Chicago offers 2% raise for longer school day

Chicago Public Schools plans to add 90 minutes to the school day and two weeks to the year. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she won’t serve on the advisory committee. “This news has nothing do with helping our children and everything to do with politicizing a real serious problem,” she said in a written statement.

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard offered a 2 percent raise for elementary teachers, if the union agrees to longer K-8 school days in the coming school year. The union had agreed to accept a 2 percent raise.  This proposal amounts to a 28 percent pay cut, teachers complain.

Chicago’s school day now runs from 9 am to 2:45 pm, one of the shortest in the country. Rahm Emanuel, the city’s new mayor, made extending the school day a campaign pledge.

Longer school day works — sometimes

A longer school day is helping students in Boston charter schools, but doing little for other Massachusetts students.  Michael Jonas  looks at the conflicting studies in CommonWealth,

Last week, the Boston Foundation released a areport (pdf) suggesting one of the main reasons why Boston charter school students outperformed their peers at district schools in a 2009 study (pdf)  is their longer school day.  Boston charters are in session for an average of 378 more hours per year than district schools, the equivalent of an additional 62 traditional school days.

Many believe that schools with disadvantaged students need more time to teach. A four-year pilot program provides an extra $1,300 per student to lengthen school days by 25 to 30 percent at 22 Massachusetts schools.  But a new education department study (pdf) comparing Extended Learning Time schools to matched comparison schools finds no differences, except for fifth-grade science scores.

The idea behind longer school days is to beef up core academic studies while still having time for arts and other so-called “enrichment” activities. The comparison schools, however, may have simply decided to squeeze out other subjects in favor of more core academic time, as they reported spending as much or nearly as much time on English and math instruction as did ELT schools.  Such “ELT-like practices,” write the study authors, could have diluted any observed effect of longer school days.

Some ELT schools showed strong gains, such as the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, where low-income students now outperform the state average. It’s not just having more time, apparently, It’s knowing what to do with it.

Further research will try to examine why some schools are improving with more time. Meanwhile, state education officials are warning that schools will get more grants only if they show they’re getting results.

Mellow Finns, studious Koreans

Why do Finland’s schools get the best results? The Finns top international comparisons with the shortest school day in the developed world, reports the BBC.

Children don’t start primary school till age seven and stay at the same school till age 13. Teachers follow the children for several years, so they know their students very well. “I’m like growing up with my children,” says Marjaana Arovaara-Heikkinen, an elementary teachers.

A tactic used in virtually every lesson is the provision of an additional teacher who helps those who struggle in a particular subject. But the pupils are all kept in the same classroom, regardless of their ability in that particular subject.

The education minister has started a pilot project to focus on the needs of gifted students.

Finnish parents often read with their children at home and have “regular contact with their children’s teachers, the BBC says.

By contrast, South Korea’s school day is very long. Students work very hard. And also get top scores in international tests.

Let them eat chard

School gardens are a time-wasting fad started by haute bourgeois foodies, write Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. She imagined a migrant worker sending his American-born son to school, where he’s asked to stoop under a hot sun to pick lettuce in what she sees as a school garden of evil.

The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt).

Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters, a foodie icon, thought up the Edible Schoolyard when she spotted a barren lot next to Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Middle School in 1995, Flanagan writes.

Inspired by the notion that a garden would afford students “experience-based learning that illustrates the pleasure of meaningful work, personal responsibility, the need for nutritious, sustainably raised, and sensually stimulating food, and the important socializing effect of the ritual of the table,” and spurred on by the school principal, Waters offered to build a garden and help create a curriculum to go along with it.

. . . In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.

The idea grew and grew. But Flanagan has found no evidence that student learn more if they spend time gardening and cooking.  At King Middle School, site of the first Edible Schoolyard, sixth graders spend 90 minutes a week in the garden or kitchen and more time in class trying to “apply the experiences of planting and cooking” to learning reading, writing, math, history and science. The school’s white students score well above the state average in reading and math; Hispanic and black students score well below average. No evidence supports the idea that classroom gardens help students learn academic subjects, Flanagan writes. Do they learn other, unmeasured things, such as love of chard? She doesn’t care.

If students have yet to meet the fundamental standards of literacy, numeracy and civic understanding, programs should focus exclusively on these.

Volunteers can fill students’ after-school hours with gardening, cooking, sports, music, whatever, Flanagan writes. School time should be devoted to academic essentials.

Low-income students do need more time to learn reading and math, but eliminating electives such as gardening or cooking — or non-electives such as science and history — makes Jose a dull boy.

My sister volunteers in the gardening program at local elementary schools, which educate the high-achieving children of high-achieving parents. Gardening considered a fun way to teach a little science; it doesn’t drive the curriculum.

I once spent a Saturday clearing a weed-choked plot of land that became a K-8 school’s garden. The Mexican immigrant parents didn’t seem to think the garden would condemn their kids to a life of semi-literate stoop labor.

School gardeners strike back at Corby Kummer’s blog.

