Bill Ferriter, who’s blog I time and again cite as a “must-read” for people in education, has written yet another post that has gotten me thinking.
He writes about Education Secretary Duncan’s recent call for students to spend more time in school. He quotes both from a post from David Warlick attacking the idea in a post titled Let’s just put them all in jail 24/7 and one from Nancy Flanagan that is supportive of it.
Bill then asks a question (and answers it):
Does anyone REALLY believe that extra time will lead to anything BUT additional mind-numbing madness for our kids?
I have a different answer.
I think having students in school longer would help many of our students. For many students, especially in low-income communities like where our school is located, schools are a hugely stabilizing influence in their lives and, despite their verbal protestations to the contrary, they like it. That’s one reason why over half of the 2,000 students enrolled stay for an extra one hour class each school day, and why so many of our students want to attend summer school (even though state budget cuts last year and this year have closed that option off for many).
There have also been plenty of studies that have documented the negative impact the “summer slump” has on students — again, particularly on students in low-income communities.
So if Secretary Duncan wants to provide money to schools to be open longer, that’s fine with me.
Listen, I know our schools have a lot of problems, and have a very long way to go. And I think there are a lot of valid constructive criticisms that can, and should, be made. However, in general, I think that many schools, along with a number of labor unions and religious congregations, are some of the few institutions that are doing a pretty decent job at helping people develop skills needed to actively participate effectively in public life.
Maybe I’m living in a bubble, and most schools really are in terrible shape, but it hasn’t been my experience.
Do I think that increasing the time students spend in school is the best thing that government can do to improve the education experience of our students?
Here are just three things that I think I think would be better (and I can certainly think of more, too):
Providing more resources to increase affordable housing, health care, and pathways to wealth creation for low-income families would certainly be a better way. Richard Rothstein has clearly identified how these kinds of changes are necessary to bridge the “achievement gap.”
Providing resources for, and pushing schools to, engage parents more as partners and having, as the Industrial Areas Foundation phrases it, “two-way conversations instead of one-way communication.” Schools can be important players in working with families on those housing, health care, and wealth creation issues.
Reducing the role of standardized test results as the ultimate evaluation tool for both teachers and students, and increasing the use and value of alternative forms of assessment, like student portfolios, would help focus schools on creating life-long learners instead of going for the short-term gain of test results. One would hope that government and others have learned from the recent Wall Street debacle that increasing incentives for short-term pay-offs does not benefit our communities.
In organizing (as most readers know, I worked for the Industrial Areas Foundation as a community organizer for many years prior to becoming a teacher), we used to talk a lot about the fact that there’s the world “as it is” and the world “as we’d like it to be.” It’s important to be pragmatic but, at the same time, recognize the tension between the two worlds — we don’t want to become hopeless sentimentalists, but neither do we want to become narrow-eyed cynics.
I’d like to have my three suggestions implemented right away. However, that’s the world as I’d like it to be.
For now, though, if Secretary Duncan is going to find extra money somewhere to keep schools open longer, I’ll take it…