Ohio tourism executives want alternative to longer school year

Posted Monday, March 30, 2009 9:29 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Among many components of the Ohio governor's proposed reform, Ted Strickland is hoping to phase the 20 extra days into the school year within the next 10 years by adding four days every two years. Tourism officials, including Cedar Fair executives, say the impact on their business would be substantial.

Read more from The Sandusky Register.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 1:09 PM

Brian: Without even looking at the site, I suspect you are correct, and I realize that's at least part of the reason we are frequently at odds on this length-of-school-year thing. See, I was fortunate. My parents, at the urging of my kindergarten principal, yanked me out of my neighborhood school in 1978 and sent me to one of the weirdest public elementary schools ever conceived. A couple of years later, it became an "alternative" school, with admission via racist lottery. Anyway, the place was built with open-plan classrooms and instead of the typical 20:1 T/S ratio, it operated at 80:4 (later 160:8), a distinction that makes sense only because of the open floor plan. The structure (or apparent lack thereof) encourages differing learning styles, allows for teacher specialization (at the elementary school level!) and causes neat things to emerge from the chaos. One of the neatest ideas is that it allows for integration of all of the subject areas. Pick a subject you like, and approach it from every possible angle. Pity I never bothered to pick roller coasters; that came later.

But to me, that's the way education ought to work, and the tools I picked up at that stage have been invaluable on up through today. The bad thing is that when I hit middle school and was thrown into a rigidly structured, more traditional class setting, I felt like I was wasting my time in most of my classes. For three long years we were warehoused in a setting that was supposed to be preparing us for the high school learning environment which was conceptually (though not physically) a lot more like the one I had just left than the one I was in. Thank God for the Apple ][; Applesoft programming was what kept me sane for three years.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 1:15 PM

Brian Noble said:
It's not clear to me that this is an unavoidable consequence of tracking. I'll have to ask my principal friend if she's aware of any literature on the subject.

Note: "it's not clear" is fancy academic speak for "I think that's probably bulls**t."

Just basing it on what I've seen and on the basic idea that slower learners tend to learn...well, more slowly.

Not sure it is unavoidable and I didn't mean to insinuate that if I did. But from what I've seen and been led to understand, that's how it's working with the first graders broken into learning groups based on skills in my son's first grade. Seems that in addition to starting at a lower level, the bottom group moves forward at a slower pace as well. While the upper level started higher and moves faster as they tend to catch on quicker to things in general. The gap has widened in reading.

Too many variables, I suppose. Is it the teachers, the methods, these kids in particular, the environment, whatever?

Not an expert. Just calls 'em as I sees 'em. :)

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Tuesday, March 31, 2009 1:16 PM
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 1:46 PM

Gonch - I would make the argument that the gap is narrowing. Previously, when in the same group as the "fast learners" the slow ones would eventually stop asking questions, or would just feign understanding in order to not be singled out.

Now, in their own group with kids at their own skill level, they are actually receiving the instruction they need. The apparent gap is widening because we're seeing just how far back these kids are, but the real gap has stopped growing and is closing up.

The next step is to get the best teachers in the world to finally do the job they signed up for when they became PARENTS! Education doesn't start and stop at the school doors.

Heck, you could even make the indictment that failing standardized test scores is an indication that parents in that school district are failures, not the teachers. But no one wants to admit that there are parents who should have been sterilized out there.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 2:00 PM

Juggalotus said:
Gonch - I would make the argument that the gap is narrowing...

All of that makes sense to a degree.

But the widening gap just isn't a guess on my part. In the case of my son's first grade, I've been led to believe it's happening. The kids who started on higher levels have moved ahead a greater number of levels than the kids who started at a lower level. Granted, a few have moved up or down between groups based on ability, but in general it seems that the kids who came in with more knowledge and ability tend to advance faster.

Like I said, any number of variables could be at play and it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Just passing along what I've seen happening.

Now, in their own group with kids at their own skill level, they are actually receiving the instruction they need.

I just can't buy that all kids are capable on the same level and once you 'reach them' they just miraculously flourish and become proficient. Some of us just aren't as bright as others. Some kids just won't learn as quickly or as much as other kids. It happens. Look around you.

A kid who is just a slow learner isn't going to 'catch up' to a kid who grasps things quickly.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 3:47 PM

That's what my point was (and maybe not as eloquently put). Once you take kids and put them in their own skill groups, it becomes easier to teach to them. If a kid in the "slow" group starts getting it and progressing faster you can move him up, but you aren't sacrificing his education or the others by making him learn at someone elses speed.

There is also only so much a school can do to break down the kids into groups. Your sons school, by at least sorting them by ability, is doing far more for them than many schools do. I'm encouraged to see that because someone is finally getting it, that not all kids are the same. But the real 1 on 1 time has to come from the parents, not the school. And the schools can't be held to blame if parents aren't doing their job.

