Making Poor Kids Go To School Longer Could Be The Key To Better Learning

Students pass the French highschool exam

Extending the school day for low-income children is the newest smart strategy for fixing our crappy-ass American education system.  According to the AP, some 13,000 students in Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will be attending school for a lot longer each day come next August.

As part of the TIME Collaborative, select high-poverty schools will be extending their school days, in some cases adding up to 300 extra hours per year. And the money to do so is coming from quite a few sources. The AP reports that:

The five participating states are using a mix of federal, state and district funding to cover the additional 300 hours of instruction and enrichment. The Ford Foundation is providing some grant funding, while the National Center on Time and Learning is providing technical help to schools.

The overall response from teachers and parents has apparently been positive, and similar programs that are already implemented show markedly improved test scores and attendance. The extra time in school will be directed more towards enrichment activities, like healthy living instruction, world cultures, foreign language and independent study. In come cases, students (in both high school, middle school and elementary school) will get to choose the extra instruction they want to participate in.

I have mixed feelings about this initiative. When I first read about it, I was all like “WTF! Chaining kids to their desks isn’t going to do any good! AARGH! More school just sounds like another way United States schools are trying to crush all the fun and creativity out of kids!” But then I thought about it a little bit more and ultimately, this program really sounds like could be a very good thing.

The idea of making the school day longer so struggling students can study things like world cultures and technology seems like a great idea, especially since I feel like public schools are becoming more and more “teach to the test.” Providing an opportunity for low-income kids to get creative and learn about things they actually want to learn about could be very powerful. Adding extra time to study and complete school work sounds great too (Hell, I never once had a study hall ever in my twelve years of public school). As Eve pointed out to me, many students in poverty-stricken schools can’t do their homework at home, so having the opportunity to do so at school could make a huge difference in terms of school success and learning outcomes. There’s so much about the American educational system that is, frankly, not working and perhaps this program can help fix that.

On the other hand, a tiny part of me feels like throwing more school at kids isn’t really going to even begin to fix the myriad of problems that affect their learning. Adding more rules, more restrictions, and more structured time will only work to help some of these low-income students, not all. Yes, it sounds great that the program will focus on personalized learning techniques and more “fun” learning content, but I feel like the program will require a highly-individualized approach if it’s really going to work. And a highly-individualized approach means more money, more time (for employees) and lots and lots of resources, probably post those the funding will provide. I hope it works for these schools and these states, but it doesn’t sound like something that will be doable for the majority of American schools. Maybe that’s fine…change doesn’t necessarily need to be implemented widely to have a lasting effect. Maybe it’s ok to start small and do what we can.

Either way, the program is beginning in the 2014-2015 school year and will no doubt change the lives of thousands of public school students.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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    • Alex

      “…in some cases adding up to 3000 extra hours per year…”

      “The five participating states are using a mix of federal, state and district funding to cover the additional 300 hours of instruction and enrichment.”

      Quite a difference there…

      • NYBondLady

        Noticed that as well. Editors?!

      • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

        I was in an edit meeting when it posted. Blame meeeeee. Blame mere. Plus, damn that is a LONG school day

      • NYBondLady

        I forgive you.

      • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

        You do not I can tell!

    • Feed Em

      If it means a chance for these kids to have access to more food, a safe environment and get development in the arts and other things that they miss out on because they are playing catch up, then yes, extend their day.
      Education is supposed to be the great equalizer

      • SarahJesness

        Agreed. Increased school day wouldn’t eliminate many problems, but it would certainly reduce them. There are kids who only eat at school, so longer school day with more food would be a benefit there. Kids who live in unsafe neighborhoods with no community centers or extracurricular activities to go to are more likely to get involved in crime.

        A lot of these kids might not play outside a whole lot, so when they go home they just end up watching TV. School reduces that TV time. Not to mention that a lot of parents wouldn’t have as much worry about their kids being home alone or having to find childcare during the time they’re working and when the child gets home.

    • Lena

      I think it makes a lot of sense, especially when taking into account recent and not-so-recent studies that show kids from lower-income backgrounds begin school less prepared than the rest.

    • Jessica

      An (intended?) benefit to this policy would be that many families could be relieved of their duty to find childcare to fill the gap between after school and when parents get off work.

      • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

        Which means peace of mind for parents, more money for the household, and the time the kids are in care is high quality as opposed to whatever is available or the TV. All excellent benefits.

    • blh

      As if being poor wasn’t bad enough, now they’ll have to go to school longer than everyone else? Those poor kids. In a way it sounds like a good idea, but I honestly don’t know if it’ll help.

      • SarahJesness

        I think it depends on how it’s done. If this extra learning is really being spent on stuff the kids will enjoy rather than just “make them memorize the test”, I don’t think they’ll protest as much. Kids really do like to learn, but school systems care more about having them pass the standardized tests rather than helping them learn.

