Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Year Round Schooling

This posting may be a repeat but it is an issue I am starting to feel stronger and stronger about, Year round schooling. Yes, yes, yes I know how dare I mention this. I have heard the arguments about kids need time off to work in the fields or family business (and yes I know I am contradicting myself but hear me out), to explore alternatives to traditional schooling, go on the family vacation (or staycation), etc. Yes we need to take these things into account when we talk about year round schooling but we also need to look at what research says about learning and retention with long breaks in schooling.

In many states year round schooling is already going on with some degree of success ( There are also studies out there that claim mixed or even negative results of year round schooling, however in a cursory search using Google most of the articles I found were by organizations supporting summer vacation. The one telling article I found on ERIC ( found that if Year Round Schooling is "…carefully planned and implemented…" it had "…high levels of satisfaction for all stake holder groups." To me this says a lot about the direction we should be headed in education.

Now don't get me wrong, as a teacher I do enjoy the time off that I get (after all it is one of the hidden benefits of my job). Although I do get burned out on breaks especially summer vacation. By about mid July I am ready to head back to work as I have finished most of my honey do list, and/or other projects that need my attention. As a new parent I am learning the benefits of year round schooling from my daughter's day care. They offer a year round program for the younger kids (toddlers) and some type of summer program for the older kids (pre-kindergarten and kindergarten) albeit at a reduced day. She has been in this school for a year and a half now and I am seeing great strides in her learning. Now some of you may be thinking what am I doing with a 2 year old in school over the summer. Why am I not taking time to be with my daughter and enjoy the lazy days of summer playing and exploring the world with her. To you I say I am. So far this summer we have gone to the Aquarium, Fishing, the Pacific Science Center, the Oregon Coast, Geocaching, and numerous other activities. But on the days she goes to school her mother and I are able to work on home projects (landscaping, remodeling) and a small business (my wife) as well as take care of our two 9 month old twins. Without a year round school for our 2 year old we would be going bat crazy by now not to mention having a failing business. It has allowed us to be flexible and the type of year round school I would like to see is a flexible one as well.

I have read about two main ways of scheduling year round schooling, one being the "single track scheduling" where all students are on the same track with the same vacation schedule and the other being "multi-track scheduling" with various tracks for students and teachers and both have their pluses and minuses. Of the two I think single track is the most workable and the one that fits my view of year round school, although the multi-tracking system certainly is appealing from a cost saving point of view. My idea hopefully takes all stake holders accounts in to consideration. I would like to see us move to a university type system.

In the university system you have, for the most part, 4 quarters of schooling, fall, winter, spring, summer with the most heavily attended being the first 3. Most students take the summer off to work, vacation, relax, etc. but there are those that do take summer classes for various reasons. Some want to finish early, some are looking for enrichment or remediation and therein lies the key to my plan for year round schooling. In this day and age of budget cuts, high stakes testing, accountability, and program cuts. Year round schooling offers a viable solution for everyone.

With the university model of year round schooling you have the major areas of academic study (math, reading, writing) be mandatory but also sprinkle in some of what I will call the enrichment type courses (shop, art, music, etc.) but the focus is on the basics. Over the summer quarter you offer remediation and enrichment type courses. By having a semi-optional summer quarter you are giving parents a place for their kids to go, you open up your academic offerings for students, and you give teachers the ability to teach more and time off for those that want it. Not everyone would have to or need to attend the summer quarter only those that wanted to or needed too hence the semi-optional. For those students in need of remediation they would need to attend over the summer to boost their skills, unless they could show evidence of work towards improving skills areas needing remediation.

But what about vacations I am hearing some of you say. Well you would get more vacation throughout the year during the quarter changes. There would be 4 natural breaks around each quarter. How much time for each break would need to be hammered out but should be no longer than one month at a time to minimize academic loss.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this post as always. I know there are a lot things I haven't considered and I would love to hear from you about those things.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Blogging: The New Professional Development

In reading a recent post on edutopia ( today by Anthony Cody I was struck with an idea for simple yet effective professional development. In reading the reply to his posting on advocating for education by Bill Ferriter my idea started to take shape. Bill mentioned that he tries to read and respond to three educational blogs/postings a day. In doing this he mentions that he is able to stay up on current research, seeing other points of view, and sharing his point of view on topics. I believe this is not only at the heart of education but is essential to keeping education alive today. I also believe it can help educators meet if not exceed their needs for professional development.

In this day and age of NCLB and high qualified we as teachers need to be on the top of our game when it comes to our knowledge about our subject area. You may say what you will about NCLB and highly qualified and the nightmare it creates and I would support you on that; however I think there is a good side to it as well. What I think is a good idea is for us as educators to stay current on what is going on in our field whether that is instructional strategies, new research, new books, and/or new technology. That can be very hard given with trying to minimize days out of the classroom, shrinking budgets, lack of time in the day, etc. The traditional ways one can get information on current research are reading books or journals, attending in-building/district level professional development, attending classes or attending local, regional, and/or national conferences. All of these can be time consuming and in some cases expensive and in the case of reading no way of getting credit unless it is part of a class. For the later three one can apply for educational credit that can be helpful in moving them along a salary schedule, but often times these classes or conferences cost big bucks on top of the cost for credit. This is where blogging can come in handy.

Blogging is a great and inexpensive way to conduct professional development in the area of current research. It has all the elements of classes and/or conferences without the costs associated. You have experts in the field sharing their knowledge and/or research in a targeted forum (similar to a class on a specific topic). You have a somewhat captive audience participating engaged in an ongoing discussion of the topic as well as a recorded record of the discussion that one can refer back to. The only thing you have missing is the large entity asking for your money and giving you a grade. I can hear the skeptics out there crying hold on a minute you can't give credit for blogging. How will we know they are participating in the blog? How do we know if the blog they are participating in is credible? How do we assess what participants have learned? How do we account for everything? These are good questions posed by the skeptics but are answerable using the current system we have in place for recognizing classes and conferences. If teachers are participating in a blog, and they must for it to be effective, their posts are recorded. Districts can work with unions to develop criteria for which educators get credit for participation. In regards to the quality of information in a blog the moderators and bloggers are pretty good at policing inappropriate/inaccurate information. Districts in most cases have lists of organizations that they recognize as valid education/professional development providers. Why not add entities or individuals that maintain a credible blogs to this list? In the area of assessing what is learned you need to look no further than the classroom, staff meeting, lunch room, department/grade level meeting. One thing I have learned about educators is that when they have learned something good or that works they can't wait to share it. If they are sharing it with other educators and/or using it with their students then you can see that they have learned something. Yes this is anecdotal and subjective measurement but some of the best learning is measured in this way. I also am hearing all you teachers out there saying when will we have time to do all this. I would answer this by saying it is your choice to participate or not but if you are getting credit for participating why wouldn't you? I was a skeptic on blogging when it first came out. I thought it was just a fad that would come and go, I also thought that it was just another form of chatting online and that may have been what it started out as but it has morphed into a way of cataloging and sharing knowledge in real time. I have been blogging for going on 2 years now and I can say that I am convinced it is here to stay.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on this idea of allowing blogging as a form of professional development. If you and/or your district are doing this what can you share on how it is going?