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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 02/ 6/2011

Is high school recess a waste?

By Jay Mathews

There is no limit to what you learn about schools if you listen to teachers. Did you know, for instance, that Fairfax County, this region's largest school district, is using 10 days a year of valuable instruction time on do-what-you-like recesses for high-school students?

I didn't either. West Springfield High School physics teacher Ed Linz says this program, designed to help struggling students, is a waste.

At his school, students get 90 free minutes a week, which they can use to find dates for Saturday night or check basketball scores if they want. But his principal, Paul Wardinski, says most students do homework, work on group projects or enrich their studies. It helps teachers to be creative, he says, even if some students just look for imaginative ways to goof off.

Linz disclosed the recesses to the Fairfax County School Board last month. Like President Obama, he said this is our Sputnik moment and we can't win the future throwing away precious class time.

Fairfax high schools have different names and schedules for the periods. At West Springfield, two 45-minute sessions a week are used to help the 10 percent or so of students in danger of flunking Virginia's Standards of Learning exams. The periods are called "Spartan Time" in honor of the school mascot.

Linz says, "Many do not show up for the remediation." Wardinski says the extra study time has reduced D's and F's by a third.

Students without F's on their report cards, the vast majority, may do what they want. Linz says he sees too many of them "socializing, surfing the Internet or - I am not kidding - watching TV in the cafeteria, all during the school day when parents assume their children are in class."

Linz is a former Navy captain who once ran a ballistic-missile submarine. He likes to be precise. He calculated that the sessions last year accounted for more than 3,400 minutes, the equivalent of about 10 days of instruction.

He says other teachers tell him the recesses make it harder to keep regular lessons on schedule. "In my school, for example, all of our five physics teachers are already between one and two weeks behind," he said. "All AP courses are being dramatically affected. These exams are difficult enough for students even if you have a full year of instruction."

Richard Moniuszko
, deputy division superintendent for Fairfax County schools, says he knows of few such complaints. He says teachers are keeping all students on target. Struggling students need help during the school day so they can get to activities or jobs after school, or catch the bus home, he says. When I pointed out that Montgomery County, Fairfax's academic rival across the Potomac, doesn't do it this way, he laughed and said, "That's because we are better than they are."

He was not happy, however, about students watching TV. He says he plans to fix that because all students should be studying. Wardinski says only about 100 West Springfield students spend Spartan Time in the cafeteria. They have to be on the honor
roll for A and B students (about 600 of the school's 2,259 students qualify). Most work on group projects, the principal says, because one TV set is stuck on a school channel and the other has just ESPN with the sound off. Internet surfing is possible
in the library, but Facebook is blocked. Students are not supposed to use cellphones.

Linz has a plan to reorganize the school day so everyone has 35 minutes at the end for remediation or homework. He insists Spartan Time is stealing instruction "from the majority of students who attend school regularly" and giving remedial instruction to "a small number of students who do not come to school regularly and who do virtually no assigned work."

Wardinski disagrees. He seems open to more ideas about how students who don't need remediation might use the time. I wonder if they could be assigned research papers, something nearly every high school avoids. They could examine the issue of what does and does not constitute wasting time in school.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | February 6, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Ed Linz, Paul Wardinski, Richard Moniuszko, West Springfield High School, about 100 may watch TV in the cafeteria, only remedial students required to be studying, principal says other students use it well, recess in high school. some teachers say it wastes time  
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Comments

This seems incredibly condescending to me. At some point we need to stop dictating how high school students spend all of their time. No wonder so many students struggle when the hit college. They've never had to make their own choices about their learning and be responsible. We've done it for them.

Yes, some high school students will make poor use of this time. However, it sounds to me from what you have here that only a small percentage are wasting it. It's possible to address that without creating a completely regimented day for everyone. Treat students with respect.

Posted by: Jenny04 | February 6, 2011 9:14 PM | Report abuse

This is what happens when you have a wide gap in abilities, Jay. People like you, who flatly don't believe that cognitive ability has anything to do with scholastic achievement, are busy preaching that everyone should take AP courses. Of course, at the same time, you're pointing the finger accusingly at the schools with hideous test scores.

So the schools are trying to figure out how to get their test scores up. Since people like you--and of course, the threat of lawsuits--demand that they pretend all kids are equal, they have to come up with these "tutorials" (what they are usually called) for everyone, even though they are a waste of time for most. For a few kids--a fraction of the failing fraction--this time will allow teachers to yank them through and keep them from failing. So we waste the time for everyone, because we can't acknowledge that it's only the kids who can't read or write or add that need the help.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | February 6, 2011 11:37 PM | Report abuse

At the FCPS high school where I work we have something similar, but I wouldn't call it "recess" since that implies it comes as a break in the middle of the day. Rather what we have is more along the line of "office hours" like a college professor would have. One day a week the instructional schedule begins an hour later and students have the opportunity (or not if they choose) to speak to a teacher or make up work. The only exception is if a student has a low grade in a particular class he can be mandated to come in for extra help. Students may also choose sleep a little later if they choose. Indeed when this was first proposed a few years ago, it was brought in as a concession to the people in the SLEEP group who wanted high schools to start later.

Overall I haven't had an issue with the loss of time because the loss of time really isn't an issue. Indeed I find it more beneficial to have a time when students can make up tests and quizzes during the school day so that they're not in the hall making up a test when the rest of the class is moving on to a new lesson thus putting the student doing the makeup work further behind.

You can make the argument that these missing 3400 minutes equals ten days of instruction, but the truth is the way the schedule is set up for us, it amounts to the loss of fifteen minutes per period (and when I say period I'm talking a 90+ minute period) every two weeks. That averages out to a loss of three minutes per period. I hate to break it to you, but that's the difference between me taking attendance, verbally discussing the agenda for day, and starting an activity as compared to taking attendance while the students have started an activity with the agenda on the board already. If a teacher can't adjust his teaching style and pacing to accomodate that, I worry how that teacher would respond when even more substantial adjustments need to be made in his classroom.

Posted by: Rob63 | February 7, 2011 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Any school that allows a TV in the cafeteria has far more structural problems than a mere 10-day recess problem.

Posted by: ericpollock | February 7, 2011 2:59 AM | Report abuse

Any school that allows a TV in the cafeteria has far more structural problems than a mere 10-day recess problem.

Posted by: ericpollock | February 7, 2011 3:02 AM | Report abuse

Rob63's comments are a nice counter to the situation at Linz's school, however I also agree with Cal's points.

Jay, asking the students who don't need to meet with a teacher, to write research papers is silly. First, someone has to monitor that (or at least grade those papers) and teachers aren't "free" to do what they want, they are with the students who need remediation. Your suggestion continues the refrain so many districts and schools are using: challenging all to take AP, and for those AP was truly designed for, increase their workload while the others catch up. When students are caught up, doing well, receiving A's even in AP classes they don't tend to want more work. They accomplished what they were required to do.

