Monday, May 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Changing length of class time needed public explanation

The Hernando School District's plan to increase instructional time at middle and high schools next year by reducing the number of class periods is a logical way to try to boost student achievement. What is illogical is that the district conceived and executed the proposal absent public input from students and their families or public vetting from the elected members of the Hernando School Board.

Until last month's discussion at a board workshop requested by board member John Sweeney, the details hadn't been aired in a public forum. Such behind-closed-doors decision-making, even those with pure motives, can become a precursor to public distrust. First-year superintendent Lori Romano defended the tactic, saying the board hadn't weighed in on school schedules previously. She also noted three schools already use a six-period (rather than seven) day, which hadn't required board approval.

But Romano is missing the broader point that as a public system, such major decisions deserve more scrutiny. Administrators, understandably, might have wished to avoid the debate, given the board's history of vacillating at length on earlier issues — from impact fees to a plan to expand bus service to additional elementary children. But such inefficiency is no excuse for lack of public discussion. And Sweeney was correct in suggesting it was the board's role to decide on the schedule change since it included, among other things, budgetary considerations.

But Sweeney's opposition to the plan that eliminates four elective classes over the four years of a student's high school career is misplaced. Under the plan, the current seven, 47-minute periods in each high school day will be compressed to six, 55-minute periods. That translates to 40 extra minutes of weekly teaching time per class, or 24 hours of additional instruction over the course of the school year. The schedule is intended to aid student understanding in core subjects and give teachers time to clear up misconceptions, which should reduce the need for interventions later.

The trade-off is one lost period, which will diminish, but not eliminate opportunities for students to take electives. Under the new schedule, students will need 24 credits to earn a traditional diploma with eight of the credits coming from electives.

Most of the board at the workshop appeared to support the change. "To continue to do the same things in the same way and expect different results, it's not going to happen,'' board member Dianne Bonfield said.

Indeed. Additional time on task is a vital component of student achievement. Romano may have been right on the policy but she was wrong on the execution. The public should be in the loop when it comes to such major changes.

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