After a recent audit found wide variances in the amount of instruction time and elementary student to teacher contact minutes, Pleasanton Unified School District is exploring ways to increase the instructional minutes at all nine elementary sites.
The district's goal is to both exceed and have more consistency in the state-required minimum instructional minutes across elementary schools. According to a presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting on March 25, adjustments to bell schedules would help prevent the need to add more days at the end of the school year.
All schools met the minimum instructional time requirement, but "major inequalities in time" resulted in some kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes receiving 22 to 24 school days worth of extra instructional minutes compared to others, according the audit, which compared elementary instructional time in the district both pre-COVID and following the onset of Senate Bill 98.
Staff said these inequalities often happen when staggered start and end times are implemented vs. not following such a schedule, adding that differences in third through fifth grades "are caused by slight variances in recess and/or lunch minutes."
Suggestions for maximizing instructional minutes included extending kindergarten to four hours, having a non-staggered day for first and second grade, and reducing lunch for fourth and fifth grade from 55 to 45 minutes.
Nationally, a June 2020 study by McKinsey and Co. reported at the start of the school year, students presenting "an average loss of up to 30% in reading and up to 50% in math."
The average learning loss for students nationwide is estimated to be seven months, though the study noted that for low-income, Black and Hispanic students, "this will be exacerbated by 15-20%."
Another study released in January reported "significant learning loss in both English language arts and math, with students in earlier grades most affected." The equity impact has also been most severe to certain students groups -- "especially low-income students and English language learners (ELLs), are falling behind more compared to others," staff said.
Trustee Mary Jo Carreon, a former teacher at Alisal Elementary School, said she understood "the need to have closer alignment, these schedules vary greatly," and shared her concern about not having an option for staggered reading, and the need for teacher input.
"I do feel this is an equity issue," Carreon said, then recounted her classroom experience with a former student who was below reading level and "had a lot of challenges."
The student came in for early reading, academic intervention later in the day, "and then because we had staggered reading, this child would come again for a third time, so this particular student got 3 periods of intervention," Carreon said. "I'd argue if all schools were exactly the same, this student would actually get less."
Director of elementary education Shay Galletti said, staggered is an option but PUSD needs to figure out how to increase instructional minutes.
"Right now, the staggered schedule that is currently in place, we only have 440 minutes over the required minimum by the state -- that is less than two days of a cushion," Galletti said. Ideally, Galletti said a "good cushion" would be five days.
If the district doesn't meet its minutes within a required year, "what happens is we either have to extend the school year to make up those minutes, or we have to add on time within that particular school year to the day so that we are in compliance," Galletti added.
Trustee Kelly Mokashi said that "from an equity perspective," the current schedule reflects a whole hour's difference, and suggested a staggered period lasting "only 30 minutes, so that there is that benefit for small group staggered time with students."
Board President Joan Laursen said she wanted to avoid "an educational lottery, depending on which school (students) go to," but also liked the staggered schedule, noting that before the pandemic, different sites used the time for intervention and other purposes as well.
"It's possible to come up with some additional options and still allow some differences at different school sites, as we did," Laursen said, adding that in the short term, the district has "some additional dollars that could be used to provide some additional staff members, that could allow for more small group instruction."
Mohr Elementary first-grade teacher and reading specialist Linda Stanford invited the district cabinet during public comment to come visit and "have a real conversation with first grade teachers."
"We're willing to do this whenever you're available," Stanford said. "We believe the more you know about this, the better informed you can be when you make this decision. We welcome it immensely."
District staff are expected to return with a proposed bell schedule at the May 6 board meeting.