Policy analysis should be viewed as a process of determining certain policy options that are developed to address a specific problem. The analysis is based on the comparison of offered policy options according to a range of criteria with the aim of selecting the most effective and feasible one to address the identified problem (Alexander, 2013). An electrical fire occurred at the Grafton School Complex on February 3, 2020.
As a result, the complex was closed for further restoration activities. In order to address the situation and provide all the students of Grafton High School (GHS) and Grafton Middle School (GMS) with necessary instructional hours, the York County School Division (YCSD) staff developed the specific policy to regulate the activities of GHS and GMS during the fourth quarter of the school year (York County School Division, 2020a). The purpose of this paper is to complete a policy analysis process discussing the alternatives proposed by the YCSD staff and recommending the option for resolving the problem.
Defining the Problem and Making the Case
The discussion of fundamental conditions underlying the policy problem depends on the qualitative data provided by the YCSD regarding the fire occurring on Monday, February 3, 2020. The fire in the Grafton School Complex was observed in the electrical (equipment) room at 3:45 p.m., and its cause is not known yet (York County School Division, 2020a). The school’s sprinkler system was partially able to address the initial fire in the building (Nolte, 2020; York County School Division, 2020a). The majority of students and staff had left the building before the fire started, and the evacuation of other individuals was conducted safely.
As a result of the fire, the Grafton School Complex cannot be used for a studying process during an indefinite period of time because of the necessity to address the smoke damage and the destruction of the electrical distribution panel used in the complex. The problem is that the reconstruction of a specifically designed electrical panel will take several months (York County School Division, 2020b). Such conditions as the impossibility to continue a studying process during the fourth quarter of the school year at the Grafton School Complex because of the damage caused by the fire underline a specific problem determined for this case in the next section.
The problem that comes out of addressing the fire consequences at the Grafton School Complex can be formulated in the following way: Too few instructional hours are provided for GMS and GHS students (York County School Division, 2020a). The particular consequences of not solving this problem of the lack of instructional hours include the inability to end the program for a school year before the end of the fourth quarter (Farbman, 2015).
As a result, possible consequences of not resolving the issue can also include the extension of the school year for GHS and GMS students and the shift of final tests and examinations to other dates. Furthermore, the students of GHS and GMS missed six school days because of the fire before being able to return to school, and these instructional hours should also be addressed in a new schedule for students (York County School Division, 2020b). From this perspective, specific factors that led to the existence of this problem with the lack of instructional hours include the impossibility to divide GHS and GMS students effectively between other YCSD schools because of violating student safety and space requirements.
The policy issue that is closely linked to case conditions and the defined policy problem is the necessity of selecting the most effective policy option among the offered alternatives in order to guarantee that the required number of instructional hours is provided, and student needs in safety, space, transportation, and food are addressed. The YCSD staff is interested in developing objective timelines for addressing the problem to meet particular state mandates regarding the number of instructional hours and conditions for students during a studying process (York County School Division, 2020a). The necessity of following the regulations and standards of the Virginia Department of Education strictly creates the issue for the YCSD authorities, who are involved in developing the most effective option for GHS and GMS students.
It is important to note that, if the worst-case scenario is realized, the Grafton School Complex will not be opened before the end of this school year. GHS and GMS, as well as schools hosting GHS and GMS students, will be required to add 5-12 days to the school year calendar for the purpose of addressing the number of instructional hours. Schedules regarding weekends and holidays will also be changed in this situation (Farbman, 2015).
Therefore, the YCSD staff responsible for addressing the policy problem and issue was expected to pay much attention to developing and evaluating a variety of possible options that could be used as the solution to the case (York County School Division, 2020b). Additionally, the YCSD staff worked on the development of policy alternatives and plans to follow with the help of involving stakeholders, whose participation influenced the discussion and analysis of the options and the adoption of the final policy variant. Critical values of stakeholders important in this context will be discussed in detail in the next section.
