More time may not mean more learning

Boston public schools will add 40 minutes to the teaching day at more than 50 elementary and middle schools.

More time doesn’t guarantee more learning, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Quality matters as much as quantity, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy.

Researchers analyzed 17 low-performing schools in 11 districts that expanded the school day. Test scores and graduation rates improved. But the longer day wasn’t the only change.

Successful schools used “community partnerships to provide extra enrichment programs and services the school’s budget couldn’t cover,” writes Richmond.

Teachers who have more opportunities to collaborate with each other tend to be more effective at their jobs, particularly in their work with students. “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful, than an hour in the classroom,” said Matthew Frizzell, a policy center research associate and one of the report’s co-authors.

Boston schools with longer days have seen mixed results, reports the Boston Globe.

For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others.

But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.

“I think there are lessons to be learned,” said John McDonough, interim superintendent. “We know time matters, but it only matters if it is used well.”

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, which added an hour to its school day, there’s more time for enrichment, reports the Globe.

On Monday morning, 25 third-graders built and programmed motorized cars out of Legos in a robotics class. Students said they did not mind the longer school day.

“Time goes by fast,” said John D’Amico, 8.

As the students buzzed the cars around the classroom, their regular classroom teacher, Holly McPartlin, mentored a new teacher downstairs, observing her teach and then providing feedback.

Eliot is considered a model of good implementation. But the Edwards Middle School, once “the poster child for the success of the extended-day movement in Massachusetts,” has seen performance slide after “a high turnover of principals,” reports the Globe.

Public schools for the rich

Fordham’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer looks at per-student spending at Washington D.C. public schools.

It also shows the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone, writes Mike Petrilli, who lists the 25 richest elementary schools in the area.

Several years ago, Janie Scull and I identified several thousand of what we called “private public schools”—public schools that serve virtually no poor students. This is another way at looking at that phenomenon—public schools that are “public” only for families who can buy extremely expensive real estate.

Take Carderock Springs Elementary in Bethesda (Maryland). The average income of households in its attendance zone is almost $250,000 per year. Is this school really more “public” than an inner-city Catholic school serving poor minority children? The public spends $12,000 per child on the former and $0 per child on the latter. Tell me again why that’s fair?

In wealthy suburbs, affluent parents donate thousands of dollars to their children’s public schools, reports the New York Times.

In Coronado, Calif., a wealthy enclave off the coast of San Diego, for example, local education groups, which support about 3,200 students in five schools, raised more than $1,500 per student in 2010. These private funds helped pay for arts and music classes at all grade levels, sports medicine courses at the high school and a digital media academy at the middle school, where students are learning animation and designing buildings with 3-D printers.

By contrast, the combined fund-raising of groups affiliated with schools in the San Diego Unified School District — where the median household income is about two-thirds that of Coronado — amounted to $19.57 per student.

School-supporting nonprofits have increased, according to a new study.  Most states cap or redirect local property tax revenues to equalize public funding between affluent and poor districts, say researchers. Instead of raising property taxes, well-to-do parents donate money to their children’s schools.

Poor kids need homework

Too much homework may be a problem for the children of educated, affluent parents, writes Robert Pondiscio in The Atlantic. These kids start out ahead — enrichment starts in pregnancy — and attend excellent schools. Poor Students Need Homework, writes Pondiscio.

“For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool,” he writes. And it’s not as if homework is competing for time with violin, ballet, karate or Mandarin lessons.

The proper debate about homework – now and always – should not be “how much” but “what kind” and “what for?”  Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills and knowledge teachers want students to perfect or keep in long-term memory.

Independent reading is also important. here are many more rare and unique words even in relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates. Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, important keys to mature reading comprehension.

Karl Taro Greenfield’s attack on excess homework — My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me — is very, very popular on Atlantic‘s site.

Greenfeld’s children, who attend a school for “gifted and talented” students, are “already big winners in the Cognitive Dream House Sweepstakes,” writes Pondiscio. They would do fine with 30 to 60 minutes of homework per night. But what’s right for his kids may be wrong for other people’s children.

