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Soundings

Sol Stern
School Daze
Their new contract makes Gotham’s teachers spend more time in the classroom. But they’re frittering that time away.
Autumn 2002

In the new contract they signed with Mayor Bloomberg this spring, New York’s teachers increase the amount of time they spend on the job by 6 percent each year. Unfortunately, the way they’ve tried to use this time productively—by adding 15 or 20 extra minutes to the school day—is unlikely to produce any academic benefit for students. It’s too easy to fritter away the extra time if it just comes in tiny increments added to classes and spread out over the school day.

The mayor should have insisted instead that the schools add ten whole days to the school year. Schools could use some of these bonus days for instruction. But another smart use would be for additional teacher preparation before the school year starts. Thanks to a clause in the current contract, teachers don’t have to report for work for the new school year until after Labor Day, usually just before students arrive for classes. Teachers have no time to plan curricula, discuss lesson plans, and swap notes on how to handle a rowdy classroom.

New teachers, in particular, suffer from this lack of preparation. The rookies get thrown into tough classrooms like soldiers sent to the front lines without basic training. Lots of them quit in frustration. Even most suburban districts, with far fewer classroom discipline problems than the city, require new teachers to spend several extra days in training before starting the school year. For years, New York City education officials have puzzled over what to do about new teachers’ high attrition rate. The answer stares them in the face.

The teachers’ union would resist such an extension of the school year, even if it would help the city’s schoolchildren. There’s nothing that teachers cherish more than their cushy 14 weeks of vacation. But it’s exactly to be able to make the tough moves that Mayor Bloomberg won control of the schools.

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