With some Georgia districts adopting a shorter school year to cope with budget cuts, I thought this New York Times story on the opposite trend was worth sharing.
The National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit research group in Boston, reports that about 170 schools — most of them charters — have extended their calendars to 190 days or longer, according to the Times story.
A growing group of education advocates is agitating for more time in schools, arguing that low-income children in particular need more time to catch up as schools face increasing pressure to improve student test scores. “It’s not as simple as ‘Oh, if we just went 12 hours every kid would be Einstein,’ ” said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Boston group. “On the other hand, the more time you spend practicing or preparing to do something, the better you get at it.”
Education advocates have been calling for more school time at least since the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report presented an apocalyptic vision of American education. Teachers’ unions, parents who want to preserve summers for family vacations and those who worry that children already come under too much academic stress argue that extended school time is not the answer. Research on longer school days or years also shows mixed results.
But studies also show that during the summer break, students — particularly those from low-income families — tend to forget what they learned in the school year. Getting back to school early, supporters of a longer calendar say, is one of the best ways to narrow an achievement gap between rich and poor students. Many charter schools, including those in the academically successful KIPP network, attribute their achievement in part to longer days and calendars.
Advocates of longer school years say that the 180-day school year is an outdated artifact. “The fact that our calendar has been based on the agrarian economy when almost none of our kids work in the field anymore,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Yet several recent efforts to lengthen the school calendar have foundered. The Woodland Hills Academy in Pittsburgh extended its school year to 195 days in 2009, but this year it will return to the traditional 180-day calendar because of state budget cuts. Similarly, Parkside Elementary in Coral Springs, Fla., tried a 200-day calendar for one year before abandoning it because of insufficient financing.
Critics say that with so many schools already failing, giving them more time would do little to help students. “It is true that we have an unfair society, and it is true that kids who are coming from the poorer backgrounds and whose parents don’t do a lot of reading are losing reading skills over the summer,” said Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College. “But let’s look at other solutions.” He added, “Whatever job we give to the school system, they ruin it.”
Advocates say that schools need to plan carefully how they will use the extra time. Some say that adding the kinds of art, music and other activities that more affluent students typically get outside school is as important as beefing up academics.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog