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pinion School District Needs to Prioritize End of "Early Release


Tomorrow, Manatee County School Board members are scheduled to decide whether next year's schedule will include the controversial early-release Wednesday. I have yet to hear someone defend the policy as a success, and the academic results achieved since it was implemented provide a clear answer as to why not. But it is also quite clear that the decision is not an educational one at this point, but rather a financial matter. If the district is simply unable to provide students with a schedule more conducive to success in the classroom because of the way it has managed its resources, then that needs to be acknowledged, so that more profound changes can be addressed.

The modified schedule was adopted in 2007/08, as the district implemented a new core curriculum, which it had invested millions of dollars into via an outside consulting firm. The policy was supposedly needed  to help train the teachers on the new curriculum. Wednesday was cut short by 90 minutes, while the time was made up on the other four days. The problem is that by condensing all of the periods into Wednesday, the shortened classes tend to be less productive. There's also the logistical challenge of getting an entire school through the cafeteria on a short day, which results in ridiculous byproducts, like kids getting fed in the morning, right after they've eaten breakfast.

Children routinely complain about the fact that they “don't do anything” on those days, while teachers and other educational experts routinely weigh in that stunting classes in the middle of a school week is not a productive way for students to learn, creating a roller-coaster effect where the bookend days of Monday and Friday, when students are either restarting from a weekend or slowing down going into one, are split by a time-challenged day on which less is accomplished.

The district has also not done itself any favors in terms of mitigating the impact of its early-release policy. Year after year, it continues the asinine practice of stubbornly putting one on the schedule, even in the worst possible weeks, such as the one just after winter break, that creates a half-week thanks to the addition of an early release Wednesday to an in-service day on Friday, on top of a national holiday that Monday (MLK Day). So you basically have a do-nothing week bogging down teachers who are trying to get students back into gear after the holidays, rather than a more sensible schedule that avoids any two of the three in the same week.

Putting the schedule back to normal will certainly cause challenges. The administration will have to figure out where to put the students while teachers are utilizing planning time, without the funding to add staff or pay substitutes. But a lack of funding can hardly justify a system that is clearly not working. Manatee is a bottom-tier district in a bottom-tier state and the millions that were spent on the new curriculum have apparently done little to change that – nor has the accompanying “professional development” time that the previous schedule was sacrificed for.

If the board acknowledges this and takes the first step of reinstating a traditional schedule, it will be a step in the right direction. The next step will to be to look at the considerable expenses that are tied to administrative staff who are primarily concerned with Wednesday training and curriculum matters. Perhaps those resources would be better directed toward classroom-level staff who could help alleviate the staffing concerns that were expressed in the May 15 meeting.

If, however, the board instead chooses to pass off skewed surveys from an unrepresentative sample of parents, as it has done in the past, and has suggested doing again; or runs through the all-too-familiar dog and pony show where reliable, administration-friendly teachers and staff are paraded in front of the dais attesting to the unassailable value of the policy, while those opposed remain silent for fear of professional retaliation via reassignment or worse, it will be a sign that the status quo is secure and taxpayers can expect more of the same, despite the dismal results.

Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. His column appears every Thursday and Sunday on our site and in our free Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition (click here to subscribe). An archive of Dennis' columns is available here. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the badges below.

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