What Do Rahm Emanuel, Boned Lamb, and a Longer School Day Have in Common?
Hurrah for Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago! He says We need a longer school day; here’s the money. Well, it’s more complicated, and he’s raised the ire of the unions; but I’m with him. A too-short day is the elephant in our schoolrooms. Unfortunately education traditions, like the length of the day, are hard to change.
It’s like my family’s Bone the Lamb tradition. Mom said, It’s Great Grandmother Rebecca’s recipe. It’s the way we do it. Come to find out, Great Grandmother took the bone out because her pan was too small to fit the lamb otherwise.
In our schools the intractable tradition is the Co-Curriculum. This is a partial, non-prioritized listing. It doesn’t include music, gym, and art.
Business Buddy Mentoring
Holiday party prep
Birthday cupcake treats
Fund raising assembly
Counseling with (psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, guidance counselor, school nurse, intern, visiting university faculty)
Poster contests for pep rallies and municipal events
Arts in the Schools Program
Author, Musician, and Artist Visits
Lunch and recess transitions and lines
It’s the Stuff Versus Teaching dilemma. We have only 5 or 6 hours to get the job done. We know we need to teach the basics three times longer than is usual to create literate kids who can tackle anything life throws at them. Uninterrupted time is what we need, and yet the Co-Curriculum is the tail that wags the Basic Curriculum dog.
You would NEVER send your child to a private school that you’ve paid big bucks for and expect her to leave a reading class for a cello lesson–and I’m a cellist, so don’t say I’m against the arts!!
At the high-poverty school I’m writing stories about this tradition of adding wonderful opportunities for the kids was the Way It Was Always Done. But in the high-achieving classrooms where the teachers hunt for three times the usual amount of time to teach the basics Just Say No has begun to have a new application. They battle constantly to hold onto and reclaim instructional time.
Besides specific instructional gambits, there are two main approaches to reclaiming time:
1. Fine-tune routines like taking attendance and bathroom breaks: Start teaching at 9:10 rather than 9:30 and gain 100 minutes a week. Don’t line 32 kids up in the hall as they wait for space at one of the six bathroom stalls, etc.
2. Work on lengthening the day. Place the co-curriculum after school.
This problem is not solved. Far from it. Most co-curricular stuff still sits within the school day.
We’ve got to leave the bone in the lamb and get cooking on this problem.
Maybe WE need a Rahm Emanuel?