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Longer days, longer weeks, longer yearsA few weeks back the new education chief, Arne...

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bridgetrbcs | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 23, 2009 at 1:35 PM via web

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Longer days, longer weeks, longer years

A few weeks back the new education chief, Arne Duncan, outlined some ways he plans to fix our education system.  One specific way that he mentioned was to give our students "longer days, longer weeks, longer years" and to "keep kids in school longer" rather than allow them to keep their "long summers".  I must say that when I read this I immediately feared for an extreme increase in drop out rates nationwide.  If we have trouble convincing students to stay in school now what will it be like in the future?

Interested in reading the article? http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/27/education.school.year/

 

What are your thoughts?  What do you think longer weeks means?  Saturdays?  Is it to early to hit the panic button? =)

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litchick2011 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted March 23, 2009 at 1:42 PM (Answer #2)

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I wholeheartedly agree with your assertion that it will increase the drop - out rate. My students were writing position papers on this very topic, and almost all of them cited an increased drop - out rate as a reason to NOT have extended school year. Also, think about kids who have summer jobs. What are they supposed to do?  My father would not allow me to work while I was in school, so the only way I could earn extra money was keeping a daycare during the summers.  Also, are they planning on paying teachers more?  If not, add decreased teacher retention to the reasons why this is a very bad idea.

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 23, 2009 at 1:56 PM (Answer #3)

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My students already don't have enough time to accomplish all that is on their schedules; they have to balance schoolwork, sports, extra-curricular activities, work schedules, family time, and time spent doing other things such as church functions and service to the community.  To add more time to any given schoolday is going to burn them out quickly, and will make it impossible to enrich their lives through other activities.  Grades will drop.  They will be tired of school; it will become cumbersome-not only to students, but to teachers.  Teachers not only teach, but juggle families and all of the responsibilities that go with it, often in addition to second jobs to help ends meet because salaries are so low.  Another consideration is the time spent away from families.  Parents already send kids away for nearly half of their waking time.  Personally, I want to spend as much time as I can with my children; having them be gone for longer than 8 hours a day is something that I would have a problem with. Another consideration is the valuable things that children learn on their summer vacations.  The time that they spend with their families, with friends, and in doing relaxing, enjoyable, enriching activities, is just as important as academics.  It helps them to round out their "education" of life.

So, wanting children to have longer days, longer weeks, and longer years is not a solution to anything, in my opinion.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:40 PM (Answer #4)

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I taught English as a Foreign Language in South Korea for a year, and this is the sort of education those kids had.  Starting in elementary school, they would go to "special" teachers--violin, piano, voice, English, etc. at 6:00am meaning they'd get on the bus by 5am and get all these lessons done before they start their actual school day.  These kids often would not get home until after 8 or 9pm.  Want to know what their suicide rate is?  Unbelieveable!!!  The pressure is also so great for them to earn top grades in order to go to the best middle schools which lead them to the best high schools which lead them to the best colleges/universities.  When they don't get in the top schools, they jump off buildings. 

While I do think our kids need more discipline and work ethic in school, I do not believe that longer days, weeks, and years is going to be the ah-ha moment they need to turn on the juice.

In fact, that may lead to more teacher suicides!  Just kidding...although it's not really funny, is it?

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cburr | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:54 PM (Answer #5)

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I certainly don't think lengthening the school day is sensible.  Perhaps a slightly longer school year would be useful, although I would definitely add to the beginning of the year rather than the end.

What would make a far greater impact on children's success in school -- in my opinion -- would be to strengthen parents' ability and motivation to support their child's education.  This is particularly important in the elementary and middle school years, when children's habits are formed, the foundation of their education is built, and they want to spend time with their parents.

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jessecreations | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:54 AM (Answer #6)

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This is my 5th year of teaching, which I consider to be the make-or-break year for a lot of teachers (we've all seen the statistics on teachers who leave the profession by 5 years in).  I have struggled a lot with my choice of profession this year; I feel so disheartened every day at my job that it is hard to want to stay with the job.  If I'm being completely honest, I have to admit that the shorter hours and longer breaks are a MAJOR part of what keeps me teaching.  I mean, seriously, what other job comes with 10 months of work but 12 months of pay?  Of course that's not the reason I started teaching; but, as a mother of 2 (soon to be 3), it's a major reason I stay.  If they lengthen the school day/week/year, I will seriously reconsider my profession, and I imagine I won't be alone in that.

