Extended Time or Quality Time

I am not a researcher, nor have I seen all of the research on the success and/or failure of extended time for urban students. But I am a teacher, however, and based on what I am experiencing at my school, I can honestly say that our extended time or extended school day isn't working.

Prior to this year, our students were in school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with instruction beginning at 8:30 a.m. Our students had an eight-hour day. I never had a problem with that, so long as the students received quality instruction throughout the day. According to the chairperson of the school's Board of Trustees, our students were not receiving quality instruction. She made this claim because our school missed AYP for the second consecutive year. Her solution... more time for math and English instruction.

Since September, our school has extended our school day to 5:30 p.m. The extra 90 minutes are for increased math and English instruction. The premise is to help students perfect the necessary skills to score higher on the state test. I teach an extended day class four days a week.

I can honestly say that it is a task to teach students more math and English between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. My students don't want to be there, like the rest of the school. At 4 p.m., they've "check-out." Our students don't want to learn out of HSPA practice books; they don't have any love for learning using that method -- although it is the only "weapon" given to us by our administration. Truth be told, they're probably not being taught using the best instructional methods during the regular school day. I am a history teacher, so I have the luxury of infusing history, current events, and debating to get my kids interested in English and math, but I will admit, some days are better than others.

However, when I consider that some students are walking in the hallway during the extended time, are on their cell phones in the hallway, or in the gym talking to their friends, I guess I cannot complain too much. The administration in my school doesn't have the best handle on the situation either. They spend some days scrambling to attempt to impose a level of discipline so that students go to class. Other days, they don't even try. Extended day teachers have not curriculum to work off of other than the practice books; we pretty much supplement with created assignments. There are no benchmarks or standards we are seeking to achieve. We're just in the classroom. So I ask myself, what is the point? Maybe we should take time to install a curriculum; maybe we should change our focus -- infuse math and English in projects or tasks so that students reinforce their knowledge and develop other skills such as critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving. Maybe that sounds crazy, but at this juncture, it sound like a better plan than the plan used for the "puppy bowl" they call extended day learning, because this is a mess.

Add the caveat of being located in the nation's second most dangerous city and you have the greater potential of placing our kids in harm's way... all for raising standardized test scores? I am not sure if it is worth it. Sure, we have school buses, but a good portion of our students walk home -- they walk to and through very dangerous neighborhoods. I am not saying that keeping our students in school is necessarily a bad idea. What I am saying is that if we are going to keep our students in school, we should make sure that the time is constructive rather than pointless. I don't think that more math and English instruction is necessarily a bad thing, but you cannot beat kids over the head with more English and more math, expecting a different result... that is called insanity. Unfortunately, it's a term many schools know all too well and it is a way of life at my school from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day.