Future of Schools

High schools could start later, but Indianapolis families see practical problems

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Students in Indianapolis’ largest district will likely start and end school at different times next year. But when it comes to choosing a new schedule, the district is facing tension between research supporting later start times for high school students and the practical challenges facing families.

At a series of community forums this week, Indianapolis Public Schools asked parents to weigh in on a new school schedule for next year. One of the essential questions facing families is whether the district should have elementary school students start earlier in order to allow high schoolers to begin school later. Currently, most high schools start first at 7:20 a.m.

Having later start times for high school students could have a broad range of benefits. A federally funded study found that when school started later, students did better on several measures, including mental health and attendance, and at some schools, scores on standardized tests rose. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that high schools delay their start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Citing that research, some members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board have urged the district to consider changing its high school start times.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee highlighted his own experience as the parent of a 13-year-old.

“I can definitely see the difference in how we wake him up in the morning now, and what that experience was like when he was a 5- or 6-year-old,” Ferebee said. “He would pop up in the morning then.”

In addition to the possibility of moving high school start times later, the district may change school and bus schedules for practical reasons.

Many students will likely travel farther under a high school plan that will close nearly half the district’s campuses and allow students to select their schools based on academic focus rather than neighborhood. To make bus rides shorter for high schoolers, the district is considering increasing how far they might walk to stops and reducing the number of stops each bus makes, said transportation director Manny Mendez.

The district is also grappling with a shortage of bus drivers that makes it difficult to sustain the current schedule, which has three different start and end times. A new contract approved by the board last week, which raises the base pay for bus drivers to $19.10, would help with that issue, Mendez said.

“We just do not have enough drivers,” Mendez said.

Since the same buses have to serve both high school and elementary school routes, any shift could present practical problems. If high schools start later, that would push elementary school schedules much earlier.

For several parents at the community meeting Thursday, that was a deal breaker.

Miki Hamstra, who has three sons in elementary school in the district, said if her children went to school earlier, it would put her in a childcare crunch in the afternoon.

“I totally support the sleep studies, but the problem is we don’t have a real option for that that would benefit the whole district,” said Hamstra, a doctoral student studying the science of learning. “Research is awesome, but we don’t have the resources to benefit from that.”

But Derrick Gant, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said he wants his daughter to continue going to high school early because it will prepare her for the workplace.

“We are prepping our children to be young adults,” Gant said. “So if we are pushing back the time for them to start school, that means we are pushing back the time they can go into work.”

Gant’s daughter Jerrice, who is a junior, said she is concerned about elementary school students walking to buses when it is still dark out, and she wants high schoolers to get home first to watch over their younger siblings.

“I want to keep it exactly how it is now,” she said.

Proposed start times

Option one

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 9:55 a.m., and end at 4:30 p.m.

Option two

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 9:55 a.m. and end at 4:55 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 8:05 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.

Option three

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 10:25 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.

For more information, visit the district website.

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.