Several Milford board members were vocally opposed to self-directed student learning days.

Student-directed learning days get thumbs down in Milford

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Several Milford board members were vocally opposed to self-directed student learning days.

Several Milford board members were vocally opposed to self-directed student learning days.

A proposed way to teach through “self-directed student learning time” was met with criticism from several members of the Milford School District.

Four of those learning days were proposed in the 2024-2025 academic year calendar presented to the district’s school board during its monthly meeting Monday night.

“I’m not an educator but I am a parent,” said Board President Scott Fitzgerald. “I don’t think they’re going to be self-learning those days. You might call it that but I think they’re going to call that a day off.”

The thought behind the idea was that it’s one way for teachers to meet their contractual time to  grade papers and exams, catch up on planning, engage in professional development and more.

“We had envisioned that a student’s self-directed learning day would be where students were at home doing learning at home, and we would provide tools for them to be working on projects that would be self-directed,” said Kelly Carvahal-Hageman, the district’s chief academic officer. 

The days could be used for professional learning time, she said, and allow staff to analyze data and create action plan.

Carvahal-Hageman said details about exactly what students would be doing needed to be worked out, but they would be working on projects, reading, writing and a variety of activities that would be prepared in advance. 

Other districts do similar things in their calendar, she said, but she did not name any.

School Board member Matt Bucher said he doesn’t know of any specific districts doing exactly what Milford is proposing, but this type of learning is a new aspect some schools are considering.

Carvahal-Hageman said Milford’s students are capable of doing work at home and if the district structures the time appropriately, it will be productive.

Board members expressed concern that the arrangement could create challenges for working parents. 

Board member Adam Brownstein said the days should instead be labeled “students off.”

“You will have select students that will engage in those activities appropriately,” he said, “but they are probably the students that would be least needed to engage in said activities because those will be the kids that are already over-achieving.”

In an era when all Delaware’s districts are struggling to meet student demands,  and essentially failing, he said, schools provide enough hours in the day to try to give children the best possible chance to succeed and learn.

Carvahal-Hageman said expectations dictate results. If the expectations are there, she said, the self-directed days can be successful. 

“You would be surprised by what kids are able to do when we set really high expectations for them, and when you make really interesting and engaging things for them to work on,” she said. “I’m not going to say that there’s 100% participation, but there it is an opportunity for a different kind of learning that can happen…There is value in trying something different.”

Bucher said it’s on the administration to make the calendar more useful to the student. 

“I can’t see how slicing four days off and sending students home frees up the teacher to grade papers,” he said. “If it’s a home directive, what is the teacher doing? Are they just taking a day to grade papers? Is that what the teacher will be doing while the student is self-directed learning?”

Teachers would be collaboratively scoring their student work, Carvahal-Hageman said, and they have required time at the end of every marking period for record-keeping, which includes grading, entering grades into the data systems and more.

She said self-learning days are definitely a different idea, but the district can continue to do the same if the board doesn’t want the change. 

The school board asked for a revised draft of the calendar for its March 18 meeting.

Its members can approve the revised calendar in that meeting or April’s, but it must be approved by May.

Also in Monday’s meeting, the board voted to increase the pay of substitute school nurses from $200 to $250, a 25% raise. 

Sara Hale, district chief operating officer, said the district typically has two or three substitute nurses that do the majority of coverage, but the district is always looking for substitutes in every employee group.

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