Although Clarke County Public School Standard of Learning (SOL) test scores were never specifically mentioned at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, the issue seemed to have been on the mind of more than one County leader. Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) questioned whether a lack of homework, textbook priorities and watching movies during class time may be having an impact on student learning.
Murphy told County lawmakers that CCPS staff had successfully completed the move into the new high school and was busy learning how to operate the new facility. Murphy also said that 900 new student desks were delivered to the building yesterday and that division staff is implementing a new online student registration program that will make future student enrollment predictions much more accurate.
Murphy added that the school division plans to target $100K of it budget toward the purchase of language arts textbooks.
“These are really busy times,” Murphy said.
However, Murphy’s Supervisor-summary did not include any mention of last week’s release of CCPS student performance data from the Virginia Department of Education’s new Standards of Learning (SOL) mathematics tests. SOL math testing results disclosed at last Monday’s Clarke County School Board meeting by Dr. Lisa Floyd, CCPS’s director of curriculum and instruction, showed that a large section of grades three through eight had failed to pass their exams.
Later that same evening, Superintendent Murphy said that a lack of funds for textbook purchases had contributed to the poor test performance.
At today’s Supervisors meeting, Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) asked Dr. Murphy to express his thoughts regarding textbook funding. Murphy reconfirmed that the school division had difficultly committing the large sums of funding necessary to purchase school books given other budget requirements.
Murphy’s statement prompted a response from Byrd.
“I’m a proponent of textbooks,” Supervisor Byrd said. “I think that students need to have books that they can sit with after school to study and underline in. Do our students have to rent textbooks or do the schools provide them?”
Murphy said that the “Free and Appropriate Public Education” legislation required the school system to provide textbooks at no cost.
“The challenge is that every textbook from sixth grade up costs between $60 and $120,” Murphy said. “Digital textbooks cost between $58 and $108 each but we believe that those costs are going to go down. Even so, we have been reluctant to move to digital books because of cost and connectivity reasons.”
Murphy said that in some cases the school division purchases textbooks that student may take home and in other cases the books are for classroom use only.
Byrd then switched gears.
“I hear a lot of parents asking why the schools don’t assign homework anymore,” Byrd said. “Is it true there isn’t homework anymore?”
“You’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t ever assign homework,” Murphy replied. “Different teachers have different standards about homework. For example, some teachers provide time in class to do homework.”
Returning to the original textbook question posed by Hobert, Murphy said. “It is a challenge in tough times to spend money on textbooks when you have to rob Peter to pay Paul. It is challenging to put your finger on that one budget item. We were late in our implementation of math books because it was hard to identify where those funds were going to be coming from on July 1st.”
After an additional discussion about student residency requirements, Murphy completed his briefing and left the meeting room but the discussion student performance discussion was far from over.
Later in the meeting, when Joint Administrative Services (JAS) director Tom Judge described a $100K school budget funding carryover request containing capital expenditures for resurfacing an athletic track as well as snow removal equipment with any leftover funds to be used for textbook purchases, Byrd could no longer contain her exasperation.
“They’ve slashed the textbook budget from $100K to $50K, parents are complaining about ‘no homework’ and now they’re buying snow blowers when they need books? Kids sit in class and watch movies but it seems like no one teaches anymore.”
“We need to focus on first things first!” Byrd said.