Expanded Learning Time in Schools

The Center for American Progress published an interesting report about expanded learning by Elena Rocha on August 28, 007. Given how many educational reforms I could suggest to enhance the well-being and health of teens, it surprised me that Ms. Rocha reported that the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings believes that the next major push in school reform will be the expansion of learning time.

This expanded learning time is basically adding 3-5 PM to the current school day. The support for this reform seems to be that "our nation's public school students need to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century." By expanding the school day, policymakers hope to close the achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers. I believe the idea is that during these extra two hours a day, teachers and student will engage in high-level mentoring, projects, community service, and life-skills training with adults from the community as guides. These activities will focus on work- and college-readiness, across grades, and will start in K-3 with low achieving students.

Granted, I know that keeping kids in school until their parents are home will cut down a huge amount on the risk-taking behavior of teens, but is keeping them in school really the best answer? Maybe it is just me, but if the current six-hour, 180-day school year is failing, why do more of it? How is adding two hours making better use of the learning time? I might be cynical, but I am having a hard time imagining schools will radically change what they are doing, how they are doing it, and with whom. If there were people willing to come into schools and teach kids for free during the work day, wouldn't they be already volunteering?

I assume these programs will only be provided for disadvantaged youth since the kids that are already involved in after school sports, music, community services, or arts programs, would want to be able to continue with those activities. That's it - the federal government needs to give every family a voucher to pay for after-school enrichment activities of their choice - and build community centers where kids can play sports, travel internationally, and take art, music, dance, computer, cooking, and life-skills training courses with their vouchers. What a great idea! Given the summer slide in achievement and fitness, I think this program better be year round - and at $6,000 a child, it is a real deal! What a great reform - give every child the opportunities the middle-class can afford! I hope they name this the Brown Reform of 2007!!

Photo Credit: hans s

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