Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Extended School Days

The lead editorial in yesterday morning’s Boston Globe urged Massachusetts’ lawmakers to approve a proposal that would double the funding available to support extended school days in Massachusetts’ schools. According to the Globe, “alert urban educators recognize that expanding learning time allows them to close the achievement gap between minority and white students.” The Globe editors also claimed that longer schools day will offer time for the art and enrichment programs “that are often lost to the demands of the standard six-hour school day.”

Extended school days have become one of the latest fads in urban schools desperate to improve the achievement of poor and minority students. The achievement gap between White and Black and Hispanic students is a real crisis in American education. There is little evidence, however, that longer school days can make much of a difference in remedying the achievement gap. A report from the non-profit Education Sector , for example, indicates that more academic time in which students are engaged correlates with higher achievement . . . but longer school days do not.”

The issue isn’t more time in the school day, but what happens during the hours that are available in urban schools. And the evidence indicates that time in many urban schools is spent very differently from how time is used in more affluent, suburban schools. Too often, students in urban are plagued by impoverished, basic skill curricula that limit their reading and writing development. While urban students are drilled in atomistic reading skills, their suburban counterparts are reading and discussing challenging, engaging texts. While students in low-performing urban schools are practicing writing for the test, students in high-achieving suburban schools are learning to write for a wide range of purposes and audiences. The rich get richer and the poor get instruction in skills, skills, and more skills.

As for the claim that longer school days will provide space in the curriculum for art and music, I’ll believe that when I see it. The current evidence indicates that, in low-performing, urban schools, if it isn’t tested, it won’t be taught. In many schools even science and social studies are largely ignored because they aren’t tested (see Nichols & Berliner's new book, Collaterall Damage).

In their book, Breakthrough, Fullan, Hill, and Crévola conclude that the goal of education for all students in the 21st century must be “learning to learn, about becoming independent thinkers and learners. It’s about problem solving, teamwork, knowledge of the world, adaptability, and comfort in a global system of technologies, conflict, and complexity” (p. 3). The key for achieving this lofty goal for students in urban schools is not more time, but engaging, high expectation curricula typically found in highly successful suburban school districts.

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