Driving and Stakeholder Values
Engagement of Stakeholders
The analysis of the policy problem involves the following groups of stakeholders, whose values and expectations are important to be taken into account: students, students’ parents and families, the community members, the YCSD staff and authorities related to GHS, GMS, and host schools, and the representatives of the Virginia Department of Education. Victor Shandor, the YCSD superintendent, organized the group of educators and administrators for the development of the most effective solution to the problem (York County School Division, 2020b). It was important to recognize the fact that any solution could significantly affect such stakeholders as students and their families.
Therefore, to communicate with families and community members and discuss the problem, two public forums were held on February 8, 2020. Additionally, one public forum was held on February 27, 2020. During the forums, the YCSD administrators, parents, and community representatives were able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the three variants of solving the problem that were finally determined by the authorities among a variety of other options to address specific values and criteria (“Two other York County schools tapped to host displaced Grafton students,” 2020). Furthermore, the engagement of stakeholders was observed with reference to their participation in discussing the issue through email and social media resources.
For the determination of the solution to the policy problem, the following stakeholder values were identified during the option development and public forums: the availability of the option, the safety of children, cost-effectiveness, and the efficiency in covering the needed instruction. One more important value is the equality in terms of providing the access to instruction for all students at YCSD, without discriminating them in terms of available technologies and resources (York County School Division, 2020b). In the context of the discussed case, the provided values were not competing, and all the responsible stakeholders were interested in developing the solution to the problem that could guarantee the continuation of a safe and effective studying process for all involved YCSD students, with a particular focus on the needs of GHS and GMS students.
In the literature on the topic of addressing the number of instructional hours, similar values are usually discussed: the correspondence with the state mandates and the correspondence with the school division’s norms. Among other important values, researchers also name the ability to contribute to students’ safety, as well as needs in learning and development (Cattaneo, Oggenfuss, & Wolter, 2017; Farbman, 2015).
Therefore, during the analysis of the problem and public forums, the following values were also determined as important to address to stimulate all students’ progress: the provision of opportunities for all young individuals to develop equally in the context of changed conditions for studying. Thus, stakeholders discussed and determined the solutions for conducting athletic and extra-curricular activities, Specialty and Advanced Placement programs, and special education plans (York County School Division, 2020b). In this context, the listed values with reference to addressing instructional and developmental needs of students as key stakeholders influenced the selection of criteria for assessing the solution options.
Referring to the discussed values, the division authorities were oriented toward selecting the option that could work effectively and address the lack of instructional hours for GHS and GMS students, to cover the need for 990 instructional hours per year. Students needed to receive a consistent, fair, and stable schedule for the remainder of the year that could be able to cover their needs in special education and extracurricular activities (“Two other York County schools tapped to host displaced Grafton students,” 2020).
The next criterion was based on the affordability of the option. The focus was on optimizing the resources of host schools for face-to-face instruction with the availability of blended learning if supported by the Virginia Department of Education (York County School Division, 2020b). Public forums were held to make sure stakeholders could support the initiatives, and the plan for the effective implementation of the new policy should have been developed basing on the evaluation of available options (Nolte, 2020). The proposed policy alternatives to address the values and criteria are presented in the next section.
In order to address the problem of limited instructional hours for the students of GMS and GHS, the division and school authorities developed and evaluated nine specific options to implement. The pros and cons of changing day schedules, using off-site locations, and dispersing students among all the schools in the community were analyzed. Among the discussed options, the authorities finally selected and assessed three specific alternatives: the possibility to split morning/afternoon school days, the choice of online or blended learning, and the focus on an alternated day schedule (York County School Division, 2020a). It is important to discuss these three policy alternatives in detail and present the analysis of these options’ advantages and disadvantages according to the criteria set for policy analysis.
