Important regular reminders:

  • Please feel free to forward these emails to other people and/or your networks.
  • Apologies for any and all typos.
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"A 50% cut to science
and social studies..." 

Why did Brookline cut allocated time for
K-5 science and social studies in half?
And does it make for a great 21st century education?
Hello all,

Today's message is very long. You might even see "message clipped" as you scroll down. Please click on the "view entire message" link if you see one.

This email will take you a considerable amount of time to read. But I hope you do take the time. Even as we seek a new superintendent and face a budget deficit, I believe (as many of you do, too) that it's also worth paying attention to what children are actually learning in the classroom.

This exploration directly addresses some of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as a community that cares about education:
What do we believe constitutes a rich, relevant 21st century Brookline education? And is that what is currently happening in our classrooms?
Why do I keep asking these questions? Frankly, it's because of my own daughter and the changes in her school experience. She loves science and social studies, and every year, she complains that there's less and less of it.

I thought she was imagining it. Turns out, she is not.

Brookline has been making deep cuts in allocated learning time for social studies and science in grades K-5. I wanted to find out why. 

This email explains what I found. It begins with an executive summary, followed by the specific findings as outlined in the table of contents below.

The Public Schools of Brookline have reduced district time allocations for K-5 science and social studies between 55%-65% since 2011.

The vast majority of that cut happened this 2019-2020 school year.

In 2011, the district recommended K-5 children experience 200 minutes per week each in science and social studies. By 2019, that allotment dropped to 65-90 minutes each per week.

In schools that are following the district time allocations this year, elementary school students are now spending (on average) more than 67% of their structured learning time on just two subjects, literacy and math:
(Based on district guidelines for average weekly allotted minutes per subject in grades K-5 for the 2019-2020 school year. This does not include "unstructured" activities such as recess, lunch, choice time, morning meeting, or transitions.)
The Facts:

In the autumn of 2018, the district began a significant effort to revamp school schedules in kindergarten through 8th grade. There are several reasons for this, but the two most important goals were:
  1. Standardize learning time in every Brookline K-8 school. The central administration believes that differing time allocations from school to school produces inequitable results.
  2. Increase available time for literacy and math interventions.

The process was launched by former Superintendent Andrew Bott. It was driven by the Office of Teaching and Learning, including Dr. Mary Brown and Dr. Nicole Gittens. They brought together every K-8 school principal, district curriculum coordinators, and several others to create the new time allocations.

Very early in that process, it became clear that science and social studies in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade (K-5) would be cut significantly.

A December 2018 document contains two pieces of feedback that speak directly to the cuts:
("Approximately a 50% cut to science and social studies based on previous time allocations.")
("Even though this is a cut to science/social studies, this may be more realistic to implement.")
The final district time allocations for the 2019-2020 school year contained these major cuts. Science and social studies were slashed in half.

This school year, four Brookline K-8 schools implemented new schedules based on the district allocations. They included the cuts to social studies and science learning time.

It is uncertain if a new superintendent will continue this work. However, the central administration Office of Teaching and Learning still strongly supports the push to standardize schedules across the district. In a recent January 2020 curriculum subcommittee meeting, Dr. Mary Brown said that while the district was not seeking "cookie cutter schools", the central administration believes that for time allocations and subjects offered, "We should have similar schedules."

Inadequate Learning Time For 21st Century Education

The Massachusetts Department of Education does not mandate or require specific numbers of minutes that must be allocated to any subject. Districts are free to craft their own schedules. 

However, the Commonwealth strongly emphasizes a robust science education as one of the keys to 21st century student success. The state's most recent science curriculum framework clearly states:

“Quality science and technology/engineering education is needed at all grade levels and should be a key emphasis of every academic program. An encompassing pre-K to high school STE learning experience is essential for students to be prepared for citizenship, college, and careers.”

Consequently, the state recommends that quality science learning needs approximately 120 minutes per week in K-2, and 180 minutes per week in grades 3-5. The current Brookline allocation provides only 65-90 minutes per week on average across the year in any grade K-5. Our district is allocating only half the science learning time recommended by the state.

For social studies, while the state does not have any recommended time allotments, the Massachusetts framework for high quality Social Studies education states as one of its guiding principles: "Every student deserves to study history or social science every year...An effective social science education is given adequate time in the school day to build knowledge of increasing complexity."

Cutting social studies time in half does not represent "adequate time in the school day".

Standardization and Inequity 

This schedule is designed to eliminate scheduling variations between schools. However, it creates deeper, damaging new inequities.

"Policies [cutting science and social studies] do lead to a momentary bump in scores on low-level tests of basic skills [in literacy and math]," writes longtime education scholar Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford). However, "lack of access to a broad liberal arts curriculum and to opportunities to engage in complex problem solving ultimately contributes to poor performance on gateway tests for college (i.e. ACT and SAT)."

In fact, reductions in science and social studies contributes to reduced achievement later in secondary school and in college, she writes.

Some students may have parents who can compensate for reductions in science and social studies via supplementing their children's education through camps, tutors, or their own networks. Children without these resources simply have no way to compensate for the reductions.

