Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Time to Learn" -- an extended school calendar?

The other day, as I was dropping Jasper off at day care, a mom brought her 5-year-old in to greet Jasper's teacher. Apparently, this little boy had started at the day care when he was a baby, and was now back for the older kids' summer program. Kindergarten operates on a 9 month schedule but, of course, most people's jobs do not. So the family had to make arrangements.

Across the country, most students are now out of school for the summer. It's a fascinating anachronism, and one I've been thinking about a lot lately as I've been reading Christopher Gabrieli and Warren Goldstein's new book Time to Learn: How a New School Schedule is Making Smarter Kids, Happier Parents, and Safer Neighborhoods. Very few American children need to be on the farm for the summer season, which was the original reason for a long summer break. Some 70-plus percent of American women participate in the workforce in some capacity -- not too far off the participation rate for men. That means that in the majority of American families, the only way someone can take the summer off to be with the kids is if mom or dad is a teacher.

Those high labor force participation rates also lead to a school year problem. As Gabrieli and Goldstein point out, most school calendars not only end after 180 days, a "day" is considered 6 hours. "As working parents we have raged against the inefficiency and foolishness of dismissing school at 2:30 in the afternoon," they write. If both parents work full time (or in single parent families) you either have to hire a sitter for the afternoon or rely on "self care." This is when kids get into trouble. As they note, "half of all high school students are sexually active, but we pay less attention to the fact that many teen pregnancies get started between 3 and 6pm." Parents who do want to be home to meet the school bus wind up limiting themselves in their career options.

That might all be fine if a 6-hour school day were best for the kids. But Gabrieli and Goldstein argue that it is not. A longer day has many benefits. "In science, longer classes allow students to carry out experiments from beginning to end in a single session," they write. In NCLB-driven schools that focus on the basics, extra time can create room for music, drama, art, PE. A study hall period can let kids do their homework at school and spend their evenings with their families. A pilot group of schools in Massachusetts that tried extended school days wound up seeing their test scores rise faster than the state average. So the authors encourage all school districts to give the idea a look.

I think it is worth looking at too, though I have some reservations. First, a lot of the school day is already wasted getting kids to be on task, dealing with discipline issues, moving between classes, etc. A year or two ago on this blog, we joked about starting school in January for gifted kids, because they could cover in a half year what it takes the typical class a year to cover. If a 6-hour school day is inefficient, I doubt an 8-hour day will be more efficient. Furthermore, if a school isn't meeting a child's needs in 6 hours, the school won't do it in 8 either. That's a philosophical choice, not a matter of time.

But, as someone who writes about working moms a lot, I do agree that it's ridiculous to send children home to watch television for 3 hours before the standard work day is done. I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think about the topic. Should school get out at 5pm?


Jo said...

No! If school gets out at 5 PM, then you're really cutting into the chances that the kid can be involved in extracurriculars outside of school.

There are lots of art and dance and music lessons in the pre-5 PM time. Not to mention the school clubs (robotics, math, chess, ASL, etc.).

I know at least one martial arts studio around here which does a combo after-school care + lessons, even offering school pickup.

Even if extracurrics are scheduled later in the day, giving kids time to do homework, have a snack, and take a deep breath before starting the round of evening activities can be a good thing.

Besides, I see such inefficiencies now that I hate to add more days or hours.

School until 5 wouldn't solve your problem. If I work until 5, I can't pick my daughter up at 5. In fact, with 5:00 traffic, it would be 5:45 or 6. So, there's still have to be some sort of after care for little ones.

silvermine said...

School is not daycare for older kids and should never be regarded as such. More hours in a day are just going to make the kids tireder.

When was the last time you went to a class? And how long was it before our mind just didn't want to think anymore? :D I find 8 hours to be a *really* long time to concentrate really hard.

And would they still send home 2 hours of work at night? When are kids supposed to be with their families?!

I'd say if people want their kids looked after after school, hire someone or use one of the many programs available for after-school activities. You get *your choice* that way -- do they want sports, science, math? Volunteer work? Whatever! You can choose when and where and who and how much.

What about the kids who DO have a mom (or grandma or whatever) at home. Or kids who DO work? I don't get why one person's need (for after school care) should lead to a one-size-fits-all policy that really fits no one.

But then, I homeschool. :D

McSwain said...

A longer day has benefits for whom? Parents looking for free childcare? Give me a break.

As an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that kids have trouble staying on task for that long a day already.

