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Additional School Time Questioned

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan take note: longer school days and years may not be the key to improving student performance. According to a Miami-Dade County district report, a three-year, $100 million project to extend the school days and school year in the district’s lowest-performing public schools failed to improve student achievement, The Miami Herald reports.

The School Improvement Zone, a "pet-project" of former Superintendent Rudy Crew, added an hour to each school day and increased the length of the school year at 39 elementary, middle, and high schools. The project initially earned strong praise in education circles, including being named one of the "top innovations in government" by Harvard University. But, in a comparison of the Zone schools with a control group, the district’s final report on the project found that Zone students did worse on reading, science, and math exams and only slightly better on writing exams. The long hours and added workload also reportedly left both students and teachers exhausted.

Now some are wondering whether the program was a waste of taxpayer money.

"It was more of a public relations campaign to make the administration look good than anything else," said Marta Pérez, Board Vice Chairwoman. "They used massive amounts of money without testing or piloting it first."

In previous interviews, according to the Herald, Crews has defended the program, saying it brought heightened attention to the district’s lowest performing schools and gave them an opportunity to boost achievement.

Another school board member, Ana Rivas Logan, said the district needs to learn a lesson from the failure of the Zone program. "This shows us that throwing money at the problem is not the solution," she said. "We need to implement programs that have proven results."

20 Comments

I have never thought that extending the school day or year would provide additional benefits in test scores. Both student and teachers need time away from the classroom to make connections between learning and the world where they function, to say nothing of time away for literal "re-creation" and rejuvenation.

While this will draw the ire of many working parents, it seems all too often that parents want longer school days and years in order to decrease the cost and challenge of arranging childcare before/after school and for summers, vacations, etc. There are a number of wonderful programs in almost every community—certainly with some cost involved—that will help children do exactly what I previously stated: make connections between classroom learning and the world where they function.

Instead of spending millions of dollars increasing the school day and year, the district could well have gotten more bang for the buck had they invested that money on lowering class size and initiating on-site, ongoing, common sense professional development program for all teachers on effective teaching.

Suellen Alfred

Dear Mr. Secretary, Now that you have embarked on and even completed a portion of your listening tour, I might add to what you have heard. Your visit to the San Francisco schools last week was well documented in the San Francisco Chronicle, both the print and on-line versions.

I recently retired from about 20 years in the profession. I saw some very good things go on in the c lassroom, and I saw some terrible things. (Many of my students would probably say that my classroom was the 'bad' part of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Standardized tests are not the answer to improving student acheivement. I can't tell you how many I gave during my two decades, but it was a lot. As a professional, I realize that tests show what the student knows at the point they take the test. A small fraction will retain, but...Did find out that using some data that there is a close correlation to the test scores and the academic grade. Testing is very quantitative, it shows numbers in a neat little row, but they do not show how a student is thinking. I have had students who could not operate in the box, but show me exactly the same thing if they were to draw or write a poem. I encouraged that kind of work, within what I was required to do. Kids want to express themselves, but we don't neccessarily teach them how to do that, because we are too busy teaching them how to take a test. One class in Ethnic Studies I taught, we did a lot of drawing which showed an advanced level of understanding of our subject matters. Since the class was an elective with very few guidelines, I was able to broaden my methods beyond the fairly usual read the book and answer a worksheet. In all of my classes,I taught them how to write critical thinking questions and statements on a particular reading, then I would chose outstanding ones for class completion. They really got into that. I do believe that I was the only one on campus who was using a direct style as such.
I could go on and on, and I am sure you are not reading all of these, but some of your aides just may pick up a thing or two in the ones that are read.

Good reading.

More of the "same old, same old" over a longer period of time equals "same old" results, and probably some unintended consequences to boot!

I as an educator have had the entire k-12 experience. My title is that of a Library Media Specialist, but I've always been the hub of all activities within any school in which I have worked. My concern now relates to the high school where I have been for the last 10 years. During this tenure I have been encouraging reading for enjoyment as well as to raise the reading levels of students. I test students for their reading level in the fall and in the spring. I am most distressed that the average reading level in our high school is between grades 6 and 7. It appears to imply that their is a disconnect for reading beginning in the middle school and continuing in the high school. Many of the elementary make AYP, yet high schools in our district are finding it much more difficult to do so.
My concern then becomes is reading a separate and formal part of the elemetary educational focus and then as students progress to higher levels, is it then folded into the English class. What impact does that have on standardized testing in the higher levels? Should reading be a separate and formal part of education on all levels of the k-12 experience? Should every teacher know how to teach reading?

