The Chinese Fire Drill

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Seven Period Day: A Myth of Productivity

Two years ago, my high school was the only one in our county that still used the antiquated seven-period day.  At the time, I assumed that it was only a matter of time before we joined the rest of our county and moved forward into the next century.

Then our governor changed the funding formula for all of the state's public schools.

Then the economy imploded.

During the first two waves of budget gloom, most of those county rivals have reverted BACK to a traditional, seven-period day.  In the newspaper reports covering the board meetings, the trustees tossed around the same, tired arguments in support of the switch-back: namely that students would get more day-to-day attention with their teachers, and that a regular routine would consequently improve both many of the social problems in the hallways and most importantly improve (you guessed it) test scores.  What they begrudgingly  mentioned, because they didn't want to be called out on their posturing, was that it was also going to be a LOT more cheap (which I mean in every sense of the word).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Those Annoying State Standards

Nearly twenty years ago, after my third year teaching, our English department met to update and revise curriculum. The process was time-consuming, and we harangued and bickered in the way any group will when philosophical influences clash with uniform goals, but it was nonetheless an elegant and simple process. We basically decided, in a nutshell, the following things for each class we offered:
  1. What major assignments (usually large papers/essays, etc) will each course require?
  2. What textbooks and novels, etc. will each course use?
  3. At what point in the year (broadly speaking) will the key assignments be completed?
  4. At what point in the year (again, broadly speaking) will important chapters and/or novels be completed?
Not that hard. A pretty basic concept. The amazing thing is that it actually worked very well. First, the decision-making, while challenging due to the personal biases and territorial attitudes that are common in teaching, was otherwise simple. Second, once the decisions were made, we produced a simple, readable, understandable document that any teacher (veteran or rookie) could grasp and use immediately. Finally, both the task and the document it produced served a purpose. It showed us who was doing what and when, and it helped us avoid situations where three different English classes read To Kill a Mockingbird while none of them taught students how to write Cause and Effect Papers.

Naturally, since the process was so functional, the "powers that be" saw the need to step in and screw it all up.