The other day, I wrote about lifting the charter school cap. Today I’d like to address the other education “reform” being pressed in the Boston mayoral race: extending the school day.
It’s worth noting that after twenty years of education reform in Massachusetts, this is what passes for bold thinking from the reformers. We’re still waiting for someone to rethink high school, and the first wave of charters have largely abandoned the innovations in curriculum and program design that were supposed to set them apart. (Remember when MATCH stood for Media And Technology Charter High School? Now it’s just match education, though they still can’t match the BPS on percentages of special ed students or graduation rate. But I digress.)
But once again, whoever sets the agenda for such things has determined that extending the school day is suddenly an Important Issue that the mayoral candidates must address.
Apparently no one has noticed the irony of the fact that the same people who have insisted that public school students lose weeks of instructional time every year to standardized testing are now saying that it’s important to have more instructional time.
When the MCAS began, it was administered in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades. It is now administered in 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grades.
I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that students lose at least two weeks to every administration of the MCAS. I think you could argue that they lose more real instructional time to test prep, though I expect the big corporate funders of education reform believe that the time spent teaching public school children to be obedient drones is very valuable indeed.
Still. If instructional time is so very important, it seems like a reasonable proposal to roll the MCAS back to original levels and have it administered only in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades. This would buy 10 weeks, or more than a quarter of a school year, back between 3rd and 10th grades.
Admittedly this is not the same number of hours as would be gained by extending the school day by an hour, but it is a start towards gaining more instructional time, and, more importantly, it’s not just cost neutral: it’s cost-efficient.
Teachers can spend time teaching rather than proctoring, thus ensuring that the city is getting the most educational bang for its buck, and the Commonwealth won’t have to throw money away on the creation and scoring of ultimately useless tests.
I think any serious discussion of increasing instructional time simply has to start with decreasing MCAS administration. This is a step that would prove to parents, students, and teachers that the reformers are actually serious about increasing instructional time and not just cynically exploiting this issue in order to further shame and demoralize public school teachers.