Buffalo school officials plan to scale back instruction in technology, art, music and home and careers at 20 low-performing schools so students can spend more time studying English and math, to boost achievement test scores.
That redistribution of class time will provide double periods of English every day for students in grades seven and eight, and double periods of math every other day.
Students would continue to attend classes in the "specials," but that time would be reduced in favor of longer classes in English and math. District officials are seeking a waiver from the state freeing them from current requirements regarding technology, art, music and home and careers.
"We recognize that the most important job we have in front of us is to make sure our seventh- and eighth-graders enter high school prepared to succeed in a rigorous academic environment," said Amber Dixon, the district's executive director for project initiatives. "Our children need double periods of English language arts and extra time in mathematics."
The plan, which would begin in September, is viewed as one element of the district's larger reform plan to raise dismal student test scores and low graduation rates.
"More time does not in itself fix the problem," Dixon said. "But it gives us the instructional time we need to implement our three-year academic plan."
The district effort is based on a state Board of Regents vote last year allowing middle schools to give pupils more exposure to reading, math and other core academic subjects by scrapping or scaling back "specials." Variances to do so can only be granted to schools with large numbers of low-performing students.
The local effort has drawn criticism from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which claims the district has failed to meet state requirements to have "appropriate consultation" with staff about the plan, and to engage in "thoughtful self-study" before implementing it.
"No one in the schools knows what it's all about," said Philip Rumore, BTF president. "It's doomed to failure if you don't involve people and let them know what's going on."
Rumore said many principals asked teachers to sign off on the plan without explaining it to them. "The issue here is the school district running roughshod over what the regulations are," he said. "If you're going to do it, do it the right way."
Rumore has asked state Education Department officials to look into his concerns.
Dixon said school officials are still putting together details of the plan and will involve teachers as they go.
"This issue seems to me about two months premature," Dixon said of the BTF complaints. "The process is still ongoing."