As a parent, Nobody but nobody is going to take MY CHILD for even MORE hours and schedule his time. This would be compulsory child care. As his parent, I direct his after-school activities. He gets exercise, enrichment, and time to relax and be a bloomin' child for crying out loud. To have responsibility at home and learn about nature by being in it on his time.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with ending school at 5. But since my secondary education programs ended at 5 I guess I'm a little biased. After-school activities, music,clubs, sports etc.happened before school so my parents dropped me off on my way in and picked me up on their way home. I found that exercise of our minds and bodies before school meant we were awake and alert by first period. I can't say the same for my friends in any of the other high schools. I should also mention that both my parents were teachers but they still had to work all summer to make ends meet.I've heard people say that teachers have it easy because they only work 180 days but nearly every teacher I know needs to have a second job to support themselves and their families.
I guess i am saying that I have no problem with an extended school year. Children have much longer school years all over the world. I have no problem with a later school day but a longer school days should be based on the needs and abilities of the child. I read somewhere that most of the most sucessful school in helping raise achievement among at-risk kids extended their hours. I suppose they could try optional extended hours but i see many pitfalls to that plan as well.

Anonymous said...

I see some advantages to ending school at 5, but not to lengthening the school day. Having teens start at 10 rather than 8 would fit much better with the normal sleep cycle.

Of course, having school and work end at the same time would increase the death rate due to traffic accidents.

Anonymous said...

One thing to consider is that most elementary school age homeschoolers put in two or three hours of academics at most - and the kids are at grade level or beyond. That says something about how inefficient it is to keep kids in school for such long hours.

If you want to suggest that in a nation where most parents work it makes sense for the state to provide child care, then that's what I'd suggest. But, I'd be honest it is child care, it isn't school. It is about what is necessary and convenient to accommodate for parents' work schedules. Most children in this country already don't get enough sleep. Adding three more hours of mandatory schooling isn't going to help with that.

Anonymous said...

Noooo. The day our district succeeds in extending the school day or school year is the day we pull our kids.

If public schools would focus on their actual mission - educating children- we would not have anywhere near the achievement and discipline problems that we have today. However, somewhere along the way, public schools have lost their way and have decided that their mission is to provide free child care and to cure all of society's ills.

I work year around, but I take responsibility for my children and make sure that they are cared for in the afternoons and summers. No, it is not easy at times, but if you can't deal with a little inconvenience, then you shouldn't be breeding. I make sure that they have time to relax and even get a little bored. They come up with some of their most creative ideas when they are bored.

I also make sure that they have a good mix of activities... to build mind, body and soul. We try to involve them in activities where they meet children outside of their circle at school. This provides a much needed social break from "school cliques/drama" and allows our kids to expand their horizons and realize that the world is much, much bigger than their school campus.

I have found over the years that our community theatres, camps, art studios, sports leagues, etc., tend to offer far more enriching and high quality extracurriculars than can be found in our public schools themselves.

I agree with the last poster. If our country is going to start providing free childcare... then fine... but call it that and make in optional. However, give families the option of also having a life outside of the narrow, vanilla world of public school.

Every year this country gets closer and closer to 1984.

k-man said...

Good grief! If the schools are doing such a crappy job nationwide, as seems to be the case, then adding to the time the children are in their clutches is ridiculous.

Let's be blunt here. Teachers howl that they aren't paid enough, though most states have broadly alleviated the problem. But given the results we're seeing from today's students, if teachers were paid based on performance, most would face huge pay cuts, not raises. And you want them to have more time to ruin the children with the egalitarian, socialist, dumbed-down, lowest-common-demoninator "instruction" that is the norm now? Please!

A far bigger problem that Silvermine has alluded to is the tendency of teachers to require massive amounts of homework every night, even in elementary grades. These are the same lazy teachers who couldn't teach average students effectively to start with, let alone the gifted, and now they rely on the homework to do the actual instruction by using the demands of NCLB as an excuse. NCLB-based teaching ties up the school day, they say, requiring that the teacher use homework to teach what she can't in class. Remember that education majors in college had the worst SAT scores and worst university academic grade point averages of any major, and you see the real problem here.

(NCLB has also been the excuse for dropping recess and other badly needed breaks for elementary and even kindergarten students. Same lazy teachers, same story, but in this case they don't want to have to be bothered to go outside to moinitor the kids. Better to end the kids' chance to blow off steam. Some schools have even reduced the alloted time for students to eat lunch by citing NCLB.)

Now imagine what a longer school day would do to students already reeling from the workload. Burnout and discipline problems will obviously result—not to mention a sheer hatred of learning that actually seems to be a goal of NCLB (see below).

You should examine the homework issue more closely. Stories abound of children having to spend entire weekends doing it, even having to miss family events, church, etc. Much of it is simply busywork designed to extend the hold the schools have over the kid and disrupt family life. And that's no accident, as reading John Taylor Gatto's writings will demonstrate. Longer school days will make the hold on families' time even worse.

NCLB also plays right into the scenario that Gatto outlines by forcing disproportionate attention to the lower-ability students, by the way. It's doing just what it was designed to do by requiring schools to screw over bright students, end grade skipping, etc. But that's a topic for another time.

