Top high school starts at 9:15 am

At the best high school in the U.S., according to U.S. Newsrankings, the school day starts at 9:15 a.m. writes Lisa Lewis on Slate. The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas earned the top spot for the fifth year in a row.

School start times have a “proven impact” on student performance, writes Lewis.

Eight hours a night may be the goal for adults, but teens need between 8.5–9.5 hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Unfortunately, few teens meet that minimum: Studies show that two out of three high school students get less than eight hours of sleep, with high school seniors averaging less than seven hours.

Sure, kids could go to bed earlier. But their bodies are set against them: Puberty makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. When combined with too-early start times, the result is sleep deprivation.

The AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. Less than 20 percent start that late. The average is 8:03 a.m., writes Lewis, whose son’s high school starts the day at  7:30 a.m.

In the fall, all Seattle high schools and most middle schools will start at 8:45 a.m. Most elementary schools, four K-8 schools and one middle school will start at 7:55 a.m., and the remaining elementary and K-8 schools will begin at 9:35 a.m.

Some parents don’t like late start times at elementary schools. It must be hard on working parents.


School Day

Chicago struggles with longer school day

Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation — five hours, 45 minutes — until fall of 2012, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added an extra hour and 15 minutes at elementary schools, an extra 30 minutes at high schools. (The school year is 10 days longer too.) However, extra time may not mean extra learning, writes Neufeld.

Chicago Public Schools’ deficit, caused largely by a crisis in pension funding, is estimated at $1 billion. CPS’ 400,000 students have more time to learn, but fewer teachers and support staff.  

“Funding is not there for a quality day, period, no matter the length,” said Wendy Katten, director of the advocacy group Raise Your Hand and mother of a fifth grader at Augustus H. Burley School.

The city initially hired hundreds of new teachers to help with the expanded schedule, since it could not afford to pay existing teachers to work longer hours. But now officials have eliminated more jobs than they created. At some schools, newly added art and music classes have been cut back, and the mandatory reintroduction of recess without funding for supervision has created a logistical nightmare.

In violence-ridden communities,”a later end to the regular academic day has left families worried about their kids getting home safely after dark if they stay to participate in after-school programs and sports.”

During his freshman and sophomore years, back when school let out at 2:31 p.m., Raul Arias played basketball and ran cross-country at the Marine Math and Science Academy. “I stopped last year as soon as the whole extended school day started,” said Arias, 17, a senior. He commutes an hour each way on public transportation to attend the military-themed magnet school instead of a subpar option in his neighborhood. “I have to worry more about myself going home than what I’ll actually be doing in school.”

In the 1970s, Chicago Public Schools cut short the school day to make sure students got home before dark, writes Neufeld.

The September 2012 teachers’ strike, “spurred partly by the fact that teachers were being asked to work more without a proportionate pay increase,” closed schools for seven days, writes Neufeld. A deal was struck: Elementary teachers work more hours, but get a longer break for lunch and planning. Students also get more time for lunch. 

Theodore Roosevelt High added five minutes to each class period to use the extra 30 minutes. It doesn’t help, says Tim Meegan, a board-certified social studies teacher. “There’s no way anyone can tell me kids are learning more because they’re in school longer.”

Second graders at Patrick Henry Elementary School follow along to an exercise video during indoor recess. (Armando L. Sanchez / Hechinger Report)

High-performing charters typically have a much longer school day and year, writes Matt Di Carlo. District schools that want to extend the day should consider that a little extra time may not be enough.

Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

School Day

Bart Simpson and Chuck Berry sing School Day.

Britain looks East for better schools

Longer school days and shorter holidays would help British students catch up with  Asian students, Education Secretary Michael Gove said at an education conference in London.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Gove should “know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be,” responds Clarissa Tam, a graduate of Singapore schools.

Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent?

. . . The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’.

And yet, the drive for excellence can be empowering, Tam writes. When she faces challenges, she recalls that “my parents, my teachers, even my schoolmates have always expected more of me than I have of myself.”

I have even, somewhat to my own disgust, come to appreciate the emphasis on the rigour of science and maths, and even on the importance of rote-learning and putting certain things to memory. At the risk of sounding like a headmistress — discipline and structure must be inculcated, whereas creativity is often innate or inborn. Here’s the thing: once you have the structure, you can pile all the artistic sensitivity you like on top, free as you please. But without any proper foundation, all creativity is for naught.

