Don’t Call it 4 x 4 – Albemarle County’s Semesterization Experiment

Call it a mistake. If you’re so inclined, call it what you will on 11 November.

I hope the Public Schools realize that they are competing – that when my clients come to town, they are evaluating which school districts are best, which ones fit best, and which ones will likely best help their future houses hold value and hopefully appreciate. When my clients come to the area, whether Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene, Nelson or Fluvanna, they ask about the schools. Those with kids, those without kids, those with kids on the way, those who never will have kids. They ask for one reason:

School quality, desirability and marketability impact home prices. You could show me thirty studies with hard empirical data, sourced and peer-reviewed by 73 Nobel Laureates saying that home prices are not affected by schools; and they would all be wrong.

Public Schools matter to house prices. Why else would this Realtor in Chicago map schools by high school test ranking?

Or more a more definitive statement:


Local school quality is the deciding factor for nearly a quarter of the people shopping for homes. You probably already know that homes near good schools are worth more, but you might not realize that they hold their value better, too.

Further:

It has been found that attendance areas with higher school ratings have higher property values, all else constant.

Searching by school districts in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene and all of Central Virginia was one of the primary reasons I implemented my search for homes feature in 2008.

Which leads us to …

… this email last week from the Albemarle CASE group:

Please spread the word about CASE. Citizens of Albemarle Supporting Education is a citizens’ network dedicated to improving accountability and performance in Albemarle County Public Schools. This group was founded to educate the Albemarle community about the 4×4 schedule and semesterization using peer reviewed research. C.A.S.E. seeks to increase transparency and to improve community involvement in local educational policy.

Visit www.albemarlecase.com and sign our petition to save our schools and our house prices!

I have talked to quite a few parents and high schoolers about their perceptions and reactions to the block scheduling, and thought it would be useful to ask the opinion of Champion Tutoring for their perspective, and I received this gracious response:

Thanks for asking.  It’s been a really interesting year, actually.  This is my third year at Champion, and our 16th year in business.  My first two fall seasons echoed earlier trends, basically a huge rush in late August–parents calling in to reserve spots for students who knew they’d need regular 1 on 1 assistance in a core subject.  So we’d see a boom around early September, and I could barely catch my breath until mid October.

I had expected the new 4×4 to kick this into high gear.  We armed ourselves for the floodgates, basically (I’m mixing metaphors, I know).  However, interestingly, we didn’t get that in August/September.  It’s now, rather than September, when we’re starting to see an increase.

If I had to guess, I’d say parents/students didn’t know what to expect w/ the 4×4?  So they were waiting to see, and now that things are moving at a really fast pace, they’re seeking the 1 on 1 assistance?  I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts, as a parent in the thick of the 4×4.  We really want to do our best to serve our population’s needs–many of our teachers have many years of classroom experience and would love an opportunity to know more specifics about how to help.

I have been asked before to comment on the block schedule “from a Realtor’s perspective” and here is my comment:

From my point of view, the teachers are overworked and not able to teach effectively. The students are overworked and not learning as effectively as they could or should and are not given the attention that they need. From our personal experience, we are extremely reluctant to miss a day of school, as there is very little chance of ever recapturing what was taught on that day – there is too much information and too little time at school.

The media tends to pile on to a story, but there seems to be little defense being put forth from Albemarle County Schools, although I know they are trying their absolute best.

Crozet Gazette – Parents Revolt Against WAHS (Western Albemarle High School) 4×4 Schedule

Carmen Garcia, the mother of one student at Western and two at Henley (where she serves as PTO vice president), said she called former School Board member Brian Wheeler about the schedule policy change last spring. “My intuition said this doesn’t sound right. Wheeler said that this is what the experts were telling them to do, but he couldn’t explain it. He said there wasn’t going to be a vote. Then they rushed adoption without a public hearing. I read about it in the paper the next morning. It made me mad. Once school started and reality hit, we had to organize. Many parents tell me they are angry about the policy but feel powerless to change it.”