Curriculum Narrowing

Education scholars refer to cuts in science and social studies as "curriculum narrowing". Such narrowing has been a hallmark of many socio-economically disadvantaged districts across the country, as these are the districts that have had to cope most directly with the consequences of high-stakes testing in literacy and math.

However, the focus on benchmark measures is pushing "the distortion of the many schools serving middle class children as well," writes Dr. Pedro Noguera (UCLA).

"In their desire to raise test scores, too many schools have limited access to subjects not covered on the tests, including science, social studies," Dr. Noguera writes. "It is hardly surprising that students commonly complain that school is boring."

The 50% cut in time allocations for K-5 science and social studies implies that curriculum narrowing has come to Brookline.

Schedules Reflect Values

A school's schedule is of paramount importance. The district itself says that  the schedule is a statement of values. The Office of Teaching and Learning presented this slide to principals and curriculum coordinators as they worked through the schedule redesign process in December 2018:
With that in mind, I ask:

Does slashing learning time for K-5 science and social studies align with Brookline educational values and beliefs? Does the community think that our young children will be best prepared for high school, for college, if they have dramatically reduced opportunity to learn about human societies and the natural world?

Do these cuts prepare children to be knowledgable citizens ready to lead the complex social and technological world they will inherit?

Early social studies and science education changed my family's entire trajectory. It was in a different country, and a different generation, but my parents tell me that their primary school science and history lessons are  the things that helped pull my family out of poverty. It shaped my parents as learners, fired their curiosity, allowed them to see beyond the bounds of their villages. It transformed their lives.

I believe it can transform other lives, too.

Source Documents

The following exploration is based on district materials received by a parent via a public records request. That parent kindly shared the documents with me. 

Throughout this exploration, you will see screenshots of many of these documents. Each document will be linked in its entirety in a sentence next to that screenshot. You may also view all of the materials produced by the district for the public records request in this folder
Exploration Contents
  1. Ground Rules: Scope and no blame zone.
  2. Chronology: Looking at K-5 schedules from 2011-2018
  3. The 50% cut: The how and why of the biggest cuts this year
  4. Discussion:
    1. What the State Says: The Commonwealth puts science and social studies at the heart of a great education.
    2. Impact on Equity: Why cutting science and social studies harms disadvantaged students the most.
    3. Curriculum Narrowing Comes to Brookline: How a trend historically faced by districts in lower-socioeconomic communities is creeping into higher-income schools.
    4. Action: What to do.
    5. The Kids Already Get It: And so can we.
1. Ground Rules
1. No blame zone. I believe everyone - teachers, principals, curriculum coordinators, district leaders, school committee members, parents, families - is operating in good faith and working extraordinarily hard on behalf of our children. This is an opportunity to ask ourselves, as a community, what is a great education? How far are we from that vision? What do we need to do to get there quickly?

2. Focus on K-5. The district revamped schedules from K-8 (you will see documents regarding middle school in the linked public folder). The massive social studies and science cuts happened in the elementary grades, and that is the focus of this exploration. There are similar cuts in each grade K-5. For simplicity's sake, I'll be using 4th grade as the example throughout this exploration.

3. We are talking about district-level guidelines for subject time allocations. What happens within classrooms may be different than the guidelines (further exploration on this in the discussion section). However, as you'll see, the scheduling changes were made specifically to reduce variations between classrooms, and more importantly, between schools across Brookline. The district's expectation is that time in learning per subject should be the same in all our schools. And again, the schedule reflects what educational leaders say they value as a meaningful Brookline education.

4. These changes are not required by the state. Since 1993, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has required only that schools provide 900 hours annually of structured learning time in grades 1-8 (425 hours per year for kindergarten). The state makes no requirements whatsoever about how those 900 hours are allocated among subjects. Districts are free to shape their individual vision for education. (In depth exploration of the state's frameworks is in the discussion section.)

In other words, there is no state rule that Brookline 4th graders must spend 585 minutes per week on literacy, and only 65 minutes per week (on average) on science or social studies. We as a district are making that decision. In some Brookline K-5 grades, the time allocated to English Language Arts (ELA) is nine-fold larger than science or social studies. For math, it's roughly five times more.

Now, read on to discover how the K-5 schedules have significantly changed over the years.
2. Chronology
i. 2011-2012
As far back as 1999, Brookline Public Schools central administration (via the Office of Teaching and Learning) has issued a "Time Allocations - Expectations and Guidelines" document to all Brookline schools. 

We have the Time Allocations documents for 2011-2018. Here is the header for the 2011 document. You'll see the names of former Superintendent Bill Lupini, and former Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Fischer-Mueller:
These annual "Time Allocations" documents set forth the expected "time in learning" for every grade, K-8. The allocations were presented in "minutes per week" for each subject. You see from the 2011 document that historically Brookline has allocated more time to literacy (English Language Arts) and math than any other subject.

As previously mentioned, we'll be using 4th grade as our example throughout this exploration. Take a look at the 2011 district recommended time allocations for 4th grade (highlights mine):
Simply put, in 2011, 4th graders were expected to have:
  • ELA = 500 minutes per week (mpw)
  • Math = 300 mpw
  • Science = 200 mpw
  • Social Studies = 200 mpw

The document also presents a very thoughtful approach to the challenges of providing a rich modern education. Namely, there isn't enough time to do all we want. However, Dr. Fischer-Mueller writes that there is a way to accomplish a great deal: Integrated learning. 

