Monday, March 9, 2009

Parents to Rally in Support of Program

On Tuesday, March 10th parents and community members will gather at 9:30 AM outside of the MCPS Board of Education to support the continuation of the Eastern Middle School block schedule. Here are the key points the parents will be communicating to the MCPS Board of Education:

1. Bait and switch: We and our children chose Eastern Middle School because of the richness of the program, and in spite of the additional work it entails. The richness of that program is now being reduced. Many parents, especially incoming 6th graders, who just heard about this on March 5, 2009, had already made the difficult decision to attend and irreversibly turned down other options such as in now-filled private schools. To suddenly switch so drastically with such short notice is outrageous! The results of a poll on parents' listserve from last week indicate that 59% of the magnet families are considering leaving the program due to this decision (3% are leaving, 41% are seriously considering leaving,15% might leave, and 41% are not considering it). The results likely would skew even more toward leaving/not attending for incoming families (who are not represented in this poll).

2. The parents perceive that the issue was forced by the teachers, that the parents and magnet teachers were marginalized, and the students excluded. The current Eastern Middle School administration practice of removing the students' flyers objecting to the schedule change further removes the students from the process, as well as raising First Amendment issues.

3. The state mandates fine arts for the schools
, just as it mandates Physical Education. This change makes fine arts optional, counter to the state mandate.

4. The process wasn't clear
, even to the parent representatives. At least two of them were surprised to find that the principal, Ms. Boucher, actually had a choice to accede to the pressure to change the schedule.

5. The reasons given for the change do not require going to a
seven-period schedule. The reasons we have heard include:

- Student attention spans are too short for 90-minute periods.

- Students need daily, rather than every other day, exposure to
keep the material fresh, particularly for math.

- Students need classes daily, rather than every other day, in
order to remember to do their homework.

Aside from the merits of these claims, all of them could be addressed within an 8-period schedule, if for instance there were 8 periods per day. A mixed schedule like those in some schools could combine short and long classes in the school day. Math classes could be designated as 45-minute classes, for example.

6. The loss of an elective severely damages the band/orchestra program. The band class polled itself and found that only three of the students would take band next year under the new schedule. If there are not enough students for a band class, we may well lose Ms. Baran, so in effect the school staff will be reduced. For many students, an after-school solution for the band is not workable, and it does not qualify as a school band.

Elementary-school students in the schools feeding Eastern who are considering taking band or orchestra in 4th and 5th grades will not have a class in which to continue taking music.

If there were to be significant after-school participation in band and orchestra as at Roberto Clemente Middle School, it shifts quite a load onto the music teachers' after-hours time. The effect is to take advantage of their dedication to the students' music education in order to reduce the teaching load on the academic teachers.

Will there be a similar effect on the foreign language program?

7. Class sizes will rise: There will be the same number of students in the building, but they will be taking fewer classes, so the number of students per class will rise, even if the number of teachers stays the same. If an arts or music teacher is lost due to the change, class sizes will rise still more.

8. Students lose the beneficial effects of the arts on their other subjects, quite apart from the benefits of the arts themselves. From a practical college-admissions point of view, it is helpful to have a range of activities and interests outside the academic classes.

9. Discrimination. This reduction is not happening at other magnets. Why? Families of the Argyle, Loiederman, and Parkland Middle School magnets were recently told:

The school system is pleased to inform you that as a result of recently approved budget decisions, funding has been restored to the three MSMC [Middle School Magnet Consortium] schools, Argyle, Loiederman, and Parkland. This means that the schools will be staffed to provide an eight period schedule [emphasis added], maintain their magnet coordinator, and will be able to fully implement their exciting whole school magnet programs.

We understand stimulus money has helped in this case, and is helping restore Title I school funding. Why can't we get the money to change the situation at Eastern Middle School too?

10. Goals of magnet as desegregation tool diminished. One of the reasons for the magnet was to help with desegregation. This in fact was one of the reasons the school went to an 8 period day many years ago, to promote better mixing of the kids with the increased electives. Things have never been better to reduce the "school within a school" perception of those older times. This decision will reverse that.

UPDATE: Bethesda Middle School to test dropping block schedule.

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