The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Shouldn’t Schools Provide Some Good News for Working Parents?

on October 16, 2016

This morning I received an article from a friend that was posted at a source that is new to me: “Think Progress”.  Although,  I cannot vouch for the accuracy or neutrality of this source, the article seemed reasonable to me. So I will summarize it here and add my own criticisms and suggestions.

The title of the article was,“Our Outdated School Schedules Are Hurting Working Parents.” Although I haven’t heard that assertion before, it seems accurate, and I have to agree that the days when schools are closed or when children are sent home early create problems for many families.

Back in the 19th century and for about half of the 20th century almost all married woman stayed at home while their husbands went out to work. Although it was not always easy to take care of sick children or to pick them up at school, most mothers accepted those tasks as their responsibility and did not complain. They also accepted keeping their children at home on holidays or on days when the schools were closed for other reasons. But things have changed considerably since then. Not only are many more mothers at work themselves, but also schools are closed more often during the traditional “school year.”

The article asserts that the women and families most affected adversely by no-school days are “single parents, low-income parents, parents of color, and part-time workers.” Members of those groups are less able to afford outside day care for their children or at–home caregivers. Often, they resort to getting a friend or neighbor to“look in”on their children or leaving them unsupervised completely for several hours.

At least one organization, the Center for American Progress (CAP) takes this situation seriously, believing that schools must adjust their schedules to better meet parents’ needs. Catherine Brown, vice president of education policy for CAP and one of the authors of a new report, says, “We need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives. I think requiring longer school days requires an injection of resources and creative thinking about how you set up your schools.”

In its report CAP offers several suggestions for changing the ways school schedules work. Those suggestions are listed below:

States could raise the minimum length of a school day to eight hours, which would push schools toward a typical work schedule.

Districts could use the assistance of AmeriCorps members, college students, and community members to help run programs during school closings and to monitor students when parents are at work.

Schools could limit days off to major holidays, look to major employers when deciding whether to close schools for inclement weather, and create school health policies that better recognize parents’ busy schedules.

Administrators could accommodate parents’ work schedules when deciding when to schedule parent-teacher conferences and consider alternatives to in-person meetings, such as chatting through Skype.

Schools could look at more efficient ways to conduct teacher professional development, such as having teacher development run throughout the school day through teacher collaboration and individualized coaching, so the school wouldn’t have to close for the day.

Schools could identify alternatives to a tiered busing schedule, such as a dual-route system, so that students can get to school at the same time.

On the whole, I find these suggestions impractical because they involve school districts and groups of outsiders not likely to commit themselves to changing their operations to suit the needs of parents. Below I offer my own suggestions that I think are more practical, even though they would they would be likely to increase the costs of school operations considerably.

Elementary schools should shift to a nine-hour day (8 A.M. to 5 P.M.) with breakfast at 8 A.M and classes beginning at 9 AM, with a one hour break for lunch and recess, and after school activities for those students whose parents request it.

Middle schools should have an 8 A.M to 4 P.M schedule that would also include an hour for breakfast and another hour for lunch and recess. A 4 P.M. dismissal time assumes that students of this age are mature enough to manage their lives for an hour after school without supervision.

High school schedules should stay as they are because of sports and other after school activities now available. I assume that students who do not participate in such activities are old enough to be at home by themselves or to join friends after school.

Parent teacher conferences and professional development sessions should be held in the evenings or on Saturdays, with teachers compensated for the extra time.

On holidays when businesses are not likely to be closed, elementary and middle schools that close should provide a full day of activities and busing for students whose parents request it. Parents should pay a low fee for this service.

I fully understand that implementing my suggestions would require more school funding for trained para-professionals to manage after school and holiday programs at elementary schools and middle schools. At the same time such programs could be designed to employ young people who want to become teachers and provide them with college scholarships rather than salaries.  This could be a win-win situation for parents, prospective teachers and schools.

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