The reason these extra times are required now is because we are pushing the concept of "college for all" and that means students taking courses they aren't interested in, or capable of taking. We need to bring back courses that are geared for those not interested in college, or not academically inclined. Schools love Howard Gardner, but don't seem to understand what that truly boils down to. If you really think about it, his points don't simply boil down to teachers creating a thousand lesson plans to hit every learner's style, they also mean some students are better served by using their "visual" or "kinesthetic" (prob didn't spell that correctly) learning styles in possible career choices. In other words, students whose learning styles don't incorporate traditional learning styles along with visual etc., might need the old vocational options.

The courses all students need, in my opinion, aren't college track (or extra research papers when caught up), but courses that will help them understand contracts, mortgages, loans, common household repairs etc.

I got off track with my original points, but suffice to say we are in this "recess" situation because we have for years been focused on test scores and college for all.

Posted by: researcher2 | February 7, 2011 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Jay - I always thought some day I'd agree with you on something! I opened the paper and thought "maybe today will be the day..." Afraid not.

My kids are at Chantilly HS. Every second day they have a period divided into two sections. One section is "learning seminar (LS)" which rotates through each period - so Monday is LS1, Wed. is LS2, etc. This was a point of enrichment - and teachers sometimes scheduled so their LS period fell the class before a major test. This year teachers can teach new material and even give quizzes. I liked it better the old way.

The second block - the one you call "recess" - is "Charger Time." Students who aren't performing below a C in any class can choose where they go - otherwise they are assigned to a class. They can go to a class, the library or the cafeteria, but they cannot roam the halls. My daughter uses this time for review for tests or to get something explained in the homework. Sometimes the school counselors use the time for character ed or other specials. My daughter often wants to go to more than one class and has to choose.

My son is completely different - he mostly works on homework, and considering the insane homework load of a 15-year-old who leaves at 6:30 am and get home at 2:45 pm (8.25 hour day) I'm okay with that.

If my kids miss a couple of days of school due to illness, they have as many as seven teachers demanding they go to them the next charger time, and it's a negotiation.

OK - I DO agree that TV-watching should be out. I could see allowing the time for group projects or an organized sport in the gym, but TV-watching is a bit much.

Another point - since the late bus runs only ONE DAY A WEEK some students can't stay late to do make-up work as they have no transportation home. For these students, time to make up work during the school day is essential. Teachers also have their own lives after school that should be respected. The lack of late buses also encourages more student driving, which clogs roads and has safety issues involved, but that's another story.

I have heard that Loudoun County has good old-fashioned "study hall" as a CLASS, with "study hall monitors." Maybe you ought to pick on them.

Posted by: awrosenthl | February 7, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

great posts. I like especially the real world detail awrosenthl and Rob63 have given us. I think both of those schools seem to be approaching this intelligently. I am actually drawn to the option of giving some kids some extra sleep time. I wrote the piece in a way that I hoped suggested there were thoughtful people on both sides of this issue. My suggestion about requiring research writing was somewhat tongue in cheek. I know that won't happen. But I do think most kids need more instructional time than we are giving them, particularly in urban and rural schools.

for researcher2---I think you went off track in a good way. I would love for schools to provide the kind of courses you suggest, as long as they do not give up on trying to build students' reading, writing and math skills to a level where they would have a chance to do well in college if, when they get to be college age, they decide they want to do that. My problem is---and my feeling on this were implanted in me by a lot of great teachers--is that if you say:

"We need to bring back courses that are geared for those not interested in college, or not academically inclined."

You are accepting as written in stone, unchangeable for the rest of their high school years, the inclinations of 14 and 15 year olds, freshmen and sophomores. Kids often grow up, particularly if exposed to teachers who can show them the practical reasons for applying themselves to classes that teach skills needed in college, and show them they have the untapped ability to acquire those skills.
I know that you don't believe that is the impression you are creating, but I have been in a lot of high schools where such kids are shuttled into grade-level courses that do not try very hard to give them those skills, while their counselors make sure they have whatever vocational offerings the school has, which often are not very good. I want high schools to have just the kind of courses you describe, and make sure those kids take them, but NOT give up giving them the college skills that they may find they actually want when they are a couple of years older.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 7, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I have a student at Oakton High School. The "recess" there is called Cougar time. I am in complete support of the program. There have been many times when my child has needed help with his homework, and not having to set up a time with the teacher, thus getting furthur behind while he waits for his appointment has been invaluable. Incidentally, my son is a straight A student after a shaky start.

Many teachers in my son's AP classes assign group projects, and Cougar Time is a good time to work together, since many students also take after-school extracurricular activities.

Additionally, the social aspect of Cougar Time has some benefits that are being overlooked here. The students can interact in a safe, chaperoned environment.

Posted by: romerokc | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Imagine your work day looked like this....You go to meeting 1 where you are expected to focus exclusively on the topic at hand which is mostly delivered to you via power points and lectures. You are then graciously given a 6 minute break to travel across the building to attend a meeting on a completely different topic which is presented in a remarkably similar manner. Then, you have anothe 6 minutes "free" to move across the building, speak to a colleague, and if lucky, pass a bathroom that doesn't have a long line. But, once your 6 minutes are done, you must again sit down, be quiet, and listen and focus.

The structure of school is very tough. Kids need time to be kids and have a social moment with their friends. Maybe the system in place at this school isn't the best, but allowing students free moments to decompress will actually allow them to be better students.

Posted by: teach1 | February 7, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I have a student at Edison High School. What you call "recess" there is called Eagle Time and I support the program. There have been many times when my son has needed help with his homework, but his teachers don't stay after school every day so it's another time slot that my son can use to get extra help from his teachers. At Edison, students can also get permission from their teachers to use the library during Eagle time.

Your approach to this topic was really condescending.

Posted by: cab91 | February 7, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Let me join others in condemning the condescending tone with which this blog post was written. Jay, you may have thought you were writing a piece that presented thoughtful people on both sides of the issue, but when your headline calls it recess, you've discounted one side before you've allowed people to read your article.

My child attends a middle school in FCPS, and they also have Enrichment and Remediation, although it is done differently than in the high schools. The school uses block scheduling so they attend all seven classes on Monday, periods 2, 4, 6, and ER on Tues/Thurs, and periods 1, 3, 5, 7 on Weds/Fri. My child is just in 6th grade, so we are new to this, but as I understand it, the ER time is split into two 45 minute sessions. On Tues of the first week, all students go to their 1st and 2nd period classes. On Thurs they go to 3rd and 4th period, and the next week they go to 5th/6th and 7th/and a team meeting. I haven't figured out what they do for the team meeting. My child has not yet needed remedial help, and it is doubtful that many of the student in her classes do, as they are all honors classes. At the middle school level, they are all required to be in whatever class period is "on" for that day at that time. The only exception I know of is GT, which meets the first Tues session each week. I don't see how a student could be expected to go to some other class period, as that teacher would be busy with students from that class period. But they have a late bus three days a week, and students might be required to stay after school for extra remediation, on the teacher's volunteer time. I think this happens with some frequency. I am amazed at how much free time the teachers at that school give to the county to help the students.

Posted by: janedoe5 | February 7, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

"this is our Sputnik moment"

I wish that the President and everyone using this phrase would review the history of the "Sputnik moment".

President Eisenhower was actually delighted by Sputnik. There had been concern regarding satellites flying over other nations as being a violation of their air space. With the world acceptance of Sputnik, there would no longer be concern regarding the launching of American spy satellites.