As an experienced, urban educator I think that extending the school year is a viable approach to narrowing the achievement gap; HOWEVER, like any idea or strategy it depends on HOW it was implemented. Why is it some teachers work wonders with students and other accomplish nothing? As a coach I say to teachers that if you waste ten minutes daily, five days a week, you have lost two months of instructional time. At the end of four years, that adds up to one school year. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day is what makes us equal, what we do with them is what makes us different. So more time was added to the calendar - what was the vision, how was it implemented, and how was it monitored?

Dear Dr. Arne Duncan,

I believe that schools should focus on Language Arts and Math in K-2. Language Arts is a vehicle to communicate in reading, writing, speech, listening, and presenting. Language Arts needs to be mastered at an early age because all other subjects are dependant upon receiving meaning, comprehending, and internalizing content material. Without Language Arts skills, we fail our children in all areas. The foundations of the processes in mathematical concepts using mainly manipulatives and some paper-pencil activities will help develop cognition of the left-analytical side of the brain. Focusing on these two subjects and assessing in these areas I believe will increase the ability to reason, explain, problem solve, and engage in the higher order of Bloom's Taxonomy. Science and Social Studies informational books can be taught through Language Arts. Teachers need very specific benchmarks where they can check off as students become proficient in specific skill areas -mastering the concept.
We need support systems built into schools, churches or in the community for parenting classes. The target group should be parents of children ages infant-4 years of age. This is a very crucial time when children need a literacy foundation. Singing nursery rhymes, reading, playing, cuddling, dancing, etc. play an integral role later in school success.
Thanks for your time.
Jeya Carmichael
Middle School Teacher
Michigan

Dear Dr. Arne Duncan,

I believe that schools should focus on Language Arts and Math in K-2. Language Arts is a vehicle to communicate in reading, writing, speech, listening, and presenting. Language Arts needs to be mastered at an early age because all other subjects are dependant upon receiving meaning, comprehending, and internalizing content material. Without Language Arts skills, we fail our children in all areas. The foundations of the processes in mathematical concepts using mainly manipulatives and some paper-pencil activities will help develop cognition of the left-analytical side of the brain. Focusing on these two subjects and assessing in these areas I believe will increase the ability to reason, explain, problem solve, and engage in the higher order of Bloom's Taxonomy. Science and Social Studies informational books can be taught through Language Arts. Teachers need very specific benchmarks where they can check off as students become proficient in specific skill areas -mastering the concept.
We need support systems built into schools, churches or in the community for parenting classes. The target group should be parents of children ages infant-4 years of age. This is a very crucial time when children need a literacy foundation. Singing nursery rhymes, reading, playing, cuddling, dancing, etc. play an integral role later in school success.
Thanks for your time.
Jeya Carmichael
Middle School Teacher
Michigan


Dear Dr. Arne Duncan,

Greetings,As much as I admire the efforts that your cabinet is trying to do in terms of repairing failing schools, I don't agree with the method chosen. There are a great deal of holes in the road that have to be patched. Firing or replacing school personnel in underachieving schools is a little over the top. We have to consider other variables that obviously effect failing schools;poverty,family, and social ills that haven't been addressed. This should not be swept under the rug. The school personnel seemingly all work in this environment. Has the Administration considered these constant variables which may effect student performance. By firing or replacing school personnel with other principals and teachers with the same constant variables will not remedy our failing school situation. These variables play such a vital role in the performance of children living in impoverished communities. Parents who may hold two and three jobs may not have the convenience of helping their children with school issues. What ever happened to professional development and more training for the quote unquote ineffective school personnel? Do we just throw them to the wolves? I strongly believe that those drastic measures can be offset with more investigation into our failing school system to find the best practices to repair this situation. It appears to be a quick fix. Again I admire what the administration is trying to do, I just wish there were other means that the Administration would look at before going forward on this initiative.

Dear Secretary Duncan:
There are many serious problems that need to be solved. But, what we really need to do is go back to the beginning. The BA/MA program needs to be fixed. The program should be a 5 year program. New teachers graduating should mentor under a master teacher before taking on the responsibility of a classroom. I know this isn't what is being asked here and is the responsibility of the universities and colleges.