Policy Alternative One
The first alternative policy to consider is the adoption of a split morning/afternoon school day at Yorktown and Tabb schools accepting students from GMS and GHS to ensure all the students receive the required instruction during weekdays. According to this policy, each school could provide four hours for instruction for students per day (York County School Division, 2020b). The option was regarded as attractive because it was not associated with breaks or interruptions in the learning process for students from all the involved schools. The other advantages of this policy option are that the teaching-learning process could be affected minimally in terms of adapting the curricula to a split day for students.
The disadvantages of the policy include the limited flexibility for the implementers of the policy, educators, and students. Additionally, the split morning/afternoon school day cannot adequately address the state requirements regarding the quality of instruction and the number of instructional hours for students (York County School Division, 2020b). The provision of transportation services, Advanced Placement learning, special education programs, extra-curricular and athletic programs are also limited in the case of adopting this alternative policy.
Policy Alternative Two
The second alternative to focus on is the adoption of online or blended learning. This alternative is based on the active integration of technologies into a teaching-learning process based on the provision of instruction using digital resources. The benefits of applying this option could include the possibility to provide 990 required instructional hours for students of GMS and GHS. Furthermore, online/blended learning guarantees the limited dependence on school facilities for students (York County School Division, 2020b). As a result of discussing the option at public forums, blended learning was supported by community members to be applied in combination with the altered day schedule, but it was not approved by the Virginia Department of Education as addressing the state-mandated requirements.
The Virginia Department of Education accentuated the necessity of covering 990 required instructional hours with a focus on the quality of instruction, and online learning could not address these standards. Therefore, the key disadvantage of the option is the inability to address the state’s directives regarding the instruction. Focusing on the effect of online learning on families, it is important to note that some students can be limited in their access to required technologies (Andersen, Humlum, & Nandrup, 2016; York County School Division, 2020b). Another disadvantage of the option is associated with requiring additional material and financial resources for realizing online learning for GMS and GHS students.
Policy Alternative Three
The third alternative policy is associated with adopting an alternating day schedule. According to this schedule, the students of GMS are required to attend TMS on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the start time is 7:40 a.m. The students of GHS should attend YHS on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the start time is 7:00 a.m.
This schedule works till April 3, and after that date, Grafton schools will relocate to new host schools (Tabb High School and Yorktown Middle School) for the period of April 13-June 11 while keeping to the day schedule (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) (York County School Division, 2020b). The students of GMS and GHS are also expected to visit their host schools during a week after the graduation date.
The advantages of this option include the possibility to follow standard curricula for students with minimal adjustments. Additionally, students will receive access to all typical services and programs, including extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, athletic programs, special education plans, and Advanced Placement programs. According to the authorities, “the selected schedule maximizes available existing resources, allows students to continue to receive instruction from the same teachers, establishes a routine for both students and staff, and minimizes negative effects on the already stretched YCSD transportation system” (York County School Division, 2020b, para. 6).
The disadvantages of adopting the option for students and their families include the necessity of adding school days on Saturdays; there are days during the week when students are not at school, and they need support of caregivers; an alternating day schedule affects the scheduled Spring Break. Currently, the authorities of YCSD work on minimizing the negative effects of this option on stakeholders.
Weighing the Options
The proposed policy alternatives need to be weighed in terms of such criteria, in addition to the standards developed by the YCSD staff, as effectiveness, equity, costs, political feasibility, and the ability for the option to be implemented. Table 1 presents the single-step evaluation of the three alternatives offered for solving the problem of the lack of instructional hours for GHS and GMS students (Alexander, 2013). The selected criteria are appropriate for evaluating all the proposed alternatives, therefore, each alternative was weighed with reference to all these five criteria.
