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Guest Column: School district fails to learn from history

June 08, 2011|By Ron Dietel

As the Valley Sun reported last week, the LCUSD Governing Board recently voted 4-1, with Joel Peterson dissenting, to cut four complete days of school next year, replacing them with four pupil-free days for teacher professional development. The district will add a few minutes to each school day to keep the total annual minutes about the same or even a little higher, but the four days will be gone.

The basic agreement was made during teacher contract negotiations, behind closed doors, with almost no input from parents or members of the community, who are paying more, yet getting less. The four days off is not a consequence of a weak budget. It is a completely voluntary district experiment.

Sadly, this major decision follows the same path the district and board took regarding the high school’s experimental STEP program. Starting in 2008, that program slashed valuable instructional minutes to make room for mini-courses, including table tennis and football study hall. Heralded by the district as an important enrichment program for students and teachers, STEP is now a shell of its former self, and instructional time has been restored to teaching core classes.

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Unfortunately, the similarities between STEP and this new experiment are ominous.

Neither program had a written plan with specific measureable goals, leadership responsibilities or, most importantly, an “external” evaluation to determine if the program worked. Would anyone build a house, or even a simple home addition, without a written plan? A sketch?

Neither had a budget. Launching new programs without funding virtually dooms them to failure, however well intended. In the STEP program, many teachers expected a stipend for teaching what they saw as an extra class. As I warned at the time, the lack of funding would lead many teachers to refuse to teach a STEP class. That happened, especially in seventh- and eighth-grades, leaving many students without the advertised number of STEP classes.

In this new experiment, the lack of funding means that LCUSD teachers will teach other teachers, rather than drawing from any knowledgeable outside learning experts who charge nominal fees for their services. No budget for materials, either.

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