Mary Stegmeir of The Des Moines Register wrote an article about the possibility of an extended school calendar. This is something that has been discussed before, and the idea, Stegmeir reminds us, was repudiated in an Iowa Poll where only a third of Iowans supported extending the school calendar or school day. So instead they are backing off and focusing on kids who are struggling academically as Mike Cormack, the Iowa Department of Education Policy Liaison states:
A state task force designated to study the length of the school day and year is tentatively scheduled to gather for the first time July 26. The names of the panel members have not yet been released, but Cormack said between 12 to 15 Iowans will serve on the advisory group.
The task force will meet at least three times and will issue a report with suggestions for legislators on Oct. 15.
Extending the amount of time children spend in class has been periodically debated by Iowans for more than two decades. The issue came to the forefront again last fall when several attendees at town hall meetings hosted by the governor suggested lengthening the school day or year could boost student test scores.
It’s unlikely, however, that the governor’s 2013 education reform package will call for more schooling for all children, Cormack noted. Instead, he predicts that any extended-day or extended-year initiatives would be aimed at high-risk populations, including immigrant students and children who live in poverty.
I find it interesting that the names for this advisory committee hasn’t been announced yet. If past history is any indicator they will all be of the same mind and likely resonate with the Branstad Education Echo Chamber that currently exists. Additional problem with this suggestion is now it will mandate a longer school day or school year for high-risk populations. Shouldn’t that be a parents choice? Also where will the money come from? They suggest a model:
One possible model for Iowa’s foray into extended learning is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, which uses federal funds to support dozens of before- and after-school programs throughout the state.
The effort targets high-poverty schools, and harnesses the know-how of certified teachers to offer enrichment activities that are based on what students learn in the classroom. Schools in the program typically offer three hours of additional academic programming each day.
“We use our own staff who already know our students and who know how to build programs and make connections,” said Heidi Brown, who oversees the Des Moines school district’s 11 Community Learning Centers. “It’s not repeating what has already been taught, it’s showing students different ways to approach the same topic.”
The district has seen steady increases in the math and reading scores of program participants, Brown said.
Teacher surveys indicate that children who take part in the program have better attendance and fewer discipline problems in the classroom. They are also more likely to complete homework assignments.
Having worked with high-risk kids, especially those who are latchkey kids, I don’t doubt that have additional structured time after school can be a benefit, as well as, summer activities. Does it have to be the public school who does it? How about partnering with community organizations? Also this seems to me to be another way the Feds can weasel their way into education in Iowa. Strings are always attached to federal money.
This plan will further erode local control, provides a state mandate for parents, and increase state spending (or will have us going hat in hand to the federal government). School districts should instead partner with organizations who are already doing after school programs and provide referrals. Let’s not recreate the wheel; especially when it increases the scope of our state government to do it.