She defines integrated learning as "the integration of multiple subjects into lessons, projects, and/or units or study." Dr. Fischer-Mueller then makes an important observation: "While interdisciplinary strategies are not new, their value seems heightened." 

ii. 2012-2013
The following year, the district sent the 2012-2013 time allocations document to teachers.

Time allocations for most subjects did not change. Again, using 4th grade as our example:
In 2012 (as in the year before), 4th graders were expected to have:
  • ELA = 500 mpw
  • Math = 300 mpw
  • Science = 200 mpw
  • Social Studies = 200 mpw
However, there is something new in the 2012 time allocation document. Dr. Fischer-Mueller uses even stronger language defining the district's vision and support for integrated learning. She makes a very important observation (stated as an expectation in the document). Highlighted by me in red below:
"Must consider the Learning Expectations of both disciplines." Why is that important?

As I read it, that means that objectives of one subject cannot be made secondary to the learning objectives of another subject. The lessons must be truly interdisciplinary. 

The following year, Dr. Fischer-Mueller further refined Brookline's view of interdisciplinary learning. She emphasized the particular importance of forms of inquiry specific to science and social studies, as you'll see.
iii. 2013-2014
The 2013-2014 time allocation guidelines begin with a change in the length of school day. Dr. Fischer-Mueller notes that the then-new Friday early release might mean that daily classroom schedules won't precisely meet the district time allocations:
Time allocations for ELA, math, science, and social studies did not change for 2013-2014. Again, here's the 4th grade schedule as our example: 
As in previous years, in 2013, 4th graders were expected to have:
  • ELA = 500 mpw
  • Math = 300 mpw
  • Science = 200 mpw
  • Social Studies = 200 mpw

This particular document contains a remarkable passage that elegantly refines the idea of integrated learning. Dr. Fischer-Mueller strongly encourages teachers to consider the importance of how children learn when they're doing science and social studies. She writes:

Underscores are mine. There's a lot packed into this one paragraph.

First, Dr. Fischer-Mueller states that Brookline believed that teachers could and should integrate subjects into one lesson (e.g. ELA and science) but specifically says that not all literacy in that lesson could be counted as science time.

Meaning, a teacher could not say they were fulfilling a science lesson simply by having students read non-fiction about spiders. There must also be authentic scientific inquiry to fulfill the science learning requirement. I suggest that the same works for social studies. For example, when learning about the events of 1492, simply reading about indigineous people isn't enough. There must also be time for projects or simulations that immerse children meaningfully in the experience of native people in the 15th century.

Why? Because great science and social studies education requires inquiry, discussion, interrogative exploration. The district says quite clearly that there must be ADEQUATE TIME for this form of experiential learning, separate from skill building in literacy and math. It is important to keep this in mind, because you'll see this idea fade away in documents issued in later years.

Second, Dr. Fischer-Mueller explicitly states: "Teaching is not a minute-by-minute documentable event." Time allocations are "not plug and chug". This is another Brookline value that disappears from documentation in later years. It recognizes that teaching and learning in the classroom can be fluid, responsive to the needs of the children in the room, and do not always fit into universally prescribed schedules. By 2019 this value changed radically, as we'll explore later.
iv. 2014-2015 and 2015-2016
The district-issued time allocation guidelines for both the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years are almost entirely identical to the 2013 guidelines. There are no changes in subject time allotment in any grade. The documents include the same detailed language on integrated learning.

As with previous years, 4th graders were expected to have:
  • ELA = 500 minutes per week (mpw)
  • Math = 300 mpw
  • Science = 200 mpw
  • Social Studies = 200 mpw
v. 2016-2017
In 2016, the Public Schools of Brookline experienced significant leadership change.

As you see in the letterhead below, Superintendent (now former) Andrew Bott took over from interim superintendent Joe Connelly who had replaced Bill Lupini in September 2015. Dr. Nicole Gittens assumed leadership as deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, replacing Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller.
The "Time Allocations" guidelines for the 2016-2017 year are almost identical to earlier guidance documents. For example, the guidelines retain the same language about the importance of integrated learning:
There are some important changes. Language explaining the importance of adequate time in science and social studies for "inquiry-based and hands-on experiences" is no longer in the document. There is no detailed explanation about what integrated learning means, or what it should look like.

Furthermore, we see the first changes in the recommended time allocations themselves. Here are the district's guidelines for 4th grade:
Social studies and science have both dropped from 200 minutes per week each, down to 180 minutes per week, a 10% reduction in both subjects.

Again, we should note that the guidelines do not map perfectly to what happens inside various classrooms. (The document also states that teachers can use the 40 minutes taken from science and social studies in any of the four main content areas.)

Nevertheless, these allocation documents exist for a reason. At the very beginning of this exploration, you saw the district's own slide that said: "Your school's schedule is the most visible structure that communicates your values and beliefs."

