Is More School the Answer? (page 3)

Is More School the Answer?

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Updated on Oct 5, 2009

That means hosting a rocketry course to brush up on math and science, creating themes around learning, such as a sports theme where kids learn about percentages and averages, and hosting fun field trips to museums, parks and other learning hot spots.

McLaughlin is hopeful that new education money from the federal stimulus act will be used to create different models of summer programs that can be studied to see which work the best. Certainly, Secretary Duncan and President Obama’s public advocacy for extended learning can’t hurt those chances. What’s going to happen in two years when the stimulus money ends? McLaughlin says most of the money for summer programs comes out of Title I funds, which recur every year, and successful programs may be able to leverage further funding support through partnerships with community organizations.

McLaughlin sees summer programs as part of the greater effort to extend instructional hours to students. “It doesn’t have to be either/or. I’ve seen a program which extends the school year by one day. Well, that doesn’t eliminate the need for summer learning,” she says.

After-School Learning

After-school programs are an easier option for many schools; usually teachers are paid by the hour, outside their normal contract, which makes it cheaper to fund and neatens up contractual logistics.

Like summer school, most after-school problems aren’t mandatory and won’t serve the entire student population, but they will be available for kids that need or want extra help.

District of Columbia Public Schools recently updated their long-running after-school and Saturday programs, by adding full-time program coordinators, aligning the curriculum with day-time school, working more closely with community organizations to provide enrichment activities, and improving their data system.

The Saturday Scholars program, currently serving 4,000 of the district’s 46,000 students, is an eleven-week session to help students prepare for standardized testing in the spring, and it provides incentives such as free MP3 players and posters for kids with high achievement or attendance rates.

The after-school program, serving about a third of K-12 public school students in the District of Columbia, focuses on academics, wellness, and enrichment. Instead of just offering homework assistance, the program aims to compliment what’s happening at school by switch-hitting the spring and fall curriculum. In the fall, after-school teachers give kids a sneak peak into the day-school’s spring curriculum, so that they know what to expect. In the spring, students get a review of what they learned in their regular classes the previous fall. “We hope they will retain a little more and that it will be more enriching for them,” says Paul Detjen, the after-school program coordinator for DC Public Schools.

As important as the academics are, it’s the enrichment opportunities such as dance, art, and music that keep kids coming to the program, Detjen says. “Students don’t really see this as an extension of the school day because they are learning in a way that is different for them, and that’s what encourages students to stay after school.”

Experts say that it is programs that offer learning in a fresh way that will succeed. A report released in 2007 by Education Sector concluded that schools can’t just look at more instruction time as the panacea, but as part of a larger reform effort to improve instruction.

Ultimately, extra school time may work to improve student achievement, but only if that time is used well—a matter of more dollars and careful planning.

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