Shortchanged by the Bell
My friend Chris Gabrieli, along with Luis Ubinas (President of the Ford Foundation), with a spot-on op ed in the NYT decrying our move toward shorter schools days and years, when precisely the opposite in needed:
For all the talk about balancing the budget for the sake of our children, keeping classrooms closed is a perverse way of giving them a brighter future.
What's needed is more time in classrooms, not less. Our school calendar, with its six-and-a-half-hour day and 180-day year, was designed for yesterday's farm economy, not today's high-tech one. While many middle-class families now invest in tutoring and extra learning time, less-privileged children are left on the sidelines, which only widens gaps in achievement and opportunity.
Two years ago President Obama said that the "challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom." Plenty of research suggests that one of the strongest indicators of scholastic achievement is the amount of actual time devoted to learning. Therefore, we need to move schools toward longer days and years. Ideally, increasing learning time by 30 percent would mean more individualized support; a more well-rounded education in a broader array of subjects, from science and foreign languages to arts and robotics; and less unsupervised after-school and summer time. For parents, it would mean a school day better aligned with the typical work day.
The good news is that more than 1,000 schools in the United States are now using expanded schedules. Almost every high-performing charter network in the country, from KIPP to Achievement First, uses significantly more scheduled time to achieve impressive academic gains, and many public schools, spurred by local initiatives, innovative state policies and federal leadership, are also adopting this promising practice.
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.