So why did the district recommend less time for science and social studies for the first time in years? The document does not explain.
vi. 2017-2018
The 2017-2018 time allocation document begins to show a new approach taking shape in the district, one that puts greater emphasis on literacy in K-5. Take a moment to read the first page:
Several things to note:

This is the first year that the document is addressed specifically to principals. It's not shared directly with teachers. I don't know if that's significant, but it's an interesting change.

Dr. Gittens acknowledges that the time allocations induce "anxiety in many teachers" because the allocations cannot be met in a regular school day. However, as you'll shortly see, the district recommends further reductions only in science and social studies, not ELA or math.

The document also talks about "DESE expectations for time allocations." This is confusing. As we noted at the outset of this exploration, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) does not mandate specific time allocations in any particular subject. It only requires 900 hours of structured learning time per year.

As a Q&A section in DESE's own "Time and Learning: Questions & Answers" guide explains:

"Q: Do the regulations mandate a certain number of hours per subject?

A: No. Prior to 1996, the only requirement was sixty (60) hours per year for physical education. Subsequent to the Board of Education's repeal of that regulation, there is no regulation requiring a certain number of hours for any subject."

I also directly contacted DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley's office to double check whether the state had made any changes to its approach in recent years. A member of the Commissioner's staff replied via email: "Nope, we don’t have any subject-specific time requirements in any grade. We just have the overall hour and day requirements."

The state has no say in Brookline's time allocations document, so it's unclear what the district is referring to here.

Dr. Gittens also mentions block scheduling. This is the first year some schools may have adopted a block schedule -- these are schedules that standardize what, when, and how long subjects are taught across a grade. They replace schedules individual teachers crafted for their own classrooms. The document also says, "if your school has not yet moved to block scheduling", (underscore mine) implying that more schools would eventually adopt such schedules. 

Acknowledgement of the importance of hands-on inquiry returns to this year's guidelines. The document also goes on to outline more detailed expectations around teaching literacy, specifically Reading and Writing Workshop.
You'll recall the long, detailed explanations about integrated learning in previous years' guidelines. The 2017-2018 document limits the discussion to the following bullet point:
What about the actual time allocations? The district recommends further cuts to science and social studies. Here are the guidelines for a typical 4th grade classroom:
Social studies and science are reduced to 145 minutes per week (mpw), occuring just 2 or 3 times per week. That's down from 200 mpw for each subject, occurring 5 days per week, as recommended every year between 2011-2016.

The document contains no explanation for the reductions.

We can now begin to consider the scope of the recommended changes. (I say "recommended" because in 2017 elementary teachers were still relatively free to craft their own schedules. That changed in 2019-2020.) Here's a side-by-side comparison (generated by me) of the cuts to 4th grade science and social studies over time:
This is surprising enough -- in two short years, the central administration for Brookline schools recommended a more than 25% cut in elementary school science and social studies time. It is not clear why.

But as you'll see shortly, in 2019 the district decided to slash the subjects a further 50%, and incorporate those cuts into a more rigid scheduling system.
vii. 2018-2019
Unfortunately, we cannot explore district time allocations for 2018-2019. The documents, if they exist, were not provided in the public records request.
3. The 50% cut

How social studies and science were reduced by half.

Our current school year marked a significant turning point for the entire district. District leaders decided to act on their concerns about the differing schedules at our K-8 schools. Recall that for years Brookline K-5 teachers in many schools had freedom and autonomy to design schedules to meet their own students' needs.

In a meeting I had last spring with Dr. Gittens and interim superintendent Ben Lummis, Dr. Gittens reiterated her focus on the need for similarity between schools. She talked about getting all schools and teachers "on the same page" about both the curriculum they are teaching and the time spent per subject.

In addition, due to overcrowding, limited facilities such as art rooms and gyms, students coming into the district with greater needs, and Brookline's use of shared staff between schools, scheduling has become extremely logistically complex.

Beginning in the Fall 2018, then-Superintendent Andrew Bott directed district leaders to transform and standardize school schedules, according to a presentation made by Dr. Mary Brown to the curriculum subcommittee earlier this year. "Because of inequities in scheduling," she said, "we were concerned that kids did not have equitable access in certain content areas."

The district leaders came together to create a new set of block schedules and subject time allocations for all K-8 schools to follow. "Some schools were offering classes that weren't offered in other schools," Dr. Brown said in January 2020.

Documents show a long and detailed process. Decision makers seem to include members of the District Office of Teaching and Learning (Dr. Gittens, Dr. Brown, etc.), principals from every K-8 school, and curriculum coordinators.

(Note: The district did not have a K-8 science curriculum coordinator to advocate for the subject during this time. That position was empty for more than a year, between former coordinator Janet MacNeil's departure in June 2018 until our new science coordinator was hired in fall 2019.)

In December 2018, principals were first asked to state the top goals for their schools, as seen in a document labeled "Instructional Leadership Resources Your School Schedule":
Responses are listed in the document by individual school. Many principals wanted more literacy/math intervention times. This was a frequently repeated goal, and is important to note as it drove major decisions later.

See several principal responses below: 
"Interventions" are systems of additional support for struggling students (or students who are not meeting "benchmark" expectations). The interventions have been described to me as "pull outs", where small groups of students are given extra help outside of the classroom, or "push ins", where literacy specialists are in the classroom to provide extra assistance. They are now called "WIN blocks", or "What I Need".

