Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Long Should the School Day Be?

Here at HoneyFern, we have a leisurely six-hour day, including an hour lunch, usually spent outside or playing games as we eat.

Following a trend, though, Chicago announced last week that it will extend the school year by two weeks, and the school day by 90 minutes.


I have considered extending HoneyFern's school year, although it actually is a little longer than the regular year already (192 days, as opposed to 180, quite accidentally, but providentially, as sometimes students need to leave to go on vacation, etc, and this balances it all out), but our school day is a nice balance. Because we don't suffer the distractions of disciplinary interruptions, announcements on the loudspeaker or other attention-drawing things (e.g., useless fundraising assemblies), an hour of math is an hour of math, students can read at a stretch without interruption, and by the end of the day we have really exerted ourselves. We might have a longer day just to hang out, or ride a horse or play with goats, but to continue with formal academics past three is a bit cruel to both teacher and students (especially as the days turn cooler and we want to spend time outside). We don't zone out or stop talking, but this is when we get informal and just wonder about stuff and play.

I can't see that happening in Chicago. If a longer school day isn't managed well, with perhaps recess (or at the very least breaks) for all ages, broken up by engaging and individualized projects, the results will be gains for the lowest students and stagnation for the middle and up. This longer day/year is a politician trying to "send a message" that "education is important," but unless it is accompanied by dynamic and vital instruction, it is largely a useless gesture.

It also comes with other considerations, such as teacher pay. There is no indication that pay scales for teachers will be adjusted to reflect the increase in hours, so teachers have just been handed a massive pay cut. Because of this, Chicago should be hiring soon as teachers work this year of their contract and then move on, further depleting the teacher pool. The best and brightest will leave for greener pastures, leaving Chicago's public schoolchildren in the hands of teachers waiting for retirement (not surprisingly, the Chicago Teacher's Union has advocated a "better school day," not a longer one).

Thoughts? How long should a day be?

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