Friday, April 13, 2007

Reposting - "Reality Check" - AS PREDICTED - but am I wrong?, Is it devious thinking on the district's part?

Reality Check: The 300 Minutes of Teaching per Day Proposal
by GLC
February 2007

The district found a loop hole in the teachers’ contract and wants to use it to cut costs in order to make good on a promise to raise teachers’ salaries. The proposal will result in reductions in the number of general education and special education (ESE) teachers at the secondary level. The trickle-down effect will mean less effective instruction and attention to the needs of ALL students and far fewer inclusion opportunities for ESE students, which is why I have stepped in to comment. If all of this goes through, the district will, once again, spend money before they get their “check,” and we’ll be in the same position next year.

When all of the effects of teaching 6/7 or 6/8 periods become known to the community, parents will demand that teachers be given the time to plan effectively, help maintain the safety of the school, provide all of the extra curricular activities, and attend to students’ individual needs. And, they’ll demand it through the media, legislators, and the legal system. We must have the time and resources to be able to provide an effective, inclusive, growth-focused curriculum and learning environment.

The proponents of teaching 300 minutes for all teachers have not realistically calculated what the teaching demands are today and what high schools are really like now. Their decision making is based on their own experiences in the classroom 10-20 years ago. I do not want to believe it is devious thinking by our district level administrators.

I cannot realistically add to these points the demands of teaching honors, AP, and dual enrollment courses, but please give the following issues your consideration.

see comments for the rest of "Reality Check"

1 comment:

Sisyphus said...

Issue 1: Schools Are Very Different Today Than 20 Years Ago

Teaching 300 minutes a day for high school teachers would mean one planning period for these teachers. Twenty years ago we did teach five out of six periods, but our students, the curriculum, and the demands of what is expected of teachers today are vastly different, even from a decade ago. The number and needs of our students placed in such categories as “at risk,” English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students (ESE) are much greater than 10 or 20 years ago and are expected to rise in the coming years according to the National Reading Panel and the Florida and U.S. Departments of Education.

The FL Department of Education reported that for Hillsborough County’s 2005 FCAT 10th grade Reading, the ELL, ESE (not gifted), Section 504 students, and the free and reduced lunch students, accounted for 53% of the 10th grade students tested. Category overlap is not accounted for, but that is thought of as a multiplier of the risk factors. (See http://www.fcatresults.com/demog/GetReport.aspx for the 2005 FCAT demographic reports.)

School grades from Florida’s A++ Plan are based on schools raising scores of students scoring at the bottom 25% and students scoring at Levels 1 and 2. Making adequately yearly progress for students with disabilities, minorities, English language learners, and the economically disadvantaged (free and reduced lunch students) also determines the grade schools are awarded from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Additionally, there are students on the bell curve, without a disability or other risk factors, whose performance is at the 85th percentile or lower, for whom additional accommodations must be provided. We are expected to plan required differentiated instruction for all of these categories of “at risk” students, which includes tiered lesson plans, accommodated learning activities, and adapted testing conditions. Differentiated instruction also allows a teacher to challenge the higher-functioning students. Differentiated instruction takes a large amount of additional time and is a relatively new teaching strategy based on best practices research. (See http://www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/summerworkshop/walker/walker.pdf for more information on differentiated instruction. See http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org for information on the National Reading Panel.)

For high school courses, the curriculum guides we use today frequently dictate the time allowed to teach a concept to a ½ period – a very different state of affairs from 10-20 years ago. We must also include technology in instruction, a concept not around 20 years ago. We must regularly include FCAT and SAT preparation in our planning and instruction in all general education courses. Including “higher order” questions and tasks in lessons is another addition to the new demands. As I mentioned earlier, I cannot comment on how demands have changed for advanced level courses.

High school curriculum is so very different than 20 years ago. Twenty years ago we had “functional” and “basic” levels of the core academic areas for our struggling learners. Now they are required to meet higher standards to earn standard diplomas. The only way we can reach these students is through differentiated instruction and supplemented approaches such as co-teaching, tutoring, and mentoring. These instructional approaches are research-based best practices shown to improve student learning but take a great deal of time to plan and implement. This proposal of teaching an additional period would also mean that teachers would have three or four different courses for which to plan rather than the two or three most teachers have now.