A Chicago elementary school in a middle-class neighborhood has eliminated homework for children in kindergarten through second grade, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Children are supposed to “read for fun” at home.

Kids need summer vacation

Summer fun is under attack from school reformers, writes teacher Michael Mazenko on Salon.

In A Teacher’s Case Against Summer Vacation, Cristina Evans calls for shortening summer vacation to prevent the summer slide experienced by low-income students.

While middle-class kids are going to camp, traveling with their parents or playing outside with friends, disadvantaged students may be watching TV or killing space aliens.

Instead of curtailing summer vacation, reformers should fund summer learning programs and activities, writes Mazenko. Make summer count by enriching the vacation, not eliminating it.


Black Girls Rock! is a summer enrichment program for New York City girls.

After the bell, it’s time for fun

After classes are over, it’s time for enrichment at a Bronx middle school, reports PBS NewsHour.

Longer day or more time for teachers?

A low-performing K-8 school extended the school day by 85 minutes, but found students and teachers were exhausted — and test scores went down. Now the New Haven school provides more time for teacher collaboration in a normal 6 1/2-hour day, writes Melissa Bailey on the Hechinger Report. Scores are rising.

Brennan-Rogers School serves three public housing projects. Once Brennan had been a “community school” that stayed open nights and weekends for basketball tournaments and neighborhood events, writes Bailey.

By the 2009-10 academic year, that effort was long gone. Test scores were low. Student behavior was out of control. Principal Karen Lott was brought in to turn around the school.

Brennan-Rogers students began to attend school from 8:20 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. four days a week, with an early dismissal on Wednesdays. Much of the extra time went to enrichment activities like gardening and other student clubs and assemblies with student performances. Brennan-Rogers added 45 minutes a day for teacher collaboration while students were sent to art and gym. The school extended academic periods every day but Wednesday, when kids left between 1:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. while teachers stayed for training. The effort was funded by a federal grant to overhaul failing schools, which required them to expand learning time.

Parents received no advance notice of the longer schedule. Students thought they were being punished.

After a year, Lott proposed returning to the normal school day with extra time for teacher collaboration.

For the past three years, teachers have met for an hour each morning without kids. Some days, they work with colleagues teaching the same grade to plan field trips or interdisciplinary projects on topics like slavery. Other days, they learn how to use iPads and Apple TVs. Teachers also comb through student data, help each other plan lessons and analyze how those lessons went.

. . . Though the day is shorter, instruction is more efficient, said sixth-grade teacher Tavares Bussey. “The kids are getting more out of it.”

In September, Brennan-Rogers plans to add 15 minutes a day for students, but the time won’t be used for academics, writes Bailey. “Instead, there will be a 30-minute morning meeting for kids to work on communication skills and conflict resolution.”

Summer slide is dangerous

The summer slide is serious, writes Lisa Hansel on Core Knowledge Blog. Teachers spend the first two to five weeks of school reteaching content and skills that have slipped away over the summer. Yet 61 percent of parents do not believe that their children decline in reading ability over the summer, according to a survey for Reading is Fundamental.
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Parents of 5-11 year olds report that their child spent an average of 5.9 hours per week reading books last summer, compared to 16.7 hours playing outdoors, 10.8 hours watching TV and 6.6 hours playing video games.

A majority of parents thinks six hours a week is just the right amount of reading.

Girls read a bit more than the average and boys read less. The 7 percent gap in parental expectations — they think reading is more important for girls — is reflected in the college graduation rate, writes Hansel. In 2013, 37 percent of females but only 30 percent of males had a bachelor’s degree.

Educated parents take their children to libraries and book stores. They use the summer for enrichment.

Advantaged children tend to make reading gains each summer, writes Hansel. But disadvantaged children fall even farther behind.

Reading is Fundamental is trying to get books into the hands of these kids.

9-hour day includes robotics, dance, cooking

 In a tough Oakland neighborhood, a middle school offers a 9-hour school day, reports Susan Frey on EdSource.  Elmhurst Community Prep students can choose enrichment classes in robotics, music, dance, painting, cooking, blogging and other activities. “They can make collages, dissect fetal pigs or create apps,” writes Frey.

