.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I know teachers at Hale do work hard. Mentorship does mean a teacher is present and usually a couple of students work with the teacher. On the late-start days, the teachers are working together.

I don't think the teachers at Hale work any less. But the issue is why do they need so much time to coordinate what they are doing?

spsmom2 said...

When there is less time, it is hard to make it quality time. If teachers are rushed to get the curriculum in, there will not be quality. (I am reminded of the AP US History teacher at West Seattle who did not even get through WWII before the exam--surely the shorter time in class did not help her!) If we could pair accountability in the classroom with accountability from the district office, perhaps we would get both quantity and quality. I hope the new school boundary lines will get more parents involved and force the schools to include them in decisions!

adhoc said...

It used to be that middle school and high school teachers had one free period a day to use as "planning" time. At most schools, due to budget cuts ,this no longer happens. Even when it was happening it wouldn't really have helped teachers to collaborate since they might all have different "planning" period times.

I understand and support the need for teacher planning and collaboration and I'd be OK with the late start once a week if the school did not make kids take a mentorship class, a reflective scholarship class, and silent reading class. They could use the wasted mentorship and reflective scholarship time to extend core classroom hours, and they could ask kids to do silent reading at home on late start mornings (and have to do book chats occasionally as a form of accountability).

But to have late start, mentorship class, reflective scholarship class, silent reading class, early release, and assemblies, is just waaaaaaay to much time spent out of a core classroom. Most days my kids classes are between 30-45 minutes long. Considering it takes 5-10 minutes just to get everyone seated and ready to work it hardly seems like enough time to be productive and to allow deep exploration and discussion of a subject.

Jet City mom said...

do schools not have block classes or is that up to the principal?

Garfield has at least two days a week when periods are 110 min long. It gives more time for all kinds of opportunities ( labs- field trips etc) and I know it is common in private schools- When my daughter was at Summit, she also had block days in middle school. Anything that cuts transition time, increases focus time.

adhoc said...

I don't know about all schools, but Hale has block classes in 9th and 10th grade but only a couple days a week. The other days are the short period class days.

another mom said...

High school credit as defined by WAC 180-51-050.

WAC 180-51-050 Agency filings affecting this section
High school credit — Definition.
As used in this chapter the term "high school credit" shall mean:

(1) Grades nine through twelve or the equivalent of a four-year high school program, and grades seven and eight under the provisions of RCW 28A.230.090 (4) and (5):

(a) One hundred fifty hours of planned instructional activities approved by the district; or

(b) Satisfactory demonstration by a student of clearly identified competencies established pursuant to a process defined in written district policy. Districts are strongly advised to confirm with the higher education coordinating board that the award of competency-based high school credit meets the minimum college core admissions standards set by the higher education coordinating board for admission into a public, baccalaureate institution.


The complete text :http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=180-51-050

Jet City mom said...

Districts are strongly advised to confirm with the higher education coordinating board that the award of competency-based high school credit meets the minimum college core admissions standards set by the higher education coordinating board for admission into a public, baccalaureate institution.

So should I expect to see more foreign language required of students in SPS , as a minimum of 2 years of the same language is required just to apply as to all public baccalaureate schools in Washington?

Don't worry, I realize that is a rhetorical ?

Sahila said...

I'd still vote for quality rather than quantity....

Kids in other countries are in school more days (no 3 month summer breaks) but for shorter hours (and do less homework), and they do better in testing than US kids...

Here's lots of interesting information about the quality of education our kids are receiving...

http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind02/c1/c1h.htm

You'll notice (on this page and others)that there are frequent references to the fact that, compared to what's happening in other countries, our kids are being fed greatly inferior content in class and are not being allowed to develop critical thinking skills...

You'll also notice that our teachers are paid less and required to work longer hours than teachers in other countries...

This is not a simple case of "make them sit on their bums in front of a teacher for longer hours and they'll do better"... the whole system is stuffed and we're wasting our time arguing and nit-picking over this...

ms ws said...

I totally agree with Mr. Lorensen! Seat/instruction time should be important in the SSD. Why should my child be expected the learn the same amount of math with less instruction time ? All the comprehensive high schools in the district should use the same amount of teaching time. Passing time, team time, advisory time, second breakfast should not be included in instruction time! 150 hours of INSTRUCTION per credit please. I hope the School Board will do the right thing.
Parent of a struggling senior

MoneyPenny said...

This one is a sad example of misguided leading the misguided. The WAC says 150 hours of planned instructional activity. That changed in 2003. The proposal is to use the language from the WAC. Nothing new, nothing "redefined" other than what the law already was. And it was explained in the intro at the last meeting. Too bad the Times doesn't do basic fact checking on its editorals.

SP said...

MoneyPenny,
Yes, there has been a change in the wording of the policy to match the current WAC (except that the district dropped the WAC's last 4 words of "planned instructional activities approved by the district").

But I think you're missing the point here- OSPI and even the district agrees that the WAC has not given us a full definition of what exactly "planned instructional activities" actually includes. Other districts use a more academic approach and include only instructional time with a teacher, whereas Seattle apparently has chosen the low road this time with counting basically everything except for lunch as "instructional activities."

If you read my post from last night you will see that our district's recent interpretation of this definition is hidden in a report that is not available to the public except by a public records request. This report was definitely not mentioned by the district's into. at the last meeting, nor has it been included as an attachment to the Action Agenda.

This new policy leaves it all up to the district- according to the report, even time spent at home and during unlimited breaks & passing time between classes counts. How does that help all of our kids learn and practice a difficult math concept or learn to speak a world language properly?

This new C15.00 policy should not be passed until there is a "community engagement and stakeholder evaluation process," as promised by the district.

BullDogger said...

MoneyPenny...

Here are the facts.

1)Yes, Seattle is in compliance with OSPI regs only because SPS sent the legal dept. to OSPI to argue that planned instruction includes passing time. You will not find a district that ever interpreted the rule that way. SPS legal pushed and OSPI folded. If you doubt this, request the subcommittee's final report from SPS.
2) Check all the major districts in the state. Their policies are essentially written as 180 hours of instruction including passing time or 150 hours excluding passing time. If their policies are not clear the hours offered are well above 150.
3) Go count how many classroom hours other districts provide. If you find one with less post it here... I'd like to know. While your at it count how many students are affected from Seattle's lack of accountability (it exceeeds 10,000).
4) Seattle's present policy is 180 hours per credit including passing time. At ten minutes passing time, on average, that makes 150 hours classroom, in the seat time.
5) Seattle's proposed policy is 150 hours of planned instruction including passing time (per the new OSPI interpretation). Add in 10 minutes for passing time and the hours per credit can drop to 120 hours.
6) 8 schools were out of compliance with present policy; several in a major way all the way down to 134 hours offered per credit.

The link below is to the powerpoint presentation given by Tolley, McMinimee and Derse at the board introduction two weeks ago. This issue is never mentioned.

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/09-10agendas/091609agenda/gradingpresentation.pdf

I'll grant you misguided can be subjective.

Misinformed though is just misinformed.