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Supersize it, Secretary Duncan?

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"It doesn't matter how poor, how tough the family background [or] socioeconomic challenges," Duncan said. "Where students have longer days, longer weeks, longer years -- that's making a difference."

Humm……
So the best school would be one that meets 24/7? Is more better or is it just more?

I find this interesting because just a week ago I was looking at The Washington Post Magazine Education Review which is a popular advertising venue for private schools. You know what? Not one of those private school ads marketed “longer days, longer weeks and longer school years.” Nor did they tout “data driven” programs with “benchmarked assessments” that inform the “accountability system.”

What do private schools market instead? They speak of “creative curriculum” with “child centered instruction” that provides “individualized attention.” This is delivered by “gifted” and “caring” teachers who are part of a “community” rich in “tradition.” If the well educated, well heeled, and well connected who are ready to pony up $30,000 annual tuition want this for their own kids, I wonder why it isn’t a good choice for all kids. Wouldn’t children who have less advantaged backgrounds benefit from this kind education as well?

But small classes are expensive! Besides, there is research that says class size doesn’t matter when the measurement of success is bubble-in test scores. All things considered, the economists, who are making education decisions these days, maintain the return on (public school) investment just doesn’t justify small classes. And really, how much difference do just one or two more kids per class make anyway? So class size continues to inch up with high school classes often having 35 or more students in a section.

What I don’t understand is why longer days, longer weeks, and longer years will solve the problem of poor school performance. It may be true that India, Japan and China have more student contact hours, but that is hardly the only variable that marks the difference between our education system and theirs. Here in the United States, the schedule of many prestigious private schools is more like the 14-week collegiate semester than the 18-week public school semester. Why are the most elite K12 schools and our universities doing well if they have shorter school years?

What concerns me most is this—if we are going to keep kids in school for longer days, weeks, and years, exactly what will they be getting more of during that time? More of what they’ve been getting? Because that hasn’t been working all that well, has it?

Longer school days, weeks, and years are hardly cost neutral. They will carry a hefty price tag for transportation, food service, energy costs, and building and administrative support staff as well as for extended teacher contracts. Urban high schools are plagued by dropouts as it is. It seems unlikely that a longer school day, week and year will encourage at-risk students to hang around Why not invest in the smaller class sizes that are a major draw for private schools? Might this be a better use of resource? Maybe loading up at the all-you-can-eat buffet of education is not the best way to go. A smaller portion of instruction that is thoughtfully planned, well prepared and served in a pleasant setting might be more appetizing and more nutritious. Maybe more is just more.

It seems to me that there might be an unacknowledged perception that we can justify spending for quantity of education, but investment in the quality of the learning experience is an extravagance. After all, those kids are there to learn, not to be coddled. A longer day, week and year provides a measurable investment for dollars spent, but does it provide assurance of a improved productivity? Would a smaller class where distractions are fewer and instruction is more targeted, increase the efficiency of the unit sufficiently to offset the greater operation costs?

Is more better? Maybe, but maybe less can be more too. Some successful charters have focused on quantity of one-to-one contact time and seen positive outcomes. Most successful privates have built reputations for excellence on intimate personalized instruction in small classes.

Is increasing the serving size of the same school experience the answer? I don't think so. Supersizing the school day, week, and year may be more filling, but it isn’t more nourishing, and it doesn’t go down any easier.

7 Comments

You have to remember that private schools that have shorter days and years generally serve wealthier populations whose kids come in above grade level in literacy and math, while urban public and charter schools have low-income populations who come to school waaay behind in those same areas. It takes more time to catch those kids up. A shorter school year will just exacerbate the problem that we already see: urban kids make more growth during the school year than their rich peers, but lose a ton of that growth over the summer while their wealthier peers keep improving.

It all comes down to what is happening in the classroom. If every teacher was an "effective teacher", utilizing every moment in the classroom with best practices, longer school years might not be needed...especially in the inner city. The sad fact of the matter is that there are many in our profession who have taken the easy road for themselves...still lecturing, passing out worksheets, giving the same tests they gave 20 years ago, complaining about the kids in the faculty room, you know the type. As a former FACS teacher as well, I (and you!) know the power of cooperative learning, UbD and project or problem-based learning. But you also know that it generally does not happen in the secondary grades. No doubt, there are stars in every school. This profession needs stars in EVERY CLASSROOM and whether block scheduled or extended school year, it's not more of the same basic teaching, it's more of utilizing what we know works with kids instead of what makes our lives as teachers easier!

