Education News (1/23/15): “The Boston Teachers Union has agreed to extend the school day by 40 minutes each day for all elementary and middle schools who do not already have extended day programs in place. About two-thirds of the schools in the Boston Public Schools district will be affected by the change, or around 60 schools and 23,000 students. Approximately 800 union members came to the meeting earlier this week to vote on the issue, which was “voted roughly 4-to-1 in favor of [the proposal].” …. “It passed overwhelmingly,” said Richard Stutman, the president of the teacher’s union. “The most significant reason why people voted ‘No’ was concern over how late the last schools would be getting out at the end of the school day. Right now they get out at 3:30 and they will now be getting out at 4:30. The extension is expected to cost around $12.5 million each year, including an additional $4,464 each year per teacher for the extra time commitment. However, because around one-third of elementary and middle schools already run on an extended day program, teachers at those schools will not receive the additional pay that is written into the agreement.”
I think we really need to raise the “victory bar” a little higher in public education. First, we need to put plans and policies in place that will improve the quality of learning of the regular school day; that would at least give us confidence and credibility to extend the day further. There is of course the role of psychology and time in schools: 40 minutes extra in reality is 30 minutes extra time, which becomes 20 minutes extra time, which becomes 15 minutes extra time; well, you get the message. Without really having a good and thoughtful plan a: “double period” of 90 minutes, can become a long unproductive 45 minute period! In schools greater amounts of “seat-time”; don’t necessarily translate into greater amounts of quality learning-time. And then an extra-time plan whose main feature is “remediation” is in danger of extending the practice of bad teaching and learning, for a longer period of time. And how about introducing a little physics into the equation by engaging the idea of “accelerating” the learning of struggling students; or they won’t ever catch up! It is most important that schools just don’t fall into a “more of the same” format in the extended period. The “after school” program should be dynamic, innovative and exciting. A good way to perhaps organize is in a series of academic activity programs such as: Robotics; The Art of Mathematics, the Mathematics of Art; Young Authors; Urban Archeology; Environmental Engineers; Think-Design-Draw & Build; Model Bridge Building; etc. And so there is of course the material and equipment cost for these types of programs; is that in the budget? Also, we continue to sell out to the idea that there is no such thing (at least we can’t acknowledge and discuss it openly) as mastery teaching; I will believe that a school district is serious about educating children when and if it offers these extended day teaching assignments to the best teaching practitioners. An “after school program”, which by definition is problematic because it suggest that “real” school has ended, and now a “not-real” school will begin. Instead we need to see the school day in its present state in need of extension so that those children who are missing the quality informal education activities in their lives can close the informal education leaning gap with their more enfranchised peers. Just giving an “extended day” to all schools (and as the article points out; actually penalizing those schools that already engage in the practice) is a strategic waste of money. Further, this extended day must be standardized, formalized and organized; or you end up with a wide qualitative range of instructional programs. This agreement is a result of our maintaining (for political reasons) the lowest possible expectations for an experimental program; for a learning profession that is shameful. But more so, it reflects the very low expectations we have for the children who so desperately need public education to give them some kind of a chance and shot at having a successful life. But this will probably work (not for the children); because we can convince an under-suspicious and overly patient public that we can again spend a lot of money; and accomplish very little; and still declare it a victory!