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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 04/26/2012

How NOT to extend the school day

In poll after survey after study, teachers have said that planning time is very important to them.

In the 2006 Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, one of the top factors that emerged as a significant predictor of a teacher’s satisfaction with his/her career was having enough time for planning and grading.

A 2008 report written for three Colorado public school districts on how to attract and retain teachers in hard-to-staff schools said that the second most important factor identified by teachers as important in creating positive working conditions was this: “Common planning periods with content or grade-level colleagues.” (School leadership was first.)

A 2009 report by researchers at the School Redesign Network at Stanford University concludes that the United States “is far behind in providing public school teachers with opportunities to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities.” That includes opportunities that allow teachers to work together on issues of instructional planning.

All of this helps explain why I cringed when I read this story by my colleague Ovetta Wiggins saying that most middle school students in Prince George’s County are going to return to school next fall with a longer school day.

The Education Department has encouraged school districts to extend instructional time and the effort is under way in a number of cities. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has expressed interest in extending the school day too, and plans to launch a pilot program next year.

It’s not the notion of extending the day that is alone alarming — although there are right ways and wrong ways to do it — but, rather, how the process was going to be implemented.

Wiggins’ story about P.G. County says: “The school system does not have to pay the teachers more because part of the extra time will come from their planning period.”

No definite plans have yet been made, but middle-school students will be in school for as long as seven hours and 20 minutes a day, longer than most of their peers in the region. Suggestions include adding a whole period, or lengthening existing classes.

New research suggests that neither of those approaches are especially productive for students. In fact, there is research that shows that extended learning efforts are often successful when students are engaged in strong afterschool programs, built around experiential learning — not just more of the same approach kids get in school.

Cutting the planning time that teachers need to design lessons, collaborate with their peers and take time to think about what they are doing should be off-limits for any school-day expansion plan.

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