There is an Order on Monday night’s agenda asking the City Manager to set up a task force to review educational issues around four-year olds. In particular, there is concern that our JK program, with its cut off-date, allows only half of our four-year olds to get schooling within CPS. While I am supportive of general reviews of all things educational and look forward to seeing what this task force says, I can think of some things I’d like CPS to focus on before it looks to universal JK. First, I’d like to see it get the Innovation Agenda right. We’re still juggling with schedule issues, access to specials (art, music, PE, etc), foreign language instruction that is not as robust as some of us had hoped, limited after-school sports and so forth. On top of that, many of our students come to CPS when they are relatively old so a universal JK would do little for them. In a world of limited resources, if universal JK or other early education improvements would arguably improve our overall academic outcomes, then we might want to pursue it. But given the space constraints and other educational, financial and logistical challenges CPS faces, I think we’ve got a fair amount of work to do to improve existing programs before trying to expand our offerings.
Also, at 6 PM on Tuesday, the School Committee will hear a presentation on the extended day proposal by Dr. Young. I couldn’t find any information about this current proposal on CPS’ website or on the web so I don’t know how it differs, if at all, from the proposal the Teachers’ Union narrowly voted down last Spring (they’re still working without a contract, which is why it’s coming back up for a vote). My concerns, as a CPS parent and as a City Councillor,+ are the same as they were last Spring- absent a clear explanation of how the extended school day would result in a better academic experience for our kids, a clear explanation of the costs to both CPS and the City and an explanation of what various schools’ proposed start and stop times would be, I do not support it (though it’s a Teachers’ Union and School Committee, not a City Council decision). I worry that earlier start times would limit opportunities for children to participate in various music and study programs and that later end times would negatively impact sports, arts, tutoring and other after-school options. I also, frankly, don’t want my kids to simply get another hour of school- were it to happen, I’d want this extra hour to make the rest of the day better, not just the whole day longer. Extra time for art, music, PE or even lunch and recess seems like the most popular options when I talk with students or parents, but no one seems to know what, exactly, this extra hour would actually be used for. Like them, if I knew more specifics about how this proposal would work, I might be supportive but without knowing more I oppose it. My son Robbie, on his own, started a petition against the Extended Day here (I would put a link to a pro-Extended Day petition if I could find one, but I can’t find anything about this proposal that’s newer then last June, to include Robbie’s petition). Like the Extended Day idea or not, you may wish to share your thoughts with the School Committee at: SchoolCom@cpsd.us.
Finally, I’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking about textbook-less classrooms recently. You can read about one District’s move away from paper here. Like it or not, and I’m not sure I like it, at some point in the foreseeable future, we simply won’t have textbooks in our classrooms the way we do now. Whether we use Ipads or Chromebooks, whether we access new educational software or focus more on .pdfs of textbooks, whether we use computers to teach at home and do homework in school (what is called the FLIPped classroom), it’s clear that we all have a lot of thinking and planning to do to make sure that whatever direction we choose is adequately supported by both City and CPS resources. If you have thoughts on this issue, I’d love to have you share them with me on my blog.