Friday, March 10, 2006

The Longer School Year: Is More Necessarily Better?

Keep your eye on what's going-on down in Ocala, Florida, where serious consideration is being given to a proposal to extend the school year by some 20 days:
A School District proposal being developed to extend the school year by 20 days is drawing concern from teachers and criticism from some parents.

"Children are already stressed out with this so called FCAT, and then there's the NRT testing. I need a good three months to allow my daughter Charlotte to just be a kid," said Tonja Speights-Greene, of Ocala. "When I attended the school system here in Marion County beginning in 1964, we began school in September and got out in June. . . .

"I don't think this is a very good or sound idea for me as a parent of a child in middle school, or as a taxpayer," she said.

The pilot program, being worked on by Superintendent of Schools Jim Yancey and state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would increase the number of student days from 180 to 200 and teacher days from 196, which include paid vacations, to 216, if approved.

Craig Ham - president of the local teachers union, the Marion Education Association - said he has received about 45 e-mails from teachers concerned about the plan. Before any discussions about adding more days, the first priority is making the 196 days teachers currently spend in the classroom tolerable, he said. Then the union would address teacher salary increases for next year.

"We're currently in discussion about preparation and planning time. They're not getting it. It's been eroded," Ham said. "It's the largest single source of irritation for teachers."

Cynthia Graham, an Ocala mother who has three children in public schools, also expressed concern about the longer school year.

"Teachers have enough challenges," she said. "They're already overwhelmed with the current school calendar."

Yancey said the plan is still in the early stages, but the bottom line is more time is needed for teachers and students.

He said teachers are pulled out of the classrooms for staff development, which hinders the School District's goal of keeping teachers in the classroom with their students.

Yancey said the district initially figured it would cost $28 million to increase student days to 200 and teacher days to 230, which would make teachers year-round employees and allow time for planning and more professional development activities.

He expects to develop a plan for the pilot program by March 17.

Skip Archibald, a former Marion County superintendent of schools, said he has advocated adding more days to the school year for more than 20 years.

"It is my position that the contemporary school model must become much more flexible," he said via e-mail. "We have not yet really capitalized on the available technologies nor have we done anything to address the time needed to teach students."

Archibald said, "Perhaps, the time has finally arrived, and we will see substantive changes that will really positively impact the education of our students."

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Baxley said he has asked Yancey to put together something concrete so he could talk to others in Tallahassee about funding.

"It's pretty much along the lines of providing more staff development time that could be very structured and leading into maybe more student contact time and to be able to pilot and measure that and see its impact," Baxley said.

"Twenty more days. . . . Oh, my goodness," said Latisha White, who used to attend Dunnellon High School but is now being home-schooled. "Two months is all we get. Your whole life is based around school.

"Why would they add more days?" she asked.

Justin Simon, a freshman at West Port High School, said he definitely disagrees with more days being added to the school year. He said starting school later would be great, but if the school year were stretched it would interfere with summer programs he attends each year.

Marion County School Board Chairwoman Sue Mosley said she hasn't heard from parents or teachers about the plan. Moseley said she would rather see the school day extended because that would be better for students.

But, she added, Yancey is the expert and knows what's needed.
From teacher salaries to parental vacation plans, I can just imagine the can of worms that would be opened if this was ever done out here in California's desert.
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