RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Educational Expansion

Posted on

Next school year, forty schools will be extending the school day and/or year to see if it increases student performance.

The article mentions increasing music and fine arts (which have been egregiously slashed in recent years), plus more time for teachers to interact with individuals in core subjects. This sounds great!

The average length of a school day is somewhere around 6.5 to 7 hours, and most states require about 180 days of instruction. An additional 300 hours of instruction, therefore, would be about 42-48 more days in the classroom. Assuming the school days aren’t lengthened, I think this means that the forty participating schools would be changing to a year-round system.

There is evidence for both positive and negative effects from year-round school. Personally, I think it’s a good idea, especially for kids in lower-income homes who need that much more structure and public support. However, merely having year-round school doesn’t address the problem of students not wanting to be there in the first place… plus a lot of parents, especially in non-poverty groups, don’t want their kids in a seemingly-less-flexible schedule, interfering with vacations.

It’s interesting to me to see that all five states have “extra” funds from Race to the Top, which they’re using to pay the teachers for their extra time. This means that the states are choosing to use a chunk of cash to help a few particular schools (and hopefully they’re also doing something with other schools within their boundaries), and part of teacher salaries is a non-permanent source. If the programs work (beyond the four years of RTTT funding), where will the money come from?

Let’s also think practically in terms of people-hours. Adding back the fine arts (which shouldn’t have been cut in the first place) takes some time in the school day. Adding teacher “contact hours” in core subjects takes time too. After that, where is the time for additional curricula? Increased teacher hours will mean longer classes or additional classes for teachers. Where’s their spare time for individual students? Where’s the extra teacher prep time for this extra curricula?

Here, however, is the bottom line: What performance problem are they trying to fix? Missing “critical math and science skills” is pretty hand-wavy. What’s the metric they’ll measure “success” on?