Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Longer school days? Longer school years?

I have a great deal of respect for Joanne Jacobs, but she said something in a recent post about improving education for disadvantaged kids that I completely disagree with. Near the end of her post, Not By School Alone, Joanne says this:

I think providing quality K-12 schools for poor kids is job one; this includes a longer school day and year, making after-school programs and summer school less important.

The ideas of lengthening the school day and lengthening the school year have often been suggested as reforms for our K-12 education system. They were especially popular in the early 1990s when we were suffering through a recession, and Japan seemed to be kicking our economic backsides. Many talking heads on TV blamed our education system and pointed to the longer school year of the Japanese.

If our interest is in trying to get kids who are already learning to learn more, longer school days and years makes sense. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here. We are talking about kids whose achievement in school is miserable.

During the years that I've taught at the junior and senior high school levels, the basic reason for low achievement by students has been consistent: they don't try very hard. For the last decade I've been teaching a basic class, and I've seen another problem there. Kids who fall behind--and some of these kids are willing to try--end up being placed in classrooms with a large number of kids who won't try and won't behave. This makes it impossible for anyone to learn. Although I've never taught in an inner-city high school, I think it's a safe bet that there are a lot of classes with a lot of kids who don't try very hard. And I think it's a safe bet that the learning environment in many of those classes is hopeless.

If education for disadvantaged students is ever going to improve, those are the two issues that have to be addressed. Somehow we have to convince them to try, and we have to put them into classrooms with reasonably good learning enviroments. Having longer school days or years won't do either of those two things.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If our interest is in trying to get kids who are already learning to learn more, longer school days and years makes sense."

I'm not even very confident about this, Dennis.

My local high school has a typical day that runs from 8:05 to 3:25 (with a few days that are a bit shorter for staff development). 7 hours and 20 minutes. Subtract out the 45 minutes for lunch and the 10 minutes for the break between 2nd and 3rd period an we are looking at 6 hours and 25 minutes of scheduled class time.

I can't learn in a classroom for 6 ½ hours per day per day. For kids who take 0 period classes, you can add another 50 minutes of class, so we're at almost 7½ hours.

And people want to *extend* this???

I would be totally fried after days like this. I don't think I would be ready to read (and comprehend) very much in the evening. I certainly would not be in a position to do ½ an hour of homework per class. Which isn't really very much for any class that requires much reading (like English or history) or practice (like math).

My private prep school high school education had only 24 class periods per week. We took 6 classes per semester, but each class met only 4 times per week. Typical class day ran from 8:40 to 2:15 (with a break and a lunch period).

I strongly suspect that I learned more there than most kids who take 7 (or 8!) classes per day. Partially because with only five periods per day you have time left over to do external reading for class and other types of homework.

I'll observe that at college (the next year for high school seniors), 16 hours of class per week is a high-typical load. 16 hours ... not 35. The expectation, of course, is that the students do substantial reading outside of class, but I don't see how to do a history or English class without substantial outside reading.

So ... I'll suggest the heretical thought that for the students that care and are already doing well we might consider *fewer* hours of class per day, not more.

[NOTE: I'm well aware that there are more differences between my high school (private, Jesuit run, etc) and my local public high school than just the class schedule. I'm using it as an existence proof that more time in class is not necessary for scholastic excellence.]

-Mark Roulo

6/11/2008 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If our interest is in trying to get kids who are already learning to learn more, longer school days and years makes sense."

A second comment :-)

I'll also point out that any meaningful extension of the school day (say going from 3:25 PM get-out time to 4:30 or 5:00) is getting pretty close to precluding extra-curricular activities.

Class gets out at 4:30 so you head off to baseball practice (until, what 6:30 ... so, home by 7:00 and homework until 10:00. Every night?) ... or a chess match with some other school (get over there by 5:30 ... 2 hour games, so you're done by 7:30 ... back at school by 8:00, home by 8:30 and then three hours of homework. I don't think so). And get home when? How does the schedule work that doesn't involve the students on the go for 14+ hours per day five days per week. I wouldn't sign up for this as and adult!

I think people pushing for a 8+ or 9+ hour school day should also explicitly state that it probably precludes any serious extra curricular activities. I'm far from convinced that this is a good tradeoff.

What, exactly, isn't being accomplished in 30+ hours/week of instruction that could be accomplished in 35+?

-Mark Roulo

6/11/2008 7:58 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mark, if you're feeling a breeze, it's because of the white flag I'm frantically waving up here in Warroad. Believe me, I'm not pushing for longer school hours for anyone. My point is that it makes absolutely no sense for our kids who are low achievers. You make a pretty good case that it doesn't make sense for anyone else, either.

6/12/2008 3:22 AM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

Mark Roulo,

Some of the extended day proposals that I have seen include making sports and extra-curriculars part of the school day.

Which makes it sound more like teenage daycare to me. But then most parents probably like the sound of "eight hours of safe, structured, supervised educational time for your child," even if the fourth adjective is less than completely true.

6/12/2008 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mark, if you're feeling a breeze, it's because of the white flag I'm frantically waving up here in Warroad."

No flag needed, Dennis :-)

We are pursuing TRUTH here, not victory.

-Mark Roulo

6/13/2008 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some of the extended day proposals that I have seen include making sports and extra-curriculars part of the school day.

Which makes it sound more like teenage daycare to me.
"

Very possibly.

And also probably removes even more of the little remaining UN-structured time.

This is another one of my hot buttons ... the lack of unstructured time.

:-)

I can see how/why parents would like the idea of "free" aftercare programs, though.

-Mark Roulo

6/13/2008 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"....some of these kids are willing to try--end up being placed in classrooms with a large number of kids who won't try and won't behave."

This is why the longer I teach in public education, the more I feel that part of Europe have gotten it right in terms of their educational system. School choice with a more business, customer type relationship seems to make schools more responsive to parental concerns. Additionally, schools can require more accountability from families. Because they are largely private institutions, the attitude is more that education is a privilege rather than a right to be handed to one.

7/18/2008 8:01 AM  

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