Jacksonville, FL Schools Add Hour for Reading Instruction

Duval County Schools, in the northwest corner of Florida, will be extending the school day or will create time during it, to follow the directive received from the state that 300 lower-performing campuses must add more time in the day for reading.

In the Jacksonville area, that means that 52 schools will will be changing their schedules in some way, writes Roger Weeder of First Coast News.

Parents met at Holiday Hill Elementary School to discuss the extra hour of school for children who attend the Duval County Public Schools which did not score well on the Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), reports Alyana Gomez of WTEV.

Of the 200 parents who attended, nearly all raised their hands when asked if they were against the extra hour of reading. Denise Smith Amos, writing for The Florida Times-Union, reports that some parents were considering transferring their children because of the extra hour. Parents at this meeting aired their concerns about:

• The real need for extra reading help for their child.

• Seven hours being too long a day for younger children.

• Extended homework time resulting in less time for sleep.

• Traffic problems at the later hour encroaching on homework time.

• Parents having their work day, after-care or childcare disrupted.

"Most of our concerns are going to be what will they be doing for the extra hour," said Brenda Campbell, a PTA member who takes care of her grandson after school each day. "Will they really be focused and have one-to-one attention?"

The district believes it will cost between $8-10 million to extend the school day for reading instruction. When Duval County lengthened the school day for a dozen schools last year, there was a 67% improvement in reading proficiency.

But, Greg Keefer, parent of a first-grader, says he and other parents are concerned about the costs and the impact the longer day will have on families.

"We looked at the research and we do not see a return on investment for the sacrifice asking of our parents and our teachers and everybody," said Keefer.

Jennifer Waugh of WJXT reports that the end of the day at these schools will change from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. She adds that Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the change is not based on the school's grade level, but on the percentage of students who are not reading at grade level as measured by the FCAT reading comprehension test. Students who scored a 5 on the FCAT reading comprehension test are exempted from staying the extra hour. Vitti said she would ask parents to let even those students stay the extra hour.

"I think some parents have looked at this as maybe punishment," Vitti said. "We always think, ‘Oh, you have to stay after school,' and there's a negative stigma linked to that. But this is really about providing additional support to students who are not only below grade level, but also above grade level. What our plan is, is to differentiate based on the individual student."

Many parents do not know how they will orchestrate the picking up of their children if they have one child who has to stay the extra hour and another who is not on the "added instruction" list. Another question is when after-school activities begin, and how children get home if they walk home from school and it begins to get dark earlier in the day. ( The school board says that after school activities will begin after the extra hour, and that there will be transportation provided.) Other parents say reading levels should be the top priority.

"If the reading scores are low and kids would benefit from it I don't have a problem with it at all," said Bill McLaughlin, a parent.

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