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Local educators weigh in on school time subject

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Jan 28, 2007 at 8:15 AM

The number of school days, hours and even type of schedule varies across the country and is often a hotly debated topic.

A new report by Education Sector, written by Senior Policy Analyst Elena Silva, seeks to address the issue of time in school and how educators should use it.

Education Sector released "On the Clock: Rethinking the Way Schools Use Time," last week. It compiles figures on both the costs and benefits of extending time in school and makes recommendations for educators in today's system.

"Extending the school day is a major change and challenge for schools and districts," Silva said in a press release. "If policymakers want to help schools improve student learning and meet the goals of No Child Left Behind, they need to help schools use time in more effective ways, not merely add more time to school."

Research is mixed on the subject of school time, but "On the Clock" draws several conclusions from what's available.

• Extending school/ instruction time can have a positive impact on student achievement, particularly in low-performing schools.

• Time's potential to reform, however, depends largely on whether the time is used effectively, and if it is used to serve students most in need of extra learning opportunities, both inside and outside of school.

Other factors must also be considered, and the report suggests that school systems gather their own data on use of time, think about existing programs, and examine any data gathered in context.

• Most schools that have extended time have done so as part of a larger reform effort, so it is difficult to isolate the effects.

• Extending time can be costly, especially if additional days are added to the school calendar. Keeping a school open for extra time during the day will not generate major new costs, but it does add costs in the area of personnel.

Local educators remain divided on the issue. Brain Partin, principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary, said adding time to the school day would help address some time constraints for certain programs.

"I would love to extend the school time by 30 minutes," Partin said. "I think with the new wellness initiative, it will help tremendously in addressing some of the related arts scheduling for each of the grade levels. On a side note, the majority of the students are arriving by 8 a.m. because of parent work schedules, so it would be beneficial from that perspective as well."

Cookie Greear, principal of George Washington Elementary School, said the real issue should be the proper use of time.

"If the school day is lengthened for students, it will also be lengthened for staff, which presents a serious budget issue," Greear said. "I personally think as educators we have to be extremely responsible for making the most of the time we have. By connecting learning across the curriculum, the content becomes more meaningful to the students. By selecting reading material that is of the appropriate instructional level and that also addresses the major components of the science and social studies curriculum, the literacy block becomes the vehicle through which reading, writing and language skills are mastered while exploring the concepts of science, social studies and even math.

"It takes a lot of effort on the teachers' part to orchestrate such learning opportunities, but the dividends to the student are worth it."

For more information or to view the full report "On the Clock: Rethinking the Way Schools Use Time" visit www.educationsector.org.

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