Schools (not) Out For Summer! (Redux)

By Liberal Anthropologist

In a previous post we had a discussion about Year Round Multi-Track (schooling). Unlike many others on here, this post was not partisan in its discussion.  School schedules are not a partisan issue.

Last weekend Bill Fox (who has taxpayer and student interests at heart as is clear from his comments here) and Eric Hornberger (whom I assume also does) held a townhall at Seldens Landing Elementary School to discuss the idea of year round multi-track schooling and how it might resolve redistricting issues that affected Seldens.  The explanations given were clear and intelligent.  There were huge misconceptions about what it meant to students, parents, and the community that were cleared up.  What was most interesting was at the end when Mr. Hornberger asked the assembled audience how many were in favor of such an arrangement and I would estimate more than 90% of hands went up.  When asked how many were opposed, only a few were raised.

I personally am in favor of the concept now since our discussion on here earlier.  The potential savings to Loundoun County over 5 – 10 years could easily exceed 100 million dollars.  The potential impact to families with children in school is highly positive.  The ability to take vacations at non-peak periods and get non-peak pricing is very attractive.  The positive impact on the students is well understood as well.  Not to mention that the only reason we have summer vacations is a holdover of agrarian needs pre-industrial revolution.    The bottom line is I can see effectively no reason not to begin experimenting with this in Loudoun County.  In areas where it has been done, people don’t want to go back.  Communities adapt, money is saved, and children flourish.

Some more information on the concept can be found here.

Can anyone explain to me any good reason why Loudoun County should not begin exploring this path?


Comments

  • Erv Addison says:

    Cato the Elder,

    Based on your statement, “People that are motivated to learn usually find a way to do so regardless of the presence of bureaucratic structure,” you really need to consider how much human potential is damaged in the typical public school (including the “highly recognized” LCPS).

    I have no idea what your interaction is with the schools, but based on my spending all day/every day in classrooms, I find it tragic that our students’ parents spend far more time in the aisles of Wegmans than they do in the aisles of their children’s school rooms. I never, ever see a parent hanging out in one of our high school classrooms — ever. So where are the “smart shoppers” of Loudoun County who spend thousands of dollars each year on a product they only can judge indirectly through the eyes of children or through the self-serving communications of school staff?

    There is one reason and one reason only why Loudoun has graduation and college admission rates in the mid-90%: their parents’ socioeconomic status. Not tax dollars, not teachers, not administrators, not new school buildings.

    Cato the Elder, in a sense you’re right in your logic; our children will succeed — and not — no matter what public school they’re in, not because of the learning quality but because of the affluence “float.”

    Just consider how much more progress our students would achieve — given the advantages they have walking into the school door — if our county schools actually added value. And consider how many of the thousands of students who are marginalized every year and every day due to lack of any focus on improving learning quality. Those are real human beings who are being short-changed — in more ways than one.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    Cato,

    Forgive me but that is simply not true. I lived it and I know that the Loudoun County Public School system was instrumental in preparing my child for success in life. I could point specifically to a second grade and fourth grade teacher that had a greater impact than almost anything else in his life (except for perhaps myself and his mother). Great teachers, small community-based schools, small class size. THAT is what I want my school board member to stress because THAT is what makes the difference in the lives of the students. But it costs money. That is a fact that will not change with all of Bill’s experimentation. I would put those campaign slogans up against Bill’s any day.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    Really, Bill. You want Loudoun County schools to be like those in Utah. Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota? You reach for the stars, guy!

    When you want to ACTUALLY debate the issue on reality, let me know.

    BTW, I am happy with MY school board member. If you were in my district, I might just run against you (or at least campaign hard against you). You throw caution to the wind approach is NOT good for Loudoun students and that message needs to get out.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    “There is one reason and one reason only why Loudoun has graduation and college admission rates in the mid-90%: their parents’ socioeconomic status. Not tax dollars, not teachers, not administrators, not new school buildings.”

