by Christopher Paslay
It’s no secret that Philadelphia School District officials want to extend the length of the school day. Increased instructional time was a high priority on Dr. Ackerman’s recent “wishlist” for the District.
Although I don’t agree that more is always better, research shows that keeping kids in school longer improves tests scores and keeps them out of harm’s way. KIPP Philadelphia Charter School is a case in point. They operate under an extended school day and school year, and their PSSA test scores are well above the Philadelphia School District average.
However, extending the school day has its drawbacks with staff. Teacher turnover at KIPP is high, and compensating instructors for the long hours is difficult (many teachers work 10 to 12 hours days when you factor in lesson planning and assessment); the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers fought the increased school day in the past because the District wasn’t willing to pay for the extra time.
But there is a solution to the problem. The District can extend the time students spend in programs without placing this extra burden on the teachers.
Instead of extending the length of the school day, the District should mandate after school activities for all its students. And the District could use ASAP (After School Activities Partnerships) as a partner. To quote ASAP’s website, “An estimated 45,000 kids citywide spend between 20-25 hours a week alone after school – with the most dangerous hours between 3 pm and 6 pm. These unsupervised young people are much more likely to be the victims of crime or become involved in risky behaviors. Additionally, lack of after school activity could be contributing to the rise in overweight children. Recent reports that Philadelphia has both the highest crime and poverty rates of the ten largest cities in the nation provide strong impetus for improving the lives of the city’s kids.”
ASAP has already served 15,773 Philadelphia youth to date, and organized 1,210 clubs (primarily volunteer-led in schools, recreation centers and libraries).
“Research shows that after-school programs deter negative behaviors while improving achievement and attendance,” said Maria Walker and Marciene Mattleman in an opinion piece in today’s Inquirer headlined, Enrich children and the city with after-school programs.
In their article, Walker and Mattleman also noted ASAP’s ability to get students involved in playing chess. “The Chess Challenge is ASAP’s centerpiece initiative, with more than 3,500 kids playing in schools, libraries, recreation and community centers, shelters, and the Youth Study Center,” they noted. “Studies show that chess teaches strategic thinking. School administrators say young chess players are more likely to see the consequences of their actions and avoid risky behaviors.”
Mandating after school activities would be a win-win for everybody. Much of ASAP is run by volunteers and funded by donations, so the District wouldn’t have to pay extra money. ASAP could be supplemented by athletic programs run by schools in the District, where coaches would be compensated for their time.
The District could start small and work its way up. Students could be given the option of whether they wanted to participate in fall, winter or spring activities. They’d have the choice of playing a varsity or intramural sport, or joining a club. This would surely increase participation in athletics and extra curricular activities within the District, programs already established and funded by the District.
At midnight on August 31st of this year, when the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher’s contract extension is up, I can guarantee a sticking point of negotiations will be extending the length of the school day. If the District opts to mandate after school activities instead of increasing an already lengthy school day (and doing so without properly compensating teachers and instructional staff), then a new contract just might be ironed out sooner rather than later.