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Is Teacher Enrichment Worth a Shorter School Day?

With my oldest in kindergarten, I am a brand-new public school parent. After a few initial hiccups, we are getting used to the way things work (administrative glitches can and do happen, so you have to be proactive) and getting used to staying on top of it all (am finally getting the hang of remembering that Tuesdays and Wednesdays require the green T-shirt while field trips require the blue). Although we are in a A-rated school with a highly engaged community, I am starting to get a sense of how complicated the issues facing our school system are, and how easy it is to start questioning teachers unions.

The educators at our school have voted to end the school day a little less than an hour early every Friday in order to have time to meet with each other and share ideas (normally, the school day goes from 8:20am to 3:05pm). A cross-grade exchange of ideas sounds great, but in an age where American kids lag behind those in other countries and President Obama floats the idea of year-round school, is less class time the answer?

Being new to the school, I don’t have an accurate sense of how long a teacher’s day really is, factoring in prep and grading time, and it probably varies by grade. But with well-deserved time off for lunch, we’re talking about approximately six hours of actual teaching time each day. People in most other professions routinely work at least an 8-hour day (granted, those days are not spent with a couple dozen children), so I don’t consider that a long day. Can teachers really not spare 55 minutes more a week to learn to be more effective teachers? Must they really take it away from our kids? Enrichment is clearly good for our kids, but also ultimately for test scores, which reflect well on the teacher.

I would love to hear what other parents and especially teachers think about this. It strikes me as taking advantage of union power, but I full admit that being new to the public school system I might not understand all the issues at play. How would you feel if your local school decided to shorten the school day?