    Erv, there is a reason why those highly educated upper socio-economic status parent demand great teachers, administrators and facilities. It is through just that same sort of education that they reached this status.

    By your logic we should just do away with ALL schools in well to do areas. They don’t do anything to educate the kids anyway. Of course, that would make the conservatives and libertarians on this board very happy. Lead the way, Bill!

  • Bill Fox says:

    Eric – you’re joking, right? My entire point was that jobs in an area ARE NOT directly tied to the educational quality of that area, nor to the money spent. Williams County ND spends much more per student than Loudoun does, has a much lower unemployment rate, but I would not trade their schools for ours. My comments about those states and school districts were obviously facetious.

    Considering the amount of time you spend in these forums, your not very good at this.

    And I’m glad you like Jill Turgeon as your School Board Rep. I also think she’s one of the best Reps on the Board. But the fact that you are so fond of her, but feel that the policy initiatives I have described are going to bring about the fall of Loudoun County shows that you really are not paying attention. You might want to watch a school board meeting or attend a committee meeting so you can actually find out what’s really happening.

    “Viva la Status Quo!”

  • Erv Addison says:

    Eric the 1/2 Troll,

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer.

    Let’s try it this way: How do you know that a significant percentage of LCPS staff are comprised of “great teachers, administrators and facilities?”

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Um, you brought compatison of these states unemployment rate to school spending into the discussion, Bill, not I. I simply pointed out the fallacy of you doing so and attempting to draw ANY conclusion from that comparison.

    If you would like to have us believe that the quality of the public school education does not have a bearing on area employment opportunies, I wish for you to put that in your new campaign literature. Please do so, I am sure such an espoused philosophy will be very helpful in your re-election bid.

    The fact that you think Jill is my school board rep shows that YOU are not paying attention. Not surprised though. None the less, I do find Jill a little more reasonable than you and I should talk with her more as the jury is still out in this regard. Seeing as how you all are starting to run for re-election already, perhaps I should set up a coffee meting with her.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Erv, About 15 years of personal experience. I can aver that the quality has dropped off slightly as of late but that is not surprising given the trends in the budget and the threats of more to come. Where would YOU decide to start your teaching career if you had your choice? It’s not rocket science, you know.

  • Erv Addison says:

    Eric the half a troll,

    By what objective measures could we say that LCPS possesses “great teachers, administrators and facilities?” You see, it should be “rocket science,” that is, provable by scientific, objective methods.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be implying some cause-and-effect relationship between spending and quality learning when you aver “that the quality has dropped off slightly as of late” due to recent and imminent budget trends. How do you support that supposition given that most education research shows no correlation — much less causal — relationship between spending and outcomes? And how do you know that quality has actually “dropped off” lately? What outcome-based indicators demonstrate that position?

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Erv, the correlation between things like class size, school size, and teacher quality are well documented and, indeed, not rocket science. I have cited them previously on this blog, as have others. In Loudoun County, class size and teacher quality are directly impacted by funding levels. There is a perception that school size is also a factor of funding but that is blatantly false (again as has been demonstrated many times). This isn’t the first time Bill and the libertarian crowd has tried to make the case of defunding our public school system.

    You will note that I clearly state that my observation of reduced quality of teacher as of late just that – a personal observation. I will note however that after years of steady improvement, the last couple years of SAT scores have begun to slip in Loudoun County. maybe that is why Bill wishes to run for re-election on de-emphasizing standardized test measures.

  • Erv Addison says:

    Eric the half a troll,

    Correlations between class size, school size, and teacher quality and the quality of learning are well documented, but given that the relationships between class and school sizes and positive learning outcomes are relatively weak compared to that of teacher quality, not to mention ridiculously expensive (Hanushek, Rivkin, Mishel, Rothstein, Kain, and others), let’s focus on the very important and key factor of teacher quality.

    Given the huge body of research that demonstrates that socioeconomic factors far outweigh the effects of quality of the teachers (which are not inconsequential) (Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson), how do you know that the perceived “success” of LCPS and its students is the result (or a significantly noticeable result) of the presence of “great teachers [and] administrators?”

