Monday, November 22, 2010

How should schools tackle extended learning time?

Last week, in an article on the Washington Post's education blog, Class Struggle, columnist Jay Mathews attempted to reconcile two competing perspectives on extended learning time: advocating for afterschool programs vs. extending school hours. These two ideas are tied up in the wider debate on education reform in the United States and must compete for funding, staff, and public support. 

The whole article is definitely worth reading--especially the comments, where Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant jumps in and interacts with Jay, classroom teachers, parents, and advocates on both sides of the issue. 

Certainly, students spending more time learning during the day--whether in a classroom or outside of it--has been shown to improve learning overall using test scores (see the article and comments for more specifics). But longer classroom hours and the increased learning effectiveness also correlate with better teaching skills and strategies overall--and it would be hard to argue that simply increasing school hours leads to better teachers. Rather, it would seem that teachers who are good at what they do tend to work at schools with longer hours overall.

And I would venture a guess that many of us know of teachers from our own educational experience who put in the extra effort outside of school hours to ensure that their students were truly learning--through informal chats, extra tutoring time, or running an afterschool program. The key to effective learning seems to be making learning engaging, through creative curriculum and good teaching--something that happens in informal educational settings, which take place in out-of-school time. 

There's no doubt that extending learning time is essential to increasing learning effectiveness. Mounds of data--both international and domestic--help to support that case. And it's likely that education reform in the US will include increasing learning time during the school year and summer. It's up to advocates for out-of-school time to develop successful programs with meaningful learning outcomes and to influence the tone of the extended learning time debate.

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