Middle schools plan a schedule shake-up

Change would allow special ed, ELL students to take electives

More than 1,500 students in the Mountain View Whisman School District could see their schedules radically change next year, as the district wraps up its quest to offer electives to all middle school students, including those with special needs.

District staff, including teachers and principals at Crittenden and Graham middle schools, have been quietly meeting since fall 2016 to tinker with the standard seven-period school day. While the options have ranged from modest to sweeping changes, the core goal of the task force is to inject flexibility into the schedule so students with disabilities and students learning English still have room for an elective class.

The critical flaw in the current schedule is that the students with special needs are forced to concede their elective period to remedial support classes, whether in English language development or special education support. Parents and district staff have argued that this is an unfair approach that shortchanges students of the only creative outlet they have during the school day.

One of the proposals still on the table is to switch to an eight-period block schedule that divides up classes by holding four on alternating days. Under that plan, students would have 87- and 92-minute classes, which some board members say could benefit all students attending Graham and Crittenden. Not only would kids only have to worry about homework for four classes each night, but students without the need for a support period would have the freedom to sign up for two elective classes.

At the Nov. 16 board meeting, board member Ellen Wheeler said she favored the eight-period model because it could bring stress levels down a notch for students who face increasing academic pressure in middle school. She said some parents are comparing the proposal to what students typically see in college, with half of the classes taking place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other half held on Tuesday and Thursday.

For teachers, a block schedule would be a mixed bag, said Assistant Superintendent Cathy Baur. They would get a much-needed extra period for preparation during the day, but having to teach classes every other day for an extended period of time would upend the familiar 48-minute daily lesson plans and teaching strategies. At a Nov. 2 board meeting, Baur said the shake-up would likely require more professional development to bring teachers up to speed.

"We would need to support our teachers in how to teach for longer periods of time and how you break that up and make it interesting," she said.

District staff admitted that the planned schedule changes have not been widely publicized or communicated to families. In late September -- during the tail-end of the task force process -- the district finally asked for feedback from parents and students.

The results were mixed, to say the least. Parents said they wanted more electives to focus on STEM, coding, programming, engineering, fine arts and foreign languages. Students, on the other hand, overwhelmingly favored home economics classes, like cooking and baking, extended break periods and athletics.

Parents griped about lack of communication from the district office, while students complained about lugging around heavy backpacks and spending too much time on homework.

Where the divergent priorities met, however, was over the start time of school. Both parents and students said middle school ought to start later than 7:50 a.m. at Graham and 7:55 a.m. at Crittenden so that kids have more time to sleep. Parents and students also agreed that more time for electives and a more diverse menu of elective classes should also be a top priority for the task force.

The task force was originally expected to make a final recommendation to the board on Dec. 7 to either adopt the eight-period day or a make more conservative modifications to the current seven-period day by dumping the current double math period to make room for an elective. But the recommendation is expected to be pushed back to Jan. 4, according to district spokeswoman Shelly Hausman.

District staff could not say how much either option would cost or how many new teachers would need to be hired.

Despite the delays, the new schedules are expected to be in place for the 2018-19 school year. Baur said whatever the task force recommends, it's paramount that teachers and support staff have room to either accelerate students or offer remedial support on core subjects like math, and that ambitious students should always have a path to take geometry in eighth grade. She also reminded the board that no matter what schedule they approve, not everyone is going to be thrilled with the result.

"We are trying create a schedule for 1,600 kids and families," she said. "And all those 1,600 kids have a wide range of needs. We want to make the best choice, but we know that we may not make everyone happy."


20 people like this
Posted by Nora S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

The survey results did NOT indicate that parents thought more electives should be a top priority. The survey did not ask whether parents thought it was important to have more electives. It asked what additional electives parents wanted. In addition, parents were never asked whether they thought additional electives were more important than double-period math. The survey was poorly worded, either because of sloppiness or manipulativeness, and completely fails to gauge opinion on the crucial questions, which are:

1. Should everyone's schedule be changed because a few students don't have time for an elective?

2. Should the double math period be dropped to make room for more electives?

I urge to Voice to pursue these questions.