Another thing about this article that scared me was this:  "Duncan also suggested giving incentives to teachers whose students perform well, an unpopular idea with teachers' unions. And he said school systems may need to make tough decisions about teachers who don't perform at par.  'If teachers aren't making it, we want to support them and help them develop, but ultimately if it's not working, our children deserve the best,' Duncan said. 'They probably need to find something else to do.'"  This is a dangerous situation.  As an example:  last year, I taught on-leve 10th graders in MD who were taking the state assessment for English, and they did fine (87% pass rate).  This year, however, I teach below-grade-level juniors who have already failed the FL state assessment at least once before; as you might imagine, my pass rate this year will be far lower than 87%.  The problem with merit pay is that no one will want to teach the lower-level classes, and only the honors-level teachers will receive their full merit pay each year.  The students who struggle the most will suffer the most because they will lose all of the "good" teachers who won't want to be paid according to poor student performance.

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kathyteaches84 | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:55 PM (Answer #7)

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I agree that lengthening the school day does little good. Those who do well are capable of accomplishing what they need to in the day as it is and those who don't do well won't do any better because the day is longer. In fact, I think they'd do worse. Further, paying a teacher according to how well his/her students do penalizes those teachers who have students who have greater needs than s/he can fix and who can't get help for his/her students.

I taught in the inner city for 7 years and those kids needs the very basic things. Unfortunately, to tell the truth about what they need is not politically correct so they are expected to do as well as their counterparts in well-to-do suburbs without the assistance that those students have gotten since birth. It's woefully unfair not only to inner city students, but to the teachers who are forced to work there because those are the only openings. It's telling a person you have to work there and then paying them less for not doing better.

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litchick2011 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted March 24, 2009 at 4:02 PM (Answer #8)

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This is my 5th year of teaching, which I consider to be the make-or-break year for a lot of teachers (we've all seen the statistics on teachers who leave the profession by 5 years in).  I have struggled a lot with my choice of profession this year; I feel so disheartened every day at my job that it is hard to want to stay with the job.  If I'm being completely honest, I have to admit that the shorter hours and longer breaks are a MAJOR part of what keeps me teaching.  I mean, seriously, what other job comes with 10 months of work but 12 months of pay?  Of course that's not the reason I started teaching; but, as a mother of 2 (soon to be 3), it's a major reason I stay.  If they lengthen the school day/week/year, I will seriously reconsider my profession, and I imagine I won't be alone in that.

Another thing about this article that scared me was this:  "Duncan also suggested giving incentives to teachers whose students perform well, an unpopular idea with teachers' unions. And he said school systems may need to make tough decisions about teachers who don't perform at par.  'If teachers aren't making it, we want to support them and help them develop, but ultimately if it's not working, our children deserve the best,' Duncan said. 'They probably need to find something else to do.'"  This is a dangerous situation.  As an example:  last year, I taught on-leve 10th graders in MD who were taking the state assessment for English, and they did fine (87% pass rate).  This year, however, I teach below-grade-level juniors who have already failed the FL state assessment at least once before; as you might imagine, my pass rate this year will be far lower than 87%.  The problem with merit pay is that no one will want to teach the lower-level classes, and only the honors-level teachers will receive their full merit pay each year.  The students who struggle the most will suffer the most because they will lose all of the "good" teachers who won't want to be paid according to poor student performance.

Also, not every single subject area in every single grade with every single teacher is assessed by a standardized test. In order to pay ALL teachers according to merit pay, there have to be other factors considered. Otherwise, these subject areas with standardized tests will continue to find it difficult to keep teachers, which continues this vicious cycle.

On a personal note, because my students have performed well, I have been given the remedial students this year. According to my principal, "we have to put the best teachers in the toughest situations." My test scores will not be as good as the teachers who teach AP and honors, yet I can guarantee you I work my rearend off, possibly moreso than those other teachers.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 24, 2009 at 9:25 PM (Answer #9)

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Although we can talk about this, and all the conversation is interesting, I think this is a scientific question:  we will not know whether it works (if we can overcome all the obstacles to setting it up) until we perform an experiement and evaluate the results.  It seems that other countries have longer school years and get better results, but who knows if this is causal or just a correlation to some other factor?  I'd like to see us give it a try and then evaluate the results.