Also, I guess that the idea of a gap between the top and bottom isn't quite right either. The top, once given the room, is going to sprint further and further ahead, and to compare the best with the slowest isn't fair to either group. I guess what I meant to say is that the gap between the "bottom" and where we expect them to be stops growing. And if we're lucky it starts to shrink.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 3:58 PM

One of the neatest ideas is that it allows for integration of all ofthe subject areas. Pick a subject you like, and approach it from everypossible angle.

As it happens, A2O does that---they are called "focus studies". It's sort of like an extended elective, two weeks long, about a half-day each day. My daughter is doing one on birds and birdwatching right now. My son is learning French. Luckily, A2O goes through middle school, so we'll avoid that particular hell.

Yes, slower learners learn more slowly. But, you are suggesting that the pace of their learning degrades if they are not in the same setting as faster learners. Again, I'm not at all sure that's true---and I suspect it isn't, because the pinko-commie liberals that make up the educational establishment would never stand for it if it were.

But, like I said, I'll see what I can get in the way of pedagogical literature on the subject.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:07 PM

Brian Noble said:
Yes, slower learners learn more slowly. But, you are suggesting that the pace of their learning degrades if they are not in the same setting as faster learners.

Not necessarily suggesting it, but wondering aloud about it since the one example I have exposure to seems to indicate it could happen. (non-committing enough? ;))

I do think that the slow learners would tend to 'do better' in the presence of the smarter kids - if for no reason other than having an 'example' to look to.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:08 PM

Lord Gonchar said:
So the kids working together are of similar skill levels. I think it's great for morale, but like you said, poor on diversity and exposure.

It's interesting you mention the benefit of morale with that method, because I was thinking the opposite. I would imagine it's not much of a concern at the first grade level when kids just go wherever the teacher tells them.

But as the grades progress, I can't help but think morale may be diminished due to the idea of being labeled a "slower learner" or whatever term you want to use. I have no doubt the teacherd do not use those terms, but it doesn't take much for the kids to realize why they are in the group they are in. That certainly wouldn't make me want to work harder.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:41 PM

^Well like it or not that happens to all kids eventually, because come high school the quick ones are doing AP courses to get into college, the middle ones are doing courses in business/marketing, skilled labor to either go to a tech school or start a career, and the "slow learners" are in special classes that will hopefully allow them to graduate, assuming they keep going to school.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 5:02 PM

Yeah, that's true enough. Although I'm not sure I agree that all average students are put on the vocational track. But from elementary school on? Those are some formative years in terms of education. Seems a little early to place kids in any categories.

*anecdotal support statement alert* My elementrary school "performance" was much different than my "performance" from junior high school on. It was much lower in elementary school.

Thankfully I was never placed in any special learning groups. In fact, our grades in elementary school were combined 2nd and 3rd together, and 4th and 5th together. So I had the benefit of slightly older students to commingle with. Wonder if that made a difference?

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 6:24 PM

^Just because the largest group is the college bound kids does not mean that they are above average when it comes to schooling. You need all As and Bs to get into most schools these days, and to not sweat out an admission somewhere you better have more As then Bs.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 6:45 PM

When I was 5 years old, my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.”

They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.

:)

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 6:46 PM

Touchdown said:
^Just because the largest group is the college bound kids does not mean that they are above average when it comes to schooling.

I think that was the point I was making. You referenced the "middle group" which I thought meant average students and you said they are mostly on a vocational track. I'm thinking that can't possibly be true. I think there are many "average" students who are college bound. But then I thought we were talking about curriculum level, not grades.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 6:58 PM

FWIW... to comment on what Carrie said, even in first grade, being in a 'lower' group than peers (even if not the 'lowest' group) DOES affect morale. In fact -- I have two kids here in the same class. One is in group five of six, the other four of six -- with six being the highest. The one in four (which is above that average line) is visibly upset when reading groups are brought up.

Also worth a note -- it's been my experience that Gonch's experience with reading groups has become the norm, whether the kids are broken up within an individual class or between classes. What's ironic is that it doesn't seem to be the trend in other areas, say, math or science.

In watching my daycare kids go into school, I keep coming back to the idea that my own children (whenever I have them) will be home schooled. I grew up thinking that homeschool was for religious freaks (to be non-pc) but as I live and learn I see the kids getting so much more out of the time outside of school than they do in school. Even though my life is easier when school is in session (due to fewer kids to watch,) I find myself living for days off and breaks, when we can go do things that enrich them in the ways that nobody teaches anymore.

Our education system is broken -- very broken -- and it's horribly sad. Within weeks of having kids start school last year, I grew to detest our local schools... part of it is a superintendant with his head up his rear and an attitude to boot, part of it is the fact that I feel like the kids who go to our local public school are very much just a number. In fact, I've yet to meet the teacher of the two reading group kids mentioned above. (And yes, I'm 'just' their daycare provider -- but am very much involved in the kids' lives, and do the majority of the transportation, logistics, etc.)

