In September this year, six Chicago Public Schools joined an increasing movement in the United States and Canada to extend the amount of time students spend in contact with their teachers, and school-based learning. In 2012, all Chicago public schools will increase the school day by 90 ‘instructional minutes’. In the past 5 years, over 1,000 schools in the United States have extended both the school day and the school year to enhance learning outcomes for disadvantaged students. In Canada, about 100 schools provide ‘year-round schooling’ citing improved learning benefits for disadvantaged and low-achieving learners. (seehttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/does-year-round-schooling-make-the-grade/article2057863/ ) There is debate in North America about the merits of extending ‘instruction’ time but apparently not in Australia where the issue is not under consideration. Isn’t it time we considered extending the century old ‘5.25 hours’, ‘9 -3.30’ view of time learning, and debated the benefits and disadvantages for our students, especially working class kids, of requiring more time at school?
Many of those schools in the US that are extending the school day and/or the school year are not ‘public’ schools as we understand them. Many are charter schools, established and funded by government but able to operate outside established systemic processes. What marks the recent changes in Chicago as significant is that this initiative to extend teaching-learning time with has been initiated by the ‘government’; the Mayor (and former Obama adviser) Rahm Emanuel. These changes are supported by incentives, including 2 percent teacher salary bonuses and up to $150,000 in school discretionary money, to schools that break from the teachers’ union contracts and begin trialling the longer day this year. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-09-27/news/ct-met-longer-school-day-0927-20110927_1_emanuel-and-cps-school-day-cps-leaders )
Students at Fiske Elementary School Chicago
Jillian and I have written about the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools in previous blogs. KIPP schools are charter schools and what particularly marks them off from other schools is: ‘more time’. KIPP schools add approximately three and a half hours to the length of the US school day and more than four weeks to the length of the school year. The longer days and year are seen to be foundational to a model that professes hard work, no shortcuts, high expectations and a focus on results. Additionally all students are expected to do homework. The schools insist on civility and kindness. Teachers have meals with their students.
Independent evaluations of KIPP schools show that they are achieving their aims to a high degree. A Stanford Research Institute study reported marked improvement against standardized test data in one school year in literacy, mathematics, and other areas. The Stanford study in California found that individual schools within the network differed significantly in the ways they implemented different aspects of the KIPP model but that all had achieved remarkable attainment of the KIPP aims and expectations. http://policyweb.sri.com/cep/publications/KIPPYear_1_Report.pdf
Research conducted by Western Michigan University and reported in March 2011 found the attrition rates for black males in the KIPP charter middle schools to be “shockingly high.” But other researchers say it’s unclear whether the high numbers of those students disappearing from KIPP’s grade rolls are dropping out or repeating a grade. And some studies show that KIPP charter schools have succeeded in significantly narrowing race-based and income-based achievement gaps among students, over time. (see Education Week, June 2, 2011).
KIPP school The Bronx New York
The Stanford researchers were impressed by the speed with which the KIPP model could be implemented in the schools they studied. This is because the KIPP principles are relatively simple to understand and replicate, and because the KIPP works with the local systemically designed curriculum and does not prescribe a single teaching methodology. Although teachers may spend time creating or implementing their teaching program, they do not have to learn a new system. The Stanford researchers noted the increased demands on teachers: a few LA teachers reported burn-out; the better resourced New York teachers were very satisfied. Many teachers liked the focus of KIPP schools (Work Hard – Be Nice), the students and their parents and felt supported in achieving the commonly agreed goals.
Some principals and teachers in ‘more-time’ schools report a cultural shift: teaching feels less rushed, there’s more time, and more time for relationship-building. One Chicago principal reported that in the short time since they implemented the extended day “It’s been a culture of calm”. Parents report favourably as well, as one Chicago parent responded to debates about the merits of extended time: “How can more time in school be a bad thing?” (See Chicago Tribune article cited above).
Fiske Elementary School Chicago race statistics
The focus for extending the school day in North America has been for students from ‘under-served’ communities, or disadvantaged students. In considering the applicability of all of this for Australia we need to be mindful that there is significant variation in ‘instruction time’ in the US, less so in Canada, and that Australia’s almost uniformly legislated ‘instruction time’ is greater than many schools in North America offer. We also have agreements with teacher unions about workloads and voluntary after-school activities. There would be little point in extending the school day/year without providing curricula and learning activities that students and parents valued. Additionally, technologies extend the ways our students can connect with their schools and with learning ‘outside’ of school.
But let’s have the debate and a few trials and some research based on Australian schools and their students. The My School site suggests that there is an awful lot of underachievement happening in working class education at the moment. The rigidities of equalising education in Australia may need to be challenged and harnessed to support affirmative actions for redressing educational disadvantage. Research shows that teachers make a significant difference for working class kids and their education, so providing more time makes sense. This may involve making more money available and rewarding teachers for more work. The rewards for students and parents may be great. As one parent at Chicago’s South Side Fiske school reported: “More time in school means more time for learning, period…This is about education…” (See Chicago Tribune article cited above).