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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Time to rethink high school top to bottom

Uploaded: May 28, 2020
Editor's note: Upon reflection and taking into account other comments, I have changed this headline.

School trustees throughout the Tri-Valley and across the state are trying to figure out whether to re-open schools in the fall and what changes will be required if they do.
The irony about schools being closed is it’s become clear that children are at minimal risk from COVID-19—their health is not a question. The more challenging question concerns staff members who, depending upon their age and physical condition, may well be more at risk. And then there’s the grandparents and parents at home.
In addition, given the huge financial hit on government revenues and the potential for 10% cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and it’s another challenging time to be doing what amounts to a critically important volunteer job.
After a meeting that ended at midnight, trustees delayed their decision this week.
I think trustee Jamie Yee had it right. The Weekly reported, “Trustee Jamie Yee shared her concerns about "this mindset that we need to get back to the way it was or figure out how to do what we were doing before, and I think that maybe shuts down a lot of creative, innovative thinking if you approach it that way. I really think this is a chance to re-imagine education."
“Noting that "rows of desks do not work for everybody," including teachers, Yee suggested matching up students and teachers into groups based on their preference for in-person or virtual instruction and learning.”
The situation invites fresh thinking.
I came across a Bloomberg opinion piece by Michael J. Petrilli, president of president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and executive editor of Education Next.
In it, he argues for blowing up high school as we know it and also points out the fallacy of education funding in California. Schools are paid on butts in the seats for 180 days and a minimum number of minutes per day. It’s all attendance and has nothing not do with outcomes—are students learning? It’s truly backward.
He wrote, “it’s possible to glimpse a future in which technology liberates high school students — or at least some of them — from the six or seven-hour school day that has been crushing teenage souls for generations. That’s worth celebrating because so much of the school day amounts to wasted time.
Students only learn when they are focused, engaged and putting in effort.”
He continued, “For decades, the organization of the school day has followed a stultifying routine. High school seniors force themselves to get up at the crack of dawn and sleepwalk their way to first-period by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. They then slog through six or seven forty-five minute classes, and finally leave school at 2:30 or 3:00, ready at last to do something self-directed: play sports, head to band or theater or go to jobs.”
Then comes college and “the chains fall away” with 15 hours devoted to classroom instruction and the expectation to work independently, take part in group projects and connect with the instructor during office hours if they need some help.
For motivated students, he advocated a project-based learning and an end to our industrialized schools.
Last year, I read about an interesting approach in Texas where one master teacher would teach and it would be video streamed into other classrooms which had assistants to maintain order and provide help for students. One excellent instructor could be leveraged to touch hundreds of students instead of a single classroom. Given the way students have grown up attached to their screens, there’s some promise to this approach.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Amador Valley High School,
on May 28, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Ronnie is a registered user.

I think Trustee Yee and Tim Hunt are on to something. I do think a curriculum should include some face-to-face with other students as nothing replaces social skills learned. But I hope we do NOT go back to the usual mode and allow flexibility, plus It would reduce traffic pollution and need to build more schools or expand them. Kids might actually be able to attend the school closest to their house!
I'm so many ways, I hope we keep the changes during COVID-19, like airlines and public transit being disinfected regularly, grocery stores cleaning carts, controlling customer numbers at CostCo so it's not a frenzy push and shove experience, etc. just driving less is reducing global warming and making neighborhoods quieter, peaceful and walkable I know wildlife has benefitted too which is a good feeling for most people.

Posted by Parent and Voter, a resident of Danville,
on May 29, 2020 at 7:18 am

Parent and Voter is a registered user.

I am not ready to hop on board with recommendations from some Institution type about our education process. I find the words used...stultifying routine,force themselves, sleepwalk their way, then slog...very manipulative.
I do agree that teachers and other onsite staff are at greater risk than the students they interact with. Create classroom environments that force social distancing for teachers. Let young students develop interpersonal skills while they are also learning the 3 Rs.
Personally I think that human interaction is much better than interaction on some video screen. As an adult I work in a field where I had the option of going into work or telecommuting. I chose interacting directly with my peers.

