Recently there was a story in Education Week entitled Push is On to Add Time to School Day, Year (Fleming). Some schools are adding time to their school day and school year. If done correctly, this will allow teachers the time to focus on great instructional tools like Project-Based Learning (PBL) and perhaps offer students the time to create service learning opportunities within the school district.
In the Washington Post, there was a story about schools that are researching the idea of a four day school week (Layton). Four day weeks are created by schools in order to cut costs (i.e. heat, energy, etc.). The positive side to a four day week is that it would provide high school students the opportunity to participate in internships where they can get real-life work experience.
Both ideas offer a great deal of flexibility in instructional practices. Unfortunately, there are many times when these ideas are not done in order to offer innovative practices to students. They are done in order to meet increased mandates, make budget cuts or increase test scores.
Doesn't it seem that we are all moving in opposite directions?
Time and time again we hear from people who believe that schools are an institution that are too far behind society. I would venture to guess that there are many households, not just schools, that are struggling to keep up with the 24/7 media, cell phones for everyone including kids in second grade, quick fix society.
Unfortunately, those brick and mortar comments are said by people who expose their children to great experiences such as museums, the arts and sports. We know as educators, that there are many parents who do not know how, and do not have the means, to expose their children to such experiences.
How can schools be innovative and focus on 21st century skills when they can't afford to buy computers, Smartboards, IPads and netbooks? Although 21st century skills means changing the way we all think and not just incorporating technology, many schools are ill-equipped to meet that demand. In the long run we have millions of students who lack exposure to quality experiences at home and school, and are their schools are forced to look into cutting the academic week down to four days as other schools increase their school day and school year.
I love the idea of students being exposed to real-life experiences in the outside world. In my own school, we are on multiple acres of land where students go outside every day except on days when it is raining or below 20 degrees. Teachers bring their children outside so they can learn about nature through hands-on experiences. Students are truly exposed to some great examples of real-life experiences.
Unfortunately, I also understand that we are fortunate and not all students, teachers and staff have the luxury to bring their students outside every day. It would be wonderful if we were able to go to a four day week with a fifth day that focuses on outside experiences for younger children and internships for high school students. However, how will schools be able to monitor those experiences?
It's not that schools always need to have control (although some would argue that point); it's that schools are mandated to prove that students are learning. Teachers and administrators are being evaluated based on those mandates and giving up a day each week and trusting that all students are being exposed to great experiences is more of a risk than a reality for schools.
What's Best for Kids?
Although both ideas have benefits for high school students, they have major drawbacks for elementary and younger middle school children. Elementary students do not have the luxury of working internships and parents will have a major issue with the lack of childcare.
The reality is that schools provide an education and child care to parents, so the four day school week idea will put a deeper wedge between parents and schools. You need not look any further than comments after a blog to see adults who add comments about how much teachers and administrators make and the lack of twelve month employment.
Educators who work in schools that only have four day weeks will be forced to hear comments about how disruptive the new schedule will be to the family unit. This will cause a rift between the school and home and will work against what so many parents and schools work hard toward, which is a home-school community.
Extended days can be very exhausting to students who are between the ages of five and eleven. Schools would have to make sure that they are incorporating breaks into the school day to allow for students to get up and move. The whole child initiative is not from the neck up, it's the whole body.
In The End
The reality is that there will always be schools that can be innovative and offer students what they need to be successful in society. There will also be schools that lack the means necessary to prepare students for the 21st century, even though we are eleven years into it. These same students live in households that do not prepare them for the 21st century. With 21.6% of our students affected by poverty, providing 21st century skills takes a back seat to teaching students how to survive.
If we are forced to go through all of these cuts in order to change the institution to become more 21st century, we really just seem to be forced to once again prove that our society is caught between the "haves" and "have nots."