In his State of the State Address Wednesday, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo put forth an proposal designed to increase school standards and better educate students: Add more classroom time to the school calendar.
To that end, he wants to offer competitive grants for schools that develop initiatives to improve student achievement — initiatives that must include at least 25 percent more learning time. It could be accomplished either by extending school days or the academic year.
Southampton Superintendent J. Richard Boyes, Ed.D., said that while it is a good idea in concept, it would be difficult to implement, considering the trying financial times for school districts and the state. While Cuomo said the cost of extending learning time would be covered by the state, Dr. Boyes was skeptical of whether the state could really find the money. He was also concerned about equity — since some districts and students would get more learning time, and others would not.
“I think it's easier and also very necessary to extend time for professional staff," Dr. Boyes said. "We need staff development.”
He suggested that a longer school day should be optional for students so, if they choose, they can take more courses that interest them or get extra help. “I don’t think all kids have the stamina for an extended school day," he said.
Extending the academic year for students could prove to be easier said than done.
“I like it, it’s a good thing in concept," Dr. Boyes said. "I just think it’s a difficult thing to implement at this point in time." He explained that between paying for teachers, transportation, food services, etc., it is a costly proposition.
And Dr. Boyes is not sure whether families would be on board. “Many parents feel this is family time," he said. "It deals with vacations, and on the East End here it deals with the economy.”
But, he said, "It could give struggling kids a real benefit."
Bridgehampton Superintendent Lois Favre, Ed.D., agreed that more time with students would be a boon.
"Often the greatest gift we can give our students is the gift of time, so I would not complain about more time in the school day or the year for our students," Dr. Favre wrote in an email Thursday.
But she was skeptical of Cuomo's grants, and whether they would have a benefit. "Unfortunately, competitive grant programs are often big monies given to too many, spreading funds out such that the impact is lessened," she wrote. "For a small district, allotments often are not worth the myriad of hoops you must jump through to secure (win) the monies."
As an alternative to grants, Dr. Favre suggested mandate relief from the state, which would cost nothing — in fact, it would save districts money — and it would free schools to commit more time to students.
"We are all about improving student achievement, and more importantly providing time for meaningful learning," she said. "Perhaps a 25 percent cut in the costs and time dedicated to the collection of data for state reporting, developing new testing, testing students incessantly, would leave us that 25 percent more time in the current school day/time to actually teach our students through project based learning strategies, that encourage the critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and technology skills that students will need for college and career readiness."
Dr. Favre went on to say, "The current climate of test scores tied to teacher evaluations provides little time for teachers to be creative, particularly as they fuel this jet while it is in mid-air (learning new curriculum, testing requirements, and new expectations for observations)."