Posted by Ed Win, a resident of Pleasanton Valley,
on May 29, 2020 at 7:25 pm

Let's not toss the baby out with the bath water. Let's first start with a conversation on moving away from school year based on an agrarian economy. We no longer need a long summer break for kids to help on the farm. It looks like we should consider a longer break in the middle of flu season. A number of colleges and universities are moving towards such a plan with the kids going on-line from Thanksgiving through fall finals. The, starting on-line and finishing in the classroom. Maybe, we adjust the calendar and remove the on-line portion.

Posted by Ann Brown, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 1, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Ann Brown is a registered user.

I agree that this is the time to think outside the box and consider ways to prepare our youth for the challenges that they will inherit. I am inspired by your inclusion of Project-Based Learning as an option for motivated students. The learning that can take place in the community, with non-profits, businesses, local government, libraries, and parks can be really meaningful and engaging. We adults in the community can partner with teachers to provide unique learning opportunities. There are many good models out there. Let's get connected - who will take leadership on this?

Posted by Bob, a resident of Danville,
on Jun 1, 2020 at 4:33 pm

Hi Tim,

Poor choice of words, but point well taken.


Posted by Brian Rogers, a resident of Vineyard Hills,
on Jun 2, 2020 at 12:15 am

Just a fun note: The school year is not based on an agrarian economy. Farms are busiest in Autumn and Spring and that's when the kids helped out. The "summer off" calendar is based on places like New York City, where (before air conditioning) it was so hot and humid in the city, wealthier families would take off on vacation, probably near some cool water. And if it's 90�"105 degrees in a classroom or office, nobody thinks clearly anyway.

Posted by DKHSK, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jun 2, 2020 at 7:04 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

I would be more than happy to have a hybrid approach as you suggest, but lets face it, teachers unions and school districts need to justify expenses and online learning just won't help them achieve that goal.

My opinion is that if you are to continue schools in a central location, factoring in concerns like start time, classroom time...etc., it might be time to do away with compulsory electives and focus on the basics. Math, reading/writing, History, Science, PE.

You could slightly increase classroom time and focus more on traditional teaching instead of the stupid progressive teachings of the failing common core and this would be a plus.

Should a child opt for it, and parent can afford it, Electives could be a pay-for option AND be sufficient enough for a student to get his/hers trade certificate so that those not college-bound could go right into the workforce. Auto repair, HVAC, Electronics, Plumbing...etc. Music would be an elective as well.

Online learning is an option now and has ben for a while. I knew of a few kids who were heavily invested in competitive activities like Figure Skating that stopped going to traditional schools and went online. Its accredited.

My 2c.


Posted by Go , a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jun 3, 2020 at 9:41 am

There has been a free online K-12 California Public School for many years. Please pull your kids out of real, in person, teaching classrooms of PUSD. It will make more room for the rest of us parents who see the value of in person teaching, sports and socialization Amador provides.

Posted by Cory Smith, a resident of Danville,
on Jun 8, 2020 at 2:47 am

Cory Smith is a registered user.

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Posted by Lillian Turner, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 9:16 pm

Lillian Turner is a registered user.

They then slog through six or seven forty-five minute classes, and finally leave school at 2:30 or 3:00, ready at last to do something self-directed: Web Link play sports, head to band or theater or go to jobs.

Posted by Thomas Maxwell, a resident of Pleasanton Village,
on Aug 10, 2020 at 3:25 pm

Thomas Maxwell is a registered user.

Why force things to get back to how they were pre-corona? Let's not kid ourselves. This coronavirus has changed things. Obsessing on how we can return to "normal" is a hindrance to adapting to this difficult situation and a hindrance to moving forward. Even my driving school has adopted new methods. Check Web Link if you want.

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