School Design of My Dreams (Literally)

I had a dream about school design (as you do) and wanted to get up and model it to see if I could make it work financially.

Scenario: Middle/high school students are on a year-round semester schedule. They get a week off in July, October, December, and March/April. Semesters run July-December and January-June. Being in school year-round minimizes summer learning loss and takes the child-care/camp pressure off of parents over the summer. This is great for students but a tough sell for teachers: most are currently paid for 10-months of teaching time with 2 months for prep/PD/vacation. But what if…

What if teachers only taught one half of the year, 4 classes per day?

What if they had one quarter of the year off for vacation?

What if they had one quarter dedicated exclusively to prep, observation, and PD?

Students would be on a block schedule, taking 4 courses one semester and 4 courses the other semester. Each class would meet for 90-100 minutes per day.

I did a very rudimentary financial model to see if I could come close to making this work. I used $12K/pupil as the base funding (average U.S. per-pupil funding). I held back 7% for overhead and 25% for debt/obligations. This leaves $8,160/pupil for instructional dollars. From instructional dollars, I allocated 85% to personnel, and then 85% of that for teachers (holding back 15% for support/administrative staff). Teachers end up about 50% of the total per-pupil allocation. I used $85K as the fully-loaded average cost for teachers.

From here, 50% of the teachers would be “in rotation” for instruction, 25% would be on holiday, and 25% would be in their prep/PD rotation. Plugging in all of these variables, I think the minimum enrollment for this model to conceivably work is 500 students. At 500 students, you can keep class sizes at 30 and still have a discretionary non-personnel budget of about $600K (~$1,200/pupil).

Pros:

  • I would have loved this model as a teacher. I would almost certainly still be in a classroom. This would give teachers time to step back from the daily grind of lessons and grading in order to really take time to observe great teaching, explore new methods and strategies, think deeply about lesson planning and curriculum, and truly take embrace the professionalism of teaching.
  • I also LOVED having 90-100 minute blocks of instruction with my kids. 45 minutes is hardly enough time for deep-focus work. Juggling 6-8 classes a day is rough on teachers and kids – so much context-switching and homework and grading!
  • You could create the opportunity for students with low-proficiency in core subjects to double up on math/reading courses so that they were effectively getting two years of math and/or reading instruction in a single calendar year.
  • On the flip side, advanced students could move on to more advanced topics or electives if they show mastery of core material.

Cons/TBD:

  • Since it was 5am and I only had an hour, I didn’t model out the intricacies of complex demographics (specifically various Special Ed LRE scenarios) that could very well break this model.
  • It absolutely won’t work for small schools; 500 students I think is the minimum.
  • Probably only works for middle/high school, but I’m not sure.
  • This model would probably only work in a charter school because it requires very lean central support and overhead. Otherwise, districts would have to totally strip down central services to schools.
  • Teachers would have to give up their planning period during the day and teach 4/4 courses per day in order for the model to work.
  • I haven’t totally thought through how lunch would work, which is non-trivial. I think periods 2 and 3 each day would have to split up so that you would have four 45-50 minute lunch periods, in which case you would need a rotating schedule that could be confusing.
  • There would be a fairly limited number of course options that would be almost entirely driven by enrollment, which could be tough at the High School level in terms of offering things like AP courses.
  • Related, you’d have to really carefully plan the teaching rotation schedule so kids could take courses in the right sequence and graduate on time.
  • Unless you had the capacity to add a lot of variety in courses, you could run into a scenario where a student had a year between, say, math courses, which would be even worse than summer learning loss. The sequencing of courses and semesters would have to be very carefully planned.

I would love to hear from anyone who has tried something similar and how it worked!

I’m sure there are a ton of things I haven’t yet considered, so please share thoughts and comments. A girl can dream!

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