Making Poor Kids Go To School Longer Could Be The Key To Better Learning

Students pass the French highschool exam

Extending the school day for low-income children is the newest smart strategy for fixing our crappy-ass American education system.  According to the AP, some 13,000 students in Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will be attending school for a lot longer each day come next August.

As part of the TIME Collaborative, select high-poverty schools will be extending their school days, in some cases adding up to 300 extra hours per year. And the money to do so is coming from quite a few sources. The AP reports that:

The five participating states are using a mix of federal, state and district funding to cover the additional 300 hours of instruction and enrichment. The Ford Foundation is providing some grant funding, while the National Center on Time and Learning is providing technical help to schools.

The overall response from teachers and parents has apparently been positive, and similar programs that are already implemented show markedly improved test scores and attendance. The extra time in school will be directed more towards enrichment activities, like healthy living instruction, world cultures, foreign language and independent study. In come cases, students (in both high school, middle school and elementary school) will get to choose the extra instruction they want to participate in.

I have mixed feelings about this initiative. When I first read about it, I was all like “WTF! Chaining kids to their desks isn’t going to do any good! AARGH! More school just sounds like another way United States schools are trying to crush all the fun and creativity out of kids!” But then I thought about it a little bit more and ultimately, this program really sounds like could be a very good thing.

The idea of making the school day longer so struggling students can study things like world cultures and technology seems like a great idea, especially since I feel like public schools are becoming more and more “teach to the test.” Providing an opportunity for low-income kids to get creative and learn about things they actually want to learn about could be very powerful. Adding extra time to study and complete school work sounds great too (Hell, I never once had a study hall ever in my twelve years of public school). As Eve pointed out to me, many students in poverty-stricken schools can’t do their homework at home, so having the opportunity to do so at school could make a huge difference in terms of school success and learning outcomes. There’s so much about the American educational system that is, frankly, not working and perhaps this program can help fix that.

On the other hand, a tiny part of me feels like throwing more school at kids isn’t really going to even begin to fix the myriad of problems that affect their learning. Adding more rules, more restrictions, and more structured time will only work to help some of these low-income students, not all. Yes, it sounds great that the program will focus on personalized learning techniques and more “fun” learning content, but I feel like the program will require a highly-individualized approach if it’s really going to work. And a highly-individualized approach means more money, more time (for employees) and lots and lots of resources, probably post those the funding will provide. I hope it works for these schools and these states, but it doesn’t sound like something that will be doable for the majority of American schools. Maybe that’s fine…change doesn’t necessarily need to be implemented widely to have a lasting effect. Maybe it’s ok to start small and do what we can.

Either way, the program is beginning in the 2014-2015 school year and will no doubt change the lives of thousands of public school students.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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