How We Tackle the Problem - Ed Blog pt 21

Although we don't know what they'll be, we do know that problems will come up.  One example of this where I live - though this isn't the place to delve too deeply into - is the reading fluency of African Americans in the State of Michigan.  This is abysmal, and very problematic.  It's also racist.  But rather than label and shame, our state must do something about this.  (Why I say this isn't the place for a deep dive into the topic is that it's much bigger than simply a 'school' issue.  But, it's a good place to start because since many African American children attend the schools, it would be a great place to deal with a large part of the problem.)

One problem that almost all underperforming districts face is that 'their' students come to them behind.  From a young age, this starts.  Research goes in many different directions on how to deal with this, and one way was like this:

One solution bad districts choose is this: add time to the school day.  Their logic goes as follows:

  • Problem: students aren't in school enough.
  • Solution: put them in school longer.

This is problematic for the same reason that giving a lump sum of cash to a habitual spender will not get them out of debt: it is the habits, not the result that needs treating.  The ole, teach a man to fish.  

Here is why simply adding time to the a class period does not ensure learning.  One district, to make sure that students were getting more learning time, upped their classes from 45-minutes to an hour.  The problem is that an hour is about the worst amount of time to teach.  It's too long for one lesson, and not long enough for two.  Some research shows students attention capacity is about 45-minute, and so many schools do 45 or 90 minute classes and blocks.  With the hour, often there was an issue where you finished one lesson, but couldn't move on very well to the next.  Or, the next day you'd spend a bunch of time reteaching.  Additionally, most of the behavioral problems occurred in the last 10-15 minutes of class.  Some research suggests that 45-minutes is the ideal time to maximize attention.  But these things were never brought up.  When I questioned class length, the only thing people said was 'we need more time in seats'.  

But bad time is wasted time.  Rather, we must tackle the problem, the actual problem.