Here is the solution. Stop preparing teachers to work with Beaver Cleaver. They need to learn how to work with Beavis and Butthead. Teacher training is now 80% content, 20% human factors. Those numbers need to be switched. Here's how: We need to train students to have SCHOOL SKILLS, meaning students are taught how to do the requisite school behaviors including hand raising, being motivated, completing assignments, sitting at a desk, punctuality, attendance, attitude, respect for teachers and more. Otherwise, we work with untrained, unmotivated kids. That's like expecting a non-swimmer to swim. Youth Change Workshops, http://www.youthchg.com has trained teachers to provide School Skills preparation to students for 20 years. Providing this training yields terrific results especially with students who have challenges, barriers, disabilities and other concerns. Here is a tested solution that has a demonstrated track record.

As an educator, I believe the school day is long enough. What we really need to focus on are the programs we adopt and the professional development that follow them. In my many years of teaching I have noticed a lack of effectiveness on the trainings that we receive. I believe we need competent trainers or coaches that know these programs inside out, and they also know how to teach it.

After 26 years of being an Educational Disability Advocate in all 50 states with my own business, I have found that the only way to be able to find the problems our students are having in school is the "Present Levels of Performance Assessment". Over the years, with enormous documentation, I have found that elementary school years are the years that the students "Did NOT get it"!
The Present Levels of Performance Assessment, if given today, will show what grade level and month the student is on in all areas of reading and math as well as it breaking down what they did not get in these areas.
As a disabilitites advocate, I always have the Present Levels of Performance done first thing......because the PLOP is what drives the IEP: accommodations, modifications, benchmarks and goals. It also shows that within the elementary school years - what the teachers are not proficient in and what the students have missed that needs to be rectified so the students "do get it".
I also have a Radio Show called The Rose Moore Show where we discuss all disabilites, disorders and syndromes and all the problems that come with each one. We "find, address and solve" the "unmet needs" of the learning disabled in the public school system K-12. We have been on Internet Radio for 3 years now with an audience all over the the US and the World.
Please, please, please address the need for the Present Levels of Performance for ALL students in all grades for once each year.
Sincerely,
Rose Moore
Remember.....whatever we do, we do it for the kids! Rose Moore
www.alltalkradio.net 6-7 pm every Sat. The Rose Moore Show Check for your local times. [email protected] and www.adhdservices.org

How sad to hear you get on the "pay-for-performance" band wagon. Every child deserves a great teacher every year. Let's put our resources into making that happen and not assume there will always be 'good' teachers we can pay more and 'bad' teachers worthy of less. What message does that give kids? Let's create professional learning communities where everyone coaches each other for greatness. Money can't but that!

Dear Mr. Duncan,

Until we are willing to let go of ideology and really listen to each other, not much will change. The current system developed because it meets the needs of powerful stakeholders. To the extent that is true, the system is not broken; it is working as designed, to train docile citizens to take their slotted places within society. What education in America needs is an open debate that examines every question with a view to a systemic overhaul of the very foundations of education.

So far society does not seem ready for such a far-ranging examination. Therefore we keep harping on the same old disagreements and going through one fad after another. There are no panaceas, just hard work, but as President Obama said we must out-educate in order to out-compete. Power alone is not enough.

Dr. Mr. Duncan,
As a taxpayer, every dollar that we send to Washington has to be spent wisely. The current Supplementary Education Services requirement for title one schools in phase two and beyond is a total waste of taxpayer money. Many small SES providers have sprung up to assist schools to meet this requirement. However, these companies are only required to hire people with at least a high school diploma. This program is considered more effective than my own after school program with certified teachers and trained para professionals WHO KNOW THE KIDS strengths and weaknesses and target instruction directly to them. I am required to set aside 20% of my title one funds for this industry, who charge the maximum allowable per student in every instance. We are required to inform them of the amount that can be spent per student, and not surprisingly, their charges just happen to match every time!!My experience with this program last year left a very bad taste in my mouth. These people did not have translators to facilitate communication with our families who did not speak English, took months just to find a suitable tutoring setting because they do not bother to research the area (we did not make our school available to them due to lack of space), and only followed through with service to ONE child from a pool of 16 who signed up.Yet I could not spend 20% of my funds on anything else until every effort had been made to assist them in successfully implementing the program (April). I could have hired more bi-lingual para professionals in the fall to work in classrooms, increased participation in my own after school program,or purchased the other half of a new guided reading program that was too expensive to purchase in whole with those funds. An article in the Detroit Free Press about two months ago looked at the effectiveness of the after school SES program and concluded that many schools actually saw declines in student achievement with this program. Since ARRA funds are going to be channeled through title one, the SES program deserves much more scrutiny by your department. Taxpayers deserve it. By the way, in my school-- a K-3, with 99% free and reduced lunch, and 77% ESL, we increased student achievement in grade 3 ELA from 38% proficient to 82% proficient, and in math from 68% to 93% in just one year without the SES program's anemic help!

