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The 37 1/2-Minute Scramble

by Philissa Cramer, Feb 10, 2006
 

For weeks, parents, bus companies, and after-school programs braced for disruptions as the Department of Education prepared to extend the school day for one-third of the city's 1.1 million school children. On February 6, the changes finally took effect, and many parents had complaints.

The schedule shift came out of contract negotiations between the city and the United Federation of Teachers. The change is designed to provide small group instruction -- classes of 10 students or less -- to kids who need it the most. But not all students who could benefit from the help will receive it. Some schools have so many struggling students that they will not be able to provide the extra classes for all of them. Others have so few kids who score below state standards that they will be able to offer extra help or enrichment classes to kids who are doing well academically.

The Department of Education is requiring 290,000 students to stay for the extra help. Another 40,000 can volunteer to stay. For most other students, the school day was shortened by 10 minutes.

So starting February 6, most schools began having two dismissal times: one for students who meet academic standards and a later one for students who will receive the 37 and a half minutes of extra help. But these changes were not uniform. Some schools provide the extra help in the morning before other classes begin, and at least one high school extended the school day for all students.

Inadequate Information

In a new Insideschools.org poll taken as the changes went into effect, three out of four parents said the citywide extended-school-day program affects their work, transportation or after-school plans. Some said their children’s after-school programs are being canceled, and others say their children must spend more time on school buses.

The poll, to which 319 Insideschools.org readers responded as of February 6, reveals a breakdown in communication between schools and parents. While the poll may not include a representative sample of parents, it does reflect widespread concern with the schedule changes.

Of the respondents -- more than 90 percent of whom are parents -- half said they had received “inadequate” or no information about what would happen during the extra minutes, and about 30 percent said they had received insufficient information about the change itself. And of the respondents who needed information about changes to their child’s after-school and bus schedules, 40 percent said they had not gotten any.

Logistical Impact

While many readers said they look forward to having their children receive extra help, others complained about the logistical impact of changing schedules midyear. Many said the change would affect the work schedules, after school plans and transportation arrangements. “I am a single parent and the sole supporter of my two children,” wrote Maria Zemel, whose children attend PS 128 in the Bronx. “Having a school schedule change puts me in a very difficult situation with my employer.”

Several parents reported that their child’s after-school programs are being cut or threatened to make way for the new minutes. A respondent reported that at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens, an elective ninth period has been scrapped. At PS 154 in Queens, the computer program and chorus are being dismantled, a parent wrote. In Brooklyn, the Project Boost program at IS 220 is also shutting down, wrote parent Theresa Basso.

Shift In Bus Schedules

The change is the largest midyear shift in bus schedules in recent memory, according to Charles Butera of the Atlantic Express bus company, the largest provider of bus services to New York City schoolchildren. The company has had to hire new drivers and secure new buses to cover all of the new routes the education department is asking it to run.

And parents expressed concern about the costs and timing of the new bus schedules. Parent Maureen Doran wrote that her daughter, who attends PS 153 in the Bronx, will now be picked up more than an hour before the school day begins and dropped off more than an hour after it ends, up from about 30 minutes before the change.

Some parents said that the money that will go to changing bus schedules should go for other things. “The extra money that will be spent to bus the children for two dismissal sessions could be better spent by having adding extra teachers to reduce class size,” wrote Stephen Pruden, whose daughter attends MS 158 in Queens.

Too Much Time, Too Little?

Poll respondents divided over whether the 37 and a half-minute session is too long or too short, with only 18 percent of respondents saying it is “just right.” One parent wrote, “You ask if it is too long or too short, and I say both – too long for teachers who are already putting in a full day, too long for mandated children who are burned out by the end of the school day, too long for children who are not mandated but have to bide their time before their after school programs start, and too short to be of any real use.” Still, the poll results indicate that at least some students who are not required to attend the extra session will take advantage of the small-group tutoring.

Many parents said the schools should try to provide small group instruction for more students, and some of these parents are also upset that students not considered struggling will have their school day shortened by 10 minutes. “I do not think good students should be made to suffer by losing 50 minutes of instruction per week,” wrote Ellen Reiser, a Manhattan East parent. Brooklyn parent Fran Streich, parent liaison for the United Federation of Teachers in Brooklyn, said about 75 Brooklyn parents she polled informally before the changes went into effect would have preferred the school day to have been extended for all students.

And some schools have extended the day for students who are not eligible for tutoring. At the Anderson School, a gifted program with few students performing below grade level, the extra time is being added to the beginning of the day. Teachers will run “clubs,” focusing on geography, math, chorus, and other subjects for students who are interested and can get to school early.

Several respondents commented that even students who might benefit academically from the extra time will lose out on other needed activities, such as physical education, socialization and sleep. “While I vehemently agree that early intervention and small class size is extremely important, I know that for my son this is not a good choice,” wrote Melissa McGill, whose son attends PS 39 in Brooklyn. “He is tired at the end of the day and he still has half an hour to an hour of homework to do when he gets home.”

A parent of a kindergarten student at the Children’s School in Manhattan commented, “I do not think that 5-year-olds need any more time sitting in school,” and Eugene Falik, a parent of a LaGuardia High School student agreed: “Children need more time to be children.”

Ninety-two percent of the 300 respondents were parents, 6 percent were teachers and school officials and 2 percent were students. Roughly equal percentages came from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens with 2 percent of respondents from Staten Island.

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on the pages of our partner, Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children. 


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