Before Adding Time to the School Day . . .


Adding hours to the school day has become a new mantra of the corporate education industry. At first glance, it makes sense. The "summer slide" apparently pulls students back months or even years (summer slides sound fun, though) and the net result is that students are falling behind.

My first reaction is to look at the nations that are beating us in education and point out that most of them have shorter days and shorter years. Certainly, that's the case in Finland. However, that's not a fair comparison. The United States has higher levels of poverty and a more diverse population linguistically.

However, there is a major difference. We test. All the time.

Here's what I mean:

My students take one full day of tests a week. These common assessments drive the intervention for the next week. It sounds like a great idea until you factor in the reality that twenty percent of the year is gone automatically. Given that these tests are on Thursday, there are weeks where we have Mondays or Fridays off and it becomes one third automatically.

Next, consider the quarterly benchmarks. Students spend five weeks a year on those. Add the state benchmark tests and it jumps up to six weeks. Add AZELLA (for ELL students) and my students have an additional three days knocked off their school year.

We take more tests, too. But let's just assume that this is all the tests we take. When I factor in half-days and another three or four days for assemblies, end of the year and first or second day "get to know you" days, I'm left with less than sixty percent of a school year.

I used to think I was in the minority here, but as I've talked with other teachers, I'm finding that this is slowly becoming the norm. So, maybe before we talk about adding hours to the school day, we should talk about taking away time spent testing instead.

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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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11 comments:

  1. I agree. Increasing time in school is not a solution. Fix system first then decide how to approach time. ADDing onto a broken system does not a system fix. Frequent testing by outside sources closes the box and corrals kids into the same way of thinking. Drop anything that does this to kids. Focus on ways to open the box and allow kids to climb outside of it and find their own way according to their interests and learning styles. Frequent tests send the message that learning is about right/wrong and smart/'dumb.' Outside, inauthentic tests exist to judge, categorize and label--students and teachers. DATA over kids.

    Learning is not about judging. Learning is much more grand and noble than that! Learning is joyous and freeing; exhilarating. The focus should be on formative assessments during units by the TEACHER, who knows students and pace in class. Students driving their own learning is what we want; not pre-written already-decided units of study that exist so kids can do well on a test written by outsiders who need the data.

    Our kids need to be able to walk outside the school TALK about where their water comes from and how it's cleaned, where their electricity comes from, where storm water goes, and big community issues and their stances on them, and SO ON. They should be able to point out the major trees and birds and know people and community resources. They should work in the community and people from outside should come in and work with them. They should know major jobs and gain experience in different sectors. Community based schools. That curriculum we need is much different than what we see written for kids and teachers...and tests.

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    1. Thanks for the response. I love what you bring up regarding community-based schools. I'd like to see more of that.

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    2. I agree with John, and you Laura, but would say that the adding of time on the things you mention could happen (and WAS happening in many fine public schools) much more before the intrusion of the reform industry and the politicians serving it. The purpose of education needs to be reclaimed by the people and the communities that have been undermined by the corporate, measure-and-profit approach. Then we can return to a more "this is your world, what do you WANT to know about it" instead of "this is your value and what the world feels it can squeeze out of you" model.

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  2. I disagree: it's not "slowly becoming the norm". It is QUICKLY becoming the norm, and I don't expect it to get any better soon. Otherwise, you could not be more correct...and the same goes for your comments, Laura.

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    1. Yes! It's quickly becoming the norm. So quickly that we can't react fast enough.

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  3. School time definitely needs to be used more wisely.

    A longer day will merely burn students out. Won't do teacher's much good, either. Besides, what's the most you could add? Perhaps an hour, tops. (Note that a lot of kids travel about an hour to get to school in the morning. They face the same trip at night.) But economics says you will have to give something up for that hour. What? Would we be getting good value out of that hour?

    We do have a lot of useless holidays. But even here, how many days can you add to the year, conceivably? Oh, sure we could have a 365 day school year. But if we are to be reasonable instead of "just pulling a number out of the year".... How many days could we realistically add? I'd say 20, maybe 25, tops. Parents, day care, society, students, school repairs, many factors must be considered. Sometimes schools are closed for other uses than merely being used as a school. So a lot of the days that there is no school, well, there is a reason for that.

    Best to make more efficient use of the time we have. And that will take work from students, teachers, administrators, politicians, the general public. In other words, the stakeholders.

    But rather than remake the whole day, or the whole year at once, let us start with "small things" one at a time. Several small additions to efficiency, can add up to a lot, if done one after another. Doing them all at once would likely not work, because that would add conflicts.

    And while tests, assignments, quizzes, evaluation, and so forth are still needed, and useful.... More and more, I see these huge standardized tests do not seem to be helping much. They could be put in abeyance via a moratorium. Let us at least see how that would work out. In a short time, we might discover the standardized tests, while a "good idea", were simply not working out in practice. There are many miles between an idea and an idea in practice. In this case, the idea seems not to have panned out while in use. Let us at least TRY something else. There must be something else we can try. FDR said there always was something else that could be tried. He went through some hard times. I think he was right.

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    1. The sheer amount of time spent on testing is making it feel overwhelming. And, like you, I'm not opposed to some of those things (like testing). It's just that we're off-kilter with it.

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  4. We in Saskatchewan are following you down this drain. We are getting a longer school day and more testing.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping our northern neighbors were wiser than us ;)

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  5. We held a thinkshow event where every child had to have a project and a write up. I spent all of last week working on these projects and a lot of the week before. It is a waste of time and money!

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  6. Actually, I'd like to see both....less testing and more time learning. I want days that can include realistic recess time, the arts, realistic DEAR time (Drop Everything and Read), and inquiry-based and project-based learning. I'm not sure about the instructional practices of Finland but I do believe that the above noted modalities for learning are worthwhile and could be quite effective if enough time were aloud to implement them properly. Also, our country's diversity does necessitate taking time to ground our new citizen-learners before they can be expected to take part successfully in our penchant for testing. Yes, I want both!

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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.