Class dismissed? No, not yet; What do kids and grownups think of the White House's call for longer school days?ByScott Waldman
ALBANY — Meghan Campbell does not want to say goodbye to her future summer vacations.
It makes the eighth-grader at the Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School nervous to hear that President Barack Obama is talking about longer school days and less summer vacation. Both those ideas could become reality as Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan push to have the next generation of America’s work force ready for the global economy and to compete with their peers who are spending more time in the classroom.
“If we have a longer school day, we won’t have sports, but we’ll learn more,” Campbell said.
Obama knows he will certainly not win the support of most schoolchildren with this one. He wants to increase the length of the school day, saying the current schedule is based on an agrarian calendar that is outdated.
“Now I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the President told the Associated Press earlier this year. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”
Obama, the father of a sixth-grader and a fourth-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.
Richard Iannuzzi, president of the 600,000-member New York United Teachers, said he is open to the idea of extended days. He said some public schools already have moved to longer years and longer days, and that administrators have developed scheduling that does not require teachers to be in school for 12 hours a day or 11 months a year. He said the focus should be in the schools where the extra learning is needed most.
“There’s a lot of potential good in where this administration is going in terms of transforming the way we do business,” he said Tuesday. “My goal … is to put those ideas out there in a way that’s good for kids and fair for teachers.”
The move also would mean that district schools would begin to resemble their counterparts in the charter school movement, which the Obama administration is looking to expand.
Albany’s charter school students already spend a few more hours in school every day. At KIPP Tech Valley Middle School, which has some of the highest standardized test scores in the city, students are in school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., compared with 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in district middle schools. The Brighter Choice elementary schools, which also routinely post impressive scores, were the first in the state to offer classes year-round.
Both the Schenectady and Albany school districts have added time to their school days in recent years. Schenectady High School added an extra 30 minutes a day last fall, and Albany High tacked on an additional 45 minutes. Elementary and middle schools in both districts also increased their class time.
But Kerri Johnson, who taught an honors Spanish class on Tuesday, isn’t sure that longer days are the answer. She said the government would be better off spending money on school supplies and books than simply increasing classroom times.
“I don’t think that’s the factor that’s going to make the difference in the United States,” Johnson said. “Parent involvement and supplies and technology, having these kids be more aware, is what’s going to make us a better global competitor.”
Jeanne Ringwald, 13, would rather get to school earlier every day than be in class during the summer. She said extra time would allow students more time to prepare for the standardized tests each year, but the eighth-grader said she will need some down time after she takes Regents at the end of the year.
“Kids need time to unwind,” she said. “Every day we have a lot of homework.”
Educators have long warned that the summer is the time when learning recedes. At Colonie Central High School, teachers spend every fall devoting a few weeks in math and English language arts to a review of materials from the previous year, principal David Wetzel said.
“The summer off is great to rejuvenate a kid, but more often than that it delays a student and sets them back,” he said. “Two months is a long time.”
And it’s not just education that will improve by more time in school.
Duncan said extra school hours can be particularly valuable in impoverished areas in which day care is not an affordable option and kids are more likely to run the street at an earlier age.
“Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan told the Associated Press. “They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.