The “housekeeping” tasks asked of teachers over the years have also changed. Technology makes some tasks easier, but the number of things we are expected to do has increased greatly. We did not have email and voice mail 20 years ago. How much of a teacher’s day is spent on these tasks?

The volume of paperwork and documentation required for communicating with parents, other teachers, and related services also has increased. The underlying reason for this increase is reflected in the growth of the “at risk” population in schools today (53% of the 10th grade class according to the 2005 FCAT data). Devising and documenting interventions in order to refer a student to related services (student affairs, social work, counselors, psychologists, student assistance teams, etc.), attending meetings for 504 and individual education plans (IEPs), implementing accommodations for ESE and ELL students, and consulting with ESE and ELL teachers takes an exorbitant amount of time. The additional work required for these state and federally mandated programs is many times greater than even five years ago.

Our contract that states that teachers can teach up to 300 minutes a day is antiquated. Elementary and middle schools have time beyond the students’ day where many of the additional types of planning needs can take place, while a smaller group of teachers address the school’s needs for safety and supervision. Currently elementary education teachers’ hours are 1 hour and 25 minutes beyond the students’ day, and middle schools have 55 minutes beyond the students’ day. Elementary teachers have additional planning time when their students are at “specials” such as music, PE, and so forth, and middle school teachers have a planning period in addition to the above times. CTA needs to address this inequity immediately.


Issue 2: Safety in Our Schools and Equity in the Length of a Student’s Day

There are big differences in length of the students’ day between elementary, middle, and high schools. The elementary student attends school for 6 hours, 15 minutes, the middle school student for 6 hours, 45 minutes, and the high school student for 7 hours, 25 minutes. High school teachers’ hours are only 20 minutes more than that of the students and that includes the 6 minutes of passing time before the first period and after seventh, where teachers must stand at their doors. That’s eight minutes to get mail, sign in, get materials for class, and put things away at the end of the day. As mentioned above, both elementary and middle school teachers have down time in addition to their planning time to use the restroom, make a phone call to a parent, and so forth,. Like elementary and middle schools, if we had smaller high schools and could have shorter passing times, we would be teaching 300 minutes a day already.

Elementary and middle school schedules can provide for the safety and security of their students under this plan; high schools can not. The frequency of incident reports, crimes, and referrals to assistant principals for Student Affairs demonstrate how different our students are now compared with high schools one or two decades ago. Do we want to have our high school campuses basically unsupervised? If a school’s administrators spend their day attempting to patrol a huge campus, when will they be able to do the job they are paid to do? When teenage crime and issues of school safety are daily news items, we cannot consider these types of duties expendable.

Issue 3: Fewer Opportunities for Inclusion for High Schools and Legal Issues

With a lack of planning and collaboration time, fewer teachers will be willing to provide the extensive curriculum modifications necessary for inclusion of special diploma students in general education classes. Insufficient planning time will result in fewer teachers willing to sponsor clubs and organizations, where presently many of our special diploma students are included. Many of these students have developed friendships with general education students because they have been in classes or extra curricular activities together.

Next year, the district is looking at having 18 special education students per ESE teacher per class at the high school level. Where initially only 12 ESE students would be placed in a co-teach class, there would be 25 general education students and potentially 18 ESE students, for a total of 43 students. In a co-teach class between two general education teachers, the total could be 50. Those numbers are ineffective and unmanageable. Co-teach classes between two general education teachers could target the other types of “at risk” students, and if done effectively, produce the same types of gains we have shown with our ESE students. However given the above projections, few general education teachers would agree to co-teach.

Proposing that ESE students be placed in resource rooms of up to 18 students with uncertified content area teachers is an acrimonious suggestion. Few ESE teachers are content area certified, and many of those who do get certified leave ESE for general education. In reality, at Gaither we have at most 3-4 students who, by grade level and by subject, would benefit from a resource setting rather than an inclusive setting. That’s not cost effective. Nor is it best educational practice. Consistent with federal guidelines, it is better to serve those 3-4 students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) than the other 14-15 in the more restrictive setting.
(See http://www.firn.edu/doe/commhome/pdf/clu-brief.pdf for recommended best practices from the Florida Department of Education.)

