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April 2014 Vol. 21. No. 5 Focus on Using School Time Wisely

In our opinion

Notebook editorial: Making up for lost time

By the Notebook on Apr 11, 2014 02:10 PM

One of the many casualties of the extreme budget cuts suffered by Philadelphia schools in recent years is a drastic reduction in extended learning time offerings – afterschool and summer programs. We won’t shed tears for some of the “drill and kill” test prep activities that bit the dust. But a good school system must provide access to supports like tutoring and academic enrichment activities after hours and in the summer. And those programs have been decimated.

Families are feeling the painful loss of extracurricular offerings such as clubs, arts, and sports that are taken for granted in other school districts. While Superintendent William Hite intervened to save high school sports, few other activities were spared. The near-cancellation of the annual student musical production at High School for Creative and Performing Arts due to budget cuts was instructive – as an exception that proved the rule. Your cherished activity or performance can be resurrected, so long as your school is well-connected and can get the media to mobilize public generosity.   

Extracurricular activities can add value to the traditional academic subjects, often providing motivation for students to attend school and keep their grades up. They can build valuable social skills like leadership and teamwork. Activities bring together staff and families, creating cohesive school communities. Restoring this vital piece should be a priority for the District.

However, the way to do so is not by requiring teachers to work longer hours at reduced pay. There are many problems with this, the first being that it is unfair. Imposing terms on a resistant union is likely to trigger a court challenge and exacerbate an already adversarial relationship with the District’s professional workforce. Teachers have been working under untenable conditions – without basics like adequate staffing, counseling, and nursing services – and morale is low. The proposal to impose a longer work day, reduce pay while charging for benefits, and change rules around seniority amounts to a triple whammy for teachers who have been dealing with enormous challenges. 

Extra time may not be worth much if teachers are doing it under duress. We hope that new SRC Chair Bill Green rethinks his more-time-or-else position, paying attention to the cautionary tale from Chicago: Lengthening the day, if not well planned, can be counterproductive. And it seems the District is still far from clear on whether it can ensure that extra time is used wisely. 

One potentially cost-effective approach for expanding learning time is training and coaching parents to support learning at home. The model developed by Springboard Collaborative, where parents become teachers of literacy skills, is an example that shows promising results. A focus on involving parents can translate into not just student achievement gains, but stronger bonds between families and schools. While no substitute for traditional organized afterschool programs, investments in family literacy, math, and science activities should be explored districtwide. Families can help ensure that students are surrounded by supports from a broad community of learners.


This editorial appears in the Notebook's print edition focusing on using school time wisely.  

Comments (14)

