Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extending the School Year

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk regarding modifying the school year.  In such discussions, the key to modified school year calendars is not that kids are in school year-round, but that learning takes place year round.  As we continue this debate, communities need to view schooling and learning differently: learning can take place anywhere, anytime.


School districts that take on a modified calendar agenda need to look at teaching and learning qualities that are already in place. Without high-quality teaching and learning environments, it does not make any difference how long you have students for – they will just be exposed to more of the same.


If we want to improve the quality of public education, we must first address the basic, core work of schools.  Then we can look at the calendar.


With those basics in place, we must then work to ensure other institutions within the community can help children and youth have a well-rounded learning experience.  Schools alone can’t do it. Where are the after-school programs? Summer programs? Where are the arts and music centers? Where is athletics and health education? Where’s technology and computer literacy? Where’s service learning and civic studies?  Where is leadership development? Where are environmental programs?


The community must also take a careful look at what it can put in place to support schools and programs, ensuring the full spectrum of learning opportunities are working together. These can’t all be supported by district student formula funding alone. Where is city money? What about parks and recreation? Mentoring money? Foundation dollars? Corporate philanthropy? Volunteers?


Finally, we must provide families the orientation and training they need to understand this full, rich learning landscape. Will the schools leave it to families to navigate themselves? Or will there be a well-coordinate set of supports during times when families are enrolling their students at the beginning of each school year?  When parents register to vote? When new families buy a new home in the neighborhood? When parents attend PTA meetings?


These kinds of experiences currently happen to families that are largely middle class in suburban settings.  If the schools are not making it available then they go and buy it.  These families pay for ballet classes, soccer practice and tennis lessons.  They put out the dollars for computer classes and their children’s trips abroad.


But what about poor, working families in distressed urban school districts and those students who need such opportunities the most? Who is going to coordinate these things for their children? The school that isn’t even close to reaching its AYP benchmark? The school that is having difficulty hiring all the qualified teachers it needs?


If we are serious about educational improvement and change, there is far more we need to consider than simply the number of classroom days on the school calendar.

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