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afi80fl | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:40 AM (Answer #10)

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Discussing merit pay, what would happen to the new teachers, who are almost always given the courses no one else wants to teach?  Each year you'd have new people get fired, because they didn't have the silver bullet to make all the remedial classes pass the standardized tests.  This is also my fifth year of teaching, and let me tell you... I've had remedial classes each of those years.  I have known nothing else besides them.  However, I know that my struggles are foreign to the teachers of AP and Honors classes, whose students are eager to learn and can be dropped down to my level should they decide not to work.  It is difficult to continue on when one is constantly assigned the courses where students habitually do not succeed.  It's not that I don't try, or that I'm looking for an easy way to get through the day, but we all need our batteries recharged sometimes.  Teaching remediation type courses is extremely taxing on teachers, and it takes more out of them than would the average honors class.  Merit pay would effectively drive me out of the profession, as my students are the ones who do not care, cannot be motivated, and have no interest in doing anything but sleeping or causing problems at school. 

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 25, 2009 at 9:21 PM (Answer #11)

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Discussing merit pay, what would happen to the new teachers, who are almost always given the courses no one else wants to teach?  Each year you'd have new people get fired, because they didn't have the silver bullet to make all the remedial classes pass the standardized tests.  This is also my fifth year of teaching, and let me tell you... I've had remedial classes each of those years.  I have known nothing else besides them.  However, I know that my struggles are foreign to the teachers of AP and Honors classes, whose students are eager to learn and can be dropped down to my level should they decide not to work.  It is difficult to continue on when one is constantly assigned the courses where students habitually do not succeed.  It's not that I don't try, or that I'm looking for an easy way to get through the day, but we all need our batteries recharged sometimes.  Teaching remediation type courses is extremely taxing on teachers, and it takes more out of them than would the average honors class.  Merit pay would effectively drive me out of the profession, as my students are the ones who do not care, cannot be motivated, and have no interest in doing anything but sleeping or causing problems at school. 

  I think it decide on what the system describes as "merit."  I taught remedial/basic courses and AP courses during my 38 years, and I think there is as much potential for improvment in the remedial classes because they have the most "improving" to do. Teaching AP classes is interesting, but their improvement tends to be broadening since their skill base is so well developed by the time they start these courses.  I was always as happy with the remedial student who actually enjoyed the first book of their life as I was with the AP student who got a 5.

The only problem with merit pay is decided what to honor.  I would select improvement and I think teachers of remedial students would have as great a chance at this as AP teachers.

Now to invent a metric for comparison :)

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 3, 2009 at 11:51 AM (Answer #12)

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There is no use for longer days; teaching better doesn't mean teaching longer. I once experienced one of those years when my son got a really unprepared teacher. Imagine spending "longer days" with her!

The problem with the plan of longer days is that, once again, here is someone trying to do a quick fix it without preparations in a system that may not be psychologically prepared for it.  Change comes gradually, and they have got to keep that into play

Smarter, not harder, is the key

 

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jessecreations | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:32 AM (Answer #13)

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As a side note to this discussion:  I printed this article and I have my students reading and discussing it today and tomorrow.  So far, a lot of them are pretty outraged at our new Secretary of Education.  They also seem to have mastered the concept of merit pay and why it might be bad.  One student asked, "So doesn't that mean that the AP teachers would make all the money?"  Sometimes they surprise me with how astute they can be.  :)

In response to #11:  Ahh, there's the rub.  I agree that we can show improvement in any level course, but the problem is how to gauge that improvement in separate levels.  If my students improve their failing scores, but still fail the test, that's an improvement.  But they still failed the test, which is what "counts."  I also get excited when my students tell me they just read the first book they've ever really enjoyed, but it's hard to measure that in terms of test scores, etc. 

Here's something I've been angry about all year.  At the beginning of the year, we had a staff meeting during which our principal announced results from last year's AP exams.  Then she talked about the bonuses these teachers would be earning.  Apparently, in my district, AP teachers earn a financial bonus just for getting kids to take the test for their course.  Then, they get an additional $50 per student who earns a 3 or higher on the test.  In contrast, I teach the remedial class for the state assessment.  I, too, have to worry about getting kids to try hard and pass a test.  In fact, if my kids pass or fail that test, it can make or break our school's "report card" and AYP statistics.  Why don't I get a bonus for getting the lowest performers to pass the required test, when they get a bonus for getting the highest performers to pass an optional test?  This is the kind of "merit pay" that I worry about.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 26, 2010 at 2:02 PM (Answer #14)

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Very concerning trends that I think we all agree would not be beneficial to teaching or to education at large. Again it does concern me that I see educational policy being driven by politicians who are not trained teachers and have never had to teach a class in their lives. How can we make them understand our reality and also how can we be more involved in policy formation?

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