      • A-nony-mous

        Which is what worries me. Adding time on the clock doesn’t change the poor curriculums, get rid of the awful (and even abusive) teachers that are still teaching, or change the entire set up of teaching to the test. But we’re supposed to believe that simply adding a couple hours will suddenly make it joyous and fun and enriching and enact all this change that the prior six hour standard-day hasn’t managed to do in decades?

      • SarahJesness

        Yeah, I’m having the same concerns. Longer school days COULD help but if they don’t deal with the core issues, it’s only going to be a hindrance. Adding a few hours will be beneficial if and only if that time is spent teaching kids things that they’ll be interested in learning.

        The main problem with the school system right now isn’t unions or lazy teachers or too-short days, it’s how things are taught. Teachers are expected to teach to a test and are given little to no freedom to create a curriculum. They can’t look for material they think will help the kids learn, shit, they aren’t even able to actually help the kids learn, it’s all about the stupid test.

      • blh

        Whether it’d fun or not, it’s still extra work which i doubt most kids are going to like. I think a big reason kids don’t do well in school is lack of parental involvement. So you can stick them in school longer but it’s not going to make them have parents that give a shit, so how much is it really going to help? And I still think the kids will feel like they’re being punished and not be happy about it.

      • Blueathena623

        There is a difference between parents not caring and parents not having the time/education themselves to help their kids.

      • SarahJesness

        There are parents who do care but aren’t able to help their kids. I do agree that parental involvement is a huge issue but schools should still try to help kids who don’t get that. If the kids are being taught material that they like (big if) I doubt they’ll complain too much.

    • Sri

      Whenever I see an article about failing public schools, I get so frustrated. People who aren’t teachers seem to think that teachers are the reason that students aren’t getting a creative learning experience. Really, though,teachers don’t like the way things are any more than you do. Every single day, my colleagues and I are distressed by the sacrifices we have to make in the name of NCLB. If our students don’t meet minimum standards on the test, we could lose our jobs. This means that actual important teaching methods have to be abandoned sometimes because we have to get through the material. We don’t teach to the test because we don’t feel like teaching or think that teaching just as much as they need to know is awesome and fulfilling, we are unable to teach in rich constructive ways because we are ultimately evaluated on how well our students do on these tests and there simply isn’t enough time to do both. It would be great if both goals lined up, but most policy makers are not teachers and haven’t been in the classroom, so they don’t realize that the best teaching methods that result in the most lasting learning and deepest connections take a LONG time. They rely on students to experience the material in their own way and to have meaningful conversations with each other and the teacher. For some topics, I can do this. If I did this for every unit, I wouldn’t get through half of my curriculum. It would be more fun for the students and they would probably remember it years later, but I would be fired because my students wouldn’t meet their goals on state tests. I hate that I have to make that sacrifice, I really do, but I know that I make a positive impact on my students and continue to try my hardest to work well in a flawed system.

      I try my damnedest to make sure that my students have a meaningful experience despite a system that punishes me for it. The fact that people think that I am chaining my students to a desk and squashing out their creativity is really really hurtful. More time would give me the ability to meet my criteria requirements and use creative lessons to do it.

      • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

        I appreciate your comment, but I really wasn’t maligning teachers. I also work as a teacher myself. I was merely pointing out flaws in the educational system in GENERAL—things like NCLB–not with teachers and the work they do.

      • Sri

        I’m sorry for taking my frustrations out on you, then. I just have a lot of feelings and I’ve had way way way too many people (including family members) blame teachers for problems that are systemic and that we have little control over. The general populace greatly overestimates my power and underestimates my passion for getting students excited about learning. I don’t know if it’s all the press that bad teachers get or if people aren’t aware that current teacher education programs focus on moving away from the creativity squashing lessons of years past, but we seem to be a pretty popular target for blame.

      • SarahJesness

        Both of my parents are public school teachers, so I know plenty about that. I really hate how there’s this kick about blaming teachers and the unions, but that’s far from the biggest issue.

        While my parents were working in poorer schools I was too young to really hear or pay attention to anything about their jobs, so I don’t know about their experiences there. But I do remember my dad complaining a lot when I got older about the middle school he was working at. (this middle school was in a fairly wealthy area) He taught Spanish and ESL, I’m told his classes were hard.

        Anyway, when he gave a student a bad grade or gave detention for bad behavior, he would often get calls and complaints from parents, telling him the classes are too hard, or pleading him to increase the grade. The excuses were amazing. My personal favorites? “Well, she wouldn’t have been texting in class if you did a better job of incorporating technology into your lessons!” “Oh, can you please raise his grade up to a 70? I promise him he could go on a trip to Mexico is he passed his Spanish class, and he’d be soooo sad if he couldn’t go!”. But my dad could never get any support from the higher ups. If his class had been a required one, I imagine he would’ve gotten orders to make it easier. (the classes at the school would be often stupidly easy. Test reviews were often just the test with the questions in a different order. You had to make an active effort to fail most of the classes there)

        He’s working at Rice now. He likes having students who want to be there and also don’t tell him to go die.

