Extended school hours: more of what’s not working isn’t the answer

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January 26, 2013 by realrenewal

Commentary by Rick Hesch

Once again the provincial government is showing that its search for education policies that work knows no boundaries, or at least the 49th parallel.  In its emphasis on achievement in language arts and math at the cost of other school subjects, its fetish for testing as an answer to academic underperformance, its centralization of decision-making on education policy, and its limited increase in financial contributions for First Nations and Metis learning, at least as announced in the last provincial budget, the government is borrowing directly from the American playbook.

The most recent example is the top-down decision to increase mandated minimum instructional hours.  Once again we see that increasingly the parameters to work for educational reform at the local level are confined.

The province’s decision to increase school hours assumes that school operations work to the benefit of all students, ignoring abundant evidence that this is not the case.  The provincial decision comes off a popular trend in the States where, for example, a broad and very diverse alliance, the Time to Succeed Coalition, has focused on ensuring that the nation’s high-poverty communities have more and better learning time in school. Expanded learning time is an approach that has taken hold in many American cities—including Chicago, Boston, Houston, Charlotte, Denver, New York City, and Newark.  However, as Warren Simmons, Executive Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has said, “It’s abundantly clear. . . that simply extending school time will not produce the desired results. The key to success. . . is examining how time is utilized overall as part of comprehensive reform.”

Expanded learning time can be effective if it is part of a broad strategy which also includes:

•  A collaborative approach that creates local ownership and accountability. Parents, students, teachers, and communities must play a meaningful role in designing and implementing reform.  Yet the province has closed the First Nations, Metis, and Community Education Branch and School Community Councils have not been recognized as possessing essential expertise for some time.

•  A focus on instructional change, capacity building, and school culture.  Structural change alone is not an educational strategy.  The need for instructional and whole school change implies a critical analysis of and action upon schools as we know them and an increase in planning and professional development time for teachers

•  Recognition and coordination of supports for the whole student.  Students cannot learn when they are hungry, exhausted, or sick, or when their parents cannot support them at home, or when they feel disrespected in school.  More schooling which merely continues attention to alienating academics and ignores all dimensions of what it means to be human are destined to fail.

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