A review of the period would show that President Eisenhower asked for and obtained more funding for science and technology in American colleges and universities. National Defense Student Loans were also made available for those going to college. No legislation was passed for public schools.

President Eisenhower was fully aware that the United States was more advanced in the sciences and technology than the Soviet Union but saw it as an excellent opportunity to increase spending in the sciences and technology.

Based upon the history it is obvious that now is not "a Sputnik moment" unless we accept that the President is simply using the phrase "a Sputnik moment" to take advantage of the perception of the public of Sputnik even though that perception is totally flawed.

By the way I wonder if FDR would have been reelected President if he did nothing about the poor economy but told Americans that our economy was totally dependent on children in public schools. Since education in public schools is a 12 year process it is possible that it would take up to 12 years to see the effect on the economy if the economy is dependent upon the children in public schools. I guess we should expect jobs for Americans in 2023.

Perhaps the President and others see this as a Sputnik moment. I only see this as a President with a new version of the chicken in every pot moment. I really do prefer the Presidents that stick with tradition and simply promise a chicken in every pot.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Thank you to my son's school and school system for finding ways to help kids succeed! Calling it "recess" does not at all reflect my understanding or my son's experiences. Portraying this time in terms of ability grouping (the remedial students who will "steal" instruction time) is over-simplifying it. At some point, every high school student will need this time to make up a test due to illness. Even the brightest student will be in a class that does not come naturally or will need a bit more explanation on a topic that is difficult for them.

The workload and pressure on our kids today is tremendous. Due to sports practice, my son is gone for 12+ hours, after which he has about 3 hours of homework per night, plus more hours for projects and studying for tests. So, 30 minutes a few times a week to start on a homework assignment, makeup a test, or get some reading done makes a small dent. Not many adults could handle working 15 hour days plus another 4-10 hours on the weekend on a regular basis. Kids who take AP courses spend significantly more hours than this. And, this doesn't include time for practicing an instrument, working, or other activities. And, good luck making up this amount of work if you are sick for a day or two.

Posted by: maitai2us | February 7, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank you to my son's school and school system for finding ways to help kids succeed! Calling it "recess" does not at all reflect my understanding or my son's experiences. Portraying this time in terms of ability grouping (the remedial students who will "steal" instruction time) is over-simplifying it. At some point, every high school student will need this time to make up a test due to illness. Even the brightest student will be in a class that does not come naturally or will need a bit more explanation on a topic that is difficult for them.

The workload and pressure on our kids today is tremendous. Due to sports practice, my son is gone for 12+ hours, after which he has about 3 hours of homework per night, plus more hours for projects and studying for tests. So, 30 minutes a few times a week to start on a homework assignment, makeup a test, or get some reading done makes a small dent. Not many adults could handle working 15 hour days plus another 4-10 hours on the weekend on a regular basis. Kids who take AP courses spend significantly more hours than this. And, this doesn't include time for practicing an instrument, working, or other activities. And, good luck making up this amount of work if you are sick for a day or two.

Posted by: maitai2us | February 7, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Wow in my day there was study hall. Back in those ancient times study hall was simply seen as the place where you dumped students that were not assigned for the period to a classroom. Creating schedules for students is really sorting them into a number of slots. If the student can not be sorted into any slot then the student went into the study hall slot. In those ancient times students in study hall were seen as a waste of time and you wanted to limit the number of students in study hall.

"Linz disclosed the recesses to the Fairfax County School Board last month. Like President Obama, he said this is our Sputnik moment and we can't win the future throwing away precious class time."

Perhaps instead of seeing this as "Sputnik moment" perhaps the school should adopt a better method of assigning students to classes.

Another suggestion I offer is that when you have minimized the number of students that have to be assigned to study hall you might want to assign students destined for study hall to non credit classes such as a class with art supplies or a class playing classical music. A teacher aid could be responsible for these classes.

In ancient days I would leave the school when I had study hall.

By the way I also find public schools weird with a TV in the public space. But then I know public schools receive money for having these TV's in their school. Always good to public schools have their priorities straight.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I totally disagree with Jay. Our kids (both in HS -a jr and a freshman at Oakton) use their extra time wisely and appreciate that it is there. When they need help they go to a specific teacher, when they are just studying they sit in the class they need the most help in. With the rigorous schedules and multiple AP classes, plus sports after school, it is a real bonus. It's been in place for over a year and I give it an A+.

Posted by: LemFam | February 7, 2011 4:15 PM | Report abuse

There is enough positive support for this method, both here and in emails to me, that I may do a followup column. If any Fairfax County posters above don't mind my attaching their real names to their thoughts, please email me at mathewsj@washpost.com.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 7, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad to see the parents in FCPS mostly supportive of the practice. I'm a teacher at one of the middle schools, and we have this break 4 days a week, too. During those 40 minutes, we have students come to make up missed work, get extra help, or help each other. The students who are assigned to my room mostly don't need extra help, so they use their time reading, writing, doing homework, or helping me in the classroom. I have worked in a number of school systems, and I am delighted with this setup. It hasn't cost me enough "class time" to worry about. That being said, I recognize that the physics teacher who felt it was a waste probably doesn't have many students who NEED that extra help. It's a different perspective than those teachers who have a lower level course with students who do need the help. Only a few of my students NEED extra help for my science class, but many need help for English (we have a lot of ESOL students), math, etc. There are also students who use the time to practice for music classes, work on art projects, or other things. Whatever they need help in, or just want more time with is what we do. As far as I can tell, that is what most of us teachers are here for - to help the students. If that help means that some students get a mental break during the day - it's OK with me. Brain breaks actually help students focus better afterwards. Why is that a bad thing?

Posted by: SnakePuncess | February 7, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Many years ago, I accompanied my mother on a newspaper story about a high school that was pioneering in the use of computers to schedule the students' classes. (I said many years ago.) The principal mentioned in passing that the school had 6 periods plus lunch and every student was scheduled for 6 classes. That, the principal said, had the advantage of making sure that each student attended for four years instead of taking extra classes and graduating early.

A friend of mine who attended there, was disabled, and had two parents working full time to catch up on medical bills and put away money for her college, said it also did away with making up tests or using the library; she had sometimes needed to ask neighbors--who didn't have children themselves--to make a special trip to pick her up when she needed to make up work she missed or had a term paper to research.

By contrast, my niece's private school held a free period at the end of the day, and the students were told, even in elementary school, that they could do their homework then or they could socialize, since so many of them never saw their friends except at school.

Don't any of the critics get a coffee break during the day (or take a break at the water cooler)? And they don't even have assignments made specifically to be done at home!

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 7, 2011 5:34 PM | Report abuse

"Linz disclosed the recesses to the Fairfax County School Board last month. Like President Obama, he said this is our Sputnik moment and we can't win the future throwing away precious class time."

Oops I just had a non Sputnik moment.

How does a school throw away precious class time?

Let us say that a school has 100 teachers. Working conditions say these 100 teachers should work 6 hours a day in classes. This means that you can have at the most 600 classes a day. This means that the only way you can "throw away precious class time" is that you are not holding 600 classes a day but say only 500 classes a day. But this is simply a matter of poor management and has nothing to do with students.

