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Education Reporter

Sunup-Sundown Year 'Round 
Longer school days? Longer year?
NEW YORK, NY - Recent news reports suggest that calls for longer school days and an extended school year may increase in 2001. The front page of the New York Times reported (1-10-01) that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wants New York City students to attend classes on Saturday and that the state's Governor, George Pataki, favors keeping children in school until after dark. In California, Governor Gray Davis has a plan to extend the school year an additional 30 days.

The specter of a longer school day and year emerged on a national level in 1983 with the release of the report, "A Nation at Risk," which revealed the downward academic slide of American students. With many states implementing tougher education standards during the 1990s, the current consensus is that students and teachers need more class time to teach the new material and raise test scores.

Some experts disagree. John E. Stone, Ed.D., of the Education Consumers Clearing House states that, "By far, the greatest reason for poor schooling outcomes is the inefficient use of available time. The average percentage of the school day that students spend engaged in a useful learning activity - so-called active learning time - is less than two hours out of a six-hour day. We could make far better use of the school day than is now the case."

Year-round schooling to ease overcrowding has been a reality in some school districts since the 1970s, but the length of the school year has remained constant at about 180 days, with more frequent, shorter breaks replacing the long summer vacation in those schools.

Many charter schools operate on a longer school day and year, but the latest push for additional school time could mean a longer day and year for all public school students, with before- and after-school activities and "enrichment programs" - already available in many schools - also provided. An Idea Brief compiled last May by education experts at the Century Foundation, a public policy research group, suggests that "the ideas of all-day schooling and year-round education can be, and are, combined in schools. . . ."

These "full-service or community schools," the document explains, "are all-day schools that add a wide range of social services available through the school, typically in partnership with community-based organizations. Thus, a full-service school might fill its after-school hours with everything from intensive academic instruction to raise achievement, to dance and musical activities, to health clinics and job training workshops." Of course, no one knows what the price tag will be for all this, only that costs will rise.

Many experts point out that the traditional school year was created to accommodate the needs of a largely rural, agrarian economy, where children were needed to help work the land. "Our traditional school calendar has simply outlived its usefulness," Century Foundation senior fellow Ruy Teixeira told the New York Times. "This ideological limit on what schools can do and when they can be open is so clearly a remnant of the past."

Some observers worry that, rather than providing a solution to community problems, all-day, year-round schools, in partnership with community groups and agencies, will help fulfill the plan for a cradle-to-grave education/labor/healthcare system envisioned by Marc Tucker (president of the National Center on Education and the Economy), Ira Magaziner and Hillary Clinton. They fear that, when fully implemented, this system could include everything from mandatory in-home visits to parents with newborns by government agents to universal preschool to School-to-Work and "lifelong" learning, effectively separating children from their parents at an early age and making them wards of "the village."

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