Giving them 10 days off could free teachers to help struggling students
By Tawnell D. Hobbs
Doing well on a test could mean fewer days in school for some Texas students.
A recently revised state bill allows school districts to reduce the number of school days for students who have performed well or are likely to perform well on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Students who qualify could have their school year cut by 10 days.
"Part of the push for this was to give teachers more one-on-one with the students who are not passing," said Suzanne Marchman, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.
But some parents say the new initiative could result in costly child-care bills.
"That would be a big issue with parents that work and can't have their children home during the day," said Constance Muhammad, whose son attends H.S. Thompson Learning Center in Dallas. "A lot of parents use school as a baby sitter."
Camile White, who has three children at Harry Stone Montessori School in Dallas, said the program sounds like a Band-Aid for dealing with overcrowded classrooms.
"They need to be out finding more money so we can build more school buildings to thin out these classes," Ms. White said. "What good is 10 days going to do for those kids that are struggling already?"
Some teacher representatives think it's a good idea to give teachers more time with students who need it.
"It's almost too simple of a solution to a problem that we've been grappling with," said Aimee Bolender, president of Alliance AFT, which represents teachers in Dallas. She added that schools could provide group activities for students who qualify for reduced school days instead of sending them home.
"Overall, it's not a bad idea," said Dale Kaiser, president of the teacher group NEA Dallas. "It allows the teachers to concentrate on those students who need the extra help."
Some teachers, however, are less enthusiastic.
Dallas teacher Mary Strickland acknowledges that instructors do need more time with struggling students, but she doesn't like the thought of any student being out of class.
"No matter how much they know, you can teach them more," said Ms. Strickland, who teaches math at Kimball High School.
Whether the program will be embraced by the Dallas Independent School District remains to be seen. District officials said Tuesday that the issue needs more study and that they may form a committee.
"You have to consider the parents of a youngster who is doing well," said Jim Scales, DISD's deputy superintendent for administrative services. "How will they feel about shortening that student's school year? That could be a political nightmare."
Revisions to law
The program was included in a bill authored by state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that became law in 2003.
However, a very restrictive interpretation of how the program could be implemented may have discouraged districts from using it. The Texas Education Agency initially required districts to allow students performing at acceptable levels time off only if students in need of more instruction attended classes beyond the 180-day standard school year.
This week, however, the TEA sent out a new interpretation, which allows districts to reduce instructional days for some students without increasing the school days for struggling students. Students who qualify cannot have their school year reduced to fewer than 170 days.
TEA officials said Tuesday that two small school districts - Carlisle and Prairie Valley school districts in East and north central Texas, respectively - have been approved for the program for this year.
Districts can select which days students can take off during the school year. School districts, which receive state funding based on the weighted average daily attendance, will not lose funding under the program, Ms. Marchman said.
Guidelines to come
School districts have to apply in writing for permission to reduce instructional days, although there is no specific application form, according to the TEA. It's up to the district to determine which students qualify. The education agency plans to provide districts with more structure and guidance on the program, Ms. Marchman said.
Mike Payne, superintendent of the Carlisle school district, said the program rewards good performance. Students in his district who do well on the TAKS and have good attendance, he said, will attend school for 171 days this school year.
"It gives the kids an incentive to continue to do well," Mr. Payne said.
If parents don't have child care available, Mr. Payne said, they can send their students to school.
"We're not saying they can't come, we're saying they don't have to come," he said. --------------------- E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org *********************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: email@example.com