Table 1. Single-Step Evaluation of the Alternatives.
|Alternatives||Effectiveness (More Leads to Higher Rankings)||Equity (More Leads to Higher Rankings)||Costs (More Leads to Lower Rankings)||Political Feasibility (More Leads to Higher Rankings)||Ability to Be Implemented (More Leads to Higher Rankings)|
|Adopt a split morning/afternoon school day||Medium||Highest||Medium||Medium||Medium|
|Adopt online/blended learning||Lowest||Lowest||Highest||Lowest||Lowest|
|Adopt an alternating day schedule||Highest||Medium||Lowest||Highest||Highest|
According to the criterion of effectiveness, the adoption of online or blended learning provides the lowest effectiveness for students and the teaching staff because of the limited face-to-face communication and instruction between these actors of a teaching-learning process. Additionally, there is a high risk that not all students have access to technologies to participate in online learning, and the risk of the limited opportunity for educators to effectively shift to online learning is also considerable.
The medium effectiveness is typical of the first alternative with a focus on a split school day because, in this case, the number of instructional time per day is decreased for all the students that can negatively affect the quality of education (York County School Division, 2020b). In this context, the highest effectiveness is reported for adopting an alternating day schedule when students receive face-to-face instruction supported by additional instruction for the days they are not at school.
When referring to the criterion of equity, it is important to note that the lowest score is typical of online learning because of different opportunities for students and families to organize online learning at home because of access to technologies and caregivers’ support. The adoption of an alternating day schedule has the medium equity because some students are required to attend school on Saturdays, and the study process may be extended for them. A split school day has the highest rank in terms of equity, but still students of four schools can become affected in terms of having partially unequal access to transportation and other school services (York County School Division, 2020b).
The third alternative is the most economical one for stakeholders because of using all available resources of host schools. The organization of a split day schedule requires more costs for covering transportation and food services. The highest costs can be associated with the adoption of the second alternative because of transferring all the materials in a digital form and guaranteeing that all students and educators have equal access to technologies and devices to use online or blended learning.
The political support and the support of the Virginia Department of Education are mostly provided to the adoption of an alternating day schedule because this policy effectively covers the need for 990 instructional hours for students. Therefore, the medium support is provided to the first alternative because of its limited feasibility, and the lowest political feasibility is typical of the option of online/blended learning because of the absence of confirmation from the Virginia Department of Education. As a result, the highest ability to be implemented is typical of the option of adopting an alternating day schedule because of the availability of all necessary resources (Nolte, 2020).
The preparation of the first alternative to be implemented requires more time and resources, and the lowest rank is provided to the second option because of the necessity of adapting the program and technologies. From this perspective, the third policy alternative has the highest ranks for the most of the determined criteria, and it can be recommended for the implementation to address the policy problem and issue.
The analysis of the offered options according to the criteria and values indicates that the most appropriate solution for GHS and GMS is the third alternative based on the adoption of an alternating day schedule. The first argument for promoting this policy solution as the most appropriate one is associated with the evidence presented in the literature on the topic. Thus, researchers claim that the instructional time-loss can be best addressed when promoting any opportunities for the interaction between teachers and students (Andersen et al., 2016; Cattaneo et al., 2017). In this context, the application of an alternating schedule or additional instructional hours can be discussed as an appropriate solution.
The results of studies indicate the presence of a positive relationship between the increased number of instructional hours and students’ performance. From this perspective, it is important to contribute to creating a situation when students of GHS and GMS receive opportunities to participate in a studying process with teachers as much as possible. Thus, the expansion of instructional hours, changes in schedules, and the extension of school years are actively discussed in the literature as effective and acceptable options to address the problem of the lack of instructional hours for students (Andersen et al., 2016; Cattaneo et al., 2017; Farbman, 2015). Still, the changes in instructional time associated with alternating schedules are viewed as the more beneficial approach because of the possibility to achieve higher results with minimal resources and minimum negative effect on students and the community.
When adopting the alternating schedule for the students of GMS and GHS, as well as their host schools, it is possible to utilize available resources in the most efficient manner. The facilities proposed as host schools for students have all the required resources and equipment to address the needs of the staff and students of GMS and GHS (York County School Division, 2020b). The attendance of host schools according to a developed day schedule will guarantee that all the GMS and GHS students will receive equal access to transportation services, food services, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, Advanced Placement programs, and studying according to individual plans in the context of special education.
