A committee of teachers, students, parents, alumni and administration members has been working since October 2009 to revise the school’s modular schedule in an attempt to meet state requirements for instructional time.
The committee is creating proposals for a new schedule to be approved by the San Francisco Unified School District and principal and implemented next fall. As of last week, the committee has come up with four draft proposals.
The state requires a minimum yearly number of instructional minutes, the amount of time students spend seated and supervised in a classroom or participating in other activities such as assemblies or field trips. The California State Education Code mandates that there be 64,800 instructional minutes per student per year, and classes must also be a minimum of 45 minutes each day. “Our minimum goal is to meet the state requirements, but to benefit the students as much as possible is our ultimate goal,” assistant principal Michael Yi said.
The California Department of Education audits students’ schedules randomly each year to check that high schools conform to instructional minute standards. Last September, the CDE audited the schedules of four students at the school. After the audit, the administration formed a committee to assess instructional minutes and revise the current schedule. “We realized that there are things we had to improve,” Yi said.
“The general trend has been that the California state government is paying more attention to what we are doing in terms of class time,” United Educators of San Francisco co-building representative Kathy Melvin said.
The draft schedules include a modified modular schedule, a modified block schedule, a block schedule and a “standard” schedule. The proposals will be presented to the students and faculty at a date that has yet to be determined and then submitted to the school district for approval. The administration will make the final decision about which schedule to adopt. The specifics about the proposals have not been finalized. Each proposal maintains an eight-period schedule, but the length and frequency of classes vary among the proposals. “The details are still under scrutiny to make sure everything meets requirements and benefits all our students,” Yi said.
The chair of the committee, Michele Winter, said that the committee wants to preserve as many of the positive features of Lowell’s schedule as possible. This includes the ability to offer students seven classes, flexible lunch periods and “discretionary” or free time.
Some proposals include lengthening the school day, although this could interfere with athletics and may conflict with teachers’ workdays, which are limited by a union contract. Teachers currently work either mods 1 through 17 or mods 4 through 20, but a longer school day may necessitate three shifts of teachers. A lack of funding and necessary resources like additional classroom space further complicates the decision. “Everything depends on resources,” Yi said. “If we don’t have space and we don’t have money, there’s not much we can do.” Special schedule days, with fewer instructional minutes, must also be taken into consideration.
Minutes during normal school days must be banked to compensate for special schedule days, which are necessary for activities such as common planning time, professional development days and meetings.
In the past, Resource, a study period, provided enough minutes to meet the requirement. Resource, however, was eliminated at the end of the 2007-2008 school year due to budget constraints. “It is my understanding that the problem of instructional minutes had been forgiven for decades because of the Resource program,” Winter said.
According to Yi, because Resource period “died out,” alternative instructional minutes from California Scholarship Federation tutoring and other student-teacher activities were used for last year’s audit. But while Resource had a system of stamping that documented the time students spent in the class, CSF and other activities lack official individual student records due to the loss of staff members from continuous budget cuts. “The amount of instructional minutes gained by CSF and other activities is difficult to monitor,” Yi said. “We don’t have an established system anymore for documenting alternative instructional minutes.” The committee investigated new schedules that would provide enough instructional minutes so that our schedule is not reliant on coordinating alternative CSF instructional minutes.
The committee plans to seek input about the new proposals from the school community, although a date has not been set. “The proposals will be open to the public for feedback,” Yi said. Winter said she hopes that students and teachers will be able to voice their opinions, although the mechanics of that process have not been worked out yet. "We want people to look at the pros and cons of the proposed schedules. But we have learned that there is no such thing as a perfect schedule," she said.
A shortage of instructional minutes has had consequences for at least two California schools. According to a June 2009 Los Angeles Times article, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at two elementary schools in San Bernardino County were required to attend school for an additional 34 days in the summer. Although both schools exceeded the instructional minute requirements for the year, they were short five or ten minutes when planning their minimum days, shortened days that gave teachers planning time. If the elementary school students had not attended 34 days of summer school, the district would have lost $7 million in state funding.
“Consequences are a serious concern and we know nobody wants them,” Yi said. “More importantly, we have to give our students the required instructional minutes so that they will receive the instruction they deserve.”