News

Board agrees on middle school schedule shake-up

Changes include eight periods, longer classes and more time for electives

Despite misgivings about students losing instructional time for math and other core subjects, Mountain View Whisman school board members agreed to make sweeping changes to middle school class schedules in order to give all students -- even those with special needs -- an elective period.

Under the new proposal, which a majority of trustees favored at the Jan. 4 board meeting, students at Crittenden and Graham middle schools would have eight classes with a six-period schedule each day. That means students would attend each class four days a week, according to a staff report.

The driving force behind the decision is that students who need remedial help, including English language development and instructional support for students with disabilities, often had to cede their elective period in middle school, missing out on everything from music and art to robotics and foreign languages. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said a litmus test for any new schedule should be the opportunity for students who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and language development classes to take electives.

The change does away with the current seven-period daily schedule that has two periods devoted for math, which district officials originally saw as a necessary step to prepare students for the new Common Core state standards in the 2014-15 school year. The standards shifted the ground beneath the feet of older students who weren't familiar with Common Core, and so-called "double block math" served as a stop-gap measure to bring them up to speed, Rudolph said.

The extra math period stuck around during the adoption of the Teach to One digital math program in fall 2016 before it was abruptly dropped last year, and the schedule remains in place even today.

Some parents raised concerns that the sweeping changes to the schedule sacrificed too much in order to give students more time for electives, arguing that reduced time for math and other core academic subjects could lower test scores, ramp up homework and exacerbate the achievement gap at the middle schools.

The changes would also reduce time for morning and lunch breaks as well as passing periods. On Mondays, students would start later in the morning and attend all eight classes for 32-minute periods. The rest of the week, they would attend six of their eight classes per day on a "cascading" schedule. On those days, classes would be 58 minutes each, with slim three-minute passing periods in between.

Alex Klaiber, a Crittenden parent, encouraged board members to reject the proposal, which he said lops off 10 percent of the valuable time devoted to core subjects each week on top of losing the double math period. He said it feels like the district is heading in the wrong direction, and could end up hurting achievement among the lower-performing students the new schedule is intended to support.

Klaiber also questioned the parent outreach that the district conducted, which he argued failed to show the pros and cons of losing time committed to academic subjects.

"I fear if you do this without more forthright consultation with the public, you do face serious backlash," he said.

But other parents threw their support behind the new schedule. Graham parent Agnes Berthillier called the proposal an important step to ensuring all students have the option to explore extracurricular activities. She said her children fall under the umbrella of English learner and special education, and that they seemed happy with the idea of dropping double math and having more latitude in choosing their schedule.

"I'm really glad to see this moving forward," Berthillier said.

Board members backed the eight-period plan, dubbed the "cascading schedule because two classes are rotated out each day, following the recommendations of the Middle School Schedule Task Force, middle school administrators and district office staff. Board member Ellen Wheeler said she largely supported strong math instruction at the middle schools and wants to lay the groundwork for students to reach Algebra I by seventh grade, but favors flexibility for students and families to make that call rather than enforce a double block math period for all.

Board president Laura Blakely said the school district already exceeds mandatory state-required minutes for core academic subjects, and that she wasn't too worried about the prospect of teachers struggling to cram all of the course content into the new schedule.

"I do think our staff has been working hard with teachers on professional development," she said. "Staff will be able to use those minutes effectively to teach the appropriate content."

The only hold-out was board member Greg Coladonato, who said the district should seriously consider other alternatives before adopting the cascading schedule. Simply turning the second period of math into an optional period, where students could opt out and use the time for an elective, might be a better way to address the parent concerns while also satisfying the goal of providing electives for all students.

Rudolph cautioned that he would need to consult with the math departments at both schools as well as special education staff on whether stripping away the second period of math in the current schedule would take away too much instructional time for high-needs students, particularly English learners with IEPs.

Although the goal of the cascading schedule was to reach a greater level of equity among all students, Graham teacher and task force member Edgar Gomez said the recommendation doesn't necessarily solve the entire problem. The new schedule means students who need remedial support and extra instructional time are stuck with one elective, while higher-achieving students under the new schedule will have access to two or even three elective classes throughout the day.

"If we're trying to eliminate the haves and the have-nots, the cascading schedule just perpetuates that," Gomez said. "We're giving more to certain students."

Board member Tamara Wilson said she believes middle school electives are important for all students at a critical point in social-emotional development, and while not everyone will have access to two electives, she said it's a strong compromise and the best option on the table right now.

"We cannot make a perfectly equitable system," she said. "It's a good goal, it's a lofty goal, I've rarely seen it accomplished. We are doing our best, and I think this current schedule gets as close as we're going to get to it at this time."

