Washington State Superintendent Says No to Half-Days/Waivers

State Superintendent Randy Dorn throws down on half-days/waivers for school districts, according to a report from KING-5 tv.

Washington State’s school superintendent says he opposes the expansion of half-days on school calendars and wants lawmakers to act next year to give his office the authority to curb them.
“Just because the adults have the problem of not having enough money does not mean we should take away kids' instructional time,” Randy Dorn told KING 5.

“So they moved to this partial-day thing,” said Dorn. “I think it’s a burden on parents, working parents that have to do all the arrangements.”

“I don’t like the idea of waivers. I don’t like the idea of half-days for professional development,” said Dorn. “Especially the kids that struggle the most, it hurts them the most if we’re not in the classroom teaching.”

“The lack of adequate time for professional development, collaboration and planning is just one of the problems caused by underfunding,” WEA spokesperson Rich Wood wrote in an email to KING 5. 

Dorn said he hopes to change that next year by convincing the legislature to set standards for a minimum school day, likely six hours. “If there’s two hours taken off a school day, to me it wouldn’t count as a school day,” said Dorn.

Similar legislation -- Senate Bill 5588 -- failed in the regular 2013 session

In its ongoing series “School’s Out,” the KING 5 Investigators revealed the growing numbers of partial days that districts are adding. The reports also showed that waiver days, in which a district gets a state-approved exemption on meeting the minimum 180-day school year requirement, have grown by more than 300 percent in the last few years.

I had not heard about this bill so this will be interesting to follow in the future.  It's kind of a rock/hard place situation where we all want teachers to get the PD that they need but we also want a full day of class time for students. 


Patrick said…
Yay, Randy Dorn!

The apparent conflict between enough instructional days and enough PD time can easily be resolved by not having a full week off every other month. I mean, really: November, December, February, April.
Anonymous said…
Go Randy Dorn!

It seems to me right now teachers are getting too much bad PD(from the complaints of teacher friends). They could probably do with a lot less if it was targeted toward the actual problems their schools face. And our instructional hours are so low, that if I have to choose, right now I'd choose extra schools hours over the marginal PD.

Anonymous said…
I hope this doesn't mess up Nathan Hale's late start Tuesdays.

Anonymous said…
"I hope this doesn't mess up Nathan Hale's late start Tuesdays."

Why? What do you appreciate about the late start Tuesdays (and in what context)?

(And, that's not a rhetorical question, I really want to know).

I think the early release days are really tough for families to handle and don't like that at all. But, on the other hand, I think teachers need time away from the children to collaborate and prepare (not necessarily "PD" as it is currently constituted). I'd do it by adding hours to the teacher's days (and paying for that time), but I suspect that might be popular only with me (and, I know anything that costs money seems to be a non-starter).

Jamie said…
I have to chime in that I like the way Ballard HS does their early dismissal days. Not sure they will allow this next year but every time there is a 1/2 day on Weds (that the entire district has) BHS also has a 1/2 day on Thursday. I'm aware this takes away even more instructional time, but this way they can have three full periods on Weds and the remaining three periods on Thurs. To me skipping a day of class while keeping the full period the previous day is better than having two 20 minute classes in two days.
Anonymous said…
oops, I meant one 20 minute class, where you likely get nothing done. Sorry about that.

- Jamie
Anonymous said…
Just about every Tuesday is a late start Tuesday at Nathan Hale allowing for the teachers to collaborate. I know that the teachers find it very effective and the students appreciate having a day they can catch up on things before school starts. The class schedules adjust for the late start and they have different classes on different days. Students like the variety and not having the same schedule day after day.

This is High School so it doesn't effect families in the same way that early release and late start do for families with younger kids. If there is a day off during the week, then there is no late start that Tuesday. I believe that Nathan Hale has been doing this for some time. It is a part of the culture.

dan dempsey said…
Try THIS from Jay Greene.

So is the PD of any value?

NCTQ apparently has no idea how to interpret research results.

PD is often more about indoctrination than anything useful.

Many teachers are not fans of PD. If academic improvement is what is desired, let the teachers teach and end lousy PD.
Anonymous said…
A common perception in our district and country seems to be that our schools need to provide more instructional time to our students. I believe, however, that student’s achievement would increase if our schools reduced instructional time and increased the time spent on activities like arts, music, and physical exercise. My belief is based on the approaches taken by successful education systems and my own empirical observations and intuition as a teacher.

The Finnish education system, often ranked #1 in the world, provides on average about 4 hours of instructional time each day compared to U.S. schools which provide about 5 hours. Teachers use the extra time to assess student understanding and design curriculum so they are better prepared. Students use the extra time to play at recess, study, and recharge their batteries through various activities. The successes of the methods of the Finnish system point to the need for time away from the classroom – exactly what the early release days achieve.

As a teacher, my observations in the classroom point to the student’s need for more time engaged in learning outside of the typical classroom. I see my students struggle to maintain adequate concentration throughout the day, and by the end of the day, many students seem burnt-out and unable to focus. I wonder about the effectiveness of lessons at the end of the day, and if student’s time could be better spent elsewhere away from school engaged in other types of learning. My intuition tells me that more instructional time is not the answer.

