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Commentary: Everyone can agree on extended school days

This commentary was written by Jamie Engel, a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder and president of the CU branch of Students for Education Reform.

The dire need for a change in our nation’s public education system is evident. Despite heroic efforts of many individuals and organizations, education inequity continues to plague the United States and the achievement gap remains a constant reminder that our schools are failing.

By 4th grade, African-American and Latino students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their peers. 89 percent of Latino and 86 percent of African-American middle and high school students read below grade level. These numbers are not just statistics; they reflect real American children who have been left behind by our public education system. Most of them will never catch up and risk a life of poverty and/or incarceration.

There are many theories of change that have been proposed to turn around education in our nation. All too often, however, most proposals receive pushback from individuals who are interested in preserving the status quo or those who stubbornly believe that their solutions are better.

There is one proposal, however, that garners almost universal support.

Everyone, from education reformers and union representatives agree that extending the learning day for our nation’s children is a real, actionable step that can be taken to begin to mitigate educational inequity.

The theory behind extended learning is simple. Children need sufficient learning time in order to retain and apply content that is being taught in class. The more time a child has to learn, the more they stand to learn. With added time in the classroom, students have the opportunity to engage in more learning activities, ranging form hands-on experiments to individualized tutoring and aid.

With more time, students are exposed to more content, providing them with a more well-rounded and complete education. With the implementation and implications of No Child Left Behind, many programs have been cut to make time for teachers to teach to the test and to force-feed students information that will measure will on benchmark assessments.

A longer school day means students have the chance to take more classes in subject areas including social studies, technology and other extracurricular classes that have been eliminated.

There are real benefits for teachers as well. An extended school day means more freedom in lesson planning and the ability to individualize their lessons according to the progress their students are making. Teachers would have the opportunity to teach project-based lessons that would push their students to think creatively. Again, the more time teachers have to teach, the more they can teach. Simple as that.

It is exciting to see key players in education coming together around the extended learning day. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed her views by saying, “It’s not just well-prepared, well-supported teachers. It’s not just a well-rounded curriculum. It’s not just a manageable class size. It’s not just differentiated instruction. And it’s not just adequate resources. It is all of those things, and it is having the time to make them all work.”

Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, had similar thoughts on the issue:

“More time cannot be the debate. Go to any high quality school in the country – charter, traditional district school, private – they are extending days. Are we willing to publicly make a promise to our kids, that from the day they walk into our public schools, we are committed to and through college and beyond.”

Here we see two national education leaders who often are in disagreement, agreeing that extended learning time is a real solution.

Regardless of the type of school, whether it is a district, turnaround, charter or magnet, the implications are obvious. More time in the classroom can only benefit our nation’s students. The facts are clear: Extended learning time works. Students who spend more time in the classroom not only do better overall on standardized tests, but they have access to more learning opportunities and receive strong academic instruction. There is an evident correlation between time spent in class and higher test scores.

Unions know that extended learning time is important, politicians agree, and students know it is good for them, yet no one has taken the initiative to enforce it in the public education system. Extended learning time is one of the only education reform issues that literally everyone agrees on. You can’t deny the results, and you can’t ignore those key players who are in support of the movement.

Just remember, all the time wasted putting off this issue is time students could be spending in the classroom. We cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer; time is running out.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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