The choice of the alternating day schedule allows for effective and full academic support for all students. The adoption of this plan is correlated with the resources available for the staff of YCSD schools, and there is no need for students and their families to buy additional resources or equipment for the period of studying according to an alternating day schedule (York County School Division, 2020a; York County School Division, 2020b). As a result, it is possible to state that the focus on a new schedule for schools can be discussed as the option that addresses the needs of all stakeholders in the community.
In spite of the fact that other two alternatives that were evaluated before making a final decision on the policy seem to be also appropriate to address students’ and families’ needs, they cannot address all the criteria selected for the evaluation of policy options. However, it is possible to identify the opportunities for the further improvement of the adopted policy in order to make sure the needs of students are met in the most efficient manner (York County School Division, 2020a). YCSD leaders accentuate the necessity to further cooperate with stakeholders and the Virginia Department of Education to improve the current policy and decrease the number of Saturdays during which students will attend schools.
One of the proposed actions that can be realized to cover students’ instructional needs includes the integration of blended learning as the addition to the altered day schedule to be able to provide instructions on those days when students are not at school. According to the information provided on the YCSD website, “Division staff began exploring the use of blended learning to help augment the 990-clock hour mandate and minimize the number of scheduled Saturdays” (York County School Division, 2020b, para. 3).
The Virginia Department of Education did not support the implementation of online and blended learning as an independent option for GHS and GMS students. Thus, “while blended learning could be a component of the division’s plan to meet state mandates, the division would also need to meet other requirements in order for blended learning to count towards state mandates” (York County School Division, 2020b, para. 3). Not all students and families can afford using technologies for blended learning, and the goal of YCSD authorities is to guarantee that the needs of all students are addressed during the days that can study according to the principles of blended learning.
Thus, the recommended solution to the problem is the adoption of an alternating day schedule for the students of GHS and GMS and their host schools during the fourth quarter of the school year. This solution is consistent with the stakeholder values and ethical principles, according to which all YCSD students should have the equal access to high-quality instruction in order to be able to address the 990 instructional hour mandate. The proposed solution is the most cost-efficient and feasible in the situation of guaranteeing the safety for children without limiting their right to studying.
The conducted policy analysis indicates that, among the three offered alternatives (the adoption of a split school day, the adoption of online/blended learning, the adoption of an alternating day schedule), the third option is mostly effective and feasible. Thus, the adoption of an alternating schedule for the students of GMS and GHS and host schools is an appropriate solution to the policy problem of the lack of instructional hours. The reason is that the realization of this alternative can be discussed as cost-efficient, effective in terms of promoting learning for students, providing equal and fair opportunities for students, being supported by the Virginia Department of Education and being easily implemented. These criteria are based on the stakeholder values determined for this case.
From this perspective, the implementation of the third option addresses certain values and criteria accentuated by parents, educators, and stakeholders responsible for the policy realization. The option addresses the following values and criteria: the guarantee of students’ safety, the impact on families, the availability of space, the preparedness and appropriateness of available facilities in terms of infrastructure, the provision of food and transportation services, and equality in access to instruction. The analysis of the offered policy options indicates that the third alternative of adopting an alternating day schedule should be recommended as the option to solve the policy issue.
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Cattaneo, M. A., Oggenfuss, C., & Wolter, S. C. (2017). The more, the better? The impact of instructional time on student performance. Education Economics, 25(5), 433-445.
Farbman, D. A. (2015). The case for improving and expanding time in school: A review of key research and practice. Web.
Nolte, J. (2020). York County School Division answers questions about plans to return Grafton students to school. Daily Press. Web.
Two other York County schools tapped to host displaced Grafton students. (2020). 13 News Now. Web.
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