I understand that the early release days are difficult for families, but I ask, should that be our main concern in the education of our students? Shouldn’t we remain focused on the achievement of our students? I believe that teachers and students benefit from these early release days, and that we need to work with families to find ways to decrease the inconveniences they cause.

DirkKS said…
At least for elementary school students, the half days are a total joke. I'd far rather have one full day off than two two hour early dismissals -- it may seem like less instructional time, but elementary students are incredibly dependent on routine. Half days usually result in nothing being learned. Not to mention the disruption to working parents, especially since after school enrichment classes are often cancelled as well. At least with a Monday or Friday off we can plan a family trip. PD time should be pushed to the summer (with more pay, of course), or during all those weeks off.
mirmac1 said…
Is this the touted NCTQ analysis of Teacher Prep programs Varner was drolling over?

Teacher Prep Review

I see they cite CRPE as a source.
mirmac1 said…
OMG! I see TFA bad boy Tom Stritikus' UW COE is rated poorly! Oh Snap!
Anonymous said…
I applaud the decision too!
In elementary school, half days are lost days. They really do nothing except have snack and lunch.
It would be great if "reward" free play days would be banned too. No idea how many lessons my kids lost because they "won" such reward. They go to school to learn, not for daycare!

Anne Oyd
Anonymous said…
The issue of PD should be addressed by the acrediting agency. Why do our teachers need so much training? Why can't we get them from universities already trained? And, if those needs for training increase - then that is on whoever wishes to keep teaching.

n said…
Haha! I agree with parent. Why does admin assume we teachers are blank slates constantly needing to be taught even more. I dislike waiver days and pd days immensely. They never serve my needs which are different than the needs of other teachers. We really are pretty smart you know. Most of us, anyway.

I'd rather be teaching!
Anonymous said…
Dear parent and I'd rather be teaching,

This time is not strictly used for professional development -- or indoctrination, for that matter. In my school, the time is used primarily for collaboration, planning, alignment, and critical assessment of current practice.

If you consider the frequency and the breadth of changes demanded by the district every few years, and the fact that, thankfully, these changes come without curricular guides and common assessments, you would understand -- as Randy Dorn apparently does not -- that there needs to be time to actually build, monitor and adjust the curriculum and assessments around directives like the Common Core.

High school teacher
Anonymous said…
I am an engineer and my company, and most other companies I have worked for, pay for about 40 hours of training a year. It is expected.
Why would teaching be any different?

Patrick said…
CD, it isn't the inconvenience to families that's my concern. When my child was in elementary school she was in after-school care which had no extra cost or inconvenience for the early release days, and now she's old enough to be home by herself anyway. My concern is that she doesn't learn much during the partial days. One whole day off would at least let parents take her on a fun or educational outing.

Finland's educational success is in large part because they don't have a high poverty rate. Their social safety net works. Also they don't have a high population of immigrants who don't speak their language well. If you look at just the native English speakers not in poverty in U.S. schools, we look much more competitive.

Just making all the classes shorter and letting them out soon after lunch is not the same as mixing some recess, music, and art into the school day. Having breaks from academic work during the day is a good thing and I agree we should have more of it. But early release doesn't mean any art, music, or physical activity happens, and it's better alternated a couple of hours of academics, then a break, then more academics.
Folks, I don't think Dorn has made any decision but putting it out there. SPS is applying for its waivers but we'll have to see.
n said…
I know architects also have a certain amount of training they do each year. I don't mind training and, yes, we do need to keep up with research. But doing it a half-day at a time during the school year when all teachers are knees-deep in work is honestly too much.

I think high school teacher makes a good point. Working elementary, I don't have the same needs. Perhaps our union is somewhat at fault. Elementary, middle and high school can be very different and those differences should be acknowledge and negotiated.

Principals often direct what gets done on waiver days and half days in buildings so the work is not uniform throughout the District. Some teachers may really appreciate that time.

Finally, it isn't always PD but sometimes budget items and other misc stuff to which schools need to attend.

We spend an awful lot of time on things other than classroom-oriented activity and that's what contributes to my burn-out by the end of every year. If I didn't have those six-to-eight weeks in the summer to re-energize and regain that passion, I wouldn't be able to keep teaching.

If one is going to use the Finnish example, one should first listen to the minister of ed in Finland. He agrees that our culture is different and that makes a difference. http://kuow.org/post/education-lessons-finland-pasi-sahlberg
mom of 3 said…
As a former Hale parent, I just want to say that the late start days at Hale were very well used by the staff for collaboration (which Hale's model of integrated learning requires). It was also wonderful for my son to have one day a week in which to sleep in, catch up on on homework, or be otherwise less stressed - a great release valve for kids balancing academics, sports, family responsibilities and part time jobs.
RosieReader said…
There are certainly many options other than half days for conducting training, but that would require the legislature to take McCleary seriously and provide significant additional funds. In addition, the districts and the unions would have to negotiate and agree to use those funds to pay for extra compensated days for educators to devote towards training/collaboration.
Anonymous said…
"The Finnish education system, often ranked #1 in the world, provides on average about 4 hours of instructional time each day compared to U.S. schools which provide about 5 hours. "

Please, stop comparing us to a Scandinavian country with a fairly homogenous population and even income/wealth distribution. The requirement for additional instruction is more from the fact that on average, there is not enough support for learning at from whatever parents or guardians may be around, if at all...

