Christie Suggests Longer School Day For New Jersey, Parents Unsure

Parents in New Jersey have been debating the merits of Gov. Chris Christie's call for students to spend more time in the classroom. Some are welcoming it, and others are saying no.

Peggy McGlone of The Star-Ledger writes that supporters say that they need a longer school year, and that if granted more time the students would learn more. Other parents support it because it would help parents who pay for after school care or babysitting.

Opponents feel that students are in class enough and they need time to play. They feel that by the end of the day the kids are tired, and that summer vacation is too short already.

Christie said in his State of the State address that New Jersey students need more class time to remain competitive. Parent Kevin Cuddihy a former private school principal, disagrees.

"I don't know that more days would make us more competitive and more competitive with whom? There has to be a more creative way than simply adding days. You need improved teaching, more professional development."

Parents and educators say they need more time to decide. Education commissioner Chris Cerf says the proposal "doesn't include any details" and that the governor has called for "analysis, research and recommendations".

Charles Sampson, superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District, believes that the proposal will force districts to take a closer look at how they use their time. He also says the first step is to understand the goal.

"What are we looking to improve? If it is to improve academic achievement on standardized tests, that is a more specific conversation than providing extended opportunities for children," he said. "You're going to have very different reactions across the state, at the local level, and across households."

Schools around the country are looking at more class time as a possibility. Longer school days already play a role in some New Jersey charter schools. Charter schools in New Jersey go around 50 minutes longer than public school and have 6 more days each year, which adds up to an additional 30 days of school.

"The promise of charter schools was the ability to innovate with the hope that successful innovation could be utilized across public education," the association's CEO, Carlos Perez, said. "The longer school day is an innovation whose time has come for greater use."

Out of the two, parents tend to prefer longer days over more days. This doesn't surprise Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore. She says while summer is idealized in many families it is more video games than riding bikes, and that is not good for many students. Research shows that students lose valuable skills over summer break, with low income kids sliding back two or three months.

Parents, teachers and administrators will need to discuss the many questions posed over this issue. Lynne Strickland of the Garden State Coalition of Schools says it will require in depth conversation. Things like contract negations, facility upgrades, and dealing with summer temperatures are all issues that will need to be worked out.

But it is a conversation worth having, she said. "You wouldn't want to stop something that will help students grow, but we need to learn a whole lot more."

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