Loooonger Schools Days, Years

DCPS is currently surveying parents for their thoughts on extending the school day and year. The agency notes that the feedback it receives will “inform” the budget for next fiscal year.

Given the poor attendance at the public hearing the other week for DCPS’s FY 17 budget, it is admirable that DCPS is asking for public input and making clear its intention to use that input.

But the simple act of extending the school day and/or year has many pieces to it. It concerns not merely students, but also staff and facilities and programmatic offerings–and of course the money to pay for all of those.

The DC state board of education determines a minimum length of school year and day, but there is no rule on what is the maximum.

While the teachers’ union is only with DCPS, not DC charter schools, it is only natural that if school time is expanded throughout DCPS, the union will do what all unions do: insist on having agreed-upon hours and expectations for those covered under its contract.

For sure, we are a long way from the days that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about, when children were integral parts of the labor force, so there is some logic in examining a school calendar that is, in part, a holdover.

And yet: why now?

DCPS is clear that it is looking into this as a way of improving student outcomes.

Some states have done so already, citing the same reason. Many efforts focus on increasing time in so-called “low-performing” schools. Right now, about 2000 schools, with over a million students total nationwide have expanded school time in some fashion–among them, many DC charter schools.

DCPS has already implemented an extended day for some schools, and there is currently a pilot program in place this school year, at Raymond Education Campus, for an extended year.

But it is not entirely clear that such efforts pay off for everyone equally.

One nonprofit organization, the National Center on Time and Learning, has been behind many efforts around the country to increase time in schools. It cites benefits of increasing learning time, especially to low-income children, and the fact that increased instructional time in schools gives low-income children parity with children from wealthier families, who can (and do) spend more money on educational opportunities outside school.

It also cites benefits to teachers, in terms of added time for collaboration with their colleagues and peer observation. (Although it’s not clear how the added instructional time allows teachers to actually have more time for collaboration, unless they are already working with another teacher.)

Another education organization, the Center on Education Policy, recently released a study that was more nuanced in its findings of increased instructional time. The study found that most education officials interviewed thought positively about increased time in schools, but that it was only one tool they were using to increase achievement. According to the press release, researchers found that “increasing the quality of instructional time is just as important as increasing the quantity.”

And, the press release continued, “although some case study schools pointed to evidence of improved student outcomes, such as increased test scores or graduation rates, interviewees were careful to note that these improvements cannot be attributed solely to expanded learning time.”

Whether increasing school time is a great thing or not, it certainly has well-heeled advocates. The National Center on Time and Learning, for instance, is supported by a number of private entities, among them the Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools nationally (including a recent move to double the number of charters in Los Angeles, which would cost nearly half a billion dollars).

If the thoughts of the actual users (and presumed beneficiaries) of this increased time, like the DCPS high schoolers I was transporting from sports practice the other day, are taken into account, no one would spend an extra second in school.

But then, who’s talking to them?

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