There are other ways to use the extra time other than test prep.
On Monday I woke up to the news that a pilot program starting in a few states, including Connecticut and New York, would add 300 more instructional hours to the school year starting in 2013. I don't know about you, but I have yet to see a real study showing a positive correlation between classroom time (teacher-student face-to-face for a designated class) and student achievement. If you're not as informed with the research, your natural inclination is to say "Yes! More schooling sounds great." What it usually means, however, is that those 300 hours get used for test prep and, well, more test prep.
No recess, no extracurriculars, no special electives.
What's more, some of us (:: ahem ::) can do lots more with less periods a week. Currently, I teach two classes at eight periods a week. If I had them at five periods a week, I just freed myself up to plan for the remaining three. Interestingly enough, the U.S. leads the world in classroom time, so why argue that we want to compete against the world when we're already blowing the rest of the world away in this category?
Because that's what America does. Oversized stadiums, supersized fries and drinks, and large enough egos to believe that those who don't know much about education can run it. Cool.
So, rather than completely dump on the idea that adding 300 hours (the equivalent of over a month more school!) would provide better numbers, I thought about some ways in which we can use all this time more effectively:
5. Take more trips.
Yes. More trips. But we'd take educational trips. On the subway, you learn lots about civics. At the park, you always have that one guy willing to teach the kids about contacting their inner nature. When half your kids can't really afford lunch, you take the whole class back just in time. That's math.
4. Read more non-fiction texts.
Read things like the appendices for the Common Core State Standards. I figure my students can learn the appendix back and forth, left and right, just to spend the time. It'll be excruciating, but maybe I can do impersonations of Common Core architect—and head of the College Board—David Coleman.
Waiting sounds like fun. It's only 37 days or so. My shoes are new enough that I can keep tapping them. Yep. Just waiting. Any minute now...
2. Tell More Stories.
Nothing in our contracts says we can't tell stories. Maybe we can all become storytellers. We can stop every seven minutes between examples of problems with a "I remember this one student …" The students will eventually get tired of it. Then, they'll remember you for it. Then they'll hate you for it. Then the test will come. Then they'll want more of your stories and fewer test questions about pineapples without arms.
1. Start an "opposite day" challenge.
For the last few decades, America keeps saying they want to compete with the rest of the world academically, yet we keep doing the opposite of what everyone else has learned. So, instead of doing the opposite of what other countries do, let's do the opposite of what we already do, just for those 300 hours or so.
It's a pilot, so we won't punish anyone for trying it. We'll test it over a few years and see how it works. If that happens, we'll include things like recess and real homeroom. We'll let teachers get into natural teams instead of "inquiry teams," and give teachers enough time to get through all that paper work. Maybe we'd get paid properly to compensate for the other days we don't. We'd have the most qualified teach our kids most in need, and administrators will have taught for a good chunk of their careers at an effective level.
Only for the 300 days.
If that works out, then we'd scale it and localize it to America's teachers, and keep this opposite behavior going until it becomes our regular behavior, making the opposite behavior archaic.
Alas, this is Sparta America.
A version of this post originally appeared at The Jose Vilson