PE is not job one for schools

Requiring more P.E. time for D.C. students is a bad idea from good people, writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.

D.C. council member Mary M. Cheh and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray worry that “18 percent of D.C. high school students are obese, 70 percent fail to meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended levels of physical activity and 84 percent do not attend physical education classes daily.” Their Healthy Schools Act would require schools to buy “fresh produce from local growners,” which is bound to raise costs, and require 150 minutes of PE per week for K-5 students and 225 minutes for middle schoolers.

. . . the D.C. schools need to do a better job using the limited time they have, about six and a half hours a day, to address students’ weaknesses in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

If Cheh were saying we should add an hour to the school day of every child, and use half of that new time for more exercise, I would cheer. Many of the city’s most successful public schools are charters that have used their independence from district rules to give children eight or nine hours of learning each day.

The proposed law requires all schools, including charters, to devote more time to P.E. (and more money to lunch), regardless of whether the principal thinks that’s the best use of time and money.

When I was a high school student in Illinois, daily P.E. was required for all four years. The P.E. teachers had lobbied the state Legislature for the mandate. Only three years of English was required for graduation. I won state honors in the National Council of Teachers of English contest for a personal essay, “Confessions of a Physically Educated Woman,” on my loathing for field hockey. Which was required.

Underworked American students

U.S. students are underworked compared to Europeans, writes The Economist.

(Americans) have one of the shortest school years anywhere, a mere 180 days compared with an average of 195 for OECD countries and more than 200 for East Asian countries. German children spend 20 more days in school than American ones, and South Koreans over a month more. Over 12 years, a 15-day deficit means American children lose out on 180 days of school, equivalent to an entire year.

American children also have one of the shortest school days, six-and-a-half hours, adding up to 32 hours a week. By contrast, the school week is 37 hours in Luxembourg, 44 in Belgium, 53 in Denmark and 60 in Sweden. On top of that, American children do only about an hour’s-worth of homework a day, a figure that stuns the Japanese and Chinese.

Closing schools for three months in the summer “acts like a mental eraser, with the average child reportedly forgetting about a month’s-worth of instruction in many subjects and almost three times that in mathematics.” While middle-class kids are signed up for sports, music and other enriching activities in the summer, low-income kids tend to stay home and watch TV.

Via Carpe Diem.

More time on task — or just more time?

Extend the school day to improve learning, argues Christopher Gabrieli in U.S. News. He points to Massachusetts, which pays 15 percent more to 26 schools for 30 percent more time.

At Edwards Middle School in Boston, where about 90 percent of students are poor and most school days are 7:20 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., achievement has soared. The eighth-grade gap with the state average has been narrowed by more than half in English and almost 80 percent in math in two years of expanded learning time. The school boasts an outstanding music and arts programs, the only middle school football team in Boston, and an apprenticeship program for every sixth grader.

More than 75 percent of parents of students in the first 10 schools to adopt expanded learning time in Massachusetts indicated the longer day had a positive effect. Teachers report large gains in the ability to reach every student and cover all of the material in depth.

First, learn to use time well, counters Rick Hess.  High-performing schools, such as KIPP,  don’t just lengthen the school day.  They provide “talented and impassioned faculty, firm discipline, a powerful school cultur” and teach “students who have chosen to be there.”

Unfortunately, the “more time” crowd focuses only on the most expensive part of that recipe, apparently hoping the other ingredients will sort themselves out if kids sit in classes longer. In fact, research is more mixed than advocates usually acknowledge.

A 2003 Review of Educational Research analysis tallied dozens of studies and found no systematic evidence that additional time raised student achievement. Some studies, including the 1994 National Education Commission on Time and Learning report, have found increased instructional time modestly linked with higher achievement—but that argues for making good use of time before seeking more.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers spend two-thirds of classtime on instruction, he writes. “The rest is consumed by everything from paperwork to assemblies.”

Wacky Wednesday: Not so crazy

“Wacky Wednesday” is just another school day in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming.  Elementary school used to let out at noon on Wednesday to give teachers time to discuss new teaching strategies and plan lessons. Children played at school or went home.

In response to parents’ complaints, the Laramie County School District 2 board  voted for a conventional schedule.

In other countries, teachers have much more time to collaborate, reports the National Staff Development Council. Only 20 percent of U.S. teachers’ time is spent on working with colleagues and improving their teaching skills.

In most European and Asian countries, meanwhile, teacher training is commonly part of the regular school week. Teachers in those countries typically spend less than half of their working time teaching, according to the council’s report. Yet the students in many of those countries, who spend less time in class than American students, outscore their American counterparts in math and science, the report said.

Laramie County educators credit the weekly in-school training led by a master teacher with higher reading and math scores in the district.

Giving teachers time for training and collaboration isn’t all that wacky. Wednesday was a short day — but not as short as in Pine Bluffs — when my daughter was in Palo Alto schools.  A volunteer-lead enrichment program — sports, music, art, computer time — would have been helpful for working parents, but we coped without it.