Of course we could make simply pack the student that we have to put into study hall into real classes. Hey two class of the same subject should improve learning. I watch the same movie a number of time. So what if there would be large numbers of extra students in these class, we would not be throwing away precious class time.

I have to go now and set up my telescope. Hopefully tonight I will see the Sputnik the President was talking about.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"Linz disclosed the recesses to the Fairfax County School Board last month. Like President Obama, he said this is our Sputnik moment and we can't win the future throwing away precious class time."

Let us stop throwing away precious non class time.

Speakers on school buses blaring educational information. "Parlez vous Francais?, La Plume de ma tante, The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of square of the other two sides."

Speakers in all school toilets blaring educational information.

We need to stop wasting precious time since the Russians are ahead. Or is it the Chinese and Indians? I wish the President would have specified who launched that new Sputnik.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Is high school recess a waste?

If recess is made standard in high schools MTV will quickly produce "High School Recess" to follow the success that Disney had with Recess which was about recess in primary school.

Just imagine the scope of this series with Jane flirting with a teacher during recess. The show would probably be too adult for MTV to show before 10 p.m. Imagine if this was not so since with TV's in the school we might have high school students on recess watching High School Recess on the school TV's. To overcome this problem MTV might also produce Reality High School Recess which could be broadcast during the school day.

Jay Mathews should perhaps do an article whether recess should be made standard for high school.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I love Jay Mathews column.

Where else can you make anything you want out of his article.

"Is high school recess a waste?"
Makes you think this is about recess where like in primary school every student gets a recess period.

"At his school, students get 90 free minutes a week, which they can use to find dates for Saturday night or check basketball scores if they want."

Nice confusion whether it is every student or only some students. Of course one wonders about 90 free minutes a week since this could mean 18 minutes a day. Just imagine scheduling students to have a daily 18 minute break.

"Fairfax high schools have different names and schedules for the periods. At West Springfield, two 45-minute sessions a week are used to help the 10 percent or so of students in danger of flunking Virginia's Standards of Learning exams. The periods are called "Spartan Time" in honor of the school mascot."

Now we have the confusion of whether the 90 percent that are not flunking are getting any time off or not. If the 90 percent are getting time off is this called Athenian Time.

But this is cleared up later where apparently the non flunking students are given time off. ( No this time is not called the Athenian Time. )

"Linz has a plan to reorganize the school day so everyone has 35 minutes at the end for remediation or homework. He insists Spartan Time is stealing instruction "from the majority of students who attend school regularly" and giving remedial instruction to "a small number of students who do not come to school regularly and who do virtually no assigned work.""

Great how Jay Mathews does not question whether teachers are being paid for this time or not. If 90 percent of the teachers not teaching are being paid to teach for these periods it is not a question of students not getting instructions but a matter of the state being cheated out of wages. I seriously doubt that any school would have 90 percent of their teachers being paid to teach but not teaching.

"the school day so everyone has 35 minutes at the end for remediation or homework."

No mention by Jay Mathews that 90 percent of students would still not be getting instructional time since they would be doing homework. Also no mention that from two 45 minutes period a week (90 minutes) now there would be five 35 minute periods a week (900 minutes).

Of course if you can arrange the day so that there is 35 spare time every day why not then let everyone go home 35 minutes earlier.

.....................
There is enough positive support for this method, both here and in emails to me, that I may do a followup column. If any Fairfax County posters above don't mind my attaching their real names to their thoughts, please email me at mathewsj@washpost.com.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
.....................
Jay is getting as good in his comments as his articles.

"There is enough positive support for this method,"

What method out of the three?
Never miss an opportunity to confuse.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

REWRITE FOR JAY MATHEWS
KEEP FIRST PARAGRAPH
West Springfield High School physics teacher Ed Linz says this program, designed to help struggling students, is a waste.

At his school, all students get two 45- minute periods a week. His principal, Paul Wardinski, says most students do homework, work on group projects or enrich their studies. It helps teachers to be creative, he says, even if some students just look for imaginative ways to goof off.

At West Springfield, two 45-minute sessions a week are used to help the 10 percent or so of students in danger of flunking Virginia's Standards of Learning exams. The periods are called "Spartan Time" in honor of the school mascot.

Linz says, "Many do not show up for the remediation." Wardinski says the extra study time has reduced D's and F's by a third.

Students without F's on their report cards, the vast majority, may do what they want. Linz says he sees too many of them "socializing, surfing the Internet or - I am not kidding - watching TV in the cafeteria, all during the school day when parents assume their children are in class.

Linz is a former Navy captain who once ran a ballistic-missile submarine. He likes to be precise. He calculated that the sessions last year accounted for more than 3,400 minutes, the equivalent of about 10 days of instruction.

He says other teachers tell him the recesses make it harder to keep regular lessons on schedule. "In my school, for example, all of our five physics teachers are already between one and two weeks behind," he said. "All AP courses are being dramatically affected. These exams are difficult enough for students even if you have a full year of instruction."

Linz has a plan to reorganize the school day so everyone has 35 minutes at the end for remediation or homework. He insists Spartan Time is stealing instruction "from the majority of students who attend school regularly" and giving remedial instruction to "a small number of students who do not come to school regularly and who do virtually no assigned work."

Richard Moniuszko, deputy division superintendent for Fairfax County schools, says he knows of few such complaints. He says teachers are keeping all students on target. Struggling students need help during the school day so they can get to activities or jobs after school, or catch the bus home, he says. When I pointed out that Montgomery County, Fairfax's academic rival across the Potomac, doesn't do it this way, he laughed and said, "That's because we are better than they are."

He was not happy, however, about students watching TV. He says he plans to fix that because all students should be studying. Wardinski says only about 100 West Springfield students spend Spartan Time in the cafeteria. They have to be on the honor roll for A and B students (about 600 of the school's 2,259 students qualify). Most work on group projects, the principal says, because one TV set ...

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

I recently moved out of state, but for the past 2 years taught at Fairfax High School. FHS utilized block schedules: on “blue” days, students attended class periods 1, 3, 5 and 7, and on “gray” days, students attended class periods 2, 6, and 8, leaving 90 minutes to be split into two portions. The 1st was called Rewards and Remediation (R&R), and the 2nd Pride Time. During R&R, failing students were required to report to the teacher of the class they were failing. Other students had the option of reporting to any teacher they chose, or going to the library, cafeteria, or a lab for a study hall. Each Pride Time period was devoted to a specific class period, which rotated through each of the other 7 classes.

I guess that the R&R part of this setup is akin to what the original blog post referred to as recess. I find this a poor characterization. As a teacher, I found that the hardest part of my job was trying to differentiate my instruction. I am expected to be flexible enough to use different approaches and techniques to reach all of my students, but have always found it challenging to provide the extra support that some learners needed without boring the students who caught on more quickly. A variety of techniques, such as collaborative groups and tiered assignments can help, and a good teacher becomes adept at managing his/her classroom to keep everyone engaged. However, there are times in which the most effective method to reach some students is to be able to give them one-on-one or small group attention on specific topics. R&R was an invaluable tool in this respect. I could work with my Algebra 1 students who couldn’t quite get the hang of factoring as quickly as many of their peers before they got so far behind that they would become discouraged and quit trying. It also made it easier for me to gauge how well the students understood the material. A perfect teacher would be able to tell this from the assessments built into the regular class, but even though I consider myself a competent teacher, I was far from perfect, and welcomed the opportunity to work with a smaller group of students.