Comments

52 people like this
Posted by MV Parent
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 12, 2018 at 2:18 pm

It is certainly correct that parents have not been sufficiently consulted on this matter! The ThoughtExchange survey was laughable! This completely changes teaching in our Middle Schools by shortening the time given to core subjects and introducing a huge number of new electives.

Will teachers really be able to cover all of the required core material with reduced time?

What will happen in math if the second period is omitted?

Is there enough time to plan for quality electives?


10 people like this
Posted by Joel Lachter
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 13, 2018 at 8:13 am

As a parent of a fifth grader, who is thus both interested and out of the loop, I would appreciated a little more detail. What are the six required courses? Math, English, Social Studies, PE? And what sort of electives are offered?

WRT the discussion of equity, what if the district required English speakers to take a foreign language? Presumably the students losing one of their electives to ELD already know one; English is effectively their "foreign" language. The degree to which I would support such a proposal is dependent on the answers to the questions above (maybe foreign language is already required?); but I think my son would benefit more from improving his Spanish than a second period of Math.


7 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Jan 13, 2018 at 8:46 pm

Christopher Chiang is a registered user.

I hope the district can hire a full-time computer science teacher for each of the middle schools. There are certainly enough companies around here that can help fund it, that along with advanced Spanish middle school classes. This is a chance for the middle schools to even further prepare the kids for an exciting global future.


13 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Castro City
on Jan 14, 2018 at 7:24 pm

MV Parent you cannot be serious? The district has already explained Monday morning classes will be shortened, but length of time will expand Tuesday through Friday in core classes, why promote false information?

Furthermore, the survey the District promoted was not laughable, why diminish the outreach? The Task Force recommendation included parents and teachers feedback as to their best recommendation in order to have an elective be offered to English language learners. Why would you impede all students to have an elective? That just seems un-american and too helicopter parent to me.

You need to understand this is public education and it needs to serve the needs of ALL STUDENTS.


16 people like this
Posted by Graham Parent
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 14, 2018 at 7:58 pm

Nothing effective will happen in 32-minute class periods. Less instructional time in core subjects for ELDs students will come back to haunt the district. Former Board President Gutierrez was noticeably absent from the meeting. It would appear his lack of understanding of public education, misguided and ineffective political maneuvering and not-so-subtle, behind-the-scene muckracking efforts at Graham have backfired and he is now isolated from the rest of the Board. It's a pity because the ELD students in the district no longer have an effective Board Member in their corner.


20 people like this
Posted by Ellen Wheeler
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jan 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm

Ellen Wheeler is a registered user.

@ Graham Parent - Trustee Gutierrez was absent from the January 4th board meeting due to severe weather conditions in the midwest. You may have noticed on the posted agenda for this meeting that there was a 2nd address listed at the top of the agenda. That was the address of the site that Trustee Gutierrez planned to use to link in to the board meeting. Unfortunately Mother Nature got in the way and he was unable to utilize an internet site as he had planned. You may have also noticed that Trustee Gutierrez was diligent in providing written comments to the board president ahead of the meeting on agenda items that he felt needed his input. Trustee Gutierrez continues to be a valued and valuable member of the board team.


21 people like this
Posted by Concerned and Watching
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2018 at 3:20 pm

@Observer:

Students are losing 15 minutes per class, per week, for a total of 18 lost instructional days each year in all classes. There are longer classes on T-F, but students will have 8 classes total on their schedule and only 6 classes each day (excluding Monday). For an ELA class that is the equivalent of a unit. Students will either a) be losing instruction in 10% of the current course content or b) have 10% more homework in academic classes.

The survey was incomplete and did not address all of the issues that the task force was looking into. In addition, the follow-up survey promoted an "echo - chamber" effect where the results that one was able to assign stars aligned with the views one had originally given.

I sincerely hope that parents and the board show up to ask tough questions about purchasing quality curriculum for electives, how students will be assigned RTI (Response to Intervention) classes, how students are assigned to quality electives, what preparation and support teachers will be given to teach the RTI classes, and what can be done to create a more transparent process that serves ALL of our students.


23 people like this
Posted by Graham Parent
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 15, 2018 at 4:22 pm

@Concerned and Watching

Thank you for stating actual facts such as length of instructional time per class.

I find the questions you bring up quite important. After the TTO experience I worry a lot about these details. It was exactly the details of the program and its implementation that caused so much harm in the end to the students by TTO.

The idea of new the programs such as TTO, RTI and cascading schedules are very promising and well intended. However, these programs will only work for all students including ELD, special needs and gifted students, when the administration shows rigorous attention to detail when creating and implementing the new programs.

Good intentions and wishful thinking only doesn't improve our kids education.



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