Serving ESE students in the LRE is a federal mandate. The district should have their risk managers investigate the ramifications of NOT serving students in the LRE and potentially adding great costs for litigation. Risk management may also wish to formulate a response as to why the research-proven less-effective environment would be chosen over the more effective LRE for ESE students. Risk management also needs to be able to respond as to why we would place ESE students in a classroom with an uncertified subject-area teacher, especially when, by definition, disabled students have difficulty making the same gains as their non-disabled peers. Would parents be able to blame (i.e., file a law suit) the teacher and the district if their child failed to pass the FCAT or a semester exam under those conditions?

Gaither was recently named a demonstration school for best practices for inclusive education by the State of Florida. I feel passionately about the inclusion, gains, and opportunities for ESE students that I have been able to develop and implement at Gaither with the help and support of my administration. I fear that the gains we have made in inclusion and acceptance of students with disabilities will be lost when teachers are not given the time to do what needs to be done.

I am not able to pull FCAT demographic scores from FLDOE for 2006 as they are not posted yet. I do know that our scores exceeded the 2005 scores, and the math passing rates for our ESE students may have been the highest in the state. However, the 2005 10th grade Reading passing percentages for ESE, not gifted, are Gaither 39%, District 21%, State 17%. That was our first year teaching all of the core academic subjects as co-teach classes. We also tested educable mentally handicapped (EMH) students; many schools did not. 2006 was our second year of co-teaching and all standard diploma courses for ESE and Gaither demonstrated additional gains. (See http://www.fcatresults.com/demog/GetReport.aspx for 2005 FCAT results by demographic data.)

Issue 4: The REAL Agenda

The REAL AGENDA of this proposal is NOT to prevent the district from having to hire unqualified teachers and substitutes to fill the additional positions required by the class size reduction amendment, but to actually reduce costs by reducing the number of high school teachers (including ESE) presently in the system. I propose a plan to meet the class size amendment through increasing the number of co-teaching classes while keeping the number of students in these classes at reasonable teacher-student ratios. Teachers who do not wish to co-teach would have a duty period that provides for the safety and security of our students. Teachers who co-teach would be expected to demonstrate planning and implementation of differentiated instruction, participate in the necessary on-going trainings, and utilize classroom time to provide bell-to-bell learning. The way that many teams were put together around the county last fall to meet the class size amendment did not provide for the type of planning and knowledge of how two teachers can utilize their roles to increase effective teaching. Good co-teaching is a research proven, effective method to deliver instruction and improve the outcomes not only for the struggling learner but the average student as well. Reducing the use of this model is NOT best practices.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the 300 Minutes of Teaching per Day Proposal is NOT about putting highly qualified instructors in the classroom, NOT about providing students with effective, proven instructional methods, NOT about addressing students’ needs beyond instruction, NOT about equity in working conditions, and NOT about supporting teachers for the work that they do. What it IS ABOUT is cutting costs by reducing the number of high school classroom teachers in order to deliver promises. Are the risk managers saying that the bottom line weighs in favor of these cost-saving measures compared with the research-based best practices that provide for the needs of our students?

This week high schools are beginning to make their projections for teaching units for next year. More than half of my department are looking at other options rather than remaining in their current positions. Several general education teachers who co-teach with ESE have declined to do so next year. Teachers are not in this profession for the money but the intrinsic rewards from seeing growth in our students. If other counties and private schools will provide the time and support for teachers to be effective, the differences in salaries will not be an issue.

For the teachers who remain and teach under these ineffective conditions, what will we not be doing in order to attempt to cover content material? Will class time be used to plan, grade, and complete other paperwork? Will we give up club sponsorships, ESE and ELL accommodations and documentation, communication to parents, mentoring, training, letters of recommendation for students, etc. etc. etc.?