Central adminstration leaders summarized the goals for the new block schedules, as outlined in a document called "K-5 Time Allocations Modified Tuning Protocol":
As previously discussed, the focus on "consistency" and "equity" between schools is a key central administration goal.

(It may also be a goal of individual school principals, but it's hard to tell. The need for consistency between schools was not listed by any principal as an important end point. Dr. Brown told the curriculum subcommittee in January 2020 that principals had "some" interest in standardizing schedules between schools. The principals mostly wanted longer blocks of time to do project based learning, she said.)

In a document titled "Presentation Dec 10 2018 Leadership Team Meeting", central administration ties together standardization and equity as dual forces that they believe drive student outcome in Brookline:
Recall that the district says that the schedule is the most important demonstration of educational values. Thus, as we'll see in a moment, when the Public Schools of Brookline decide to slash K-5 social studies and science by 50%, they are making a statement of value.

From December 2018 to February 2019, the district's curriculum coordinators met for several hours every other week to formulate various block schedules with new subject time allocations. Recall, there was no K-8 science curriculum coordinator working for the district during this time.

Now, let's take a look at an early sample block schedule generated in this process. From the beginning, the schedules contained a major cut to science and social studies.

Here's the 4th grade draft schedule:
I added the red and yellow highlights.

In red: The recommendation is for 180 minutes per week for science * OR* social studies. Not both. This is extremely important. You see that the district recommends doing six weeks of science alternating with six weeks of social studies. This is why it amounts to a 50% cut in both subjects. In prior years, science and social studies were allotted 200 minutes per week each for the entire year.

In yellow: Increased ELA time, and the appearance of a new allotment for "intervention flex". This is additional intervention time for literacy and math supports, and while it answers principals' desire for more intervention, it comes at the expense of science and social studies learning time. Alternative schedules could have included giving some regular ELA learning time to interventions, rather than robbing children of science and social studies time. Such alternative approaches are nowhere to be found in any of the schedules provided by the district.

The group provided feedback on these first draft schedules, listed in a document titled "Feedback form and Presentation Dec 3 Leadership Team Meeting".

Positive feedback included:
  • "Built in time for intervention."
  • "Offers a sense of consistency across all schools."
  • "Even though this is a cut to science and social studies, it may be more realistic to implement." 
The negative feedback is significantly longer, including:
  • "Project based learning, is there adequate time?"
  • "I can figure out when the minutes should occur. The staffing is the challenge."
  • "Approximately a 50% cut to science and social studies based on previous time allocations."
These initial concerns did not change the district's trajectory. In late January 2019, the district presented another set of draft schedules. The cuts to science and social studies remained, and in some grades the cuts are even larger. 

Here's the sample 4th grade schedule. Science and social studies lose an additional 45 minutes:
By March 2019, the district approached a final scheduling structure for Brookline K-5. 

One document summarizes the time allotments for each subject in every grade. You can see the across-the-board cut in science and social studies for all of K-5. You also see the across the board increase in ELA and Math time in order to accommodate interventions.

(Recall, the times shown are for science OR social studies, and that teachers are expected to alternate between subjects. Meaning that on average across the school year, social studies and science each receives half the time you see below.)
We've finally reached the point where we can offer a summary on how much subject time allocations have changed in Brookline since 2011. I generated the chart below.

For 4th grade, we find a 17% increase in ELA time, and a 68% decrease in yearly average science and social studies time.
What happened in each school?
Former superintendent Andrew Bott's original intention was to require every school to "get on the same schedule," according to Dr. Brown's January 2020 curriculum subcommittee presentation. He later decided that schools needed more time to accept the transition. He allowed principals to decide whether to adopt the new time allocations for the 2019-2020 school year.

Four schools decided to use the new schedules with the major cuts in science and social studies.

These school-specific schedules were set around July and August 2019.

Again, for simplicity's sake, for this analysis we'll just look at the 4th grade. I randomly picked one 4th grade section within each school. The time of day for each subject varies from classroom to classroom, but the number of minutes do not vary, as those time allocations are the same for each 4th grade class within the school. (Again, consistency in "time in learning" is the entire point of the district's new schedule.)

First, you'll see a chart summarizing new time allocations across the schools. Then follows screenshots of sample 4th grade schedules for each school.
Pierce and Baker Schools:

No schedules provided by district in public records request.

Coolidge Corner School:

Science *or* Social Studies = 186 minutes per week
Multi-colored blocks denote intervention periods, or lunch/recess.

Average across school year:
  • ELA = 560 mpw
  • Math = 341 mpw
  • Science = 93 mpw
  • Social Studies = 93 mpw

Lawrence School:

Science *or* Social Studies = 186 minutes per week.
Multi-colored blocks denote intervention periods.

Average across school year:
  • ELA = 575 mpw
  • Math = 341 mpw
  • Science = 93 mpw
  • Social Studies = 93 mpw

Runkle School:

Science *or* Social Studies = 190 minutes per week
Multi-colored blocks denote intervention periods, or lunch/recess.

