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Longer Year, Day Proposed For Schooling

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Washington

If the education-reform movement is to succeed, American schools will need a longer school day and year, and should allocate at least 5-1/2 hours daily for instruction in nine core academic subjects, the final report of a federal commission recommends.

The six-hour school day and 180-day school year "should be relegated to museums as an exhibit of our education past,'' the commission says in its report, released at a news conference here last week.

Established by Congress in 1991 as an independent advisory panel, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning was charged with conducting a "comprehensive review of the relationship between time and learning in the nation's schools.''

Over two years, the nine commission members visited 19 schools and education programs across the country and heard from more than 150 teachers, administrators, parents, students, and others who testified at hearings. Panelists also visited schools in Japan and Germany. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1993.)

"Increasingly, we Americans live in a world of fax machines, car phones, and beepers--technology that is meant to speed up our lives and make us all a little bit more productive,'' Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at the news conference. "Yet, when it comes to how we teach our children, we seem fixed on a time schedule from another era.''

Athough the average American school day lasts about six hours, the commission found that high school students spend only about three hours in academic classes. It called on schools to essentially double the amount of time allocated for the core subjects listed in the National Education Goals: English, mathematics, science, foreign language, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.

'Protecting' Academics

The commission estimates that U.S. high school students spend an average of 1,460 hours on core academic courses before graduating, less than half as much time as their counterparts in Japan, France, and Germany.

In other nations, the report says, "academic time is protected,'' and distinctions are made between the "academic day'' and the rest of the school day. The commission urges schools to establish an academic day "devoted almost exclusively to core-academic instruction.''

Other activities, it says, such as athletics, compensatory instruction, programs for the gifted and talented, and language instruction for non-native English speakers, could be offered during the remainder of a longer school day.

The commission is also calling for schools to stay open longer and for some schools in every district to offer an extended year.

More time for teachers to engage in professional development is also essential, the commission says.

In general, the report urges schools to be less rigid in how they use time, by moving away from the standard 51-minute class period and adopting block scheduling or other devices that make students' and teachers' schedules more flexible.

Praise, Caution, and Blame

Several education groups moved quickly to embrace the commission's recommendations.

"Liberating pedagogy and the curriculum from time constraints enhances teaching and learning,'' Keith Geiger, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement.

Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, called the report "on target,'' but he also cautioned that more time will cost more money. "Let's hope this report has better success than past efforts across the nation in persuading taxpayers of the value of longer quality learning time,'' he said.

But not all reaction was positive.

A longer school year is not the most cost-effective way to improve the quality of education and would have a detrimental effect on amusement parks and other seasonal tourist attractions that provide jobs for youths, argued Quinn Rasberry, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

And Beverly LaHaye, the president of Concerned Women for America, issued a statement calling the recommendations "another attempt by the state to usurp parental authority and influence over our children.'' But the group said it supported the study's call for more emphasis on academic subjects.

The commission's chairman, John Hodge Jones, the superintendent of the Murfreesboro, Tenn., schools, said his district encountered some resistance several years ago when it first proposed a longer school day and year. But, he said, it allowed parents to decide whether or not to send their child to a school with the extended schedule.

"The choices which we gave our families enriched them,'' he said.

In his remarks last week, Secretary Riley acknowledged the anxiety created by departing from the nearly sacred character of the traditional school schedule.

"The American school day, as we have known it, has been a constant for generations of Americans; we've all grown up with it,'' he said. "But we may be at the point where our affection for it must yield to some new thinking about time.''

Copies of the report, "Prisoners of Time,'' are available for $5.50 each from the Government Printing Office at (202) 783-3238.

Changing Time And Learning

In its report, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning recommends that:

  • Schools be reinvented around learning, not time, in order to bring every child to world-class standards in core academic areas.
  • State and local boards work with schools to redesign education so that time becomes a factor supporting learning, not a boundary marking its limits.
  • Schools provide additional academic time by reclaiming the school day for academic instruction.
  • Schools remain open longer during the day, and some schools in every district remain open throughout the year.
  • Teachers be provided with the professional time and opportunities they need to do their jobs.
  • Schools use new technologies to increase productivity, enhance student achievement, and expand learning time.
  • Every district convene local leaders to develop action plans that offer different school options and encourage parents, students, and teachers to choose among them.
  • All people shoulder their individual responsibilities to transform learning in America.

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