The Mystery of the Missing Minutes at Newark Memorial High School
Last week parents of Newark Memorial High School students received a letter (see pdf) saying the students had not been receiving the minimum amount of instructional minutes. Consequently, the schedule would be revised starting December 10, when the block days, Wednesdays and Thursdays, would change from ending 1:45 p.m. to 2:05 p.m. Getting the minimum minutes will “benefit students as they prepare for college and career”.
So, what’s that about? Arithmetic?
Our superintendent, Dave Marken, says no. According to numerous emails with Marken it's found that the students who take “A period” (6.50 a.m. to 7.40 a.m.) get enough minutes; problem is that not all students do.
“A periods” are not offered to everyone and “A periods” have been lost due to budget cuts. The Newark District knew they were not in compliance in September, but did not inform parents until they had worked out a solution, which also had to be coordinated with the bus service.
According to Dave Marken the minimum instructional minutes are 63,000 in high school, which will be raised in Newark to 64,800 for 2013/2014.
If a district does not fulfill the ‘minimum’ minutes they loose state funding. The California Department of Education conducts audits to check on school districts and whether they fulfill the requirements. From what I understand, they choose a couple of random students as examples, and then add up their minutes and judge if the school is in compliance or not.
Googling, I found an example from San Diego County from this year (click here). The problem in San Diego was that some high schools included an advisory class for low performing students in the minutes, when most students had lunch:
The California Department of Education requires an annual certification of substancial finacial penalties will be incurred by the district if a school fails to meet the minimum number of instructional minutes required by the state.
The instruction must be geared towards ALL students – not a requirement for those students who are not achieving a certain level, not an extra lunch time for those students who are achieving. Even though it is “available” to all students, if specific academic level students are required to take it and all other students have the option of going to an extended lunch, CDE does not view this as a ‘true’ offering”.
In San Diego, they have 180 school days and 64,800 minutes. In Newark the number of school days is 175. (If proposition 30 had not passed the threat was to cut 3 additional weeks from the school year).
Actually, it seems that 64,800 minutes in High School in California has been the rule for decades. Here's an excerpt from Los Angeles Times from 1997.
But who knew that high schoolers have to sit through 64,800 minutes per year of instruction for their schools to get paid bonus money?
"Instructional minutes," as they are called in the education code books, are the state's way of making sure students get the proper amount of teaching time.
And if school districts follow these persnickety rules, they are rewarded with "incentive funding," on top of the money they already get for average daily attendance, said Jenny Singh, associate program analyst for the state Department of Education.
Districts in California get anywhere from $28 to $160 a year per student if their instructional minutes add up. Each district painstakingly calculates their number, knowing that the prize can be many thousands of dollars.
You can get only so many answers by trying to email our administrators. The Patch is a great forum for people to contribute if they have more facts and information.
My extra questions would be:
Why don’t we already have 64,800 minutes? What is our ‘minute history’?
Has the district lost money due to non compliance?
Isn’t the easiest and most honest way to figure out minutes to go by ‘the least common denominator’? Do we want any Newark student getting less than ‘minimum’?
Isn’t it a case of arithmetic after all?