Average across school year:
  • ELA = 608 mpw
  • Math = 352 mpw
  • Science = 95 mpw
  • Social Studies = 95 mpw

Driscoll School:

Science *or* Social Studies = 188 minutes per week
Multi-colored blocks denote intervention periods, or lunch/recess.

Average across school year:
  • ELA = 560 mpw
  • Math = 341 mpw
  • Science = 94 mpw
  • Social Studies = 94 mpw

Lincoln School:

Lincoln is different. It seems as if there aren't separate intervention periods, but that interventions are included within regular ELA, Math, and Science time. It is not clear to me how to best read this chart.

Average across school year (with the above caveat in mind):
  • ELA = 500 mpw
  • Math = 250 mpw
  • Science = 200 mpw
  • Social Studies = 150 mpw

Heath School:

The provided Heath schedules do not designate specific blocks for any subject area. Intervention blocks are identified, as are times for rececess, lunch, and all specials (art, music, etc.). Like Lincoln, I do not know how to best read this chart.
You can see the complete block schedules for every section in every grade fox six of our eight K-8 schools. Links to those documents:
4. Discussion

i. What the State Says: Why Massachusetts views social studies
and science as critical parts of a great 21st century education
What impact does losing half of their science and social studies learning time have on our elementary learners? On equity? Does it prepare them for middle school, high school, college and beyond? Does a drastic reduction in science and social studies reflect the best, most meaningful 21st century education we can offer our children?

First, this schedule does not facilitate project based, deeper, or integrated learning. This is the model of learning DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley strongly advocates for in a recent remarkable paper titled "Our Way Forward".  

But in Brookline, the added intervention blocks, or WIN blocks, do not promote integrated learning. Math or literacy are the main concerns for these additional blocks of time.

"It could be integrated, but it needs to have a math focus," Dr. Brown told the curriculum subcommittee in January 2020. 

here are discrete instructional practices that need to come first," Dr. Nicole Gittens, Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, added in that same meeting. "When kids have those skills, then they can pull other subjects into it." 

Second, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is clear in its view of the unique importance of science and social studies as core content areas. The state believes that social studies and science are critical parts of a child's earliest years in school.

Witness the eloquent and passionate support for these subjects in the most recent curriculum frameworks for both science and social studies:
The curriculum frameworks are comprehensive documents published by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. They describe Massachusetts's state guidelines for teaching, learning, and assessments in each subject. In other words, what does the state expect a child will learn and know at the end of every year?

The state is unequivocal in its support for science education:

“Students need regular opportunities to experience the dynamic, interdisciplinary nature of science and technology/engineering….These goals can only be achieved through a rich and varied STE curriculum that includes thoughtful hands-on and minds-on activities, laboratories, investigations, and design challenges.”

To that end, science is the only subject where the state recommends specific amounts of time needed to achieve an effective science education. (Recall, these are just recommendations, since the state does not mandate any set number of minutes, as previously discussed.)

"The chart below provides the time assumed to be provided for STE instruction by grade span to inform the standards development:"

As you see, for grades K-5, the state recommends anywhere from 120 - 180 minutes per week. Brookline allocates 65-90 minutes per week (on average across the year). In other words, our own district is setting aside only half the time the state believes is needed for an effective science education.

The state also emphasizes the importance of science in the youngest grades. It dedicates an entire section of the framework to science in early childhood education:

“Young children ask 'how' and 'why' and 'what if' questions about everything around them and are naturally inclined to explore potential answers to their questions using all their senses," the framework writes. "Children who are able to think critically, solve problems, and base their ideas on evidence at an early age will have a strong foundation as they engage with a world that is increasingly rooted in science, technology, and engineering."

The Commonwealth is similarly unequivocal in its support for social studies education in elementary school. "History tells us that the preservation of equality, justice, and liberty has never been an easy proposition," the framework says. "Echoing the words of Frederick Douglass, our hope is that these standards and resources will help students 'stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, against all foes, in all places and at whatever costs.'"

The state goes further. It says every child "deserves" the time it takes to study social studies. That notion is so important, it serves as one of the framework's guiding principles:
The Commonwealth also anticipates pushback that time in social studies may take time away from literacy education. The state counters with research that shows learning time in social studes improves children's reading skills:
Now we must ask: What is the negative impact on children when opportunites in these two vital subject areas are so dramatically reduced?
ii. The New Inequity
In seeking 'schedule equity' between Brookline schools, we have created deep new inequities by further disadvantaging our most vulnerable studies.

How? Consider this:
"America is an outlier internationally in its heavy focus on testing which has led to narrowing the curriculum, and in poor schools, eliminating the kind of enrichment that makes schools meaningful and relevant for children."

- Alan Blankstein ("Excellence Through Equity")
At a curriculum subcommittee meeting late last school year, Dr. Gittens said, "The only thing all of our students have in common is the classroom." She said this in defense of more literacy instruction.

She is absolutely right about the classroom being the common ground for learning. But if rich, relevant education in science and social studies is removed from the classroom - when the curriculum is narrowed - who is harmed? Not the kids who have parents with labs in the Longwood Medical Area or Kendall Square. Not the kids whose families have academic networks, and multiple degrees of their own. Not the kids who go to summer camp and travel the world, or who have tutors, or museum memberships, or a nearby library. 

