Recess Goes Bye-Bye in Syracuse, NY Elementary Schools

If Syracuse, NY’s education leaders have reviewed the latest research about the usefulness of recess, the new schedules designed for their elementary schools give no hints of it.

Starting this year, master schedules for the city’s elementary schools will use every minute of the school day, aside from the half-hour set aside for lunch, for instructional purposes. Although the district’s Chief Academic Officer Laura Kelley said that the teachers themselves could decide to insert a recess period into their school day, many are taking the document as a directive that when the students aren’t eating, they should be learning.

When asked about the options left to the teachers who wish to insert a break into their day, Kelley frankly admitted that she didn’t see how that would be possible — although instructors weren’t forbidden from trying. Making time for recess would mean taking time away from required instruction in either English language arts or mathematics, something that Kelley hoped a teacher would consider carefully before doing.

The focus on instruction is meant to bring up the student achievement in Syracuse, a city with some of the worst student outcomes in the state. Kelley drew on her own experience as an elementary school teacher when she developed the master schedule. Her students didn’t get recess during the day, which gave her more time to teach.

The district opted for the new master schedule for two reasons, Kelley said. It wants teachers at every school to spend adequate time on core subjects because not all of them have been.
The district wants to make sure teachers meet new state requirements for the number of minutes they spend on core areas, she said. The requirements are part of the state’s new teacher accountability rules.

“Many schools, actually most of our elementary schools, have not been offering recess for quite some time. They’ve opted to spend as many minutes as they can on instruction,” she said.

Although the number of schools considering ditching recess is growing, not every school district is following Syracuse’s lead. In Chicago, the reverse is taking place, with elementary schools about to get back the mid-day break they haven’t been able to enjoy for thirty years. Heeding the emerging research that shows adding a small break in the middle of the day can actually aid in learning, the city’s public schools will slowly introduce it back in to their schedules.

The importance of mid-day recess could be enhanced by considering that students are increasingly losing another chunk of time traditionally reserved for recreation — time after school — to shrinking budgets and personnel shortages. A survey released by the Afterschool Alliance shows that two out of five afterschool programs around the country are reporting smaller budgets this year.

The district opted for the new master schedule for two reasons, Kelley said. It wants teachers at every school to spend adequate time on core subjects because not all of them have been.
The district wants to make sure teachers meet new state requirements for the number of minutes they spend on core areas, she said. The requirements are part of the state’s new teacher accountability rules.

“Many schools, actually most of our elementary schools, have not been offering recess for quite some time. They’ve opted to spend as many minutes as they can on instruction,” she said.

Friday
09 14, 2012
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