As a teacher, I should be the first to praise the addition of 40 minutes to my day. In a failed educational system, where career DoE bureaucrats in the past five years have already stolen 35 minutes of teaching time from every class period for non-teaching mandates, getting 8 precious minutes per class back should be a blessing. Yet once again I realize all I am looking at is just another red herring — a cosmetic patch, surrounded by hyperbole and false promises of improvement, that will do nothing to fix the underlying real problems with urban high school education. Once again our children suffer by the actions of politicians and bureaucrats using misdirection to hide their failed policies.
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Adding time to the school day for K-8 students does nothing statistically significant if the underlying systemic problems are not fixed. Any teacher will appreciate the much needed extra time for planning and managing a class, But if we are still forced to promote children who have failed, still must devote an average of 35 minutes out of every class period to non-instructional duties, and still operate in a culture of cronyism and intimidation by school administrators, nothing substantive can change. It is akin to all the hype and false promises about charter schools – hype that ignores the fact that charter schools are failing at a rate faster than new ones are created, 206 failed last year at the same time when 642 new ones were created, literally thousands are in the process of failing, and that only 17% of charter schools outperformed their traditional counterparts.
And we are bombarded with false promises, intentional misdirection, and hype to make sure parents and legislators never see what has really caused our children’s education to be undermined. Picture going down to your company’s cafeteria for lunch, and discovering they were completely out of food, and you could not leave the building. So someone adds 40 minutes to that day’s lunch to “help.” Normally, the 40 minutes to eat and unwind would be a blessing. It sounds good in the press releases. But it does nothing about the fact that you are starving to death.
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It should be no surprise that already people who look beyond the hype recognize that there is little likelihood that the extra time will make progress anywhere near to the levels of the hype by the school board, career DoE bureaucrats, and school administrators. As one example, an article in the Boston Globe on 14 January 2015 reported:
“For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others. But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.”
There are three uses of those extra 40 minutes per day that are being discussed:
- Add an extra class period for music, arts, and electives
- Add 8 minutes each to existing class periods
- Add an extra period for standardized test preparation
Add an extra class period for music, arts, and electives
Of the three possibilities, this is the one I hope most schools will consider. It is the only scenario that actually adds something positive to our children’s education. The loss of such electives has taken away one of the best things about school, and one of the most important means of developing our children’s knowledge.
Yet, it is critical to point out that as important it is to restore such electives, it does absolutely nothing for the core topics of English, math, history and science. The same failed mandates, forced promotion of failing students, forced dumbing-down of teaching, and cronyism will still exist. Nothing changes – so all the hype about expected improvements is exactly that – hype. Indeed, the addition of an extra class for electives could actually hurt the four core topics if a few more minutes are taken from each of them to even out the periods.
And selecting this scenario also exposes the past lies and intentional misdirection about why such electives were cancelled in the first place. Career DoE bureaucrats and school administrators always blame cancellation of electives on “lack of funding,” and vigorously denied my writing that the real cause was lack of class periods to schedule such electives since all free periods were being used for standardized test preparation. Yet now we restore those electives – not because of more funding, but by adding more class periods.
Once again, false claims and intentional misdirection are exposed.
Add 8 minutes each to existing class periods
As a teacher, this would be great. I’d get back 8 of the 35 minutes that state and federal DoE mandates have taken from my instruction time for each class period over the past few years. I would still be forced by my administrators to promote children who have failed, and be forced to dumb down teaching to make sure everyone passes and the school does not get sanctioned. But 8 more minutes per class (using a typical 5-period day) would let me restore some of the best-practices techniques of reinforcement, group efforts, and projects that have been forced out of urban high school classroom over the past five years.
Add an extra class period for standardized test preparation
Already, many of the initial schools getting the extra 40 minutes per day have indicated that they will be used to “…improve test performance.” This is a horrible option that just self-perpetuates the status quo. It does nothing to fix the problems with the base courses that causes the need for test preparation in the first place.
The bottom line – once again we face cosmetic changes and misdirection that ignore fixes to the real problems with education. Once again parents are told “…great change and improvement” is coming, so they are diverted from telling our legislators to fix the cronyism, inept mandates, and mismanagement that has crippled the education of a generation of our children.