No, it is the least advantaged children who are harmed. It is a painful irony that in creating a schedule that tries to close the achievement gap, we have succeeded in widening the opportunity gap.

This is not an imaginary concern. Fear of creating new opportunity gaps is exactly the thing that saved music/conservatory in our middle schools. Last year, the district also re-examined time allocations in grades 6-8. One proposed schedule called for a deep cut to middle school music. 

Someone (it is not clear who) passionately pushed back against the proposed cuts. See their feedback below - it explicitly says cutting music creates inequities:
This critique saved the middle school music program. The new 6-8 schedules do not drastically slash conservatory.

The same equity-based reasoning holds true for K-5 science and social studies. Cuts create inequities.

Conversely, there is an extensive body of research that shows how increasing science and social studies can close opportunity and achievement gaps.

In 2015, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, now professor emerita at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, co-authored a key paper on "Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning".

It begins by defining equity this way:

"The policies and practices that ensure that every student has access to an education focused on meaningful learning (i.e. that teaches the deeper learning skills contemporary society requires in ways that empower students to learn independently)."

Darling-Hammond goes on to explain in detail how traditionally affluent districts have championed this kind of meaningful learning, to their students' great advantage. She compares those successes to socio-economically disadvantaged communities that have significantly reduced content rich lessons in science, social studies, music and art, in favor of a narrow focus on literacy and math.

Darling-Hammond reaches this sobering conclusion:
Recent policies have created a vicious cycle that exacerbates existing inequities.

Evidence suggests that even when these policies do lead to a momentary bump in scores on low-level tests of basic skills, the lack of access to a broad liberal arts curriculum and to opportunities to engage in complex problem solving ultimately contributes to poor performance on gateway tests for college (i.e. ACT and SAT), and in college courses that require deeper comprehension and higher-order thinking.

To the degree that deeper learning remains unavailable to students of color and children of low-income families, America will never be able to solve its equity dilemma.
It puts Brookline's decision to slash K-5 science and social studies in a new light.
iii. Curriculum Narrowing Comes to Brookline
The dangers of a "narrow curriculum" have historically been perceived as a problem for disadvantaged communities that are focused on surviving high-stakes testing. However, those trends are creeping into affluent communities.

Dr. Pedro Noguera, distinguished professor of education at UCLA, observed more than a decade ago in a paper on 21st Century Education:
The distortion of the curriculum has occurred in many schools serving middle class children as well.

In their desire to raise test scores, too many schools have limited access to subjects not covered on the tests, including science, social studies, art and music, social skills, leadership training, and character development.

It is hardly surprising that students commonly complain that school is boring.
This is now happening in Brookline.

The K-5 years form the bedrock for lifelong learning. Elementary school is where children should fall in love with learning. Where they begin to make connections between places and spaces, people and ideas, problems and solutions, feeling and action. It sets the stage for a child's entire future educational experience. Why should any child ever feel bored in elementary school? Why would we tolerate that? 

Perhaps our more affluent students can withstand the loss of K-5 science and social studies. They'll be bored, but they'll be fine - that's the unspoken assumption here. Their parents will supplement their education. But for other children, when science and social studies are cut from their classrooms, they may have no other options at all.

In addition, curriculum narrowing further hurts children who are already struggling. The relentless focus on literacy and numeracy skills robs children the opportunity to grow as learners in other areas; growth that would then positively feed back into their literacy learning.

Take this experience from a Brookline parent. 

"In first grade, my thoughtful and dreamy daughter fell behind in literacy and numeracy. She would sometimes tune out of lessons and have a hard time tuning back in, since so much of literacy and numeracy instruction is mechanical," the parent told me.

"She would tell me about kids who were reading well, and then add, first sadly, but soon resignedly, 'I'm not a good reader.' Soon that self-conception seeped into her identity as a learner. When she talked about school, she mostly talked about reading and math, since she had few other opportunities to express her curiosity, achieve, and develop self-esteem as a learner. We've been struggling against this ever since, to help her recover her love of learning without turning her home into a place where she feels the same pressure and difficulty she encounters at school. She's only seven!"

These are fundamental unfairnesses caused by the dramatic reduction in science and social studies. They undermine every equity goal and value we profess to hold. 

iv. Action
What do we believe makes for a rich, relevant, rewarding 21st century Brookline education?

I believe we know the answer. It's right there in the Policy Manual of the Public Schools of Brookline. The PSB's overall philosophy and core mission is (page A-12):
The Brookline Public Schools exist to educate each child to become a responsible adult capable of contributing to the quality of life in a free and changing society.

All of our schools have the following common and continuing goals:
  1. To stimulate a spirit of inquiry and love of learning that will remain with each person throughout life.
  2. To master skills in all areas of learning.
  3. To develop the qualities of responsible citizenship.
  4. To explore the limits of one's potential.
  5. To understand and accept the consequences of one's actions upon oneself, others and society in general by developing a sense of morality and ethics.
  6. To develop a sense of personal responsibility and appreciation of, and respect for, the rights of others.
  7. To gain knowledge of one's physical and social self in relation to one's total environment.
Love of learning. Spirit of inquiry. Ethics. Morals. Knowledge of one's environment. Contribute to a free and changing society. It's an education that helps our children thrive as learners, as citizens, as human beings. It prepares them to lead the world they're inheriting from us - a world full of complex challenges and opportunities.

