YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are shorter school days a
Mary Lee Grif;n
is a professor of education at Wheaton
College in Norton,
Shelley Harris is
assistant dean in
the College of Education and Human
Texas A&M University, San Antonio.
SHORTENING THE SCHOOL DAY could work—if it were done the right way
and for the right reasons. Unfortunately, the current proposals are not about
children, but about cutting costs at the expense of our youngest citizens.
Reducing the academic day, as part of restructuring the way America’s
public schools deliver education, would only make sense if revisions were focused
on public education structured for the good of all children. A shorter school day
would only work if every public school in America that shortened the academic
day also offered high-quality daily after-school programs that were free and
open to all students.
Wise cuts would target the skill-and-drill, didactic teaching that currently
plays a central role in the curriculum, thanks to a billion-dollar textbook and
testing industry. Research reveals that “skill, drill and test” does little to promote
deep thinking and authentic, real-world learning and takes up precious time
that could be focused on more meaningful pursuits. Busywork, often meaning-
less activities undertaken to pass time, could also be trimmed or eliminated.
A shorter, more focused day would reject scripted, packaged curriculum and
rely on quality literature and real-world, hands-on math, science and social
studies programs. Dropping busywork would allo w schools to integrate the arts,
music and movement across the curriculum so that students’ experiences are
seamless as they develop deep, meaningful connections across all subject areas.
For instance, staging a musical enacting historical events engages children in
living history as they acquire knowledge that stays with them forever, unlike
“teach and test” social studies units, which are soon forgotten.
Finally, a shorter school day should not mean more homework. Sending books
or authentic activities home is useful practice; sending home worksheets, though
all too common, is not. When seeking to shorten the school day, providing quality
in-school and after-school programming should be a necessary and essential
part of the equation. Without such programs, such a move would privilege a few
and leave the majority of students behind yet again. C
CUTTING THE SCHOOL DAY would mean a reduction in instructional time
with little or no improvement to education or cost savings to communities.
Some have said that trimming an hour or two a day could yield savings in a
school district’s expenses for teacher salaries. The surest decrease would be in
the number of quality teachers interested in working there, as many of them
would choose to leave after weighing other options against a drastic pay cut.
Reducing hours would have a minimal impact on the cost of a child’s education, and it’s not worth it. In many cases, school districts would end up extending
the school year into the summer months, and we know how hot it can be during
the summer, especially in the southern states—the energy costs of cooling the
schools would be quite significant. Instead of asking ourselves if the school day
is currently too long, we should ask: What is being done during the school day?
As a former classroom teacher who now works with student teachers, placing
them in the field, I believe there are other ways to maximize student learning.
The solution is all about using space and time more effectively.
Ideas for better time management include having teachers reduce some
of the many transitional times during the day. Replacing the line-up ritual of
group bathroom breaks by allowing kids to go when they need to go makes good
sense and eliminates the need to stop instruction for ;; minutes, twice a day.
Similarly, asking kids to pack up and wait ;; minutes for the bell eats into quality
time for students, for teaching and for student-teacher interaction. These are
just two examples.
As for those who would like to see savings, I suggest they get involved and support those educators in their communities who are trying to make their schools
run more efficiently. Engage with school leadership and advisory boards, and
join community groups that welcome new ideas. While people may not always
start on the same page about education and school priorities, everyone can agree
that our kids should be successful. C
JULY DEBATE RESULTS
Are smartphones having
a negative impact on our
Percentage reflects votes received
by July 19, 2017.
Results may reflect Debate being
picked up by blogs.
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