5 people like this
Posted by Kevin Forestieri
Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Dec 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Kevin Forestieri is a registered user.

@Nora S.

Survey results on page 33 of the staff report (linked below) found that the following issues were "the most important things to consider" when changing middle school schedules, based on feedback from 427 parents and staff:

Start school later each day (tweens/teens need more sleep)
Elective scheduling and timetable (balance & two electives)
Variety of electives (provide lots of opportunities & workshop, cooking, debate, foreign language)

In addition, the assistant superintendent speaking at the meeting said there is "definitely a preference for two electives."

Web Link

11 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 6, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Nora, the survey did not asked those questions because the district has made the decision to implement the recommendation from the professional education assessment. The company came in for about a week in 2015 and made several recommendation which the district is now implementating.

The district really should have asked questions before blindly jumping into implmenting the recommendation. First, why do we have double periods? Why do we not have variety of electives? We have double math periods based on the high school district's feedback that the MVWSD students were not ready for high school math. This was a change based on local educator feedback and not some professional assessment firm that knows nothing about our students. As for elective, I don't know how we can we ready for more electives when Graham hasn't been able to hire a Spanish teacher for the past 3 years.

This rush to implement a recommendation from an ivy tower persepective is really the question the school district and the board should answer for.

16 people like this
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2017 at 3:40 pm

I was a public secondary schoolteacher for 39 years and I have taught in both middle and high school. I taught with the block schedule for several years and it has some significant drawbacks. First, high school students struggled with the 90 minute class periods and middle school students have even less ability to sit still and remain focused for long periods of time. Also, with the block schedule, if you miss a day, you will miss 50 percent of the learning/teaching one week, or 33 percent the other week. With a traditional schedule, you miss only 20 percent. Teaching for 90 minutes is a difficult experience for even the most talented teachers. Weak teachers do not stand a chance of success.

My school district also experimented with starting school at nine am with disastrous results. The same students who were always tired and sleeping in class when school started at eight were still tired and sleeping in class when school started at nine. Another consequence was increased tardiness and unexcused absences as many parents work traditional hours and have left for work long before their child was even up for school.

I understand the educational system wanting to meet the needs of every child, but an eight period day to accommodate the few also means that the teacher will be teaching another class as well. Teaching is already one of the most underappreciated, low-paying and difficult jobs out there. I see no reason to make it more so.

11 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Dec 6, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Christopher Chiang is a registered user.

Ask two teachers and you'll get three opinions.

More electives and blocks (longer and fewer) classes are all positive reforms. They make our middle schools all the better.

Middle school is a critical time for students to explore and take risks in new areas: world languages, arts, drama, debating, computer science, woodshop/makershop, etc. It was wrong to double down only core subjects.

Having taught blocks for over a decade, it can be amazing if teachers change their instruction towards projects and/or self-directed personalized time. If teachers try to direct-teach for a block, it doesn't work. It's not 2 classes squeezed into one. The success of blocks will depend on how seriously the district commits to professional development and ongoing teacher-to-teacher peer learning to ensure that instruction adapts to take advantage of longer classes. As a K-8 district, MVWD is lucky, their middle school teachers can lean on the elementary school teachers, who know much more more than high school teachers on project based learning and self-directed rotations.

16 people like this
Posted by Nora S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 6, 2017 at 5:01 pm

@ Kevin,

I took that survey. There were no questions about double math, nor were there any hints that double math was on the chopping block in order to give students two electives. It was only later, when I spoke to other parents, that I heard the rumors about curtailing what I would argue is the best part of our middle school curriculum: the excellent math program that readies our students for high school and beyond. I consider this survey to be trumped-up window-dressing for yet another adventure in untested educational waters by this District administration. And I am furious!

6 people like this
Posted by Ron MV
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 6, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Ron MV is a registered user.