Gove’s “Look East” policy comes at a time when many Asian countries are looking West in search of “inventiveness, originality and lateral thinking,” she writes. Singapore has created arts and drama schools and is “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

Study: KIPP produces big gains

KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report  by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.

In 13 schools, students in the control group had applied to KIPP, but lost the charter lottery. If there was no lottery, the study used “matched” students of similar achievement and demographics in nearby schools.

For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.

KIPP students resembles other students in their neighborhoods, but with lower reading and math achievement than their elementary school classmates, the study found. Ninety-six percent are black or Hispanic and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, KIPP entrants are less likely to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency.  (Since many more KIPP students are black, it makes sense that fewer speak English as a second language.)

Critics charge KIPP “counsels out” low achievers to inflate scores, notes Education Week. To account for attrition, the study included all students who started KIPP, even if they left for another school.

For example, a student could leave KIPP for another school in 6th grade, but their performance at the new school is counted towards the academic achievement of KIPP students overall regardless. The report also found that KIPP schools have similar attrition rates as traditional district schools (37 percent over three years for both sets of students).

KIPP students spend much more time in school than traditional public school students: nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in KIPP, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days. In addition, KIPP students spend an extra 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night.

However, a longer school day didn’t raise test scores, possibly because the extra time was spent on non-academic activities, researchers found. KIPP schools that spent more time on core academic subjects and enforced a comprehensive discipline policy had the strongest results.

In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.

While KIPP students are more satisfied with their school, the study did not find an increase in “attitudes associated with success,” such as persistence and self-control. Students were more likely to admit to losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time. Researchers weren’t sure if they were more ornery or more honest about it. Students may have raised their standards about acceptable behavior, said Mathematica researcher Brian Gill.

In comparing higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools, researchers found “class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, adds Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

The latest CREDO study of charter school effectiveness found New York City charter students gain an extra five months in math — seven months in Harlem — and one month in reading, compared to similar students in traditional public schools. Charters enroll many more blacks. One in three Harlem kindergartners attends a charter school.

Schools try longer, smarter school day

If the school day is longer, will students learn more? The TIME Collaborative will experiment with different ways to use a longer school day or year in schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee. Schools in low-income communities will add at least 300 hours to the school year.

That won’t mean more time doing the same thing,reports the Christian Science Monitor.  Connecticut, Colorado, and Tennessee are all taking part in a pilot project in which select schools – particularly those that serve low-income communities – add at least 300 hours to the school year, whether through a lengthened school day or a longer school year.

For example, teachers might start staggered schedules. Schools might explore both traditional and computer-mediated learning. Students might get more time for internships or project-based opportunities. Teachers should gain time for collaboration and planning.

Community groups that run after-school programs may offer enrichment activities during the longer school day, such as music, art, robotics, or sports, said Jeannie Oakes, a Ford Foundation official.

To make a longer school day cost effective, teachers would have to allow lower-paid non-teachers to run computer labs, theater programs, karate class, etc.

French president pushes homework ban

In the name of egalite, French President Francois Hollande wants to ban homework. “He doesn’t think it is fair that some kids get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families don’t,” writes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

Hollande also proposes hiring more teachers and adding a half day of school on Wednesday, while shortening the eight-hour school day — which includes two hours for lunch — on the other four days of the week.

Currently, French children spend Wednesdays in state-run “leisure centers,” if there’s no parent or babysitter at home, AP reports. At some schools, the “afterschool program amounts to sitting silently at a desk for two hours or near-chaos in the play areas

French elementary school students spend 847 hours per year in school compared to an average of 774 for other developed nations, but “France ranks below most of its European neighbors and the United States in results on international tests.”


The deal on the deal in Chicago

The proposed Chicago teachers’ contract moves the district in the right direction with “a step back here and there,” concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality. However, “some of the most positive changes like the longer school day predate the contract and are a result of state law or previous negotiations.”

Among the unknowns: How well the new evaluation system will be implemented, whether the union will keep under-enrolled schools open and whether the district can come up with an extra $295 million over four years through  “COLA reduction, step and lane compensation, and savings in layoff benefits, sick day compensation, and a new wellness program.”

Chicago teachers earn more than most urban teachers, but about the same as suburban teachers in the area, says NCTQ.

Teacher Beat has more on the question:  Where’s the money coming from?