On the other hand, I have several kids who go to a parochial school -- and yes, granted, part of the difference is that it's private -- but the difference is night and day. I know each of the teachers (K/PreK/Preschool) well, feel like there's much more communication, and know that the kids get much more individual attention. Tuition is actually very reasonable -- in the ballpark of, maybe less than, the parents would pay for equal hours of daycare -- and it has a very 'family' feel.

Anyways, I'm now rambling, but my point is to agree that the approach is broken. The second school I speak of shows that quality education IS possible in the current school year -- on the other hand, lengthening the year for a crappy school doesn't mean more education, it just means more crap.

Off my soapbox now. /end rant

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 9:52 PM

Im a recent graduate of public high school (well semi recent 2001.) In my class there was one kid with a perfect 1600 SAT, and two with a 1590 (and no none of them were me.) They went on to Stanford (x2) and MIT. Notre Dame (x3,) Full ride at Purdue for engineering, Iowa (with an interernship at NASA,) University of Michigan, and of course loads of Marquette, University of Wisconsin, and University of Minnesota students (since I went to school in Wisconsin) peppered my class along with smaller schools. This was not a charter school, this was not a school with any special track for any of us, we were just the 150 kids that happened to live in the Northeast part of Appleton, WI. Its proof public schools can work.

This is proof that public schools in some parts of the country are not broke, some communities care about education and fund it, if your local community doesnt well perhaps you should change that. I again live in a town with a great public school system (Perrysburg, OH) that is again due to good funding and (this is important) parent involvement. Good funding leads to good teachers, and good facilities which rub off on students and drive them to work harder. However, in the end the most important factor in how well someone will do in school is parental involvement.

This plan to increase the school year really undermines that (and wastes everyone's time) and is a horrible idea.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 4:53 AM

In some countries (many which are doing better than us as far as education goes) kids are placed on a "track" early on. I don't remember when, but sometime prior to high school. There's a college track, and a non-college track. By the time you reach high school, you're either in the college track school preparing for college, or you're in the other school preparing for a skilled trade type of job. They realize not everyone is college material, and in their culture, that's ok.

I still believe that parents play a far greater role in education than schools do. You could have the best school ever, but with crappy parenting, it's likely to not matter. I also think extending the school year would be a total waste. Once the weather gets nice, any real learning screeches to a halt. They'd benefit more from slightly extending the length of the day and getting rid of unnecessary things like scheduled 2-hour delays, which happen a couple of times a month in my local school district.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 9:13 AM

Just to clarify, I get the tracks that take place in high school, maybe even junior high. I think those are slightly different than what Gonch was talking about with separate reading groups in elementary school in that those are geared toward preparing students for the path they will take after high school. That makes sense to me.

Deciding that a kid in his/her first year of school learns at a particular pace/level and placing him/her in a group accordingly doesn't seem right to me.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 9:46 AM

...unless the pedagogical research suggests that everyone learns better that way.

-brian, buried at work, but still planning to ask his principal pal for pointers to the literature.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 11:31 AM

When I was in public elementary school, students were separated out by learning ability. There was one class that had straight A students, 2 classes of B students and 2 classes of C and below students. This started in first grade and continued through 6th. Trust me, the kids knew which class they were in and the ones in the lower classes were and continued through high school, to be the "less significant" or "unpopular" students. It pretty much set up who the popular kids were going to be at the age of 6, which is kind of sad when you think about it.

Once we moved up to high school (mine was grades 7 - 12) the classification of students was pretty much thrown out the window, but the stigma was still there. Don't get me wrong, there were a few that worked hard and did well inschool and went onto college. But a lot of those kids, did nothingafter high school, still live in town (which has gone downhill as faras job availability let alone well paying jobs) and hold everydayaverage jobs now so I think morale plays a huge part, regardless of age.

The public school my daughter goes to now, doesn't separate students at the classroom level, like mine did. There are different kids in her class every year, they like to mix them up. They do have special classes for accelerated or slow-learning students, but I don't see where kids have been classified as "popular" or "the smart kids" or any of the typical stereotypes which is nice. She will make friends with anyone and I hope that attitude will continue because I know things will change in a couple years when she hits middle school. Next year will be a big test for our school district as were are merging with another district who's test scores are, across the board, lower than ours.

I think extending the school year is a bad idea. There is about 9 weeks of school left and I've already started to notice the kids getting antsy. My daughter loves school and gets straight A's without much effort, but she has started to ask when their next day off is, how many days left of school, do I have to go to school today, etc. If the kids don't want to be there, they aren't going to learn. They are just going to go through the motions and not retain much of what they are learning.

I've also noticed the homework has tapered off quite a bit. Granted the kids took the PSSA's a couple of weeks ago so they were prepping the kids for those tests, but a couple weeks later and the homework hasn't picked back up which leads me to think that the teachers are getting ready to wind down too.

I give teachers a lot of credit. You really have to love kids and have a lot of patience to be a teacher and I think they deserve their time off. I know it's not something I could do.

Last edited by loriu, Wednesday, April 1, 2009 1:45 PM
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 1:03 PM

I think the idea that some students are "college material" and others aren't is a fallacy, especially anytime before high school.

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