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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
Teacher Beat has more on the question: Where’s the money coming from?
As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.
In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.
Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say. ”You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.
“Many children in Chicago Public Schools will go from having the shortest school days in the nation to some of the longest this fall,” reports MSNBC. Will it boost achievement?
. . . in Chicago, public school students have the shortest school day — 5 hours and 45 minutes — among the nation’s 50 largest districts, according the National Council on Teacher Quality. The national average is 6.7 hours in school. Under Chicago Mayor Rahm Emnauel’s plan, elementary schools will move to seven hours and most city high schools will extend their day to 7½ hours, although one day during the week would be shorter by 75 minutes.
. . . “Among 10 of the largest cities in the U.S., our students have 22 percent less instructional time than their peers, and 83 percent of our third-graders are not reading at their grade level,” Marielle Sainvilus, spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools, told msnbc.com. ”We had to do something to ensure that our students had the time in class needed to succeed.”
The school board is negotiating with the teachers’ union over the longer school day, but already nearly 90 percent of teachers have authorized a strike. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year rescinded a four percent pay increase and pushed for a longer school day. CPS has since proposed a five-year contract which guarantees teachers a two percent raise in their first year and lengthens the school day by 20 percent.”
That’s a very chintzy offer. I don’t see a peaceful resolution.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants a longer school day and year, notes the Washington Times.
“Right now, children in India … they’re going to school 30, 35 days more than our students,” he said at an education forum in September, explaining one reason he thinks the American education system is falling behind those of global competitors.
“Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” Mr. Duncan said.
Students in India spend more days in school, but fewer hours in class, totaling 800 “instructional hours” at the elementary level. Forty-two states require more class hours, the report found. Texas requres 1,260 hours a year for elementary students.
High-scoring South Korea requires 703 hours for elementary students, though many parents pay for after-school lessons. Hungarian students score at nearly the U.S. level despite requiring only 601 hours.
U.S. high school students average 1,000 hours in class each year.
In Poland, high school students need 595 hours in the classroom, the lowest of all the countries in the study, yet they top U.S. students on the math and science portions of the PISA exams, the most widely used measuring sticks for international comparisons.
Finland, Norway, Australia and other nations also show higher levels of student achievement while requiring less instruction.
Of course, it’s not just the time spent at school, but how it’s used.
After years of funding education causes, the Kauffman Foundation has opened its own charter school in Kansas City to serve an area with no high-performing schools, reports the Star. The first class of 100 fifth graders start the day shortly after 7 am and leave at 5 pm — a nearly 10-hour day — unless they’re required to stay another hour for detention. Eventually, the school will educate 1,000 students in fifth through 12th grade.
With $10 million in startup funds, school leaders studied successful urban schools. They decided students needed more learning time and a strict homework regimen.
Longer breaks are built into the day. Longer planning periods for teachers. Students will have physical education every day. Holiday vacations will be longer.
But in the end, everyone will have to embrace the sentiments of teacher Sandy Gelrach, who said, “I want to be at a school where you stay as long as it takes.”
Teachers will take students’ calls about homeowork till 8 pm.
They’re going to burn out their teachers very quickly. The kids too.