Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fact Check: Starr Fibbed in Interview? Now Says Elem. Day Tied to High School Start Times.

Superintendent Joshua Starr was interviewed on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on October 31, 2013.  The transcript is below, the audio clip is on YouTube.  Listen or read what Superintendent Starr said in that interview.  Either way you will hear him say that the extension of the elementary school day proposal is not tied to the proposal to change high school start times.

Yet, today Superintendent Starr is using opposition to the extension of the elementary school day as a deal breaker for the high school start time change.
The concern about extending the elementary school day also is significant, and this plan simply cannot move forward without such a change. [June 10, 2014, Memorandum, Page 2]
Kojo Nnamdi Show: Joshua Starr On Montgomery School Start Times
THURSDAY, OCT 31, 2013 AT 12:06 P.M. in EDUCATION



The catalyst here is the high schools, but to make the schedule change work, you'd start middle schools 10 minutes earlier and make the elementary school day half an hour longer. What would the impact be on the younger students?


So the elementary day is not -- it's not tied into the ability to make the high schools later. The middle school earlier start time is tied into making the high schools later. The elementary came up because we realized when we were looking at the whole kit and caboodle that we said, you know what? We have the second shortest elementary day in the state. We could do so many wonderful things during that time, whether it's more enrichment, whether it's more support and interventions, whether it's more planning time for teachers, there's so many things we could do with that time.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.


  1. Dr. Starr's "mixed community feedback" was due to the fact that he never fully articulated a vision for the extra 30 minutes. So, of course the elementary school parents expressed concern. I would too. On the other hand, when parents - those who see the impact of our early high school start times day in and day out - were asked for their opinion, making the change was the overwhelming choice. Teachers were divided, and students ... well, would YOU allow your child to make a decision for themselves at 15, 16 or 17? As soon as they get to college, they certainly aren't taking 8 a.m. classes!

    The one group fully opposed to change was our bus drivers. Start School Later is more than willing to meet with SEIU and our county's bus drivers to assure them that later school starts have been successfully implemented across the country in a way that will make their lives -- and the lives of the children they serve - significantly better.

    Dr. Starr co-mingled the costs he provided in his press release. The busing for the later school start is $12 million. Worse yet, in his own recommendation he uses the lower cost for that extended day. Extending the elementary school day is far more expensive - and again, a separate issue worthy of debate on its own merits.

    Dr. Starr stated that the school system must prioritize whether starting school later is more important than hiring more teachers or investing in other school programs. Our doctors don't say we must prioritize between smoking cessation, managing glucose, or preventing head injuries and only do two of the three. No, we do all three because it is the right thing to do. In a system where we've never measured what programs are working, and I just finished a work group examining significant failures in our semester end math exams, I think we could find some of this money just by eliminating waste and programs that aren't being effective.

    Finally, I find it amazing that he's looking to the statewide study on healthy bell times. That study exists because of the hard work of Start School Later advocates. When we advocated for that legislation, we never imagined that Dr. Starr would take the easy way out and wait for its findings. We thought he might want to be a leader in Maryland, not a follower.

    Merry Eisner Heidorn
    Legislative Director, Start School Later, Inc.
    Candidate for the Board of Education At Large

    1. When can we get a new superintendent?

    2. Your example on smoking, blood sugar, and head injuries is absurd. Those are not mutually exclusive. You can do all three without impacting the other. With a budget you are forced to chose.

      Sometimes being a good leader is being a good follower. Know when to lead and know when to learn from others. If your thinking is to do something new just to be a "leader" then I would not be able to support you on the board.

    3. Make a wish upon a Starr?

  2. He said it would cost $21.6 million more and he also said that he would continue to monitor the situation. Truthfully, I don't really know what the big deal is. High School students have been going to school early for some time now. I went in at the current start times and I would guess that most of the other parents went in at or near the current start time. If students are tired, they should go to bed earlier. It really is that simple. If their workload doesn't permit that, then perhaps the workload is what needs to be tweaked a bit, not the school start time.

  3. I think it's important to clarify why Starting School Later, Inc. is having success nationally. It's because teenagers need 9 - 10 hours of sleep, and the adolescent circadian rhythm shift makes it impossible for them to fall asleep before 11 pm at the earliest. If they need to wake up and be at a bus stop by 6:30 a.m. to get to school, they can not possibly get the sleep their bodies require. And evidence is mounting that lack of sleep is harming an entire generation of children (lack of sleep equals depression, reduced immunity, obesity and diabetes, other long-term medical conditions, tardiness, truancy, drop-out rates, etc.). All of this can be addressed by healthy school hours - and if you go to our site at www.startschoollater.net, you'll see that many districts made this change AND saved money at the same time. This is not about homework (though it would be nice to talk about that) or kids using technology (we could ALL benefit from less of that). This is simple math. Teens are children who need sleep. Our system renders that impossible.

    Dr. Starr played two ends against a middle. Teens need sleep. And our teachers expressed a need - especially at the elementary school level - for more staff training, planning and collaboration time. His solution was to seek stakeholder input and design surveys that forced participants to choose only his bad solution or no change at all. If Dr. Starr was actually interested in supporting the kids and our teachers, he could have said any number of things yesterday. He could have said, my plan doesn't work, but I can see that Fairfax has found four different ways and all of them are $8 million or less, and our children need sleep, so I'm going to get this right in time for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead, he put it on the shelf. Trust me, that means he'd like it to stay on the shelf. Or until my state study forces his hand.

    As to the person who claimed that my comment re: doctors asking us to choose was absurd, I ask you to think about how Dr. Starr has shown that his current budget will be effective at closing the gap ... or improving our children's performance on semester exams ... or on anything for that matter. As readers of this blog, we know that the current Board of Education is not providing the budget oversight necessary. I also haven't seen any evidence that we establish measurable and accountable goals based on stakeholder feedback, goals that we can assess at the end of a budget cycle to determine if we're spending our money wisely. Why should I believe that some number of math specialists in specially targeted schools will close the gap when I know that ensuring ALL Montgomery County teens get the sleep they need has been proven to raise grades and improve test scores? I understand setting priorities. I just happen to believe that those priorities should be established by listening to EVERYONE in our community, and ensuring that we get the biggest bang for our buck.

    Quite honestly, I'm not interested in being a "leader" on the Board. I'm not doing something new - I'm trying to right a wrong the system made when they first started tiering in the mid-70's and did so in a manner that was penny-wise and pound-foolish, putting high school students in the first tier. I'm interesting in serving the children of this county. They, their parents, everyone who cares about our public education, need an advocate. They need someone who will listen to them and then ensure that the system is responsive to their concerns. The Board can collaborate with Dr. Starr, just as our county council collaborates with our county executive, just like our state senators and delegates work with our governor. That will, by its very nature, require me to listen to and learn from whoever else is on the board. But I bet they'll learn something if they listen too.

    Merry Eisner Heidorn


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