Perhaps it is a sign that the Ford Foundation simply has too many expensive initiatives going that when they announced a $50 million gift to an organization called Time to Succeed earlier this month, it barely made a blip on the media radar screen. But maybe it should have. Time to Succeed is devoted to lengthening the school day and the school year and its supporters seem to be a credibly bipartisan collection of education leaders. Here is an idea, apparently, that AFT president Randi Weingarten, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, and even serious New York education reformer and charter-school founder Eva Moskowitz can get behind.
The research on time in school is clear. Students lose a significant percentage of what they learn each year during summer vacation. Their school days are so abbreviated that not only do students rarely have the ability to engage seriously in core subjects but their time to study the arts and other non-core subjects is seriously curtailed. Students who get out of school at 1:30 in the afternoon, as they do in many districts, do not engage in hours of homework after school. They goof off. There is even evidence that thanks to the schedules of bus drivers, students are starting school too early in the morning for effective learning. And they're getting a lunch break at 10:30 am. The learning conditions of our students are determined not by what will help them learn but by what is most convenient for the adults who staff schools.
The website of Time to Succeed does not make clear exactly by what means the number of hours students learn will get extended. One presumes that if Randi Weingarten and teachers' unions are supportive of the idea, it is because teachers will get paid more to work those additional hours. Currently, of course, teachers are opposing Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's plans to lengthen the school day in the Windy City from a measly five hours and 45 minutes to seven-and-a-half hours. The teachers say they'll be happy to sign on, though, if they are given more money, more staff and more resources. And parents have registered their objections too.
Maybe it's the fact that my own kids will have off two more days this week because of "unused snow days" earlier in the year, but I was pretty sure this is an idea that most parents can get behind too. For working parents, summer seems to be an endless chasm to fill for young children. They cobble together camp and use vacation time from work to cover those 10 weeks.
But NPR found a bunch of Chicago parents who are skeptical of the longer school day. One told the interviewer that she worried the extra school time will be used to prepare their children for standardized tests: "I truly, truly worry that all it's going to be is more drill and pill, and just more math and reading shoved down their throats, and none of the science and art and all the extras that should be done." Too much math and reading -- there's something to "truly, truly worry about."
Another complains that she is not sure what the content of the extra hours will be. Of Mayor Emanuel and his claim that more time produces better opportunities for students -- the parent says, "He's offering opportunities. Well, I have the opportunity to go to Nordstrom's; it doesn't mean I have the money to buy anything." This is absurd. Obviously, content matters. For that matter, having a bad teacher for an extra hour a day is not going to help matters. But on the whole it seems easy to see that more time in school is bound to have some kind of positive effect on the average student. Besides, what's the opportunity cost here? Does your 4th grader have something more important he needs to be doing?