Maybe we should start comparing ourselves to Brazil, because that's where we are headed as a society.

--Archibald Tuttle
tk said…
Melissa-Just to be clear- There are no Waivers required for partial-day late arrivals/early dismissals.

Waivers are only required for FULL days off, because of the state law requiring "180 days" (partial-days currently count as full days, thus Dorn's point). Currently at SPS the 3 full Waiver days for PD (and also 3 for conferences) were denied by the State in May, but SPS hopes will be approved on the 2nd round in July, hence the Board vote on 2 schedules tomorrow).

Dorn's comments apply to the unregulated proliferation of partial-days off that districts (and individual site-based schedules) allow, because there is NO state law (and NO local Seattle School Board policy, either) limiting partial day releases- as long as kids literally are at school 20 minutes a day, it counts as a full day towards the 180 day requirement (one Seattle middle school last year actually did this!)

Dorn is pushing for less partial days, which in my experience, are much more disruptive than full-day releases. For elementary kids, it throws the whole day out of balance for kids (besides day care hassles & expenses for families).

Even more disruptive, however, is the impact on middle & high school kids on their instructional time. You don't think it matters? Ask the struggling student...

A parent-led analysis “Class time at Seattle High Schools Differs” which was published in the Seattle Times (2008, and still very similar today) points out the extreme differences of instructional time in Seattle High School classes, due to the differences of site-based late arrival/early dismissals for PD allowed by SPS- at Garfield each class had 157.4 instructional hours per class vs. just 134.4 hours at Hale- that’s 23 HOURS of more instruction per class (and multiply that by 6 classes, and Garfield students received 138 more HOURS instruction per year than Hale!!). Maybe the majority of Hale students can afford that much less time with their teachers, but don’t tell me that it doesn’t make a difference, especially for the struggling students.

Anonymous said…
Thank you, Randy Dorn! Finally, someone with some sensitivity and an understanding of what working parents (and many of these SINGLE working parents) have to go through on these half days that are becoming more common.
Catherine said…
Would it be possible to pair up testing days (an appropriate number, not the ridiculous number we have now) with 1/2 days/early outs? I figure that way at least we'd totally disrupt one day... not two different days...
Jet City mom said…
I was not a working parent when my kids were in school, bit that meant I had a front row seat to what 20 minute classes looked like.
What a waste of time.
Yay, Dorn!

Anonymous said…
As a teacher who previously commented that I hope our Seattle PD early releases would be denied because overall they've been a waste of time I applaud Dorn's comments and requests. Yes, a few teachers have reported getting a lot of value out of them, but the majority have not reported positive PD experiences.

Sometimes the PD issue is complicated by the "do we have enough time to do everything they're asking us to do" which usually is no... but most of my pre-teaching industry jobs also asked for more than was doable in a regular work week anyhow.

We need more instructional time, even as Obama naively talked about at the start of his 1st term (total pie in the sky even if the reality of more seat time for lower income students is a large part of the puzzle). Some leaders (my principal) note that we exceed the minimim seat time hours, but that's no excuse for not protecting those extra hours from poor PD and half days.

Yes, it's an area I keep arguing with the union on and vote against when they've had online ballots. We should be pushing admin to minimize the extra stupid stuff they want to pad their resume - not say "ok, but only if you give us more PD time to do it". Some of the time-wasting PD needs to go away and Dorn is right on.

** Frustrated by 'mostly' useless PD teacher**
Anonymous said…
Late start days at Hale also allow for one on one time with teachers with struggling students. Teachers that are not in a collaboration meeting have office hours to work with students who need some extra help. I know my kid used that to her advantage when she wasn't understanding something in class. Whether kids take advantage of this and of the free homework help after school is another story.

mirmac1 said…
On the subject of teacher training:

State’s trainers of teachers criticize new national rankings

My, what is Lynne Varner to do? If she jumps on her TFA/UTR bandwagon, then she'll leave her BFF UW COE Dean Tom Stritikus behind! : (
mirmac1 said…
Interesting. The "news" story written by Kathy Long on the NCTQ opinion...I mean study is now showing up on the Editorial/Opinion page of the Times. Methinks this is not an oversight. Now we clearly see the blurring between education reporting and Times editorializing. Perhaps Lynne was too burned out to write her usual cheerleading piece on the latest ed reform babble, and just figured she'd link to the news story.
Anonymous said…
A high percentage of these "Waiver Days" are utterly useless to my teaching. I would much rather be in the classroom instructing children. I feel bad for the parents, most of whom probably think these are like the old "teacher work days" but they are not. I would be delighted if I could actually work on the classroom or correcting or making lesson plans. No such luck! Too much of the content of these meetings has to do with scores and standards and regulations. And paperwork paperwork paperwork! The district spends too much time and money, not to teach children, but to keep teachers in lock step with whatever current educational philosophy is being championed. Frustrating.

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