New York City

It’s About Time: Education’s Latest Magic Bullets

A pair of structural changes, one statewide, one nationwide, have been introduced as part of the ongoing hunt for that magic bullet to cure America’s learning woes.

And not a moment too soon. The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports came out last month.

Nationwide, on average, math scores went up for 4th grade and down for 8th grade, compared to 2017 results. Reading scores went down across the board.

In New York City, both scores stayed flat, except for 4th grade math scores, which plunged five points. NYC students were deemed below national and state average. (Compare to the 2019 state results, here.)

Cue the hand-wringing. (And cue Mayor Bill de Blasio explaining how standardized test scores are meaningless. What proves that NYC schools have improved under his watch are the rising graduation rates. Dismal college readiness rates? What dismal college readiness rates? And don’t believe what you hear about grade inflation, while you’re at it.)

NYC and NY state aren’t the only ones facing declining academic achievement. Could either of the newly introduced measures be a good fit for us? 

Later Start Times For Middle and High School Students:

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will begin taking effect in 2022, mandating that all public middle schools must now start no earlier than 8 AM, and high schools no earlier than 8:30 AM.

The goal, as always, is raising student achievement.

Research that later school start times improve grades, not to mention mood and safety, have been around for years, though other studies have reported mixed results.

Opposition comes from those who believe school start times should be a local, rather than top-down, statewide decision, as well as those who predict transportation nightmares — not to mention ballooning costs, less time for homework and extracurricular activities, and teachers who believe it will make their work day longer.

The majority of NYC middle and high schools start between 8 and 8:20 AM, and there already exists a push to make that 8:30 AM across the board. Because of the number of schools which accept students from every borough, it is not uncommon for NYC teens to have commutes ranging from a half hour to an hour and a half (especially those who opt for a Specialized or Screened school, because the options in their neighborhood are unacceptable). Many schools also have a Zero Period, which might begin at 7:40 AM.

A Longer School Day For All:

2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has just realized that the average child’s school day is shorter than the average parent’s work day.

Her solution is the Family Friendly Schools Act, which would keep schools open until 6 PM and during the summer.

Harris stressed that this would be particularly beneficial to lower income and working class families.

Two fun facts:

  • The same Mayor de Blasio who believes evidence of his schools’ success is how many kids have been issued diplomas, also thinks proof of his Universal Pre-K initiative is how many more kids are being served since he assumed office. What he does not mention is that, actually, fewer lower income and working class families are being served since he seized centers that used to operate twelve months a year, 8 AM to 6 PM, and replaced them with UPKs that operate 8-ish to 2-ish, and take summers off. Harris’ act would restore the former schedule. But what would that mean for UPK… and the majority middle-class families who currently benefit from it?
  • When I give “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” workshops and talk about charter schools, I mention that, “Many charter schools have longer school days. Many charter schools have longer school years. Shockingly, when kids are in school more, they learn more stuff.” At this point, there are always the parents who recoil with cries of overtired kids and 5 year olds being warehoused like they’re in an institution. And I’m not even talking about the parents who tell me how their child’s existing public school after-care program is kids being herded into a gym and, after a full school day, being told to sit still for a few more hours, here are a couple of crayons or a movie to watch.

And then there are the teachers.

Remember the pushback from teachers about a perceived longer work day? (Though, in theory, their hours would just be shifted, not extended by a later start time.)

How are teachers going to feel about an actually longer school day?

Plus, note that Harris’ bill simply calls for kids to be kept in the school building longer. It doesn’t say anything about teaching them more. Not even the glorious “enrichment,” which the School Diversity Advisory Group assures us can easily replace Gifted & Talented programs.

Would you support either of the above proposals? In the name of raising student achievement or anything else?

Tell us in the Comments!

What do you think?

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