Sehba Ali, founder of the phenomenal KIPP Heartwood in San Jose (see pics from my visit a year ago at: http://picasaweb.google.com/WTilson/KIPPHeartwood) and now Chief Academic Officer of KIPP Bay Area Schools, with an article in Newsweek on the importance of extending the school day – but also warning about potential pitfalls:
The idea of extending the school day—and year—is gaining momentum. President Obama recently joined other political and academic leaders who are calling for a new look at our outdated custom of halting instruction in July and August. (Sorry, kids.) But while I'm pleased there's more attention being devoted to time management, I'm wary that the notion of tacking on hours will become a passing fad. Improving the country's education system will take a lot more than simply extending the school day and year.
For starters, we shouldn't spend all that extra class time only teaching academics. With budget cuts affecting schools nationwide, fewer are able to offer music and extracurriculars, but if kids are drilled in math and reading all day, they'll lose interest in learning. Schools should extend their hours if they have the funding for both academics and extracurriculars. They need to provide time not only for remediation but also for sports, languages, performing-arts groups, and clubs for activities like debating that improve creativity and leadership skills.
Extended hours, if not done right, could also lead to teacher burnout.
The idea of extending the school day—and year—is gaining momentum. (Sorry, kids.)
Twelve years ago, as a first-year language-arts teacher at a middle school in Houston, I had 50 minutes a day with each of my classes. That might sound like a decent amount of time, but after taking roll and checking homework, I was lucky to have even 40 minutes left to teach my students, the majority of whom were low income or just learning to speak English. I had to take a triage approach—one that's familiar to most public-school teachers. I focused on the basics of reading and writing to prepare them for the state assessment test, and I was barely able to devote any time to analytical writing, listening comprehension, or persuasive speaking. It felt as if I was shortchanging the students, and my frustration was compounded by the fact that after summer vacation they forgot much of what they'd learned, coming back even less prepared than they were three months earlier.