Benefits Outweigh Cost in Lengthening School Day

by on December 6th, 2010
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Following a year where they were faced with reconciling a $712 million budget deficit that resulted in denying teachers raises and cutting programs, Chicago Public Schools are looking to spend unbudgeted funds to lengthen the school day. This fall, around 50 of the 675 schools replaced the five-hour-and-three-quarter school day with a seven-and-a-half hour day, and the remaining schools are expected to follow suit during the 2012-2013 school year.

Additional funds of nearly $10 million have been spent on financial incentives including staff bonuses. While the district feels that lengthening the school day is a “critical priority,” some community members and parents are questioning where cuts will have to be made to fund this change district-wide.

As an educator, I feel that lengthening the school day should be a top priority. Recently, when local districts were faced with large budget deficits, the first move many of them made was to shorten the school day or the school year. It was not uncommon to lose five or even ten days off our calendar year – a move that clearly focused on finances rather than the educational needs of students. This meant that I was charged with covering the same 92 Language Arts standards, and the same number of novels, research papers, and short stories, in a condensed period of time.

Given the number of concepts teachers are expected to cover in order to meet state and national standards, I cannot imagine being able to do this effectively in a five-and-three-quarter-hour day. Such limited time would mean that teachers are only able to provide surface-level coverage rather than exploring the topics deeply which provides for greater retention.

The effectiveness of this change in Chicago Public Schools will depend upon how the schools plan to use the extra 90 minutes. Currently, schools in the district are being offered monetary rewards for “develop[ing] innovative ways to use the additional time.” As a teacher, I would first push to have more class time with my students. While programs like study hall can be beneficial, I feel that the more time I have to spend covering material, answering questions, and holding discussions with students the better.

There is, though, a limit to how much time students should spend in one class. My students can only absorb so much content at one time, and trying to push them past that limit would not benefit them educationally. For this reason, I would also encourage my colleagues and administration to look at implementing a school-wide reading program if I worked in Chicago Public Schools.

The biggest concern with a move like this is always cost. In an already cash-strapped district, parents are concerned about what cuts will need to be made to allow for the funding of this longer school day. While parents are certainly concerned with losing extracurricular programs and a lack of up-to-date materials for their children, I would encourage them to remember that education is the number-one goal, and a longer school day will provide their children with better educational opportunities.

Sources:

Rebecca Vevea, “Making Longer School Day Happen May Have a Budget-Busting Price Tag,” New York Times.


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