While we wait for details on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal to extend New Jersey’s public school year and hours spent in the classroom (“information will be forthcoming,” said a Christie press rep. when we requested a delivery time frame), we wondered what local educators thought of this initiative (minus the funding issues).
The concept, which President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have advocated since 2009, has been implemented as pilot programs in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Tennessee and Colorado, and studied by scores of organizations that have published research citing positive and mixed results.
Dr. Concetta Donvito, director of the Montclair State University Network for Educational Renewal in the Center of Pedagogy, which focuses on promoting the renewal of schools and educating educators, said the quality of teaching and the material taught to students are more important than number of hours spent in class and referred to a 2012 report from The After-School Corporation (TASC) Force on expanded school learning.
“I think the results of the research are a pretty mixed bag because if you’re going to simply expand the school day or year without making any other changes−that has not proven to be effective,” said Dr. Donvito.
A 20-plus year veteran of education who has worked in the Montclair and Parsippany-Troy Hill school systems, Dr. Donvito said there needs to be more time devoted to deepening student learning, ways to address content more deeply, more individualized student instruction, support and professional development and collaboration for/with teachers and parental support (some parents are concerned that longer school days might impact extracurricular activities like sports.)
“We’re looking for the need for some real structural changes, changes in school organization and even in teaching roles—how can they restructure the use of time in schools; how can we realign policies and governance arrangements in order to accommodate this? How does that affect teacher licensures and job descriptions, management and operations of schools? There are lots of implications; it’s not as simple as it might seem.”
She also emphasized the need for schools to partner with community organizations, local businesses and colleges and universities to enhance educators’ professional development.
Also, how do you keep kids engaged and focused on learning curriculum during a school day that might be expanded to 7, 8 or 9 hours from a six and half hour day (New Jersey State Law requires public schools have a minimum of 4 hours of instructional time and a 180-day school calendar.)
“Some of the research is pretty clear that you reach a point of diminishing returns. Depending on how it’s measured, student achievement or student engagement goes up with a longer school day but at one point it levels out and then begins to decrease.”
Dr. Sara Goldstein, an associate professor in Montclair State University’s Family and Child Studies Department, also said content is key.
“I think that having a ‘longer’ school day does not necessarily have to be hours and hours of extra time, and it does not have to be based in students’ primary classrooms,” Dr. Goldstein said in a statement emailed to Barista Kids. “There could be enrichment options focused on the arts, science and technology, sports, drama, and so on that promote social and cognitive development but also allow students to pursue their own specific interests and talents. There is evidence to suggest that extracurricular activity participation has positive implications for child and adolescent development, so I suspect that offering similar types of options to students as part of the typical school day would have the potential to have positive implications as well.”
Regardless of how many hours that may get tacked on to the school day (6-plus hour days are typical for New Jersey schools), Goldstein said students should exercise every day to help reduce stress.
Montclair Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack told Barista Kids, “I think there is little to say because we have very little information regarding how this idea will be implemented… I agree with the basic idea that we should not allow limited time to limit student learning and we know some of our most struggling learners simply need more time. We also know summer learning loss is an issue for our most struggling students. I am sure our Achievement Gap Advisory Panel will have thoughts to share on these topics when they release their recommendations in June.”