Two rather depressing education missives, one real, one virtual, came across my desk last week. The first, a back to school packet from Grant High School, detailed the new class schedule: four classes a day, each one 90 minutes long. Nothing in the packet suggested teachers had been preparing for this new schedule, which extends individual class time by 35 minutes compared to last year. I’ve already posted my thoughts on the questionable pedagogical benefits of keeping restless teenagers, especially freshmen, confined to the same room for an hour and a half. Seeing the actual schedule, in black and white, with no accompanying explanation, did nothing to alleviate those concerns.
Public schools face a near constant barrage of criticism, and so I make a conscious effort to limit my own sniping when it comes to PPS. But in this case, the administration dropped the ball. Altering the high school schedule is one of the biggest curriculum changes to take place in years-on a par, one might say, with the neutered high school redesign–yet the district did so with no advance notice, no explanation as to how teachers will restructure class time, no consent from teachers…no nothing.
The second piece of communication was another essay by Ted Wolf, he who labors tirelessly to raise awareness about the dire state, seismically speaking, of Oregon schools. In an op-ed co authored for Education Week, Ted questions the value of earthquake drills in schools likely to collapse, in Oregon during the inevitable Cascadia quake:
In too many communities, we persist in quixotic exercises, staging earthquake drills in classrooms that could pancake the day an actual earthquake strikes along one of our dangerous faults.
Drills… have a useful role. They raise awareness and impart knowledge that will save lives. But underdesigned buildings killed thousands of schoolchildren in Sichuan, China, in 2008 and in Haiti in 2010, and underdesigned buildings could kill children here in the United States.
We can’t prevent natural disasters, but we owe it to our children to fix or replace unfit schools that put them in harm’s way. The toll taken by nature’s extremes is largely our choice.
The futility of earthquake drills reminds me of something Yumei Wang, an Oregon geotechnical engineer, told me when I interviewed her for this article here.
Me: School earthquake drills teach kids to “duck and cover.” But if you know a building is going to collapse, isn’t it better to get out of the building as fast as possible?
Wang: The “duck, cover, and hold” drill assumes the building is still standing. That kind of says it all.
That does say it all. Needless to say, for a variety of reasons, I’m not exactly looking forward to back to school.