Why extending the school day is not going to improve quality of education

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, recently appeared on Oprah with the mayor and governor of New Jersey, and the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Following philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg decided to join the club and dump $100 million into Newark, New Jersey schools. I’m sure his intentions are partially good, but I’ve also heard that he’s trying to shed his bad image that is being portrayed in a new film called The Social Network.

He doesn’t know much about education reform, which is apparent on Oprah as he spends most of the time observing what others on the stage and in the audience have to say. I mention him because his $100 million donation has all the big education rock stars pumped up. The mayor of New Jersey, Cory A. Booker, is immensely pumped, I’m sure, because he who gets the money gets the control, hence the idea of mayoral control of the schools. They talk about this great civil rights movement that is going on right now and how the community needs to step up and help out by doing things like volunteering in schools or mentoring a child. That’s great advice and I mean, nobody is going to disagree with that and say, no, lets not give the kids any extra help.

The problem is that the school system sucks. It’s not like it used to suck and now it’s getting better. It still sucks just as equally as it ever did. I just met a mother of a 9-year-old today who told me her daughter can’t decode words yet is being passed anyway and is in the fourth grade. Sure, the community can step up and help, but let’s not hold them responsible for a system that passes along failing students.

Geoffrey Canada proposed a solution to the problem of students who are say, reading on a 7th grade level but are in the 9th grade (that’s the example he gave on Oprah). He said, let’s extend the school day by one hour. Oprah’s with him on that one, and so is the mayor of New Jersey, and I didn’t hear the guy from Facebook oppose it. Canada’s philosophy is, if teachers aren’t willing to put in the extra time, then they have chosen the wrong career and shouldn’t be teachers. I have a few problems with his reasoning.

One: All of these spokespeople who say it is a teacher’s job to do all of this extra work are making WAY more than teachers. Geoffrey Canada, Oprah, the mayor of NJ, etc are not making $40-$50k per year. Why don’t they try making a teacher’s salary and then reevaluate their statements? I mean, teachers already grade papers, create lessons, call parents, and fall asleep thinking about all of that. Doesn’t all that already count as extra work?

Two: Teachers are responsible for professional development and many take evening graduate classes (like me!). If school hours are extended, teachers will be unable to attend these classes.

Three: Subjecting students to another hour of standardized test-preparation instruction is not going to help them. Also, having a student spend an extra hour in an 11th grade classroom when they are really on a 5th grade level is not going to help them. Instead, we need to provide a variety of material that varies in grade level for students. For example, students in 11th grade should have options to read material that ranges from 5th grade level to 12th grade level. That way all students have material that is accessible to them.

I’d rather extend the school year than extend the school day. I also wouldn’t mind sending students to after-school community programs. Students receive enough institutionalized education. They don’t need any more. We’ve already wasted enough of their time.

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