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Op-Ed Mon May 23 2011

A Longer School Day, or a Better School Day?

This Op-Ed from Adam Heenan, proprietor of The Classroom Sooth, followable on Twitter at @classroomsooth.

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.

 

Shylo / May 23, 2011 12:23 PM

The author mentions he's a high school teacher and I do think his criticisms are particular to that level of school, but not germane to elementary students. The sub-14 set are unlikely to be taking public transport, night-school classes, or working after-school jobs. Longer days for these students are critical.

I live a block from a failing neighborhood school. Once class gets out at 2:30, it's a free for all: kids (>13) running wild at the park a block away with no parental supervision (and no park district supervision because of staffing cuts), no after-school activities. This age group desperately needs a longer day, whether it's in the classroom or just supervised on-campus time.

sandy / May 23, 2011 2:02 PM

Our education system needs to be reformed. As a parent, I always try to motivate my daughter doing her studies. However, with motivation knowledge and skills are also required to do well. Our present education system does not always provide the challenges that (India and china provide to their students) can bring out the best from a student. Every American student has the capability to complete their school and hold postsecondary degrees. They have the expertise and talent; online tutoring services like tutorteddy.com helps to bring that out by providing them all essential helps at the most reasonable cost. Some of them offer online math scholarship program to help deserving underprivileged American students learning math at free of cost. There are many students in our country, who can’t continue with their studies due to lack of proper guidance and poor financial background. They can take advantage of online tutoring services.

dwright / May 23, 2011 4:01 PM

I understand the need for supports as it relates to our students and education. However we must focus on the partnership that is missing between the school and parent.

Why is it that schools are blamed because students are unsupervised after school? Why is the American school system compared to other systems in other countries that to not allow every child an education? Our school doors are open to every child. It is unfair to compare us to countries that don't have to deal with students that are not engaged or parents that don't participate. In other words if your child failed in some of those other countries they would be kicked out.

So maybe the previous article was written by a high school teacher. However younger children need to spend more time with their families.This is the real problem with education. Students don't spend time at the dinner table discussing what they learned at school. Teachers know more about these children then their parents.

Extending the school day is waste if it means taking more time and responsibility from the families of these children. The kids will tune out and teachers will become sitters. If this is the case teachers should at least get compensated as sitters. $150 a week per student. If not, don't expect the school to figure out where these unsupervised students should go at the end of the day!

Teachers are professsionals they give society all they have and smile when they see their students succeed. I agree with one thing maybe if our parents, government, and students began to respect teachers and the educational process as other countries did maybe our children would take advantage of the time they do spend in school and after school, by studying.

Daniel / May 23, 2011 4:07 PM

"Our present education system does not always provide the challenges that (India and china provide to their students)..."

We must be careful to base on our beliefs on data, and to draw the correct conclusions from said data. In my experience, the academic rigor and creative lesson designs in the US are equal to or even better than the rest of the world. Whereas many of the education systems employed internationally focus on rote memorization, in the United States teachers are trained to encourage hands-on project based learning to encourage critical thinking. This is a 10 dollar way of saying that it's OK to disagree with the teacher in the US.

So why the difference in testing results? This has to do with admissions criteria. International education systems usually "track" low-performing students out of the academic route sometime around middle school. In the US, all students walk the same path until age 16. Obviously, at the secondary level, a random sampling of US students will not compare favorably with international school systems. I would challenge any assumption that we face a "crisis" in education based merely on the results of this standardized testing. What we really face is a social crisis - the US ranks dead last, by far, in terms of income disparity among industrialized nations.

So, will a longer school day make the ghetto disappear? Tough to say, but isn't that what we're all really hoping for?

Therese / May 24, 2011 9:37 AM

Finland, whose students have topped the PISA scores in math and science for several years, has a very short school day. So, to Adam's point, longer isn't necessarily better. But to the point of others commenting, our young people do need safe and resource-rich places to be until their parents come home from work.

Dennis Fritz / May 24, 2011 11:16 AM

The clamor for a longer school day never had much to do with what was pedagogically appropriate. Its appeal is primarily punative.

In the rhetoric of school "reform," teachers are the villians. They are lazy, overpaid whiners who need a kick in the ass--let's make them work longer days!

Kids are seen as out-of-control hellions and/or nascent sociopaths--let's keep them locked up in school longer!

The trouble with education policy is that the opinions of real educators are unwelcome. Education policy is made by business people who do not know, and do not care to learn, anything about the field they are supposedly trying to reform. They make policy with an eye to feeding the anger and frustration of parents and other adults with the school system. The could care less about the kids.

Dennis Fritz / May 24, 2011 11:17 AM

The clamor for a longer school day never had much to do with what was pedagogically appropriate. Its appeal is primarily punative.

In the rhetoric of school "reform," teachers are the villians. They are lazy, overpaid whiners who need a kick in the ass--let's make them work longer days!

Kids are seen as out-of-control hellions and/or nascent sociopaths--let's keep them locked up in school longer!

The trouble with education policy is that the opinions of real educators are unwelcome. Education policy is made by business people who do not know, and do not care to learn, anything about the field they are supposedly trying to reform. They make policy with an eye to feeding the anger and frustration of parents and other adults with the school system. The could care less about the kids.

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