Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, announced an initiative to expand the school day in 10 school districts across 5 states, affecting over 17,000 kids. My home governor, Dannell Malloy, was present in Washington, D.C. for the announcement because three CT districts (East Hartford, Meriden, and New London) are included in this pilot program.
I have been an academic (in-training) for too long because when I first heard this announcement on WNPR, I immediately wanted to see the evidence guiding such a massive decision. State educational leaders, the National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation share the responsibilities for both implementation and funding of this pilot program, yet no one pointed to any evidence or research in the announcement. Not until much later last night did I discover that Secretary Duncan had tweeted a link to a report released by the National Center on Time and Learning this past April that reviews “evidence” of the benefits of an extended school day. If this is how policy decisions get made, we all have our heads in the sand.
The report, “The Case for Improving and Expanding Time in School: A Review of Key Research and Practice,” is a meta-analysis, and though I expected to see original research, I continued to read. Author Farbman provides rationale for extending the school day by citing studies of extended school time and by linking these findings to potential improvements in the existing curriculum. There are three flaws in the logic of this report. First, much of the cited research touting the benefits of a longer school day pre-dates NCLB. Six of the studies that found positive relationships between extended school day and improved student outcomes were published before the year 2000 (two date back to the 1980’s and one to the 1970’s). No doubt, the experience of education is quite different for students who have been raised in a technological age. Additionally, the report relies heavily on the academic improvement experienced in charter schools. While charter reformers have always hoped that strategies employed by choice schools would drive competition in the broader system, the population of both teachers and students/families engaged with charter schools is self-selected and thus slightly inappropriate evidence for a broad-sweeping national reform strategy such as this one. Finally, the report conflates an extended school day with an extended school year or even improvements in learning over the summer. If this reform is based on recovering hours in the day, then success in schools with a longer school year or success achieved over the summer should not factor into the equation.
The report does provide a compelling illustration of lost instructional time since the implementation of NCLB. If added instructional time revives arts programs or vocational classes, that would be a boon for educators in those disciplines. These are the very classes that keep struggling students engaged with school life. The rhetoric of the announcement still seems focused on tests and assessments.
An extended school day attends to struggles of young families including the need for quality child-care. If additional school time brings back arts, music, shop class, or even recess and physical education, then I think there are real possibilities here. It may, however, mean that we’re simply cramming more time in the day to prep for the CMT.
Time will tell….