        Teachers basically get little to no freedom to create their own curriculum, which is a big part of the problem. Lots of bored and disinterested students but teachers can’t change things. If they want to teach extra stuff, it needs to be crammed in. I never got past the Civil Rights Movement in any of my world history classes because by then it was standardized test time and everyone needed to focus on that.

    • A-nony-mous

      I have concerns about this. For instance, what age does it start at? For middle schoolers and high schoolers I think it’s a good idea but what about low income elementaries? I think it would be a bit much to make 5, 6 and 7 year olds be in school for 8 hours a day. Most of the poor little guys I see at my child’s school are pretty much brain-done by 3, let alone having to stay until 5 or 6 still learning.

      Could parents opt-out of this as well? I’m not sure it’s fair to malign entire groups of children simply because of the income their parents make. There’s more to life than just education. For instance, what about children who do lots of extra curricular activities right after school? No more soccer, gymnastics, Girl Guides, Scouts, etc. Those are all valuable things too but if you’re in school until 5 or 6 pm every day there’s no more time for that and that’s not fair or good. Children learn lots of valuable lessons in those things that the school can’t teach them in any classroom or with any textbook.

      • Blueathena623

        I think you are over-estimating the after-school enrichment opportunities for low SES students. Plus, learning can be fun. If you have extended hours you have more opportunities for movement and engaging actives. Finally, these kids may not be going home to the best situations, and being in school can be safer/better and thus decrease stress in their life. Its not maligning students for their income level — its catching them up and giving them a quality education that better prepares them for a good job.

      • A-nony-mous

        I’m wary of standard schools that try to promote unique styles of learning. I myself went to several that purported to do “enriching” activities and said they catered to “different learning styles” and all this hubub about it being sooooooooooo different from the standard textbook-and-desk style and in the end they were all textbook-and-desk.

        Standard schools are basically set up to operate one way. That’s pretty much the basis for charter schools. People got bored of attempting to change the textbook-and-desk so I’m not thinking that simply adding more time to the school day will suddenly lead to all these amazing, fun activities that don’t exist in schools suddenly popping up. Remember, what sounds good on paper and in theory and discussion panels often plummets out of the sky when actually put into practice.

        So I worry that these kids are going to end up just being plopped in a desk and told to fill out more papers or read a book for two hours more every day. Not the end of the world but hardly “enriching” or “engaging and movement”.

      • Blueathena623

        See my comment on KIPP schools. There are already over 100 of them, use extended hours, and get great results, and are still on the public school curriculum.

      • blh

        I agree. Kids go to school for 6 or 7 hours. That’s enough. They’re children, they need to play and relax and just have fun. It’s just not right to make then be in school ALL DAY. Parents should be able to opt out as well.

      • Blueathena623

        And what if their home is not fun or relaxing?

      • blh

        How do you make that call? Oh you live in a poor area so your home life MUST suck so you HAVE to stay at school? Yeah, no.

    • Blueathena623

      In georgia we have some KIPP schools, which are charter schools with open enrollment. Kids mostly low-income. The two schools I visited had long hours, half day Saturday school for struggling students, and some summer school. They get awesome results. Low SES students tend to be below grade level, and they have a difficult time catching up with normal school hours. Plus the teachers are awesome — you would have to be incredibly passionate to work the hours needed for a KIPP school. Plus, lets be honest — low SES students aren’t generally involved in after-school enrichment activities, so this gives them a chance to participate.
      Does spending all day in school potentially suck? Maybe, but life isn’t fair. However, having a good education, not being behind, and graduating helps level the playing field.

    • SarahJesness

      Initial reaction is “Poor kids go to school more? That’s unfair!”. But if executed properly, maybe this can work. If the extra time is filled with teaching kids crap that they’d want to learn, they probably won’t be upset about it. Kids really do like to learn. Some might go “Eeew, education!” but most of those are just parroting what they hear from peers and the media. Get something they’re interested in and they’ll conveniently forget that learning is uncool.

      Do kids still like dinosaurs these days? Teach ‘em about dinosaurs. Give them a variety of topics to choose from, and let them go into them in-depth. Give these kids a chance to develop a passion for something intellectual/creative/whatevz. Cultures, sciences, literature, computers, whatevz. I think a lot of kids in poverty give up because they’re often not exposed to things they’d be interested in, and even when they are, they often aren’t given a chance to explore those things. This country has probably lost out on so many great thinkers, scientists, and writers, all because they weren’t given education and opportunity. We’ve all heard the quote “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, yes?

      Could have other benefits as well. Lots of kids go home to dangerous environments. Others go home with nothing to do but watch TV, so they’re not getting anything. A lot of parents don’t get home from work until hours after school ends, so it would certainly be good to some of those parents. Kids who don’t have a lot to eat would benefit from the extra food.

    • ali

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