Schools plan push in math
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 31, 2004
Electives may suffer in district's new emphasis

Doug Carroll

An effort to improve eighth-grade AIMS scores by increasing daily math instruction at the expense of electives is receiving mixed reviews in the Chandler Unified School District.

In a recent study session before its governing board, the district disclosed plans to reduce the current junior high schedule from eight to five periods each day, beginning with the 2005-06 school year.

The amount of time in each period would increase from about 45 minutes to about 70. Lunch of 30 minutes would be slated during third period, so students might take a break to eat and then return to their third-period class.

The change would create an alternate-days schedule for electives such as music, foreign language and physical education, which now meet daily. Teachers of those subjects are concerned they will be displaced from their jobs, that class sizes will increase and that their students will not receive balanced preparation for high school.

"It is about educating human beings, and electives are very important," said Ursula Goode, who teaches German at Andersen Junior High School. "Cutting out a language (from the daily schedule) is like losing a culture. It doesn't do our students justice."

Lisa Gregoire, a PE teacher at Bogle Junior High, said research shows that students perform better academically when PE is part of their daily routine.

"I feel like my job is at stake," Gregoire said. "When you start thinking about minimizing elective time, it will be difficult."

According to the district, as many as one-fourth of elective teaching positions may be reduced. But it said that because of attrition, the opening of Payne Junior High and the addition of another grade level to Basha High, that school's first senior class, it does not foresee jobs being lost.

"There's nothing I've ever done that is as complex as scheduling," said Susan Eissinger, the district's associate superintendent for elementary education. "There's no perfect schedule, I guess."

Chandler's 2004 AIMS scores in math among eighth-graders were lower than numbers posted by the Mesa, Gilbert and Scottsdale districts. The district also lagged behind the other three at the 10th-grade level.

"I don't want anyone to think we don't value the arts, but we have to give our kids a chance to excel in the core subjects," Chandler Superintendent Camille Casteel said.

"Our kids pay the price if they can't pass that (AIMS) test. They don't get their (high school) diploma."

Jim Anderson, the principal at Andersen Junior High, said the district's improved reading and writing scores are a result of the double period in language arts. He said he expects a similar spike to occur when more time is devoted to math.

Board members Bob Rice and Charlotte Patterson were sympathetic to the concerns of the teachers of electives but supported the new schedule.

Board approval is not required for the change.

"You can't get different results unless you do some different things - and not subtle things," Rice said.

"Ultimately, we have to provide the opportunity for our students to graduate from high school," Patterson said. "We hope this is the answer for math."

Susan Thomas, president of the Chandler Education Association, said the schedule's effectiveness could be difficult to assess against constantly changing measures of accountability.

Quantity of instruction does not necessarily mean quality, Thomas said.

"When and if we're successful," she said, "how will we know what got us there when everything's being changed all the time?"