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 11, 2014 4:36 pm
Until poverty and the cycle it necessarily creates, are addressed in a real way, our children will continue to struggle mightily. Starving the real Public Schools was/is designed to make them more dangerous and less of a option for their parents. Violence and all of its off spring, is EXPECTED and is a goal of "the reformers." Does anybody really think the charter lie folks care about helping the poor, predominately kids of color of Philly?? Teaching in urban areas is FAR more difficult and demands more resources not fewer. It's laughable but pathetic to see Nutter and Hite pretending to be upset about the kids when they are playing their parts perfectly in sabotaging those kids' collective safety and learning by not raising hell with Corbett publicly. M.L.King is rolling over in his grave. It's a sick joke being perpetrated on the children of Philly by their own people but because they're people of color too, they're largely given a pass which is the sickest part of all.
Submitted by Robert Toporek (not verified) on April 11, 2014 8:30 pm
you should check me out.
Submitted by Teachin' (not verified) on April 11, 2014 4:11 pm
THANK YOU SO MUCH for this editorial! It is such a relief to see that someone sees things how they actually are. For the record, I've been doing EC for free most of the year because I didn't want to let my students down and work extra hours every afternoon whether it's mandated or not. And I've spent about $800 on students, though we are a single parent family and things haven't been easy. It's painful to read article after article that implies that teachers are selfish not to lose the equivalent of a week's worth of pay every month because the SRC and the administration of the district mismanaged what money they had - and even more to the point - that the governor has abandoned the children of Philadelphia. Regardless of how things turn out, I will be forever grateful to The Notebook for this editorial.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 7:01 pm
The idea that parents should be more engaged does not preclude giving children what we've always had in this district, *professional *support that is compensated. Here is the MO of this school district: DO LESS, WITH LESS FOR LESS. and if you don't we'll close your school and privatize it. It's commonly called blackmail ( if you don't dance to my tune you're done) and this is not how a public system works. When people talk about these alternative programs using anyone but teachers what they are doing is furthering the District's MO. Please stop acting and planning as if this District has no money and will never have money. Isn't money readily available for new schools?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 7:37 pm
". For the record, I've been doing EC for free most of the year because I didn't want to let my students down and work extra hours every afternoon whether it's mandated or not." When are people goin to learn that free labor is exactly what this District wants? Do you not value your professionalism? They love posts like yours while they laugh and collect big salaries.
Submitted by Teachin' (not verified) on April 11, 2014 9:01 pm
I'm sure you're right, but it's the school district's MO to use children as pawns - not mine.
Submitted by Philly Public T (not verified) on April 12, 2014 10:43 am
Me too. Free extra EC (I have a few) for three years, different schools. $1800/year out-of-pocket on average. Grants too. I disagree about what the district "wants." My professionalism *is* what's at stake when I don't help our students best I can if I'm able, first. Second, I will GO TO JAIL protesting before going back if we go lock out. Parents and students know when we truly pull for them. When we don't, parent/student support evaporates: THAT is what the PSP-SRC-Commonwealth Foundation crowd wants more than anything. They're not laughing. Nobody's got time for that. They're planning. We should too.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 8:10 pm
You 2 said it perfectly. It's a mean spirited con game with threats, serious threats. It's union busting flat out, pitting folks against one another and blaming the union for it. Holding the kids HOSTAGE the whole time. This is a dictatorship in the making and Nutter and his hero, Obama, are all for it. Don't be shocked if the court rules for them too because the democrats are not standing up for its base---the people.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 10:11 pm
Nutter, Obama, Clinton (both of them), Emanuel...they are all neoliberals which are as bad as neoconservatives (neoliberals are worse because they deceive the people by playing on their hopes when they have the same agenda as the neoconservatives). We need a political party that has a program for the 99%.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 9:24 pm
Re: pitting folks gainst one another: I undersand what you mean and if I were in a buiding with teachers who did this I wouldnt say a word because it's their choice. However on a macro level it's not a good idea. I am old school union, I'm proud of it, so I know better. However I also know the the reality people face in holding onto their jobs, it's a very very tough situation that I never had to face, but we were always compensated or no can do. It was a different time when contracts were honored.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 11, 2014 10:20 pm
You're right but we have to stop this abuse or it will be the end of contracts, good faith, handshakes and all things honorable. I don't want to live in that kind of world so I choose to fight back and I am sure you do too. We all need to do that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 12, 2014 10:25 am
The choice NOT to fight back will land teachers in a place where they don't want to be. When we look at all the gains won for members since inception in the 1960s that gives a more complete picture.The idea of principals being able to hire and fire people is so outlandish I cannot conceive of it, and there is very little talk about who monitors them. Seniorty is fair and objective, and since the SDP has so much site select it shoudn't be an issue. They simply do not want to pay for veteran teachers nor do they want people unionized. This a serious situation not to be taken lightly as in apathy and young teachers who do not understand this and are wiling to sacrifice all gains for the kids are no less vulnerable than anyone else.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 12, 2014 11:17 am
You said it all, Comrade !! P.S. As one Mark Twain once drawled, "Youth is sometimes wasted on the young." That's why I always encourage everyone to google "life before unions" to get an objective picture of what's coming like a runaway train IF the people don't take "ACTION" to stop it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 12, 2014 12:14 pm
Hi " comrade Joe K," I do have to admit that I doubt the union does much outreach to educate members as I see that many of the concerns are about basics and communication. I learned primarily from other members, and also because of the activist stance they took back then. There were no computers to relay information but we got it. Some ef these folks probably feel alienated with good reason, but this notion that you can teach anywhere and make it on your own by working hard? Hogwash.

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