Some parents say Columbus schools’ professional development days disrupt schoolwork, schedules

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Columbus City Schools’ students were out of school on Wednesday, March 6, and Wednesday, March 20. One was a professional development day and the other a “records,” or grading, day for teachers.

The Columbus Education Association’s agreement with the district guarantees teachers 40 hours of professional development during school time. Seven professional development days, plus three records days, are scheduled between students’ first and last days of school, and almost all of the days are Wednesdays.
 
Professional development in the district

“We are quite the envy of other districts in the amount of professional development that we provide for our staff,” said Tonya Milligan, Columbus City Schools’ Executive Director of Teaching and Learning.

Some of Columbus City Schools’ professional development is district-wide and puts teachers in courses based on their subject area, like elementary teachers focusing on the science of reading. Other times, professional development courses focus on building-specific goals. The courses are usually in-person, with the exception of a virtual development day on April 8, that coincides with the eclipse.

“It’s one way not only to grow our people professionally, but it’s also a way to ensure that they are able to get what they need to renew their licenses, without that added burden and that added stress,” Milligan said.

She said reducing stress “only benefits kids,” because adults work better with children when they’re less stressed.

“When they have a Wednesday off, they’re not just losing Wednesday, right?”

– Marisa LaPalomento, district parent

Parents’ concerns

But for some parents, having so many days with kids off school, especially a day in the middle of the week, is complicated and concerning.

“When they have a Wednesday off, they’re not just losing Wednesday, right?” said Marisa LaPalomento, of Clintonville, a mother of a fourth grader.
 
LaPalomento said her daughter tells her that after a Wednesday off, the class spends much of Thursday reviewing.

“She loves to learn and she loves school. And so, to hear her complain about those things, I was sort of like, that feels kind of weird to me,” LaPalomento said.

In elementary school, “specials,” or classes like art and gym, happen on the same day every week, meaning students miss the same class every time they have a Wednesday off.

LaPalomento said, for example, one year her daughter had art on a Wednesday.

“Art is her absolute favorite special. And because the teacher, the art teacher, is shared with another school. They just never made up those art classes,” LaPalomento said.

LaPalomento said tutors in the district also see worse attendance on a Thursday after students had a day off.

For working parents and guardians, Wednesdays also pose the problem of childcare. LaPalomento knows one family that moved out of the district, because the parents were using too much vacation time staying home with the kids on Wednesdays.

“They don’t have family in town that can watch their kids on a random Wednesday because there’s no childcare,” LaPalomento said.

Columbus City Schools' 2023-2024 school calendar.

Columbus City Schools’ 2023-2024 school calendar.

Scheduling strategy

But Wednesdays are the best days for teachers to do professional development, according to Milligan.

“Typically, if we schedule it on a Friday or Monday, sometimes our attendance is not as high,” she said.

Spacing out development days allows teachers to practice skills before building on them, a strategy Milligan said is proven with adult learners.

“They have implementation in their classroom to practice the new skills, to come back to the next professional development day, to be able to reflect on those experiences,” Milligan said.

Fewer school days

But LaPolomento raised another concern: She looked at a half dozen school calendars and found that Columbus City Schools’ students are in class about 10 days fewer than neighboring districts like Dublin, Worthington, Westerville and Hilliard. Districts are required to have a minimum number of instructional hours, but not a set number of days.

Columbus students also have fewer five-day weeks and more days off in the middle of the week than other districts.

Columbus City Schools continues to earn low marks on the state’s report card, and the district has the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of area schools, averaging about 57% in the 2022-2023 school year.

“We’re not perfect. We’re not where we should be. But the results of the last few years, we’re starting to see us trend in the right direction.”

– CCS Director of Whole Child Community Partnerships Tyree Pollard

Absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism is when students miss 10% of instructional time for any reason. That doesn’t count days when all students are scheduled off.

It’s unclear, however, whether disrupted or shorter weeks contribute to the problem.

Arya Ansari, assistant professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology, said studies suggest regular four-day school weeks do not impact attendance. But he’s not familiar with any research on attendance and inconsistent schedules.

Ansari said children who are chronically absent, or miss any amount of scheduled school, underperform both academically and socially.

The causes of chronic absenteeism are complicated and can include problems like physical or mental illness, safety concerns or transportation problems, but Ansari said the biggest factor is poverty.

“Which takes a toll on families in a multitude of ways, such as the resources, availability of transportation, housing, food insecurity, equitable access to services, lack of predictable schedules,” Ansari said.

While more than half of Columbus City Schools’ students were chronically absent last year, district Director of Whole Child Community Partnerships Tyree Pollard said that’s down from the district’s all-time high of about 75% in the 2020-2021 school year.

“We’re not perfect. We’re not where we should be. But (considering) the results of the last few years, we’re starting to see us trend in the right direction,” Pollard said.

State data showed Columbus’ chronic absenteeism rates are lower among elementary and middle school students and highest at the high school level, where absenteeism rates remained around 70% last school year.

“It does require time out for our students. However, I would say it pays off in dividends on what the students experience when they’re in the classroom.”

– CCS Director of Teaching and Learning Tonya Milligan

Choosing where to invest

As for what students miss on a Wednesday off, Milligan said teachers and principals are good at adjusting schedules so students can make up time.

“So, whenever you invest in something, you are taking from someplace else, right?” Milligan said.

Milligan said district instructional time is over state minimum requirements at all schools. And she believes that because of professional development and records days, teachers come to class energized and with successful teaching strategies.

“It does require time out for our students. However, I would say it pays off in dividends on what the students experience when they’re in the classroom,” Milligan said.


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