Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tacoma Public Schools Increase Hours

Each week school is in session, my children are required to participate in educational activities related to their customized student learning plan for a minimum number of hours. For Sammy, the minimum number of hours is 20. For Mika, it's 25. Because we are able to complete our core subjects in much less than that, I must get creative in how I meet these requirements.

In contrast, Tacoma Public Schools, which primarily teach only core subjects (and poorly, at that) has decided to extend the school day for elementary and middle school students. Starting September 3, 2008, all students within the school district will attend school 6 1/2 hours a day. This includes kindergartners who now attend full time as well. Elementary students will begin school at 9am and continue until 3:30pm. Middle schoolers (grades 6-8) will attend school from 8:15am to 2:45pm and high schoolers (grades 9-12) will attend school from 7:35am to 2:05pm.

Why the change? The district must meet a required 1000 school hours for all students grades K-4 in order to receive state funding for all-day kindergarten. They also need the extra time to be able to take off 5 full days for teacher training and their numerous early release days. These days, or partial days off, do not count towards the 1000 hour requirement. They are also claiming that the increased hours reduce transportation costs.

My question is: how will this affect the kids? Is it fair to require kids as young as 5 years old to attend school for 32.5 hours a week? Are they ready for that kind of time commitment? When you count homework, some students will be putting in an excess of 40 hours a week towards school activities. Can elementary students handle that kind of stress without it negatively impacting their health, physically and mentally?

It becomes even more alarming when you consider that the Tacoma School District no longer has set recess times. Teachers provide recess for their students if and when they have time. I know some students only get one 15-minute recess a day, compared to the two we got in school when I was a student. PE, which used to be daily when I was in school, is now only twice a week. I'm not sure how much play time students get after lunch, but I know some schools rotate students taking their lunch at their desks in the classroom to handle the problem of too small cafeterias. That's a lot of desk time and very little play time for these students. I've seen reports that the extra school time will be used to cover current curriculum. Perhaps it would be wiser to give the kids more time to play.

This is a really hard thing for me to swallow. Children need time to play and pursue enjoyable activities of their choosing. There's plenty of opportunities for responsibility and stress later. I agonize over the requirement I have to do school for 20-25 hours a week. I've found that amount of time not necessary to more than adequately teach my kids. They've proven that by scoring exceptionally high on standardized tests. I also tend to have moments when I feel that 4-5 hours a day of school is just too much. It's the only thing I don't like about being enrolled in CVA. At least, I can be creative in meeting that time, filling a good portion of it with fun activities that don't feel like school. Thinking about it makes me glad my kids aren't in school and hopeful that nothing happens to make enrolling them in traditional public schools necessary.

Are we requiring too much of our kids?

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Luke Holzmann said...

During my first few years of homeschooling, I was "doing school" for only a couple hours a day (8am-10am)... and then we would read together under lunch. So hearing about this mandatory "seat-time" is painful.


This is disturbing. Mostly because this sounds motivated by bureaucracy rather than considering the education/development of the children... especially the boys.


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