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After experimenting with an extended day for students, one New Haven school realized it made more sense to extend the day for teachers, so they would have time to collaborate. Could that work in DC?
Citing gains in test scores at charter schools and a few DCPS schools that have tried adding more hours to the school day, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced her intention to extend hours at dozens more schools. But the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) has blocked those plans, saying the school day should be made better before it’s made longer.
The experience of one school in New Haven seems to bolster the WTU’s position—up to a point. Brennan-Rogers, a pre-K-through-8th-grade school that was one of the city’s lowest-performing, extended its students’ day by an hour and 25 minutes during the 2010-11 school year. The idea was to close the achievement gap between the school’s mostly minority and low-income students and their wealthier peers.
The results: kids felt like they’d been punished, teachers were exhausted, and test scores actually dropped. After one year, the students returned to their traditional 6-and-a-half-hour day.
But the principal felt that the most promising part of the experiment—additional time for teachers to collaborate—was worth keeping. She proposed that teachers show up an hour early every day, and the teachers agreed to try it. They’ve been doing it for the past 3 years.
Even though the school day is shorter than it used to be, kids seem to be learning more. For the past two years, Brennan-Rogers has posted the largest gains in the New Haven district on state standardized tests. The atmosphere is calm and orderly, and teachers are happy with the arrangement. And the district as a whole has shifted its focus to adding time for teachers rather than kids, starting with 15 minutes a day under the latest union contract.
The power of collaboration
Lately, there’s been a good deal of attention focused on the importance of teacher collaboration. A report on ways to increase teacher retention has recommended more time for collaboration, as has a DCPS teacher who recently lunched with President Obama. And a writing program being piloted in DCPS, which is having dramatic results, depends largely on teachers having time to work together on planning.
New teachers obviously benefit from being able to talk with and learn from their more experienced peers. But even veteran teachers value the opportunity to compare data about students, coordinate teaching and behavioral strategies, and discuss the merits of different approaches. That’s true both within schools and between schools—including between charter and traditional public schools.
Right now many schools in DC don’t allow teachers time for these opportunities, possibly undermining efforts to improve student achievement. Ideally, both students and teachers would get more well-planned time in their day at under-performing schools. But if that’s not possible, why not try giving it to the teachers? Many of them might actually jump at the chance.