@Retired Teacher: I respect your experience, but wouldn't the counter argument be a local block schedule school like Saint Francis High School, which has had a block schedule for a long time and outperforms many other local schools on 4 year college acceptance rates and other measures?

11 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 7, 2017 at 12:08 am

I support the school district. As a licensed school counselor, I have been in meetings discussing scheduling, long term and short term issues, what’s best for the majority of students, etc. There are simply tons and tons of variables that have to be considered. There is a ton of research to support both block scheduling and not blocking classes. The bottom line is what works for one kid may not work for another. The school district most likely doesn’t have to change anything. They are changing because there is strong support that something needs to be more effective. It’s truly a complete pain in the rear to change an entire building schedule. I personally applaud them if they are trying to solve a problem. I’ve heard the problem is some students have a few electives and some don’t so they are trying to rectify that. Here’s the ting about electives, if Johnny takes a computer class and enjoys it and learns quite a bit at School A but Joey isn’t able to take the same computer class at school b, when these students get to the high school who is going to perform better? And then start throwing in pre-reqs...what if computer 101 is required for computer 102 and Johnny had computer 101 in 8th grade as an elective and joey didn’t because it wasn’t offered or his schedule didn’t have any room. Now Joey is behind Johnny. While life isn’t fair, and that is totally something students should learn sooner rather than later, there is no reason that within the same school district, the district shouldn’t try to make things more fair.

Again, there are probably 1000 more issues and details that have to be considered than what the majority of the public realizes. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and look at your child’s schedule and the 10 closest friends schedules and get upset. But it’s not about your child and their 10 closest friends. It’s about doing what is best for the majority of the student population. It is fine to question and make sure you understand what is happening in the schools but the majority of the people working in any school district are trying to do what is best for the entire student population.

11 people like this
Posted by Pissed Teacher
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 7, 2017 at 6:39 am

What a way to support your teachers and students - block schedules are counter productive. Attention spans for people listening to someone speak is 20 minutes. Going to block schedules will only leave more students behind. The district already has a problem retaining average teachers let a lone great teachers. This will make it worse.

13 people like this
Posted by Ron MV
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 7, 2017 at 7:47 am

Ron MV is a registered user.

@Pissed Teacher . I will ask you the same question I asked earlier. If a block schedule is so bad for students and teachers, why are top performing schools in the area successful with it?

My two oldest kids had block schedules. When I told them I had all of my classes every day when I was in school, they and their friends were horrified. They wanted to know how we got anything done in those shorter classes. They preferred having them broken up so they could focus better on what they were taking that day and have more time between subjects. Of course, it is also a case of preferring what you know, but it is obviously working for them, and the school results prove it out. On top of this, a block schedule feels closer to what college is like (where their classes will NOT be daily, short classes), so it seems like an advantage to get ready for that.

9 people like this
Posted by Nora S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 7, 2017 at 9:02 am

@ Member

This argument makes no sense to me. A small number of students have no electives because they are still learning English and must take two periods of English. So the solution is that ALL the other students have to give up double-period math? Why? So that no one has the advantage of actually knowing any math when they get to high school? Why disadvantage the majority because of a scheduling issue affecting fewer than 100 students? Why not just give those students the option to choose second-period math or an elective? Is it because the District has decided that the only way to close the achievement gap is to lower the scores of the top students?

6 people like this
Posted by BDBD
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 7, 2017 at 12:28 pm

I went to a public middle school decades ago with a block schedule and a 9:00 AM start time, and it was a great experience! Teachers had more time to really determine student understanding, and students often had time to complete some of what would have been homework during school, where we could ask for help if we needed it. It also made science classes more rewarding (more time for experiments) and music classes much more feasible (more time to play between setting up and putting away instruments). In my school, Mondays and I think every-other-Friday still had a traditional 7-period schedule and other days had longer classes. That could be a hybrid approach for MVWSD to consider.

3 people like this
Posted by Vouchers for poor families only
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 11, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Give poor families vouchers. Eliminate public schools that subsidize the rich..

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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