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Op-Ed Mon May 23 2011
Time is a valuable thing. I often wish I had more of it. I can pretty much say with confidence that you, Reader, probably wish you had some more too.
I don’t like to waste people’s time. I don’t believe that any of us who engage in something we love want to either. When I form my lessons, teach a classroom full of high school students, or present information to my colleagues, I don’t want others to wish they were somewhere else. Learning is at its best when students are engaged. Engagement can look like a variety of things: a student hard at work on his or her own composition, a thoughtful classroom discussion about ethics, participation in the school science fair, or designing an exercise regimen in P.E.
Teachers do not believe that what we teach is a waste of time. We can engage students easily when things are important to us.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise to deliver a longer school day and school year in Chicago. This has proven to be overwhelmingly popular among non-educators, and isn’t even that un-popular with some teachers. Obviously, students aren’t crazy about it, but we’ll get to that later.
More time in the school has the potential to look like a lot of things. Emily at RosieSays illustrates different ideas of what “57 more hours” each school year could look like and breaks out a meaningful number: 10 extra days of school a year. Mayor Emanuel is envisioning more time for math. I would like more time for civics, art, and health education.
But like the Academy Awards or tapeworms, “longer isn’t necessarily better.” After a while, things deteriorate and can even become painful. School is no exception. When we start to solve schooling issues in Chicago from the position of lengthening the school day, we will create more problems than solutions because that time and money will have to be cut from something else.
By extending the school day length CPS will need to cut after-school programs, sports and clubs, and make-up credits (night school). Graduation rates will plummet (further) when we see that kids who can’t make up classes they failed the first time have no second chance to learn.
Outside of the classroom, students’ lives will deteriorate: students will need to quit their after-school jobs. They will get home much later in the evening. The vast majority of Chicago students use public transportation to get to school. Many already start and end their day away from home without sunlight. They will spend less time with their families, which we know won’t help a student to succeed in school.
School reform needs to start from the position of changing what we are already doing in schools with the hours that we are there. When students are spending hours each month prepping for and taking tests that neither inform instruction nor ensure meaningful outcomes, then we are wasting our time and their time.
We don’t need a longer school day, we need a “Better School Day” replete with study hall, recess, fully resourced classrooms, and schools that don’t resemble prisons. We need healthy meals and physical education that burns off enough of students’ energy to help them focus on writing and reading when they sit still. We need theatre, music, and arts education so students have something to write and read about. We need civic education to teach students how to leverage power in the world, especially as they become adults.
I think if we saw these changes, we might see that 6 and a half hours each day (eight, when we include homework and studying) would be well-spent, resulting in young people ready for society by the time they graduate.
Education reform must begin and end with what and why we are teaching and learning. Those who want to legislate longer school days without considering the logistics will realize the hard way that they are creating more problems, and wasting everyone’s time.
It leaves me wondering if youth will still be wasted on the young.