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Seattle cuts its summer school, amid calls for longer time in school

A new report finds considerable interest in providing longer school years or days, despite the budget challenges. 

The tough economic times have challenged schools’ efforts to provide enough time in class for students to catch up or stay on top of their subjects. But the news isn’t all bad, locally or nationally.

In a new report, the National Center on Time and Learning says, “Over the last several years, momentum has been building across the country to expand learning time for American students.” The report from the center, which advocates for more time in school, says that districts have found students do better with more time, and that extra school may be critical to overcoming inequalities of opportunity for low-income students. Indeed, for decades, it has been obvious that there is a common-sense case for providing American students the longer school years and school days that are common in other developed countries.

At the same time, though, there is an obvious reality: Budget strains have forced many states and school districts to cut schedules, impose furloughs, and engage in other expeidencies. The New York Times reports that, in 2009, California cut the number of required school days from 180 per year (the national norm, as a requirement in Washington state) to 175. Now, the state has authorized districts to go as low as 163 days if their revenues don’t meet expectations in the coming school year.

Seattle Public Schools recently joined the ranks of systems that have eliminated summer school, often critical to ensuring that smart but struggling students get back on track. But, in keeping with the national report, the district remains interested in expanding the amount of time for students to learn. District spokeswoman Teresa Wippel says that, in fact, as much as the system wanted to preserve summer school, one factor contributing to the decision was the availability of other options, some provided through non-profit partners. The district made sure to provide information on the options. And some Seattle schools are able to offer extra school time through federal support, grants, or partnerships, Wippel said.

Some school systems, including Hawaii's, have managed to restore days lost earlier for financial reasons, the National Center notes. There is no guarantee that extra time (or extra money) will produce better results. But if hard work usually produces some good results, a reasonable increase in the time spent learning is likely to help students.  That’s something to remember even in hard times, whether or not budget realities force schools to hold off on providing as much extra time as they might like.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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