School administrators argued the schedule shift would save $800,000 by allowing 13 teachers to be cut without adding to class sizes. The 4×4 compresses classes that are traditionally yearlong into one semester. It was a speed-up-the-line move on some teachers who now have to teach six classes a year for their pay rather than five. Some teachers at Western Albemarle, admitting to feeling miserable but helpless, said they wouldn’t sign the CASE petition out of fear of reprisal from administrators.

Daily Progress: Albemarle parent group’s report slams new class scheduling

A slew of parents sent the School Board angry letters, obtained by The Daily Progress through the Freedom of Information Act. They contended that they should not have been cut out of the decision-making process. Many parents said they first heard of the idea from a news article — after the School Board approved the schedule.

Frankenschedule? Irked Albemarle parents slam 4×4 class plan

“I see no clear justification for this program, which has been abandoned by many other school systems,” said parent Mark Echelberger. Invoking Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, he added, “I fear teachers and students have been left standing on the shore.”

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  • http://www.jenontheedge.com Jen on the Edge

    You’re absolutely right about this. When my husband and I first moved back to C’ville, our first criterion for our house search was schools. We took a close look at school data from elementary through high school, which led to our first decision of city vs. county. Once we decided that, we narrowed our search to specific elementary schools, which quickly led to us finding the house that we lived in for ten years.

    • http://realcentralva.com Jim Duncan

      This is one of the reasons that I went with the home search tool I did; it allows for searching for multiple school districts. I’ve had many buyers come in looking for which schools they want and which schools they don’t want, and rarely if every have they been indifferent.

      Homes for sale in Murray and Meriwether, Crozet and Brownsville for example.

  • democracy

    Although there are plenty of people who search for their houses based on school data (test scores), they may as well just look for the highest housing prices. Indeed, the highest-performing schools in the county are in its western part. It is no coincidence that Murray and Meriwether elementary schools have such high test scores. The very best predictor of test scores – SOLs, SATs, AP, ACT, take your pick – is family income.

    Having said that, the county schools’ move to the 4 x 4was ill-conceived. There was no solid research evidence to support it, it was pushed from the top-down (which is usual practice in the county’s central office), there was little or no input from affected stakeholders (students, parents, and teachers), and the projected “savings” are not likely to materialize.

    Moreover, at the same time that the central office looked to save money by cutting some teachers and forcing many more to take a 20 percent increase in course load (and for some of these an even larger increase in student load), it maintains 30 “instructional coaches” positions at a cost of approximately $1.5 million a year (30 x $50,000 per position). Does the county have any data to show that there is a pay-off for this expenditure?

    • mom of three

      Why weren’t the 2 leading national experts on block scheduling who live in Western Albemarle (who have 7 children between them that attended WAHS) not adequately used during this transition? Perhaps the board jumped into this decision, didn’t prepare teachers or students and didn’t have recent, relevant support for this type of schedule. This type of schedule has worked for years in North Carolina, Chesapeake and Williamsburg Virginia. It allows for advanced students to gain up to a semester (or more) of college credit while also allowing for other students the opportunity to stay on grade level and graduate on time by giving opportunities to repeat Algebra 1 or english classes both of which are often failed.

      Yes, teachers have slightly less planning time and have to teach another class per year and perhaps even have to be more creative to engage students for longer periods of time but the same block should be seen as improved learning time where class transition times are reduced and focused time is increased.

      Needless to say, art and music classes are greatly improved within the blocks, allowing for more time for kids to engage in painting, playing music and weaving a basket.

      Additionally, I think the homework load is greatly decreased as children can focus on fewer subjects at once instead of cramming for multiple tests and spending hours trying to cover so many subjects. I believe the students have enjoyed the newer schedule and have more confidence in their ability to comprehend and succeed in their subjects.

      I think we need more information and preparation before we toss out an attempt to improve the learning environment for our children…