If you attend Buffalo Public Schools, you’re in for a longer school day.
The extra 25 minutes that will be tacked onto the end of the day this year is part of the new contract between the school district and its teacher’s union, bringing what has traditionally been one of the shorter school days – 6 hours and 50 minutes – up to 7 hours and 15 minutes.
Now, the question causing some tension is this: How best to use the time?
Add three minutes to each period?
Add a second homeroom at the end of the day?
What about using the time for teacher planning?
The union wants each building to have the right to make that decision, while the school district is adamant that the additional 25 minutes be used for instruction.
“We hope it has an impact on student achievement – that’s our ultimate goal,” said Darren Brown, the district’s chief of staff.
Options were devised after the school district invited teachers and administrators to a spring brain-storming meeting on how best to use the extra 25 minutes, said Sabatino Cimato, an associate superintendent.
Elementary schools will be required to use the added time for core subject areas, such as math, English language arts, science and social studies, but have some latitude on how that time is spent. Their school day will end at 2:55 p.m. for schools with an early start and 3:55 for those with a late start.
Middle and high schools can use the extra time as a second homeroom with a focus on academic assistance or student advising – or both.
“It gives kids the opportunity to bring closure to the day and get organized,” said Margaret Boorady, an associate superintendent. “They’re adolescents and they’re not fully formed in terms of organization skills and study skills. It’s really a support to help those seventh- and eighth-graders, instead of the last bell ringing and kids running to their locker to grab what they think they need before running out to the bus.”
Or, the other option for middle and high schools is simply to add three minutes to each classroom period.
Schools already have decided on which option to use and sent letters out to parents, Cimato said.
Additional time in the school day was one of the district’s big wins when negotiating a new contract with teachers last October.
The 6-hour, 50-minute school day schedule the district had been on was the shortest in Erie County, according to the district.
A 7-hour, 15-minute day is more in line with other districts. Fifteen districts are at 7 hours and 20 minutes or longer; while 11 are at 7 hours and 30 minutes or longer, according to district figures.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation – already locked in a legal battle with the district over the change in start times at three schools – has raised concerns, though, because it believed the agreement allowed for each school to decide how to use the additional minutes. In addition to more time for instruction, that also could include time for teacher planning, such as grade-level meetings where teachers discuss individual student data and how to improve performance.
BTF President Philip Rumore said the union will try to work things out with the district, but if not, would consider filing a grievance.
“I don’t know where the miscommunication came from,” Brown said. “What we said is we would definitely allow schools to decide based on options as we presented here. But increasing instructional time for students was always what the district intended that time be used for.”
Jennifer Davis, co-founder of the National Center on Time & Learning, a nonprofit based at Harvard University, said there is not just one model, but those schools that saw the most success added more significant time to the school day and spent as much as a year engaged in thoughtful planning on how to use it.
Those schools also included time for teachers to grapple with student data and meet with peers on how to improve individual student performance.
“The teachers are right to push back if they’re not getting any additional planning time together,” said Davis, a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.
Davis – who was complimentary of the educational efforts going on in Buffalo – thought the district might see some gains by using the 25 minutes at the end of the day in small groups focused on improving specific academic needs. She was less optimistic about simply extending classes three minutes.
“It’s highly unlikely that adding a few minutes to each class will result in any significant educational impact,” Davis said.
Options for using the extra 25 minutes:
For elementary schools
A core concept
- Must use added time on core subjects.
- Can use all 25 minutes on one subject, or parcel it out across multiple subjects, based on school's academic needs.
- Use of added time could vary from grade to grade.
For middle and high schools
No place like home (room)
- Use all 25 minutes as a second homeroom at the end of the day.
- Students would get extra help and homework assistance.
- Could be some flexibility based on the needs of each student.
Take my advice
- Use the second homeroom as more of an advisory period.
- Staff would be assigned the same group of students for several years.
- Goal would be to create a closer “mentoring” relationship.
Minute by minute
- Add three minutes to each class.
- Would make classroom periods 45 minutes instead of 42.
- Officials acknowledge it may not seem like a big change, but amounts to an extra 540 minutes per period over the course of the school year.