Moving to a four-day classroom schedule in the Las Vegas City School District is an easy sale to most students — they’d love to enjoy a three-day weekend. Moreover, we suspect that most teachers also like the idea, since it would give them a day for training, planning and collaborating.
But as tempting as it might be to make such a dramatic move in the district’s academic calendar, we don’t think there’s enough time to adequately examine the issue for the 2012-13 school year. If academic achievement is really the top priority here, then the school board needs to take the time necessary to consider not only the pros and cons to a four-day week but its real-world implementations as well.
East’s superintendent, Sheryl McNellis-Martinez, is a strong advocate for the four-day schedule. She helped the Wagon Mound School District move to such a schedule. However, she says Wagon Mound’s primary motivation was money, but that’s not her justification for making the same move in Las Vegas. For East, her intent is to free up time for teachers to go through their professional development requirements, which will in turn improve student achievement scores.
Still, consideration for the five-to-four change is tied to East’s budget process because a school calendar must be part of the package sent to the state Public Education Department for approval on May 29. Then, on June 13, PED will formally review and approve the district’s budget package which, again, must include a 2012-13 academic calendar.
Therein lies the rush to get the four-day proposal approved. We don’t think it’s enough time.
Instead, it should be thoroughly considered, but McNellis-Martinez’s desire to push this through in weeks rather than months is likely to skew the issue in favor of passage. We wish she would have made more of an effort months ago to get this out for public consideration, but since she didn’t, it’s reasonable to delay the decision for a year.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the four-day schedule. Why, for example, do teachers need 35 Fridays in the school year to complete about 30 hours of mandatory professional development work in preparation for some core curriculum changes? Moreover, there will be other courses they can take to improve their teaching skills, but they will be optional. So why not make those courses mandatory as well? If these professional development courses make for better teachers, why not require more than the minimum? They’d certainly have time for them on all those Fridays.
At the heart of it all is a “trickle-down” theory, that if the district gives teachers a day each week to hone their skills with training, planning and collaboration, they’ll be more effective teachers, which will translate to higher student achievement. In theory, this makes sense, but we fear it’s overlooking a critical element — that the really good teachers are motivated by a passion to connect with their students. There are many such teachers in East’s schools, and they’ll continue to be that way with or without a training/planning/collaboration day every week.
Maybe the four-day schedule is a brilliant plan, but how can the public have confidence that it’s a wise move when they’ve just heard about it? Let’s give it due consideration. Let’s not railroad it through the process.
McNellis-Martinez has suggested the district try it for a year and, if it turns out to be a bad idea, go back to the five-day schedule next year. But isn’t that an unnecessary risk? The district could instead give the idea some balanced consideration during the coming school year; then, if it’s deemed acceptable, implement it in the 2013-14 school year.
There’s been some good progress made this year at East’s schools. No need to derail that progress by forcing a dramatic change prematurely.