Elementary and Middle School Students Receive Less Daily Instruction than State Peers
This week Patch takes a look at a number of district educational trends revealed in the Department of Education’s annual Report Card, released May 31.
When Superintendent Bruce Watson scans Fair Lawn’s School Report Card – the district performance overview issued annually by the state -- he sees growth.
Fair Lawn is right up there, if not better, than its socioeconomic peers and even socioeconomically wealthier districts when it comes to test scores, administration/student ratio and per pupil cost, he said.
“There’s only one thing I’m not happy with, never have been,” Watson said after poring over the School Report Card. “The comparison of instructional time.”
Fair Lawn’s daily instructional time trails the state average at the middle school and elementary school level.
Watson said he’s most concerned with the instructional time gap at the elementary level, where during the 2010-2011 school year Fair Lawn students received 33 fewer minutes of instruction each day than the average New Jersey elementary school student.
“We’re well under the state average and we’re trying to bring that up,” Watson said. “I’d like to get it equal to or over the state average, so we have more time teaching and more time for the children to explore and experience.”
Watson said district elementary schools have operated with the same amount of instructional time for as long as he’s worked in Fair Lawn, as negotiated through collective bargaining with the teachers.
The issue is most pronounced at the elementary level, Watson said, because of the time-honored practice of giving students a time to blow off steam through post-lunch recess.
With the amount of time teachers at each level get for lunch tied to the length of that school’s lunch period, schools with extended lunch periods -- because they include recess -- afford teachers more time out of the classroom.
“We’d like to shrink that,” said Watson, of the elongated lunch periods at the elementary level. “But not too much.”
His goal is to get the elementary lunch periods, currently one hour and 10 minutes, reduced to about 50 minutes. That won’t mean eliminating recess altogether, however.
“Studies we’ve read show recess is very good for kids -- not just for activity and obesity, but also tied to a good break in the day for students to let their energy out,” Watson said. “All of that is respected by the board and the administration, however, we would like to shrink that and give more instructional time given that we have time to do that.”
The district took a step toward closing the instructional gap recently when it agreed to a new contract with teachers.
In return for a retroactive pay raise, the board was able to broker an arrangement whereby elementary school teachers will provide an additional 25 minutes of instructional time per week, at the expense of a shorter lunch and prep period.
The added instructional time is not reflected in this year's School Report Card nor will it be reflected in next year's, since the assessments lag one year. Going forward, however, students will receive five more minutes of instruction on a daily basis, and lunch/recess periods will be reduced by five minutes.
In contrast to the amount of instructional time offered at the elementary level, high school students receive almost one-and-a-half more hours of instruction daily than their state peers.
"That is one of the reasons why I believe the high school is having success in the areas that are being tested," Watson said.
High school SAT scores and standardized proficiency assessment scores have increased over the past three years and students have access to as many or more Advanced Placement classes than any other district in Bergen County, Watson said.
"Because of the time we have with students, that’s why we’re having the success and we compete so well against wealthier districts," Watson said. "Now we’d love to get more time at the lower levels."
Length of School Day and Daily Instructional Time Offered to Students in 2010-2011
|Length of School Day||Daily Instructional Time||Difference in Instructional Time|
|High School (Fair Lawn)||8 hours||7 hours 20 minutes||+1 hour 24 minutes|
|High School (State)||6 hours 53 minutes||5 hours 56 minutes|
|Middle School (Fair Lawn)||6 hours 26 minutes||5 hours 27 minutes||-16 minutes|
|Middle School (State)||6 hours 30 minutes||5 hours 43 minutes|
|Elementary School (Fair Lawn)||6 hours 25 minutes||5 hours 10 minutes||-33 minutes|
|Elementary School (State)||6 hours 30 minutes||5 hours 43 minutes|