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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 04/24/2012

Is full-day school best for all kids?

The full-day school is an idea that is perilously close to a tipping point. In the Outlook section’s “Spring Cleaning” feature (my personal favorite feature in my favorite section), Peter Orszag suggests that we rid ourselves of the ends-at-3 p.m. school day.

“It’s time for a change: Schools should remain open until 5 or 6 p.m. The result would be better-educated students and less-stressed parents.

“A longer school day, especially if combined with other steps such as intensive tutoring and frequent feedback to teachers from administrators, could improve academic achievement,” he writes.
(Rich Pedroncelli - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Orszag, you may remember, is the attention-getting egghead who departed the Obama administration as the Office of Management and Budget director in 2010 to become the vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup.

In his short essay, he makes extending the school day to 5 or even 6 p.m. sound logical, citing favorable research [pdf] on the issue, including a 2011 Harvard study of New York City charters that linked those schools’ successes to a longer day.

His suggestion comes just after Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Kaya Henderson last week unveiled her five-year plan for District schools, with the top-priority action of lengthening the school day.

None of this is in a vacuum. Longer school days are very of the moment. They have been touted by the U.S. Department of Education and charter schools, and were a featured solution in the beloved public school indicting documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

But is it a good solution for all schools, all kids?

The proponents have labeled critics as too entrenched, too resistance to change, any change.

It is true that culturally we resist change in our schools. This argument usually focuses on tenure, but there’s a knee-jerk response to school day changes too.

Recently, I wrote of the common frustration with the school calendar on school holidays. The profusion of holidays, conference days and teacher training are too many and too arbitrarily placed in the calendar to benefit anyone — parent, teacher or child.

On the level of provocative argument, it was equivalent to griping about rain.

But comments roared. Many said the post was selfish. Some suggested that any parent who wanted a more uniform calendar should never have had kids in the first place. This argument followed that since we adults knew the school calendar, we should not try to alter the calendar now but should have, years ago, calculated that obstacle into our future plans.

Really.

To the more extreme case of a full school day, there will predictably be more extreme resistance.

Beyond the resistance for resistance’s sake, however, there are significant caveats when we talk about a longer school day.

The major question really should be: Will it offer kids a better afternoon?

It may be that parents are in the best position to answer this question.

Part of Orszag argument is that the longer school day will abolish latchkey kid troubles.

But not all children are latchkey after 3 p.m. Not all children are devoid of educational experience after 3 p.m.

And, for even those who are, their afternoons may still provide a better atmosphere. Much as we want to believe otherwise, not all schools offer kids a stimulating, or even safe, environment.

We can also look at the issue through a student’s eyes.

Children and adolescents are energized intellectually in different ways. Public education is not currently designed to zero-in on individualized programming. Sometimes, parents can find supplemental programs, or offer their own tailored guidance, in those afternoon hours.

Jodi Grant, executive director of the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance, wrote an Answer Sheet blog post last week that delved further into this area.

“As the reams of research show, afterschool and summer programs give kids a chance to learn differently: to explore academic subjects in a more informal, hands on setting, to take on team and leadership roles, to learn from a variety of community experts on everything from video production to robotics,” she wrote.

In an ideal world, a longer school day would offer a well-funded buffet of activities and classes to kids. It would allow them a full day to blossom, learn. Imagine.

In a less ideal world, a longer day might still solve some of the major issues facing public education now. Too many kids are under-performing, too many need more time studying and more exposure to math, science, reading.

Is the answer to mandate the latter and hope for the former? Or is it to reject the idea altogether because it’s too “one-size-fits-all”?

Might there be a way to make the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. school hours look different for different ages, different kids? Might it look different in each school and involve parent volunteers, community partners? Might it be optional?

What do you think? Is extending the school day a good idea?

What would the ideal afternoon look like for your child?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 04/24/2012

Tags:  Education

 
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