I first read a Nation at Risk about 15 years ago and again last semester. It never ceases to amaze me how insightful this report was and how long it has taken our educational system to act on it. Several of the recommendation concerning content, standards and expectations, teaching qualifications and leadership and fiscal support have been addressed to some extent and have spearheaded many reforms. However there is one recommendation, namely time, that for the most part has been ignored.
I can only speak about the Los Angeles Unified School District in this recommended area of reform. My first question is did any one from LAUSD actually read this report? This report recommends that students should have a 7- hour school day and that the school year be extended to a 200-220 day school year. It also recommends additional time should be given to diverse learner and attendance policies with incentives and sanctions. My favorite one is that placement of students should be guided by their academic progress (didn’t they used to call that tracking?)
Unfortunately the main barriers to a long school day or school year are money and unions. Attendance policies are at the mercy of politics and parent groups and as for additional time for learners, teachers try to give individual help during the class, but only remedial students have funding for extra help after school. Student groupings in class are heterogeneous in LAUSD which leaves a teacher (in an elementary school) with a room composed of various levels of English Learners, students with disabilities, high achieving students, students achieving below grade level, and maybe a few “average” students scattered in the mix.
I will give LAUSD credit when it comes to the committee’s recommendation to establish firm and fair codes of student conduct. Each school has in place a Discipline or Behavior Support Plan but how it is implemented and how effective it is, is unknown. Intrusions that effect instruction time have been limited (by union intervention) to the first 10 and the last 10 minutes of instruction time. The recommendations for more instructional time through better classroom management makes sense, but is useless when schools need to keep students in a general education class with severe behaviors. Another obvious recommendation that makes sense is to assign more homework in high school. My next question is how do we make them do it? My school is already having major issues with students who do to do homework and they are only in 4th grade!
I think the recommendation on time are both sensible and workable, unfortunately politics, money and unions will keep them the paper and not in the schools. Unless individual schools have the power and resources to make changes, they will probably never happen.