“We’re not just cookies and basketballs,” said Principal Kilian Betlach,  “We have a real moral imperative to provide kids from low-income backgrounds with the services and opportunities that middle-class kids get. We don’t do just hard academics. We offer access and opportunities.”

Classes begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Federally funded AmeriCorps teaching fellows tutor students during the day and teach after-school classes. The regular academic teachers get an hour each afternoon, from 2 to 3 p.m., to work collaboratively and plan.

Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit, helps train the Americorps fellows and brings in “citizen teachers” from the community to teach their specialties. Local companies invite students for “apprenticeship” experiences.

At Pandora, students learned how to make an app. “It was a video game where you dodge fireballs,” Betlach recalled.

The school also works with nonprofits such as Waterside Workshops in Berkeley, where the students built a boat.

In 8th grade, student focus on one after-school activity.  Andres McDade, who tried robotics, skateboarding and film, chose music as an 8th grader. He plays the saxophone and percussion drum. “I like the joy of playing music,” he said.

Betlach and Citizen Schools “have cobbled together federal, state, local and private funding” to pay for the extended day, writes Frey.

In his days as a San Jose teacher, Betlach wrote an excellent blog, Teaching in the 408.

I visited Elmhurst a few months ago. (The school is participating in a blended learning pilot, which I’m writing about for Education Next‘s spring issue.) It’s a small, semi-autonomous school in Oakland Unified, so it has some freedom to innovate but all the usual challenges.

Fix schools by not fixing schools

Fix Schools by Not Fixing Schools advises Jay P. Greene. Instead of trying to reform traditional public schools, go around them.

We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools. ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools.  We can also expand access to enriching non-school activities, like museums, theaters, historical sites, summer camps, and after-school programs.  Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.

Traditional public schools don’t want to be fixed, writes Greene.

The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.  Trying to impose reforms like merit pay, centralized systems of teacher evaluation, new standards, new curriculum, new pedagogy, etc… on unwilling schools is largely a futile exercise.  They have the political resources to block, dilute, or co-opt these efforts in most instances.

“Second, attempting to impose reforms on traditional public schools requires a significant increase in centralized political control,” Greene writes.  When traditionalists subvert “most reforms through poor implementation,” the centralization remains.

 Centralized reforms that can be adopted and implemented have to be watered-down enough to gain broad support for passage and implementation, rendering them mostly impotent.

. . . even if by some miracle an effective and appropriate centralized reform with bite is adopted and properly implemented, there is no natural political constituency to preserve the integrity of that reform over time.

Traditional public schools don’t resist the creation of alternatives “with the same ferocity that they oppose reforms that directly effect their daily working life,” Greene writes. Creating alternatives doesn’t require centralization or pleasing everyone. Successful alternatives build their own constituency.

 

On tougher test, NY scores plunge

Reading and math scores dropped sharply in New York because the new Common Core-aligned tests are much harder.

In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the state exams in English, and 30 percent passed in math, reports the New York Times. On last year’s easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.

Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the exams in reading and math. Last year, 55 percent passed in reading, and 65 percent in math.

Achievement gaps are large: 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said higher standards will prepare students for college and the work force. “Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Mr. Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”

It’s a conspiracy to make teachers look bad and sell more stuff, writes Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal, on Answer Sheet.

Because of the Common Core, our youngest children are being asked to meet unrealistic expectations. New York’s model curriculum for first graders includes knowing the meaning of words that include “cuneiform,” “sarcophagus,” and “ziggurat.” . . .

If we are not careful, the development of social skills, the refinement of fine motor skills, and most importantly, the opportunity to celebrate the talents and experiences of every child will be squeezed out of the school day.

“There will be tremendous pressure to further narrow the curriculum and cut out all of the enrichment that can make young children smile with anticipation on Monday mornings,” Burris concludes.

New York State Stops Lying to Kids, and That’s a Good Thing, headlines RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.