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October 04, 2011 3 min read
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Arguments Against Chicago’s Push for Longer School Day

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has added 90 minutes to the school day for kids and teachers—by offering bribes to schools that break their union contracts and join him immediately, and he says that by next year, it will be by fiat.

Emanuel is, I suspect, looking for a fight. Here are some reasons his plan doesn’t fly:

• It presumes that teachers do not have work to do after school—i.e., reading papers, preparing lessons, scoring worksheets, going over homework.

• It reduces time available for teacher collaboration, which ought to be increased (and lies behind most good ideas for what “works”). It also reduces the time available for teacher-family conferences, which should be happening regularly. Or for kids hanging out after school for extra one-on-one help.

• It’s not based on any research. It’s not even a job-saving or job-creating plan—just squeezing more out of less.

• Don’t some kids (maybe teachers, too) already have after-school obligations: sports, jobs, study, providing child care for working mothers? Aren’t some desperate families dependent on their teens?

The mayor and his do-good backers (whose private school days and years are shorter than most public schools’) try to bribe teachers and schools to start instantly, but what is the payoff?

This is surely unlikely to attract more people into teaching and unlikely to make them more willing to stay in the classroom.

—Deborah Meier


How Are You Using Your Interactive Whiteboard?

Now that we are into the first few weeks of school, how are you using your interactive whiteboard? Maybe you inherited one, or your school has one in every classroom. Any changes from last year?

Here’s a checklist to consider:

__ I recognize that my interactive whiteboard can do more than be a projector screen.

__ I will use my whiteboard in other ways beyond touching the screen to advance the slides in my PowerPoint.

__ I will use my whiteboard to record my class notes and make digital copies available to my students and parents so I can better meet the diverse learning needs in my class and more effectively engage parents to help their children.

__ I will share my whiteboard files and lessons with other teachers in my subject, grade level, or department so we can utilize collaborative expertise to improve our lessons.

__ I will maximize the instructional value of the screen and audio-recording features to record when I am explaining a new or difficult concept as a way for reteaching. By putting these videos online, students can access these files as needed.

__ I will facilitate movement and engagement using the multimedia and touch features.

__ By using these basic strategies, I understand that I will actually be saving a lot of time because of more efficient teacher collaboration and student accessibility. I will use my free time wisely. I will Relax.

—Patrick Ledesma


Achievement Gap Mania in the U.S.A.

A decade ago, the No Child Left Behind Act ushered in an era of federal educational accountability marked by relentless focus on closing race- and income-based “achievement gaps” in test scores and graduation rates. The language has become instinctive, with a generation of would-be reformers learning to focus on closing achievement gaps.

This has been universally hailed as an unmitigated good. It is not.

It has shortchanged some children. It has undermined public support for reforming schools. It has narrowed the scope of schooling and stifled educational innovation. Oh, and its moral philosophy is, at best, shaky.

A year ago, Berkeley High School in Berkeley, Calif., moved to eliminate after-school science labs for Advanced Placement classes and five science teachers so that the resources and faculty could be devoted to struggling students, in a push to address “Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap.” The New York Times has reported that in Sacramento, Calif., low-performing students are only permitted to enroll in math, reading, and gym, in a mad dash to help close the achievement gap.

The all-consuming push to “close achievement gaps” has meant focusing, to the exclusion of nearly all else, on boosting math and reading proficiency and the graduation rates of poor and minority children.

Focusing on the neediest students is admirable—as far as it goes.

The real problem has been the unwillingness of gap-closers to acknowledge the costs of their agenda or its implications. It has distorted the way we’ve approached educational choice, accountability, and reform. It has warped and retarded the pace, reach, and power of school improvement efforts. And it has yielded a stifling and ultimately troubling vision of schooling.

—Rick Hess

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2011 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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