Governor Christie of New Jersey in his recent inaugural address touted longer school days and a longer school year as the center piece of his second term, educational platform. I suspect it was more for national consumption, as he positions himself for a presidential run, since the governor recently rejected funding for all day kindergarten and refused to fund a task force to examine the very option of extending the school day and school year in his home state.
How the fiscally conservative Governor might pay for a longer school day or school year aside, the notion that school performance can be improved by doing more of the same makes no sense. Increasing the time students spend in school without examining how students and teachers will spend that time is just another one of the silver bullets for school improvement promoted by politicians that distracts us from the need for fundamental reform.
As a staff, when I was superintendent at Rancocas Valley, we examined how we could improve our student achievement by using more interactive educational strategies. That led to our examination of the school day and how we could better use our time. We decided on a block schedule that had students spending more time studying fewer subjects. The shift in scheduling and pedagogy quickly changed the interpersonal relationships between teachers and students and a provided a deeper understanding of how each students learning needs could better be served.
Based on this new paradigm we created extended day tutorials for those students who needed them and an extended school year for those who needed that, so that some students had an instructional year equalling 180 days, others 200 days and still others 220 days. The results; a decline in failures and an increase in the number of students on the honor roll. And best of all it didn’t require a significant increase in the per pupil cost or an extended day or year for those students who didn’t need it.
School isn’t the only place most children learn. The current school day and year allows time for students to pursue interests outside of school whether in the arts, sports, church sponsored activities, scouting, attending camp, volunteering for community service, traveling or simply spending time with family. Experiences from which many of us learned a lot about ourselves, our values, and our communities.
Governor Christie’s plan is just another example of a politician over reaching and professing to have expertise in an area best left to those who really know; the teachers and administrators and the children and parents they serve.
We learned that the Governor knows nothing about bridges and traffic studies. Now we know he may know even less about improving New Jersey’s schools let alone the nation’s.