Please pay heed to Susan's clearly articulated insight and wisdom. I strongly believe that, in the long run, more will be no better but, in fact, much worse for children, teachers, families and the country at large.

These drastic proposals seem to me to be fear-based and without the benefit of simple common sense or a sense of proportion. Too many of those sitting in positions of power—whether they be political, business, or education leaders--are too far removed to see the practical day to day, month to month consequences for youngsters, teachers and families.

We need to listen to the collective voices of teachers, parents and all those in the childhood health, care giving and advocacy professions.

And furthermore, what a fantastic waste of resources when, as Susan stresses, we could be justifying the expenditures to improve educational quality rather than quantity—the looonnng school day and the looonnng school year.

Fellow teachers, parents and grandparents, I hope it's not too late to speak out loud and clear!

Richard Lakin,
former Connecticut elementary school teacher and principal
www.thanks2teachers.com

What we see in our schools is the families with the fewest resources, in terms of money OR adult time spent talking, working and playing with students OR families who do not supply enriching environments that allow hands on learning even when free such as engineering workshops held at our local university, have students who NEED to be in school longer. Since they do not have their hands-on, progressive learning, mental stimulation at home or in the community, they only find it at school. For families, rich or poor, white families and those of color, all ethnicities and religions who provide those learning opportunities to their students, the students actually learn more with 5 or so hours at school as opposed to 7 or more hours.

School length of day and year needs to be tied to the motivation of the families.

Duncan brings good issues to the table. The reality is, there are just too many factors to solve with one swing of the hammer. Year around schools is impractical for many areas. For instance, in our district-it can get very hot and we have buildings that don't have air conditioning. How can that be a conducive learning environment if schools are required to hold year round classes?

Yes, in Europe and some parts of Asia students have longer days, and a longer school year. It isn't that much longer, and ALL students are required to take foriegn languages, participate in the arts (not just one but two or three), and physical education. The longer school year and longer day is to accomodate that. Oh...and lets not forget the number one difference-teachers are highly respected, and even more highly paid. O.K...sorry, I got on my soap box for a minute. However, could that be a reason for their excellent performance? There are multiple studies that validate and prove (esepecially music) arts participation and student performance.

Class size, student behavior, student attendance, parental involvement (and laws that forbid parents from taking their children on vacation while their child in school), community support, all of these are factors that go into a well rounded education. Will a longer school day improve those issues? I think trying to make schools "one size fits all" is where the problems begin. Legislators should have figured that out with NCLB. We are suppose to learn from our mistakes people-that's why it's called learning-if our legislators can't do it, how can we be expected to teach it? Hello!?!?!????!!!!! Just my thoughts.

More time in school means less time with family, and less time out in the age-diverse community. Generally speaking, I view this as a strong negative, in terms of strengthening our nation.

I agree that any movement toward "more school" should be limited to a few schools, and that parents/kids should have the -choice- whether their kids attend those schools, or stick with schools using the schedules we now have (or attend school even less of the day!).

Granted, for some kids, in certain situations, more time away from their families and local communities might be more of a plus than a minus, alas, but taking all kids away from their non-school community for even more time than they already are, just because it would probably benefit some subset of those kids, is wrong-headed, undermining the multitudes of kids whose families and communities are, in fact, strong and supportive. Kids need those good influences and learning experiences, outside of school, when they're available, and undoubtedly more so than they need yet more seat time at school.

This latest ASCD SmartBrief post says it all!

Report: Extra Educational Time Didn't Help Struggling Miami Schools

"A three-year, $100 million plan that sought to improve student achievement at 39 struggling Miami-area schools through the implementation of a longer school day, a longer school year and an intensive reading program had very little effect on student test scores, according to a district report. Instead, students as well as teachers were worn out by the extra time and work, the report found, and students in the targeted schools actually scored worse on writing, math and science state tests than peers in schools without the program." The Miami Herald (5/15)

A heinous indictment of a grand and simplistic 100 MILLION DOLLAR bureaucratic scheme foisted upon children, teachers and parents!

Richard Lakin,
former Connecticut elementary school teacher and principal
www.thanks2teachers.com

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  • Richard Lakin: This latest ASCD SmartBrief post says it all! Report: Extra read more
  • CJ: More time in school means less time with family, and read more
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