Saturday, February 10, 2007

Study Looks at Longer Day for Public Schools

This NPR segment earlier this week (transcript below) has a nice profile of the KIPP Ujima Village Academy charter school in Baltimore:
Study Looks at Longer Day for Public Schools

February 7, 2007 from Morning Edition, National Public Radio

STEVE INSKEEP, host: People with responsibility for improving public schools have debated many proposals including a simple one. Maybe kids need to spend more time in school. Educators and thinkers meet today in the nation’s capital to figure out whether making kids work overtime is the right answer and whether it’s worth the cost.

NPR’s Larry Abramson begins his report late in the day at a Baltimore School that leans heavily on extra time.

LARRY ABRAMSON: It’s 3:15 p.m. Most schools right now in this area are getting out, in fact, on the way here at the crosswalks full of kids going home. You’re not done.

Mr. JASON BOTEL (Principal, KIPP Ujima Village Academy): Our students are here, at least, until 4:30 p.m. Many of them until 5:45 p.m. every day.

ABRAMSON: And Jason Botel, principal of the KIPP Ujima Charter School in Baltimore, says many of the kids in this middle school arrive at 7:15 a.m. - nine hours of instruction every day. And that’s not counting school on Saturday, and the mandatory three-week-long summer sessions.

Fifth Grader Deborah Sharp says it’s not easy braving the Baltimore winter at 7:00 a.m.

Ms. DEBORAH SHARP (Student, KIPP Ujima Charter School): It’s really hard to get up in the morning. But once you come to school it’s like you get used to school. And I know that when I go to my college preparatory high school that we’re going to get up early, so I want to get used to it.

ABRAMSON: Deborah’s already making plans for high school and college. That shows she’s soaking up the KIPP message. KIPP is a nationwide group of 52 charter schools that focus in getting low-income, low-achieving kids into college.

The extra hours, Jason Botel says, are a key part of that equation.

Mr. BOTEL: Our kids come into the fifth grade at a third-grade level in reading and math on average - some students significantly below that. So they need the extra time if they’re going to get to a point to earn admission to and succeed in college preparatory high schools and ultimately go to college. That’s something all the students and all the parents here really believe in.

ABRAMSON: Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Mexico and Massachusetts - they’re all looking at longer school hours as a way of boosting achievement and improving outcomes. The basic idea makes common sense, according to Elena Silva, who’s been studying the issue for a think-tank called Education Sector. But there’s a catch.

Ms. ELENA SILVA (Education Sector): If these schools are not functioning well, the notion that extending time in and of itself is going to improve instruction, it’s going to improve the learning opportunities of those kids is simply an error in judgment.

ABRAMSON: And most efforts at extending the school day are focused on low- performing schools. Elena Silva says no one really knows the best way to extend instructional time. Some districts are lengthening the school day. Others are shortening vacation breaks.

Good research on the issue is hard to find, Silva says, and for a good reason.

Ms. SILVA: There are all of these other things that these schools do. And so it’s not that time doesn’t matter, but it’s the time is one component of this more comprehensive approach to improving the school and improving student learning.

ABRAMSON: Making the wrong choice can be expensive. A Massachusetts pilot program to increase learning time by 30 percent in the first year is costing $1,300 per student. But for Boston principal Michael Sabin, extending the school day was clearly the right move.

Mr. MICHAEL SABIN (Principal, Clarence R. Edwards Middle School): No matter how hard we tried to design outstanding after-school programs in the past, we could never get more than half of our students to stay.

ABRAMSON: Sabin runs Clarence R. Edwards Middle School in Boston. Now kids have to stick around from 7:20 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and like it or not, they are all exposed to the mix of remedial education and arts programs he can offer during the longer day. Michael Sabin cannot point to higher test scores - not yet. But at least he knows the kids in his low-income school are now safe.

Mr. SABIN: They were often unsupervised in the afternoons, many of them were out on the streets with older kids. And there was a lot of violence in the streets and spike in crime during those afternoon hours. And we’ve taken our 400 students out of that.

ABRAMSON: Parents in higher-income areas often have a different take. In recent years, Alexandria, Virginia has added about half an hour to the school day. Elementary kids now finish by 2:35 in the afternoon. Assistant Superintendent Cathy David says adding still more time would be tough, because parents there don’t want to give up the rest of the afternoon.

Ms. CATHY DAVID (Assistant Superintendent, Alexandria, Virginia): We have the whole realm of after-school activities that lots of parents have their children involved with, whether it’s after-school piano lessons or after-school dance lessons or church activities. So I would say this community - at this point - would not be ready for mandatory school up till 5:30 at night.

ABRAMSON: Whether this trend grows will depend in part on the test scores of this current crop of students. So for kids, there’s a twist: the better students do with longer hours of instruction, the more likely it is that they and successive generations will spend more time in school.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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