    I hate that I sound like a broken record, but given the affluence of our region, it’s hard to ignore that the socioeconomic factors of the families represent an immense positive influence on student performance. You seem certain that LCPS possesses “great” teachers. I’m just asking, how do you know that that very important element plays an active role in any educational successes of our students?

    How do we know specifically that the teachers in the Loudoun school system are very good at what they do? And please consider that no one effectively observes them and they are not evaluated.

  • Bill Fox says:

    Eric – once again accusing me of trying to “de-fund” or “gut” the school system. At least you’re predictable. I have never suggested raising class sizes or cutting teacher salaries. Again, pull your head out of the blogoshpere for long enough to actually attend a public meeting or two and you might learn something.

    BTW, the SAT scores started to slip BEFORE I took office, so unless the kids were anticipating my election and became so despondent that it threw off their test performance I’m pretty sure you can’t blame this phenomena on me or the rest of the current board. You might notice, however, that the slipping scores DO correspond with increasing SAT participation.

    I ran on de-emphasizing state standardized testing because it is currently taking an inordinate amount of our time and resources to teach to these tests and there is no demonstrable benefit for the children. The “SOL” tests are not for kids, they are for bureaucrats. Virginia should drop the science and social science SOLs altogether, as they are actually counterproductive.

  • Erv Addison says:

    Bill Fox,

    Don’t you think there’s a chance that SOLs might also provide information to the customers — that is, the parents and students and taxpayers — as to how well the schools are performing their common mission?

    I’m not saying that the SOLs are the paragon of a standard yardstick, but don’t you think that a valid motivation behind the push ofr standardized assessment is that we need something other than balkanized grading methodologies as one of the few ways we can measure leatning?

  • Erv Addison says:

    Let’s try it without the typos–

    Don’t you think there’s a chance that SOLs might also provide information to the customers — that is, the parents and students and taxpayers — as to how well the schools are performing their common mission?

    I’m not saying that the SOLs are the paragon of a yardstick, but don’t you think that a valid motivation behind the push for standardized assessment is that we need something other than a myriad of balkanized grading methodologies as one of the few ways we can measure learning?

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Bill the slipping SAT scores also correspond, I am sure you are aware, with reductions to per student funding in the operating budget (read increasd class siE and teacher salaries). I completely recognize that correlation is not necessarily causation, but given the cuts that seem to be headed our way, I certainly hope the trend does not continue. Might be a tough stat for your re-election campaign…not for the conservatives ofrlibertarians…they are fine with those kind of outcomes.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    ” I have never suggested raising class sizes or cutting teacher salaries.”

    Gee what was that bit I read on the blogosphere about overhauling teacher benefits. Must have been a different Bill Fox.

  • Erv Addison says:

    I have a difficult time attributing Loudoun’s drop in SAT scores to local budget cuts when the College Board has been reporting declines in scores for a number of years now across the country. It would take quite a bit of analysis to demonstrate how Loudoun’s drops differ from those of other districts nationwide.

    In fact, Reading has steadily declined since 1972 despite enormous increases in public education funding. If nothing else, the trend shows an inverse relationship between funding/spending and SAT and other test scores.

    If we look at SAT scores over the past 10 years locally in comparison to changes in funding, it’s impossible to discern any kind of correlation between the two, so to attribute a recent one or two year change in student performance on the SATs is unrealistic and unscientific.

    I could similarly argue that the decreased snowfall totals for the past two winters are responsible for the lower test scores.

    Before anyone campaigns on a platform blaming lower test scores on budget cuts, there needs to be better statistical analysis supporting it than I’m seeing here.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Rev, look at Loudoun scores for the period running up to the budget cuts and you will see an increasing trend. Budget cuts hit and the trend is reversed. As I said correlation is not necessarily causation but it should be reason for concern for Loudoun parents.

