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Can you set a clock?

Original post made by JustMe, Duveneck/St. Francis, on Sep 4, 2008

I attended back to school night at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto last night. Part way through the evening I asked about the situation with the classroom clocks I had seen. I had visited two classrooms and had seen two classroom clocks with wildly incorrect times.

I reasoned that schools run on tight schedules, and students are forced to follow those schedules, and the first tool the students would need for meeting this demand would be the classroom clock. Without a reliable method for checking the time, how can you expect students to comply? How do you teach them time management? I also reasoned that setting a clock is a simple, basic, and funcamental thing to do, especially in a school.

The response I got from the teachers stunned me. It boiled down to this:
1) Those clocks have not been accurate in years. They are considered to be non-functional.
2) The teachers do not have the ability to set the clocks in their rooms, it can only be done remotely by the district office.
3) For whatever reason, the district office is not setting the clocks, apparently district-wide, in the class rooms. (I got the impression the problem has persisted for five years, but I may be wrong on that.)
4) Teachers are buying off-the-shelf clocks and installing them in their classrooms, not always in locations that are visible throughout the classroom. The main clock continues to display the incorrect time to the class.
5) There was no mention of any ongoing effort to set the clocks to the correct time.

What are we teaching our kids here? Time isn't important? When you encounter a problem, push for a solution until you meet an obstacle, then throw up your hands? Fend for yourself and don't expect the bureaucracy to help you? That they must find a way to meet the teachers demands even though they are denied even the most basic tools for doing so?

I don’t know about you, but any clock in my house that has consistently displayed the wrong time for a week is on the way to the dump. These clocks have been wrong for YEARS! They look pretty firmly mounted, I think crowbars may be required.

What is wrong with our schools that they cannot even set a clock?

Comments (21)

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2008 at 10:59 am

Maybe the thinks there are more important things to spend our money on then broken clocks (I totally agree). I'm am quite sure that the teachers feel time is important, they are a great group at Jordan

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Posted by
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

I was not knocking the teachers, they sounded totally frustrated by the situation. The clocks are controlled (they said) by the district office, and they are broken.

I remember relying heavily on classroom clocks when I was a kid. If I were a kid sweating in one of those stifeling hot un-airconditioned rooms during the day, I would watch the clock for my chance to breathe some cooler air.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

We once had a bell problem at our school, the bells were going off at the wrong times for a couple of weeks. We were told the bells were set by the district and the individual school could not alter them until they had been done at the district office who oversees all this type of thing.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2008 at 11:08 am

I was told that this situation has persisted for years, not weeks. That is absurd.

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Posted by Miserable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2008 at 11:18 am

The clocks? I thought it was much more serious a problem that it was 90 degrees in all the classrooms I went in to last night (JLS back to school night), and several with NO WINDOWS (science classrooms in the 600 wing) And it was 7-9 at night! I can't imagine the awful discomfort during the day for kids and teachers.

How can we expect to put kids in such a dangerous and unhealthy situation for 7 hours a day? And expect them to learn besides?? Stifling heat. A few teachers had these little personal fans blowing on them while they talked. Good (but woefully inadequate) for them - what about the kids. Should each we send our kids to schools with fans in their backpacks to put on their desks?

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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Backpacks are not allowed because they block passage. How would the administration react to fans blocking passage?

I agree the heat was oppresive even at that hour. A solution is badly needed.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 4, 2008 at 7:40 pm

La Crosse Technology of La Crosse, Wisconsin,54601 sells a clock with large numbers on a seven inch face. Its time is set by the WWVB signal broadcast by the U.S. Government's National Institute of Standards & Technology in Fort Collins, CO. This ensures the clock will always display the most accurate time - and adjusts for daylight saving. The signal is received even inside a room.

It uses one AA alkaline battery which seems to last well over a year and is priced about $10 (maybe a bit more now). This seems a simple way to solve the clock problem at minimum cost.

Visit the web site at for further information.

Like this comment
Posted by Clockwork Bonds
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 4, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Pete your solution is very simple. Too simple.

We need to float a bond.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2008 at 9:07 pm

One thing to point out is that most kids nowadays claim they can't tell the time on an analog clock. If we get these new atomic clocks they will be digital. The kids will be able to tell time on them but they won't get practice at using analog clocks. But, maybe having analog clocks at the moment in the classroom are not a problem for the kids, only the teachers, as the kids use their cell phones to tell time.

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Posted by atomics are analog
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2008 at 10:13 pm

I've got one of these wonderful atomic clocks. They're analog with a big white face and black rim, looking just like the kind hanging in the classrooms now. Skip the bond & PIE & PTA, etc. and buy your classroom one. They're not that expensive.

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Posted by get real
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 4, 2008 at 10:41 pm

it's like a giant game of telephone - please don't generalize from one room or one teacher (or 2, or 3, or 4). I've been in classrooms all over this district, schools at every level. Never seen a problem that wasn't really temporary, never heard of district control over clocks. I think they're wired to the school's individual bell system, as a general rule, which might explain the part about not setting them from the classroom.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 5, 2008 at 12:02 am


Good points. Analog clocks would be better for the kids since they are supposed to be learning in school. On your other point though, kids are supposed to have their cell phones turned off so they can't refer to them for time. I used to look at the clock all the time in school; can't imagine a room without it.

Like this comment
Posted by No $$$
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2008 at 12:17 am

Publicize it and some rich Palo Altan may donate new clocks. I would if I were loaded.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2008 at 12:50 am

Ummm, didn't we just float some huge bond? Surely there's money somewhere to fix some clocks. Ohlone's seem to work, by the way. Maybe we're off the district grid.

Like this comment
Posted by another PA idiot
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm

I used to set the clock in the classroom for fun back then ... So don't get over excited over a small matter here. ppl need to relax. Pay more attention to the API or star test scores of the school. Teachers are just fine there and I am pround of them!

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Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 6, 2008 at 10:57 am

I used to look at the clock to see how much time I had left on a test or to finish classwork, such as an essay. Clocks are so important for students to plan their time in class! This should be part of a learning skill for them.

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Posted by smartalec
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 6, 2008 at 6:28 pm

there is this thing called a 'watch'

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Posted by Badger
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm

JustMe, you asked: "What are we teaching our kids here?"

My answer: you can't trust everything you see.

Anyway, you would think Palo Alto could afford atomic clocks in classrooms... Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 7, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Let's set the snappy comments aside. I think each classroom should have a large, clear, working, accurate clock on the wall. This is basic baseline stuff.

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Posted by Vi
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2008 at 6:16 pm

The problem with the clocks definitely extends to Paly. The clocks in all of my classes, as far as I know, run about four minutes faster than the clock on cell phones. Many people use their cell phones as a primary source for telling time outside of the classroom, and we get all screwed up. It's not a big deal to mentally adjust, but when students are dropped from class because of too many tardies (I don't disagree with the policy, by the way), I think it would only be fair for the official school clocks, which are sometimes attached to the bell schedule (but that's another issue...), to be accurate.

Many classrooms, especially in the math department, have two clocks. I believe it's because the school clocks are constantly on the blink (one of my classes had a clock that was frozen and showed the same incorrect time for months, and another was about six or seven hours and a handful of minutes off).

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck School
on Sep 11, 2008 at 6:44 pm

I agree that we cannot use our cell phones because the school clocks are not set to the precise real time. Duveneck's bell rings 2 minutes early in the mornings and 1 minute late in the afternoon. I guess that's the principal's way of getting 15 more minutes of class time per week.

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