I used to advocate a longer school year. But reread the paragraphs above, substituting "year" for "day" where appropriate—and for the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

My childrens' school day is from 8:30 until 5:30 and it is a godsend for working parents. It is not just childcare at the end of the day. Every class throughout the day is longer. Lunch and midday recess is for one and a half hours. No rushing through the cafeteria. PE is every day for one hour, 15 minutes. All homework is done in the built-in study hall period. It is a long day, but when they come home from school they are done for the day. Our evenings are relaxed and "free".

Heather Annastasia said...

As a substitute teacher, a nursing student, and a mother of 10-year-old twin gifted boys, I am not in favor of longer school days or year-round schools (though I'm not actually opposed to year-round schools).

I do take advantage of after school programs that give my boys a chance to finish homework so that I can focus on reviewing it. I like these programs because I can pick them up early on some days and later on others, which I couldn't do if school simply ran later.

I also enjoy the summer because I can focus on studies of my own choosing. Right now, my boys are learning next year's math, Chinese, and Humanism. This would be a lot more difficult to do if I didn't have these three months to focus with them. Also, we have more time for museums and science experiments.

I love Summer!

Anonymous said...

So most of the parents, who posted comments, are the ones who either have a gifted child &/or take time to delve into what may be beneficial to their children. What is the percetage of such parents in general population for which, I suppose, the question was posted ? I agree with most parents that given the current status of affair, I'd NOT vote yes for extended school day.
Despite having spent almost 12 years to become a subspecialized physician that I'm am, I have chosen to put my career on back burner & am one of the parents waiting to pick kids 10 min before school is over . Why? Do I not trust the school my kids are in ? I do. But, when school is over, it's over. As it is, even in best environment, not more that 60-70% time is devoted to education (not just academic but the one that address wholesome development), donot expect current school environment to do anything more to nurture your child.
On the other hand, I do see an enormous need to change the school calender. We are not farming anymore. Kids, average ones( the ones who will make tomorrow's adult population), loose 2.7 months of learning in long summer they have. Either sit in front of TV / video games. What this means is a need for grassroot change in attitude towards school & schools themselves. Schools(not just yours or mine but all) need to be as much accountable as parents.
Have you ever seen an infant stopping to learn how to walk/babble or strive to be independent 'coz it's summer! I have not. That reflects human nature. Continuously striving to learn. Where & why does that die as they grow older. Why the intellectual risk that Laura talks about in another post is never encouraged in an average household?
AS my kids grow older, I reflect more time on school education. Believe it or not, never did I have more that 6 hours in school (a school in small town of central India). As a teenager, I started school at 10 AM with optional activities at the start. Still when I look at the education I recieved, it couldn't have been better.
It's the environment in school , dedication on part of teachers & parents & expectations that we set as a community for our children, which will make any change in who do have as adults when our kids leave school.
Untill then, I'll partly homeschool every day & in summer & keep picking them right on dot when they leave school. As parent it's our responsibility to make sure that our kids get what's in their best interest. If goverment is not on our side to provide the environment then , it's time for parents to set priorities in their lives.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely not!! As a middle school teacher and a mother of three, I do not want someone else "baby-sitting" my kids until 5pm nor do I want to keep my students until 5pm..
My day begins at 5:30. I get myself dressed by 6:15, then I rouse my kids who get on the bus at 6:50 am for an hour long bus ride to school. I then take care of my infant and leave for work by 7:30 am. My school starts recieving students by 7:30am and there are teachers assigned to be there at that time each day. Homeroom begins at 8am, when teachers are required to be there. We do not dismiss at 2:30. My students leave at 3:30 and some have an hour on the bus. By that time, they are too tired for anymore instruction and I am too tired to teach anymore. I leave school at 4pm to go home to my own kids with homework, supper, and baths and occasional other scheduled activities.
If kids stayed at school until 5 they would not have time for sports and other extracurricular activities and still be able to do homework and get to bed at a descent hour. It would also cut into family time with my own children. In addition, my children would not get off the bus until 6pm. An 11 hour day for 1st and 2nd graders is absurd!
Fortunately, I am a teacher so my hours are similar to my children. However, even I cannot be home to meet the bus at 4pm when they get home since I get off work at 4pm. I have to arrange to have that covered.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to reflect on the purpose of public school. First and foremost, it is education. I believe that schools are headed for some radical changes in the next couple decades, and we will see a departure from the old paradigm. Maybe it will be eliminating summer vacations, and spreading days off throughout the year. Most likely, it will include more personalized educational plans for all students, and the flexibility to go at one's own pace via virtual classes and teachers who facilitate rather than acting as the "sage on the stage".

Longer school days would serve working parents perhaps, but I don't think it would be the best option for the children.