    But notice where you put the burden. One must prove that cuts are harmful when the data indicates the possibility rather than the burden being proving they are NOT harmful before we continue. Once again, experimenting with our kid. It’s almost like you don’t get that there are real people being impacted. It’s a pretend world instead.

  • Erv Addison says:

    Eric the half a troll

    Please don’t read too much of your assumptions into my statements. I have not argued for budget cuts, just argued that attributing learning quality or education achievement or — more accurately — fluctuations in standardized test scores to funding is unsupportable and harmful to the schools’ customers as a basis for policy and campaigning.

    I am arguing that focusing on the idea that increasing the budget without even making a serious, science-based attempt at studying how those funds are used and should be used is short-sighted and the continuation of an experiment already gone wrong. Voting in larger class sizes is relatively cheap and easy — and the appropriate idea-size for political campaigns — compared to implementing a system focused on developing teachers’ skills, which, although more expensive, complex, challenging, and — not to mention — very unpopular with administration and staff, delivers a much greater wallop and bang for the buck.

    I do not support budget cuts (at least not as a philosophy). What I do support is developing an education system focused on measurable outcomes rather than check-box inputs. What I do support is an education system focused on the student over maintaining a status quo focused on staff.

  • Erv Addison says:

    There are quality teachers in our school system, and perhaps the greatest frustration we should recognize is the lament many teachers spout when on the defensive: As Steve Greenburg, Round Hill resident, spouse of an LCPS teacher, and president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers said in one of the local papers a couple years back, “You must be able to think of at least one teacher who made a difference in your life.”

    Why is it always “just one?”

    Well, I can think of not just one, but two: my fifth grade teacher who introduced me to Shakespeare and a high school English teacher who knew that learning should not and could not be constrained by a classroom’s walls.

    Here’s the rub, though: I had over 25 other teachers during those school years; so why are fewer than 8% of my teachers worthy of my esteem? Why not 25%, or 50%, or even 75%? More telling, this cliche defense of the teaching profession admits the low regard teachers have for it: Why do we always say, “at least one” and not “all of the teachers?”

    The worse tragedy is that this approach to teaching tosses all of the teachers who could be great under the bus. By not leveraging authentic employee performance development programs in the LCPS schools by relying primarily on old standys like “class size,” we’re effectively telling all those teachers just out of arm’s reach of greatness, “Too bad.”

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could point to more than a second and fourth grade teacher in our kid’s education as being significant?

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    “Wouldn’t it be great if we could point to more than a second and fourth grade teacher in our kid’s education as being significant?”

    I can, many more…

  • Erv Addison says:

    I’m sorry, Et1/2T; I thought I was quoting you accurately.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    You were. I was just using those two as examples. I did not mean to imply that they were the exceptions. I also did not mean to imply that there weren’t some disappointing teachers either. There are, of course, all kinds.

  • Glen Bayless says:

    Kids “connect” with different teachers. As has been said, most of us remember one or more that made a difference. We also think of those that, to us, were so so or worse. What you are forgetting are the kids who thought YOUR poor teacher was their inspiration. This is the way people interact. Keep in mind that, particularly in today’s high stakes testing environment, that all teachers are using the same curriculum. Kids who do the work, learn. When they “connect”, they perhaps move into that field in depth. And no, I am not saying that some teachers are not better than others…even Green burg and other union officers recognize this and even counsel some to leave the profession.

  • A.E. Gnat says:

    Among all the arguing here and talk of quality teachers in the school system, I’d like to take a moment to honor Kathleen Hwang, the principal at my daughter’s school, Sanders Corner Elementary in Ashburn. She was killed Wednesday afternoon when she was hit by a car, while out for a walk.

    Mrs. Hwang was truly beloved by the children and parents. She always took time to make individual students feel special and important, and LCPS has truly lost one of the great ones. I and many others will never forget her standing outside, waving and smiling, as she greeted the students at car line each day.

    Rest in peace, Mrs. Hwang.

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