Sure, some students might take advantage of the R&R setup to chill out, relax, or socialize for an extra 45 minutes every other day, but in my experience, this was rare—my classroom was always full of students…both mandated and those who chose to come.

Other posters have pointed out the advantages of using the time for students to make up missed assignments, to work on group projects, or to access internet resources—all true, in my experience. Another benefit at FHS was that there was an organized peer tutoring program matching advanced students with less advanced students that met—you guessed it—during R&R.

Recess? Not for most students. Not for the teachers. Abuses? Sure, there were some. Benefits? Priceless.

Posted by: singrass | February 7, 2011 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Jay, Ed Linz, the person you got all of your information from needs to learn he isn't in the Navy anymore. It is not called recess and as many people have said, that is extremely condescending to use that terminology. It is time during the day to do homework, make up tests or get help from a teacher. If you don't need to do those things, it is free time, heaven forbid!

When I was in high school, I had one or two study halls a day. I never took a book home as all of my homework could be completed in school. It amazes me what kids have to lug home each day. Shockingly, with all of those study halls, I still managed to get into college and get a degree. Imagine that!

Yes, schools should make sure the time is used appropriately, but I believe it is helping students. This appears to be one teacher's extremely narrowminded opinion. Glad my daughter isn't at that high school!

Posted by: viennamom22 | February 7, 2011 10:06 PM | Report abuse

I see that I really should not comment on the articles of Jay Mathews.

I really do not read them. I do not have the patience to go through such poorly written material. At best I simply scan them.

I believe that his articles are geared towards English teachers in public schools who are paid to, no matter how poorly written, really review the work turned in my students. Over years these teachers have become accustomed to twisted and torturous writing.

I believe that even these teachers might be some what loath to read his articles since Mr. Mathews is an adult and should be expected to be writing in a clear manner.

Perhaps Mr. Mathews believes that the readers should look upon his articles as a test of patience in dealing with his poor writing.

I believe that the articles of Mr. Mathews should be reviewed by an editor even thought Mr. Mathews sees himself as a columnist.

Last year Mr. Mathews wrote an article about newspaper articles being used as learning tool in public schools.

The articles of Mr. Mathews certainly could be used in public schools as examples of very poor writing, but since Mr. Mathews makes money with his writing this might give students the impression that poor writing is acceptable in obtaining a position and earning a living.

Because of this the articles of Mr. Mathews are not even suitable for public schools as examples of poor writing.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 7, 2011 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Jay, you have officially jumped the shark. Congratulations.


In my school we have one of these “recess” days once per month. We use the time for enrichment, remediation, and yes, sometimes it is downtime for independent reading or doing homework. We also use the time for student mentors to meet with their freshmen mentees.

As a physics teacher myself, I can tell you that even physics students need extra help, even physics students are overwhelmed by too much homework, even physics students need down time. Mr. Linz’ attempt to marginalize the flex time in schools tells me that he isn’t using it properly. Maybe he should integrate engaging activities and AP study sessions for his exceptional students along with some extra practice for his struggling students.

Posted by: VirginiaTeacher | February 8, 2011 4:50 AM | Report abuse

In my first reading, I missed the fact that Linz is a former Navy officer. That explains a lot. Apparently Mr. Linz believes the school should control every minute of a student's time the way the military controls its members, although I doubt he kept his sailors at work every moment of their shifts. This is one reason I am skeptical of the value of retired military officers as teachers; many have domestic difficulties because they expect to solve all problems by ordering people to work harder. More academic work won't benefit a student who doesn't get it the first time.

Mr. Linz's students are lucky he values education. I once worked with a woman who told me every time she picked up a book as a child she got a "clout on the head" and was told, "If you've got that much spare time, clean something." The attitude is the same; only the favored activity differs.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 8, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Is "recess" a waste, well yes if it is being used for tv watching, or socializing during the school day. America's youth has enough social time during their school day, I don't think they need more time, if those periods are better off slated for something constructive.

Posted by: tutoringmatch | February 8, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

As one poster commented, Mr. Linz needs to realize he is not in the Navy anymore. He should not expect to manage high school students according to the style of Admiral Hyman Rickover. If Mr. Linz and his fellow physics teachers are two weeks behind in instruction, I don't see how they can blame it on Spartan time. Spartan time has been around at least the two years my son has attended WSHS. It's not as if they had their lessons planned and then suddenly had to adjust them for it. Perhaps they should examine how they utilize class time and Spartan time and make adjustments to get caught up on those two weeks.

My son is a sophomore at West Springfield. He uses Spartan time to meet with teachers, catch up on homework or work missed because of an absence, or to go to the library. There is very little time scheduled in the school day/week other than these two periods to do this. My son does not even have time to go to his locker, as it is in another part of the school from the majority of his classes. As for staying after school, the late bus only runs one day a week, and it is sometimes difficult for me to pick him up when he stays late, as I have elementary age children. It can be a race to pick him up and be back home by the time they get off the bus.

For a very few, Spartan time might be considered "recess". Hats off to those students who have the grades and the organization to receive this privilege.

Posted by: RMSweetser | February 8, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

"There is no limit to what you learn about schools if you listen to teachers." You listened to ONE teacher!! As you should know yourself, this is not sound research. Nor did you do a balanced interview with the school's principal or administration.

But to address your "recess" issue, I will give you another teacher's anecdotal evidence. I, too, have first hand experience with "recess." I have worked at West Springfield High School in the past and I have advocated to bring a similar system to my current school district.

As a teacher, Spartan time was a fantastic way to offer individual instruction to students who had been out sick, at risk of failing or who wanted some assistance. If they didn't need help from me for my subject area, students could come to my room to do other work. Students sought out my classroom to read or group-study quietly even if they didn't need my direct assistance. As the movie Race to Nowhere illustrates, having time built into the day such as Spartan Time helps today's high schooler manage their hectic schedules a bit better. No system is perfect, however from a teacher's point of view, I thought it was a great way to make sure no child was left behind.

Go Spartan time!

Posted by: 20smom | February 8, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Back when I was in school and for the 33 years I taught, we had SNACK in between periods 2 and 3. Then LUNCH between periods 4 and 5. Then we kept the library open after school. Some teachers ate in their rooms so kids could come in and catch up, ask questions, whatever. Other teachers ate in the faculty lounge, and either relaxed with conversation or talked shop. It is no end of amusing to fake a "national conversation" on what goes on at school, when out of the other side of their mouths they are advocating "local control." At least there is one reader who understands the history behind Sputnik and how Eisenhower planned for it and then used it to promote his own agenda. From that pretend "scare" came NDEA and ESEA. If you don't know what those are, you need to take your 90 minutes and do some research.

