Philadelphia Aims to Use Year-Round Schooling to Help Students Reach Grade Level

Cherelle Parker, inaugurated as mayor of Philadelphia, unveiled her intention to create a task force focusing on full-day and year-round schooling, a concept she championed during her election campaign. The task force’s objective is to devise a plan to extend the hours of Philadelphia public schools from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and during the summer. Its aim is to offer “meaningful, educational out-of-school activities and employment opportunities for students.”

Education expert Daniel H. Robinson provides insights into year-round schooling in Philadelphia by addressing five key questions.

Details of the Mayor’s Initiative

Parker proposes an extension of operating hours and days for Philadelphia public school facilities. The Accelerate Philly strategic roadmap, developed by Superintendent Tony Watlington, outlines plans to pilot a year-round and extended-day school schedule in up to 10 schools to enhance student academic performance. The specifics of the additional days or hours beyond the current 180-day school year are not specified

Unlike traditional year-round schooling models, which redistribute existing school days into shorter breaks, the Philadelphia school district’s plan echoes recommendations proposed in the 1983 Nation at Risk report, advocating for a prolonged academic year spanning 200 to 220 days.

Global Schooling Practices

Internationally, the length of school days and academic years varies markedly. While countries like Japan and Australia have nearly year-round schooling, the U.S. typically operates on a nine-month academic calendar. Conversely, nations such as Finland, Iceland, and Ireland offer shorter school days and years compared to the American system.

In Philadelphia, select charter schools have introduced summer extension programs while adhering to conventional school hours during the academic year.

A national initiative, the Time Collaborative, involving 40 schools nationwide, aims to supplement educational hours by extending the school day, academic year, or both over a three-year span.

Legislative and Policy Considerations

The Pennsylvania minimum requirement for open school days stands at 180, akin to the norm in most states. The Philadelphia mayor possesses the jurisdiction to extend school hours since she nominates school board members who regulate the hiring and firing of superintendents. The endorsement of the new superintendent is pivotal to the mayor’s proposed modifications.

The crux of the matter is: Should the mayor proceed with these adjustments?

Parker’s primary objective is to bring students to grade-level proficiency academically. Currently, only about 15% of fourth graders in Philadelphia public schools achieve or surpass the proficient benchmark in standardized reading tests, as per the National Center for Education Statistics.

While there is anticipation that extending school days or years could enhance student achievements, limited empirical evidence supports this claim.

The evaluation of the impact of extended school days or years, even on a voluntary basis with ten schools, poses challenges including selection bias.

Potential Benefits and Outcomes

The 2023 study referenced in the Accelerate Philly plan suggests that summer and after-school programs can expedite learning. Expanding academic hours and days can provide free and convenient childcare for parents, offering a safe and supportive environment for kids for longer durations.

Increasing before-school and after-school enrichment activities and extending academic calendars can potentially mitigate juvenile delinquency by reducing unsupervised street time for students.

Although the issue of mandatory student participation remains undecided, involuntary attendance may hinder some students from benefiting from the extended schooling opportunities.

Challenges and Roadblocks

A significant challenge will be funding; operating schools for extended hours necessitates higher energy consumption. Many Philadelphia schools lack adequate air conditioning to sustain summer operation.

In addition, employing more personnel, notably teachers willing to work additional hours, poses a logistical hurdle. Reports from January 2024 highlight a concerning trend of high teacher attrition rates in Philadelphia compared to other regions in Pennsylvania.

The stance of the teachers union on district-wide year-round schooling and the financial implications of extended programming in the annual budget are critical unknown factors.

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