Dear Mr. Duncan: As a veteran inner-city HS English teacher in one of the largest districts in the US, I must admit to constantly having to fight against despair that it is my fault that my students aren't achieving -- or achieving at a high rate. Teachers, we are told, need to do more to engage their students, to raise the test scores, etc., etc. Over the years, when I have asked students why they are in school, the majority of their answers have been centered on two facts: (1) their parents tell them to come and (2) they don't want to be picked up by the truancy officer. The fact that our students' parents work as many jobs as they can get to support their families coupled with the fact that they often pressure their sons and daughters to work to contribute to the families' finances as soon as possible leaves us teachers with classrooms full of young people who have literally no motivation to learn or succeed in life. In my school, we see these students at most 5 hours per week (not taking into account a very high absentee rate). As a dedicated professional educator, I will always do my best to equip my students with knowledge and skills so that they will have choices in their lives, but with all due respect, without the support of parents who value education and instill its importance in their children, parents who teach their children respect for adults as well as their peers, and the support of a society that also teaches these life lessons -- people need to understand that continuing to place the burden on teachers just is not the answer. No matter how good or great the teachers may be.
Thank you for your time.

Dear Secretary Duncan, I teach math in a large urban school district and I teach in one of the high schools with the lowest test scores in the district. I believe that I am seeing a very curious phenomenon: students have become aware that teachers are being held responsible for their academic success and they are off the hook. They do not need to attend regularly or study and teachers will be blamed if they fail. Their schools will be labeled "in need of improvement." Teachers are expected to stand on their heads if that is what it takes to get the students to "succeed." And what is success? Not the ability to be on time, respectful, hard working, or helpful, but rather the ability to score well on a test. I am not planning to continue teaching under these circumstances because I am not allowed to teach students what they need to learn except tangentially. They are learning bad habits for the work world they will eventually want to join. Good luck.

Dear Secretary Duncan,
Before you do anything on a national level about extending the school day and the school year, each region should implement a pilot group of schools that do extend their school day and year. In this way, we will have "scientific research-based" data to use to profess our logic on such a move. Will that data really tell us what is best for our students?
I'd like to see the school year extended for those who do not show proficiency at EACH grade level not just a select few. Budget cuts have cut out summer school for all but a few grades in our district. If we don't have the budget to require all below level students to attend summer school, where is the money to extend everyone's year?
I would never vote to put an end to all the wonderful activities they were able to participate in during summer vacation. Sleeping late and laying around reading a book is considered wonderful in my household.
Thank you for your time.

Dear Secretary Duncan:

If fixing public education was easy, it would have already been accomplished. There are so many variables that there cannot be one "fix", like was attempted in NCLB. I believe the fixes should be based somewhat on demographics, as districts with different demographics have different needs and challenges. Lengthening the school day and year is an excellent idea; however, in Minnesota, we can't even get our legislature to allow us to start school before Labor Day because of the tourist industry. In addition, many school boards want school to be done by Memorial Day so their children can work in the summer. I am an administrator in a public school on an Indian Reservation - our school boasts of being the 6th poorest in the state based on the number of children who live in poverty. Our needs are far different from the needs of schools that are as close as 25 miles away. The teachers and other staff at our school work long and hard to meet the needs of our students and we have made great strides as a school with regards to school climate, attendance, and other important things that are not tested by annual "accountability tests". Yet, we are judged by how well our students perform on the tests. Will we ever get 100% of our 3rd graders to be proficient on our "accountability tests" - NO; however, by the time they graduate, we may have increased from 30% proficient in 3rd grade to 85% proficient. Yet, we are still a "failing school"! Do you see the flaw in this type of thinking. NCLB did a lot for our school as far as getting everyone to realize that improvement was needed and to provide the staff development opportunities that would assist us to make the needed changes. We will, however, never get out of the "failing school status" that NCLB uses to measure accountability. Who among us would want to be evaluated based on one measure one day of the year? Heaven help us if the evaluation would occur on a "bad day"! This is how public schools are judged. In addition, there are all of the other issues that have been stated in other posts; poverty, parents who don't/can't support their children or education, lack of motivation, drug/alcohol use & abuse, apathy, mental health issues that interfere with learning, lack of money, children with disabilities that are expected to perform as those without disabilities, legislation that ties schools hands, etc., etc., etc. Thanks for asking.

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