When I arrived on the scene in 1973 our HS library had two full time credentialed school librarians with two clerks. Now that school has one librarian and one clerk. Not quite as much research is getting done. Where I now live, six high schools share two librarians. Want to guess how much teacher/librarian collaboration is happening?

Posted by: richardguy1 | February 8, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Any movement to help children should not be judged until after careful analysis. Think back to what seeing multiple intelligences in classrooms was regarded as a waste of time or how children discussing instead of just listening improves their cognitive abilities. We need to observe, reflect and act instead of just reacting to things we have no business judging.
Erika Burton, Ph.D.
Stepping Stones Together, Founder
Empowering parental involvement in early literacy skills
http://www.steppingstonestogether.com

Posted by: SteppingStonesTogether | February 8, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I am a sophomore at WSHS, and the only way I'm able to keep up with my homework is through Spartan Time. I'm only taking 1 AP class. Imagine what the juniors taking 4 or even 5 AP classes experience. Spartan Time may be abused by a few, but all of my friends and I use it to complete the massive piles of homework we are assigned. I already do not go to sleep before 10 or 11 because of homework, and I haven't even started my sport season yet. Without Spartan Time, I, personally, would be unable to finish my homework and still function the next day. Spartan Time is a critical part of our school week, and the actions of a few bad students shouldn't ruin it for the rest of us.

Posted by: jeniferleibrandt | February 8, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

"Recess" = yellow journalism.

I appreciate Jay's response to some of the comments but this was sloppy. In educational circles this program is called "extra help." Clearly there are flaws in this particular iteration of it but it is a widely used practice.

In fact, some of Jay's beloved KIPP high schools also build in extra help into their days...

Posted by: joshofstl1 | February 8, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile New York City is facing a crisis in public education.
NY Times
Schools May Have to Absorb Students’ Unpaid Lunch Bills

In a city with a Mayor that a businessman and a new Public School Chancellor that is a businesswoman with no background in education the problem in public education is collecting money from the few parents that should pay for school lunches.

This is one of the new priorities of the Chancellor. Never mind the reports that all of the testing in NYC was so watered down that any claims in gains in public education were a piece of fiction.

Just more evidence that those with a background in public education should not be running our schools but the business people who know the importance of collecting for unpaid lunches.

Believe it or not but in NYC where the vast majority of parents are so poor that they do not have to pay for lunches, businesses are allowed in school to sell rings for graduates of middle school.

Who says we are losing in public education?

"One middle school in the Bronx threatened to keep back students’ graduation rings unless their parents settled their accounts."

Posted by: bsallamack | February 8, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Mr. Linz's military career and training have given him a considerable myopia for the realities of the over-all situation as explained by the many thoughtful and detailed experiences listed above.
Few kids, if any, perform well according to military styles of training despite the insistence on "discipline" and "respect" many call for in lamenting the baseless allegations of "failing" schools.

Thank goodness the many responders above have the reality well in hand. Too bad Jay and the rest of the self-appointed "experts" don't talk to them first before opening their mouths or putting it out to the public.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | February 8, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

This doesn't sound that different from what I had in my high school. At my high school students were permitted one 'spare' period per term beginning in grade 11 and sometimes this was necessary for scheduling reasons (if there were no classes in the time slot that the student wanted to attend or was eligible for).

Instead of a scheduled class, the student would be permitted to choose what to do (within reason). This did not result in a waste of time. Some students did goof off, but that is no different than the fact that some students goof off in class. Many students used this time to work in the library, on group projects, or in a computer lab (if there was room). Of course in my case all students were not allowed to have a spare and all those who were never had it in the same time slot as everyone else.

In principle, having experienced a variation, this is a good idea. This gives students time to access school resources, such as the library, during school hours and to learn how to manage their own time. They are not told what to work on, so it is up to them to decide what is most important. Additionally, it allows struggling students time for remediation where the teacher can teach to and focus on their level of learning.

Yes, some students waste time, but they are generally in the minority (in my experience most want free time when they get home, so they do work during school) and are probably the ones who would waste time in class anyway. You shouldn't punish the majority for the actions of the minority. Keep the policy for all those who benefit and deal with those who choose not to separately.

Posted by: Wander099 | February 8, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Why are high school students so overloaded with homework? Most of the homework is simply drudge work.

Everyone speaks of students being taught to be able to do "critical" thinking and being prepared for college. Yet those in high schools are given large amounts of drudge work. The reality is that students are only being taught to accept doing drudge work.

Here is a new idea for homework. No more written assignments that are turned in.

Students are assigned to read the textbook before a subject that will be covered in the class. For the day that this homework assignment is due, students are tested on a quick quiz on the material they read. After the quiz the teacher actually teaches and reviews the material with the students having some idea of the material that is being covered.

Of course this makes the students responsible for reading and attempting on their own to understand the material that they are reading, instead of assigning them drudge work that can be done if they are willing to perform drudge work on demand.

Also of course this means that students in high school that can not read will fail. It is interesting that students are not in separate classes if they can read or not read. Apparently everyone needs to pretend that a student in high school with out the ability to read will pass high school if placed in a class with students that can read. It is also interesting that with this pretense all of the work of the class has to be based upon the idea that all of the students can not read. This is why reading assignments are not given and students instead are given large amounts of rote drudge work instead of reading assignments with a short quiz in class.

Of course this idea of reading homework assumes that the textbooks that are assigned have some value if students were required to read them as homework and a short quiz in class are not simply dead weight to improve the body mass of students.

It is interesting that if a high school actually did away with all the drudge work and made all homework based on reading it probably would be quickly attacked as being unfair to students that can not read. Apparently work expecting students to be able to read in high schools impinges on the rights of the student that can not read.

With NCLB we have had ten years of large amounts of drudge homework for students in an attempt to insure that every child is mediocre. So far we have succeeded in making students unable to think and not prepared for college.


By the way the use of the term "critical thinking" is just another attempt to reconcile our strange ideas with reality. Individuals either think or do not think, there is no mechanism where the brain pushes the gear box from thinking to "critical thinking".

I am surprised that no one has introduced the term "critical reading". This phrase would allow the pretense that all the students that can not read, really can read, but not at the level of "critical reading.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 8, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

joshofstl1 read my mind. I was thinking of the KIPP use of time yesterday, and that will be in mey followup column on high school recess.
I know it is a provocative term, but I didn't think of it, Ed Linz did, and I think it can be fairly defended if a lot of kids
are goofing off. If not, then no. We dont have data on that point yet, but I am getting emails from teachers in other counties with similar complaints about similar programs.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 8, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"Recess" = yellow journalism.

I appreciate Jay's response to some of the comments but this was sloppy. In educational circles this program is called "extra help." Clearly there are flaws in this particular iteration of it but it is a widely used practice.

In fact, some of Jay's beloved KIPP high schools also build in extra help into their days...

Posted by: joshofstl1
.....................
joshofstl1 read my mind. I was thinking of the KIPP use of time yesterday, and that will be in mey followup column on high school recess.
I know it is a provocative term, but I didn't think of it, Ed Linz did, and I think it can be fairly defended if a lot of kids
are goofing off. If not, then no. We dont have data on that point yet, but I am getting emails from teachers in other counties with similar complaints about similar programs.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
......................
A comment by Jay Mathews just as well written as his article.

