WHY I’M CONCERNED ABOUT LAUSD’S PROPOSAL TO BEGIN SCHOOL THIS COMING YEAR ON AUG. 16 FOR ALL ITS CAMPUSES
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
By Diana L. Chapman
Having Los Angeles Unified kids throw on their backpacks to return to campus in mid-August instead of playing all summer long until twilight hours bothers me greatly – but not for the reasons you’d suspect.
Yes, my initial shock about possibly starting school Aug. 16 this coming year seemed definitely a threat to a long tradition for students not on a year round track that allows them to play often until eight in the evening on blazing summer days.
Play time, many studies show, is as necessary for a child’s development and health as breathing, drinking water and learning in the classroom. Kids need it all.
While I believe students should be out playing instead of studying during the summer, that’s probably an “old school,” attitude. Perhaps it’s time to change the calendar around. But there some underlying quirky pests that are eating at me.
It starts with the biggest reason this is being considered -- to improve test scores. We spend an immeasurable amount of time worrying about the test scores while the kids at large are already living in a tsunami of changes.
While Los Angeles Unified scrambles to stay afloat in these dire economic times – kids are already encounteringa sea of transitions at their schools with cutbacks, staff disappearing that they’ll never see again, faces that they’ve seen for years, suddenly vanished, such as librarians, clerks and sometimes, even teachers.
I talked to several administrators why this proposal makes sense to them. They all had good arguments. June is a dead time of the year because testing takes place in May and by the time the kids and teachers are done, both groups are exhausted. June becomes a swath of waste.
Also, many high schools want this so their students can have the semester end before winter break and finals come before their vacation.
Makes sense too.
But what I see vanishing on the horizon – and this is so sad – are the times that instructors spent figuring out the true skills and talents of their students. In the past, teachers were the lifeline for kids that perhaps don’t have the highest test scores – or even the best grades – but still have gifts and abilities for other areas that are highly unlikely to show up in the rigors of testing.
Perhaps a student’s skills are superior in art; or they are superb writers who fail in tests. Once, teachers had time to look at a child as a whole. Now, we are looking at child in pieces – and not just pieces – but in numbers. What numbers can you give me lately? Is that what we want the kids to hear?
I’ve witnessed young students wet their pants during test days and others determine they are stupid because of test scores when we all know that there are ways to excel beyond those measurements.
Children don’t need to know they’re as valuable as their test scores are; And yet, that’s what we – the adults – are teaching them every day. Not only that, we are pounding it into their heads with a hammer. When teachers are stressed over test scores, another thing happens; kids become stressed too.
My second issue with this entire calendar change -- which would end school June 1 -- is that right now – because the district is facing a $3 billion dollar deficit over the next three years – a tidal waves of cuts have drowned schools with layoffs and staff changes. Clerks students have known for years are gone, same with many librarians.
Every time I walk into a school, another series of cuts have been made, the clerical glue that often holds schools together have slipped away. For instance, the other day I walked into San Pedro High’s main office, and where there was once three to five clerks, now often there is one, two at most.
Our students have become guinea pigs of change and to add another new drill at this moment seems inappropriate.
This proposal remains at the moment in collective bargaining and the outcome is uncertain.
“Interesting idea... but why make it a surprise? Why not plan in a year out, so early planners for big summer trips aren't surprised?” asked elementary teacher, Cathy Skubik. “As it stands now, the district and my union will go back and forth, and we may know when we are working at some point before the summer, after we have made plans... and summer programs at local places need to know this too... now!
“I wonder what it would take for our district to work through a big change in a timely manner?
Even though 17 schools have gone on the new calendar, we still don’t have the data to support whether this aids students. The data will come in, school officials say, at the end of this first semester –and when tests scores are taken in May.
Linda Del Cueto, in charge of area of what the district calls Region 1, has 14 of those schools – most of them high schools. The only complaint she’s received so far are from parents who have students in elementary, middle and high school who want their children going to school on the same calendar so they can have family vacation.
“My high schools are really happy with it,” Del Cueto said. “It’s so good for the kids. But we can’t look at all the data until the test scores come in.”
Grades at the end of the semester, she added, will give school officials a glimpse at how the new calendar is working.
So here is my suggestion:
Before we make another dramatic change in the lives of our students, we need to give parents and teachers plenty of notice. We must first find out the facts at what the data will reveal before we take another giant gamble and hope it works.
I admire many of the administrators I talked to. They truly believe this is a good change for kids. But I doth protest as I’m really tired of repeatedly telling kids over and over again this one lesson they must be learning everyday:
You are what your test scores are.
How terribly unfortunate for children who give us so much more than a bunch of numbers every day.