Greater Greater Education

DCPS and its teachers' union are at an impasse over extending the school day. Could this be a way out?

After experimenting with an extended day for students, one New Haven school realized it made more sense to extend the day for teachers, so they would have time to collaborate. Could that work in DC?


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Citing gains in test scores at charter schools and a few DCPS schools that have tried adding more hours to the school day, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced her intention to extend hours at dozens more schools. But the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) has blocked those plans, saying the school day should be made better before it's made longer.

The experience of one school in New Haven seems to bolster the WTU's positionup to a point. Brennan-Rogers, a pre-K-through-8th-grade school that was one of the city's lowest-performing, extended its students' day by an hour and 25 minutes during the 2010-11 school year. The idea was to close the achievement gap between the school's mostly minority and low-income students and their wealthier peers.

The results: kids felt like they'd been punished, teachers were exhausted, and test scores actually dropped. After one year, the students returned to their traditional 6-and-a-half-hour day.

But the principal felt that the most promising part of the experimentadditional time for teachers to collaboratewas worth keeping. She proposed that teachers show up an hour early every day, and the teachers agreed to try it. They've been doing it for the past 3 years.

Even though the school day is shorter than it used to be, kids seem to be learning more. For the past two years, Brennan-Rogers has posted the largest gains in the New Haven district on state standardized tests. The atmosphere is calm and orderly, and teachers are happy with the arrangement. And the district as a whole has shifted its focus to adding time for teachers rather than kids, starting with 15 minutes a day under the latest union contract.

The power of collaboration

Lately, there's been a good deal of attention focused on the importance of teacher collaboration. A report on ways to increase teacher retention has recommended more time for collaboration, as has a DCPS teacher who recently lunched with President Obama. And a writing program being piloted in DCPS, which is having dramatic results, depends largely on teachers having time to work together on planning.

New teachers obviously benefit from being able to talk with and learn from their more experienced peers. But even veteran teachers value the opportunity to compare data about students, coordinate teaching and behavioral strategies, and discuss the merits of different approaches. That's true both within schools and between schoolsincluding between charter and traditional public schools.

Right now many schools in DC don't allow teachers time for these opportunities, possibly undermining efforts to improve student achievement. Ideally, both students and teachers would get more well-planned time in their day at under-performing schools. But if that's not possible, why not try giving it to the teachers? Many of them might actually jump at the chance.

Natalie Wexler is a board member at DC Scholars Public Charter School and a volunteer tutor in a DC Public School. She also serves on the board of The Writing Revolution, an organization that brings the teaching of analytical writing to underserved schools. She has been a lawyer, a historian, and a journalist, and is the author of three novels. 

Comments

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What would be awesome is if teachers got more planning time AND kids got really high-quality aftercare with skilled homework help and lots of fun enrichment (sports, arts, chess, science, cooking, etc.). This could require hiring non-teachers for afterschool programming. If schools aren't doing well now, having more school is not necessarily a great solution. But giving kids things that make school enjoyable and keep them supervised and learning in the afternoons could pay off--and give teachers room to plan and collaborate too.

by sbc on Jul 23, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

I support anything that works. Plan it, try it, and measure results. If it doesn't work, try something (or someone) else.

I am willing to spend more of my tax dollars on education improvements that show results. It's the one investment that makes winners out of everyone.

by The Truth™ on Jul 23, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

Great idea, but this assumes that educators aren't already putting the extra hours in before and after school, which I'd be willing to wager that 85% or so are. If such is the case, encouraging collaboration would probably help a bit, but it has to be organic. No DCPSesque extra forms about documenting how much time one collaborates, and on what, and how it helped/didn't help. Teachers in DCPS waste way too much time worrying about meeting mandated documentation and formal lesson plan writing rather and lose time to spend on what what actually matters. The climate is such that school staff are concerned about looking effective rather than actually being effective.

by Glenmonster on Jul 23, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

This is one of the few things that our tragic hero Mayor Gray has for years articulated better than anyone else: http://youtu.be/hQBP9rBEo3g?t=11m28s

by martin on Jul 31, 2014 9:55 am • linkreport

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