Is Jay Mathews telling us that Mr. Linz came up with the word recess in the title?
Is high school recess a waste?

..............................
Jay Mathews still has not told us how the idea of Mr. Linz of 90 percent of students sitting in a classroom doing or pretending to do homework instead of going home early is a good use of "valuable instruction time" and not a waste of time. Is this one of the new ideas in public school where it is "valuable instruction time" if students are doing nothing in a classroom while it is waste of time if they are doing nothing outside of the classroom?

I guess if a teacher is reading his newspaper and students are doing or pretending to do homework this is considered "valuable instruction time".

Jay Mathews still also has not mentioned that if the idea of Mr. Litz is adopted it would take up 20 days a year of "valuable instruction time". Great that he claims the current idea is poor and wastes 10 days and then proposes an alternative that wastes 20 days since his idea means 175 minutes per week of 90 percent of students sitting in class doing or pretending to do homework.

....................
Interesting what Jay Mathews believes the following is research and justification for articles.
"If not, then no. We dont have data on that point yet, but I am getting emails from teachers in other counties with similar complaints about similar programs."

Apparently Jay Mathews believes that "recess" should be used "if a lot of kids
are goofing off."

Should we rename lunch recess if people are not eating their lunch and goofing off? By the way what do we call this period if 50 percent of students are not goofing off? Non Recess time.

But of course all this is being done scientifically and Jay Mathews will only use the term "recess" in his next article by reviewing the emails he receives which should be considered as full proof by scientific evidence.

I have a strong feeling that Jay Mathews will use the term "recess" in his next article.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 8, 2011 8:38 PM | Report abuse

To summarize: one person complains, Jay Matthews misrepresents situation, makes moutain out of molehill. Is this news (or new) to anyone?

Posted by: nostatic04 | February 8, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

"Critical thinking" is looking for errors in an argument or musing on the outcome of a course of action, as opposed to just remembering what is said. (For example: voting against a school levy because the school gives its high school students 90 minutes of "recess" a week is thinking. Discussing whether this is really a waste of time, what the advantages and disadvantages of the practice are, and proposing other ways to provide time to help students is critical thinking.)

"Critical reading" also exists and is different from just reading. Critical reading means analyzing what you have read to determine its credibility. Lack of critical reading is what led the author of the fourth-grade American history text to blindly accept the claim of the Sons of the Confederacy web site without further checking.

And the schools don't teach enough of either critical thinking or critical reading.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 9, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

At Oakton High School, we have Cougar time for 30 minutes, 4 days a week (which replaced a 15 minute break 5 days a week). I teach AP Calculus AB. On most days, the students have more time to ask in-depth questions about homework, review topics from trigonometry and algebra, and catch up if they missed classes.

On one day each week, as an enrichment project, I present a selected past AP Calculus free response question to the students. Thirty minutes is the perfect amount of time to present the problem, allow the students to work on the problem, walk through the problem with them in detail, and then show them the AP answer and scoring guidelines. In previous years, I found it very hard to find a block of 30 minutes in a class to present an entire problem the way I can during Cougar time. The test-taking skills they gain through this has helped boost the student's unit test scores throughout the year.

Posted by: BeckyHLyon | February 9, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Most Fairfax County High Schools have some variation of intra-day remediation time varying from 90 minutes to four plus hours each week.Some use it wisely for foucused remediation, instruction and enrichment. Others focus on triage for failing students and pack 200 plus kids into their libraries and another 300-400 into their cafeterias for independent study with no instructional supervision or assistance available; NOT a good environment for study and learning in any way shape or form. This is definitely an area that needs more extensive study by the school board to determine if this is the best, or even legal, use of instructional minutes for students who do not need remediation.

Posted by: kshurwitz | February 9, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Where is WSHS? At recess?

http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/sciengfair/2009web.html

Posted by: bonsier | February 10, 2011 1:37 AM | Report abuse

I teach AP Physics C and AP Physics B at Oakton High School. I have found that our embedded enrichment/remediation period (Cougar Time) has been very beneficial for me and my students. I routinely have 20 – 30 students in my room working on a wide variety of activities. My expectation for all students who come to me for Cougar Time is that they work on physics. Several groups of students form study groups and complete homework problems on the individual sized white boards that I keep in my classroom. The AP Physics C (calculus based) students often help AP Physics B students with their work. My students sometimes bring in their friends from Physics 1 classes and tutor them in my class. My remediation students come to me and we work on completing missed assignments and note taking. Many students use the Cougar Time to make up short quizzes. The net result is that I spend quality time with the students who need remediation and the other students like the opportunity to collaborate with their friends. Because I am able to reach so many students directly during school time, I find that my time after school can now be spent on grading and planning so that I have less work to do at home. For me and my students, Cougar Time is a win – win situation.

Posted by: droudebush1 | February 10, 2011 8:15 AM | Report abuse

I teach AP Biology and standard Biology for ESOL students at Oakton High School. My students’ motivation and skill level ranges from very high (most of my AP students) to very low (about half of my ESOL students). At Oakton, we have “Cougar Time,” an embedded remediation/enrichment time, four times per week. Students with F on their interim or quarterly report are required to attend Cougar Time for the failing class. Students who are doing well in their classes have the freedom to choose which class to attend at this time.
On average, I have between 20 and 30 students in my classroom every Cougar Time. About one-third of these students are failing one of my classes and are required to come; the rest come by choice. The students who come on their own usually form small study groups of two or three students and work together on material from my class or from other subjects. Many of my students also work together on Blackboard and/or e-CART practice quizzes that I post often so the students can review and prepare themselves for major assessments. Since the quizzes are not for a grade, it has been very rewarding to see how students can work cooperatively to teach each other with the goal of mastering my practice quizzes. The only requirement I have during Cougar Time in my room is that everyone has to be engaged in a productive academic activity. Students off-task are not allowed to return to my classroom.
What about the less motivated students who are required to come to my Cougar Time--mostly ESOL Biology students? I try to work individually with them focusing on building their basic skills and completing work done in the previous class so they can be prepared for the following class. However, it has been interesting to see how some of my reluctant learners observe the behavior and independence of my motivated students and ask questions about what they are doing and what classes they are taking. Throughout the year, I have seen how some of my reluctant learners have started to work together and help each other independently, instead of always waiting for me to directly tell them what they should be doing. It is true that sometimes I cannot help all my needy students. But I think that at least they are being exposed to a great group of role models, and they are noticing what successful kids do to succeed.
Cougar Time is not going to solve all our achievement problems. And it is not going to remediate all of our struggling students. However, I believe it is a step in the right direction when implemented properly and managed by a caring teacher.

Posted by: jcfernandez | February 10, 2011 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Where to begin?

I am a parent and PTSA President at Oakton HS. I, as well as my student and others, value 'Cougar Time'. I applaud our administration, teachers and staff for trying something new at our school to benefit both our students and teachers. Cougar time was explained to us and parental input was sought before this was implemented.

It is very inflammatory calling this valuable time 'recess'. Clearly, it is not.