Can we really say we achieve those goals by slashing science and social studies? By reducing how much children learn about human society and the natural world?

It is not by accident that employers say the most critical skills required for 21st century success go well beyond literacy and numeracy. They're looking for curiosity, flexibility, resilience, critical thinking, creativity, technological literacy, communication skills, collaborative mindset, cultural competency, problem solving ability.

I believe our students and our teachers have a boundless capacity to be deeply excited by what they're learning in school. Kids want to be engaged with the world around them. Our school schedule should reflect those values. 

So what to do?

Once again, the Policy Manual states that an active parent community is a necessity for a successful school district (page A-11):
The hallmark of the Brookline Public Schools continues to be a commitment to academic excellence through a dedicated, creative, and independent teaching staff and a concerned parent community. Parents are encouraged to learn about the operation of the schools, to raise questions about what is being taught, and to share their views.
If you feel moved to act, there are things you can do.

Contact the School Committee. The School Committee's statutory responsibility is to set the vision and values for Brookline Schools. Reach out to the Office of Teaching and Learning, specifically Dr. Nicole Gittens and Dr. Mary Brown who are key district leaders on all matters relating to curriculum. Ask for swift, positive change. Reach out to principals, and to parent leaders at school site councils. Share your thoughts about the cut to science and social studies. Ask questions. Let them know if these schedules match your educational values.

For the longer term, this is the perfect time to share your vision for 21st century education. For the next three years, the Public Schools of Brookline will be trying to define the "essential curriculum" for our schools. It is a major district-wide project involving central office leaders, principals, curriculum coordinators, teachers, and the School Committee. They will be laying out what the Brookline educational experience ought to be, as described in this December 2018 district document:
Parents and families must be part of this process. A community's educational values can only be faithfully articulated if the community itself is involved. 
v. The Kids Get It
One last thing.

Greta gets it.

Kids at every age get it.

They know they are inheriting a world of almost unimaginable complexity. The global climate emergency is the perfect example of why deep learning in social studies and science is more urgent, even for our youngest children, than ever.

The climate challenge is an integrated challenge. Solving it requires understanding across disciplines, science, history, politics, policy, and many more.

The kids get it. They want school to reflect the world around them. Why would we give them anything less?
And yet, with the science and social studies cut, it seems to me we are doing exactly that. We are giving them less.

The kids get it. Kudos to Pierce School 8th graders who petitioned the School Committee to add climate change to the curriculum! (If you haven't already signed their petition, please consider doing so.)

"Although we might know that climate change is a problem, often we don’t realize how serious this problem is, or have any ideas how to help," their petition states. "If middle or elementary school teachers do teach about climate change, they do this on their own initiative, which is usually too brief and not very effective or memorable...We believe that Brookline’s School Committee should require teachers to teach about climate change as part of the curriculum."

This isn't an "awww, look, the kids are leading" moment. Brookline believes it's a climate aware community. And yet climate isn't a meaningful part of a Brookline education. The 8th graders are calling out our hypocrisy. Students should not have to resort to a public petition begging our schools for a more relevant education. 

The kids get it. Why don't we? Instead of supporting such curriculum initiatives, we hear of teachers who are told not to brainstorm about integrating climate into their lessons because it may not align with a school's narrow literacy and math goals.

What if we imagined an entirely different approach? What could a Brookline education really be?

Here's a dream. What if we embraced the block schedule concept in a new way? Something that looked less like a 19th century factory schedule, and more like the 21st century world our students live in?

What if we immersed students in, for example, a six-month long "climate block"? What if every lesson for half the year were taught, every skill learned, through the interdisciplinary lens of climate change?

What if school looked like this, where children....
  • Read first person accounts from the tropics, from polar zones, about how climate change is transforming ways of life.
  • Write opinion pieces, fiction, non-fiction observations, persuasive essasys about the problem of climate change and how to fix it.
  • Do hands on experiments that demonstrate what happens when excess carbon is added to a closed system.
  • Learn math in their own neighborhoods, by picking a city block, calculating the percentage of reflective surfaces, take temperature readings and discover if more reflective surfaces map to hotter urban temperatures? We'll ask why!
  • Do an analysis of how sea level increase of one linear foot translates into a percentage loss of habitable land.
  • Expand on that experiment by learning about what is happening to the Seaport every time there's a major storm; we might visit the Seaport to see WHY this is happening.
  • Immerse themselves in role playing simulations of a UN climate conference, where students try to make the case for countries as diverse as Fiji and China, the US and Brazil, where they learn how to negotiate, advocate, and compromise.
  • Make art that reflects their emotional understanding of the changing world around them.

I do not know if a unified curriculum like this actually exists. The talent in the Public Schools of Brookline is so deep, I'm sure our educators could develop it.

What do we want? What do we believe makes for a powerful Brookline education? Does it look like the increasing marginalization of science and social studies? Or does it look like something different?

Maybe it's a wild fantasy. But it has never hurt to dream.

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