Monday, August 22, 2011

More Time in Schools

Interesting op-ed in the NY Times about the lowering of class time/school year in U.S. Schools.

The minimum required school day in West Virginia is already about the length of a “Harry Potter” double feature. In Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, summer school programs are being slashed or eliminated. In Oregon and California this year, students will spend fewer days in the classroom; in rural communities from New Mexico to Idaho, some students will be in school only four days a week.

What's great is that a trend of expanded schedules that started in high-performing charters has transferred over to some regular public schools (wow, it can be done!):

In Boston, for example, the Edwards Middle School has gone, in five years, from the worst-performing, least-desired middle school to a model of success after it increased scheduled teaching time by 30 percent. Students there now outperform the state average proficiency rate in math and have nearly closed achievement gaps in literacy. This has occurred in a school where over 80 percent of the students come from low-income families. 

Perhaps most surprising, some schools have shown that these changes can be made without spending more money. Brooklyn Generation School replaced most administrators with teachers and staggered all employees’ schedules, allowing it to increase learning time by 30 percent without additional cost. Class sizes have been reduced and the burden on teachers lowered. Last spring, 90 percent of seniors graduated on time. Remarkably, when these students entered high school, only about 20 percent were at grade level.

5 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I'm constantly suprised by the way that district officials can jump back and forth on this question.

On one hand, they dismiss time in class as "seat time" when they want to grant credit based on demonstrated proficiency and when activists note the sleazy way that the district calculates the 150 hours of planned instruction required for high school credit.

On the other hand, they tout the extended day at Aki Kurose, Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary as if it were the sure path to closing the achievement gap.

Both of these sentiments collide at STEM where they both tout the extended day and pooh-pooh the short class periods.

I don't mind it so much when they take one perspective and stick to it, but I'm offended by how they can jump from side to side on this question as the opportunity favors - sometimes within minutes of having spoken passionately for the other side.

Jan said...

Charlie -- you are so right. To me this seems like a symptom of a disease that infects much political/public policy decision-making. Few, if any, seem to worry much any more about the "integrity" of their arguments. At any given time, people just "want what they want" -- and grab the nearest sound bite argument to throw at opponents. It happens nationally (though at the state level, it seems better lately) and it certainly happens at SSD. I see it in my OWN arguments when I denigrate the validity of high stakes testing -- and then find myself pointing to increases (or decreases) in those same test scores to buttress my arguments for one pedagogical approach or another. In many instances, there ARE nuanced arguments that allow for the discrepancies, but I am not sure I always think them through.

I blame much of this on television culture -- where sound bites abound, and critical thinking does not.

One thing I really hope we get in new directors is a willingness to think critically -- to challenge assumptions, to recognize the contradictions in District positions - like the one you just pointed out. Sometimes, it means you may have to abandon your OWN argument, when you examine it critically and it doesn't hold. But if we can't learn (or relearn, for those who knew and have simply allowed CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC to make them lazy arguers) to formulate and defend our positions with integrity and thoughtfulness, I don't see how we can move forward at any level -- locally OR nationally.

Jan said...

And Charlie -- they do the same thing with teacher quality. First they argue that the most important thing, for schools that have lots of struggling kids, is getting the best, most experienced teachers in there (because "teacher quality" is all important, right -- except that it is not). And then, they introduce TfA to those schools -- teachers that are the EXACT ANTITHESIS of what they originally said they were looking for -- with the predictable "sound bite" arguments, totally disconnected from the LAST set of sound bite arguments.

But -- for what it is worth, it is not enough for me if they just stick to one position -- if, in fact, that position is wrong. We can't afford the kind of stupid, wrongheaded decision-making we have seen from District administration and this Board. We don't have unlimited amounts of money, and so deciding, say that the "problem" is that teachers should all compete against each other, and we should dedicate what money we have towards incentive schemes that "reward" the "best" teachers, while dinging the "worst" ones -- when there is NOT A SHRED of evidence that this is a problem, or that that would be a solution -- it has to stop. Same with buying ineffective text books. The same with spending hundreds of thousands on "alignment" (read "standardization") when there is no evidence that those things are problems, and nothing improves.

So, I DO "mind so much when they take poen perspective and stick to it"-- if that perspective is wrong.

Marion said...

Can we print this on a banner and hang it out front of SPS Central:

"Brooklyn Generation School REPLACED MOST ADMINISTRATORS WITH TEACHERS and staggered all employees’ schedules, allowing it to increase learning time by 30 percent without additional cost."

Nail on the head right there!

Jan said...

Marion -- tell me when banner making day is -- and I will be there. You are spot on!