What Cougar time does, is consolidate their break times, as scheduled in other years, into a larger block where they can get help and remediation, work on homework, work on group projects, help and motivate each other and, horrors, maybe socialize a bit if they are good students and don't need the time that day for any of the above.

Please don't assign these students any additional work such as research papers. Who is going to assign and grade these projects. Our overworked, underpaid teachers?

At Oakton, students are assigned to a class depending on their need for help. Or, they go for help where they choose. Students are not allowed to roam hallways. They need to be somewhere. Teachers use this valuable time to help students. There aren't daily late buses. It isn't always an option for a student to stay late for help. Cougar Time seems a win-win situation.

That being said, with any new plan, there are details to be worked out. There are students who will use the time wisely, and some who may not. I believe the majority are using Cougar Time wisely.

I agree our students begin school after Labor Day at a disadvantage regarding taking AP classes and tests. The pressure is on. When AP tests are administered nationwide the first two weeks in May, when Virginia legislators won't repeal/change the so called 'Kings Dominion Law' to allow an earlier start to the school year and when the push is on to increase the number of AP classes taken because that number is used on a key school ranking scale, the pressure on our students is enormous.

Recently, a bill to start Virginia schools before Labor Day didn't even make it out of committee by a 4-4 vote. Yet waivers are given to many Virginia school districts to begin earlier, but not to Fairfax County. People should contact their representative if they are really concerned about the 'AP disadvantage' and want to start earlier to be prepared for the AP tests. This disadvantage also applies to VA SOL tests which are also administered in May.

If the purpose of this column was to promote thought and discussion as to how to better educate our children, it worked. If its purpose was to have a discussion between students and parents as to how their 'study hall' time is being used, it worked, at least in my home.

If its purpose was to imply that our school system isn't doing its job of educating our children by letting them have an additional 10 school days off to 'socialize and watch TV', it failed. I know that isn't the case as do others.

Posted by: pamaburke | February 10, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The embedded remediation/enrichment period (called Cougar Time) at Oakton High School is new this year. In addition to remediating failing students, the chemistry team uses this period to extend the curriculum for our 180 honors chemistry students. The students learn the importance of measuring contaminant levels in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Each of the six classes is monitoring a different body of water in Fairfax County. They use a variety of analytical techniques to collect data which include titration, spectrophotometers, electronic sensors and field test kits. Students complete the testing in small groups during the embedded enrichment/remediation period, which allows the teachers to explain concepts and demonstrate laboratory skills. This year long project allows the students to see the impact of human activities on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It allows proficient students an opportunity to extend their understanding of chemistry and improve their laboratory skills.

Posted by: kcplecity | February 10, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

A 35-minute remediation period (Cougar Time) was instituted at Oakton High School in September. The library is used by students who don’t need remediation and choose to study on their own. 70 students are admitted to the library for Cougar Time each day. Most students study quietly from books and notes at tables. Computers are available for students to use following FCPS guidelines, so they are used for school assignments only. When students are off-task either at tables or computers, they are reminded of the purpose for using the library. We have a large number of students who regularly report to the library during Cougar Time and use the time productively.
Eileen Cappel
Head Librarian
Oakton High School

Posted by: fkcappel | February 11, 2011 8:34 AM | Report abuse

The case for such time within the school day is that students need to leave school on time to get to their jobs and be able to participate in activities and need time for remediation.

I (my children, actually) propose moving the "Spartan Time" to the end of the school day. Those students who are not required to meet with a teacher, may choose to stay for remediation or study group time or leave early. This way, they can take an earlier shift at their respective jobs which would allow them to come home at a decent hour to promote good sleep hygiene. Those who propose it in the morning so their children can sleep, well, let them take their children to school late, or let them sleep in class and stay for remediation. Working class parents are not the ones complaining about start times. Sleep hygiene is nurture not nature, but I digress and that is for another debate.

Anyway, since Fairfax students can no longer fail because of absences, late work, or ability, and the trend in education is to reward students for doing what they should be doing anyway, then I say reward the students who show up on time, try their best, turn in all their work, participate in after school activities, maintain their chores at home and hold down jobs. Let them chose how they spend their well deserved 'free time' outside the constraints of the school system. As a parent, I don't want my children at school 'wasting' their time. Put it at the end of the day so they can be responsible and spend it how the see fit.

The end-of-day time slot would also make the time more valuable to the teachers. Even if some students stay so they can ride the bus home, there will still be far less 'unoccupied' students on campus. With less students on campus to monitor, then the focus would be on the students who need it or want it. If the teachers don't have students that day, then they have extra planning time. Many teachers stay after school with students anyway. The time slot at the end of the day would allow longer/uninterrupted time for said teachers with said students. It would also allow students to plan the use of that time better. Rather than 'free time' after an elective and before classes, it would be after all classes are finished, after all lessons are taught, and after all work is assigned. They then can decide what they need and from whom they need it.

Posted by: jahenry2 | February 13, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

jaheny2 makes some good points about moving the period to the end of the day.

I disagree, however, with the criticism I detected in the statement about "the trend in education is to reward students for doing what they should be doing anyway." Of course they should be rewarded, just as adults are rewarded for doing their work--what do you think a working person's salary is? The simple fact is that the if a student studies hard, he gets "rewarded" either by being bored with nothing to do while the others catch up or, as Mr. Linz apparently wants, by having any spare time taken away and more of the same work assigned. Adults would not work under the conditions imposed on high school students.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 13, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

To use your work analogy, the student's "salary" is their report card.

What many don't realize is the rising trend to accept late work without grade penalty, "no zero" policies in many middle schools, i.e. 50% for missing work, and no real consequences for absences. If you do not show up to work, do not do your work or do it on time, will you still have your job or get your salary? The ownership of 'passing' has slowly been shifting off of students and on to parents and teachers. Many schools now have convoluted policies to encourage students to do their work. Rather than grades being an indicator of progress (or lack there of), there other 'incentives.' WSHS has Spartan do your Part cards - handed out to students for class participation, accountability, responsible behavior, and trustworthiness for a drawings of iPods and such. At the middle school level, pizza parties and donuts for honor roll students, team days for all except "non-doers" etc...


Posted by: jahenry2 | February 13, 2011 5:54 PM | Report abuse

jaheny2: would you work for six weeks for just a good evaluation, with no other payback, and knowing that if you did a good job it would just lead to more and more of the same work, some of it assigned just to keep you from having any spare time? And if you got enough good evaluations, after several years you might get a better chance at a similar job in a different environment? And then a few years later on you might get a chance at a totally different job?

No, you want more tangible and immediate payback with a direct relation between doing your job and the payback.

A student who works hard gets no benefit over the student who doesn't work hard--in fact, in some cases they just get more work. I remember having a first-period study hall in high school whose teacher required everyone to have a textbook and notebook open. He would only allow a newspaper or magazine if you were a senior with the one civics teacher who required a current event report, and if you were reading a book you had to prove to him that it was an English assignment. If you argued you had finished your homework the night before and obviously had none because it was first period, he would tell you to do it over just to keep busy. In other words, we learned that doing our work on time just earned us more work and took away from our free time, so we learned to put our work off until the last moment and grab our free time first.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 13, 2011 8:44 PM | Report abuse

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