FILE – In this Sunday, May 19, 2019 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., talks during her first campaign organizing event at Los Angeles Southwest College in Los Angeles. Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are among the candidates coming to court thousands of party faithful at the California Democratic Party convention on Saturday, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
The public education system has many, many flaws. And while the people who work within its system by and large do not believe the things you or I believe, I do call many of them my colleagues and I share many of their struggles.
Because many of those in education are liberal, they are most often supporters of Democratic candidates, and the unions that represent them are major supporters and donors. So, naturally, you can expect them to support virtually any Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary… except for maybe Kamala Harris.
Harris is pushing a legislative proposal that would extend the basic school day from eight hours to ten. As a teacher myself, I groaned at the idea. With every fiber of my being, I disliked the initial idea, and I joined many others on social media to take a jab at the proposal before even reading the details. The proposal itself sounds good – on paper, at least – but many of the struggles that teachers face in their classrooms are very likely going to be made worse by Harris’ plan.
To start with, this isn’t something that will make kids face ten hours of instruction a day. When you dig into it, you see that what she’s proposing is essentially a pilot program for an aftercare service at a handful of schools. The goal of the program is to keep kids in academic environments (though not necessarily in classes) until the parents’ workday is over and the kids don’t have to be home alone. They can work on homework or academic enrichment or any other activity that benefits them in some way.
That’s actually not terrible, because after-school tutoring and aftercare services do have benefits when kids utilize them. The problem is that the proposal insists that schools establish public-private partnerships to fund and staff these extended hours.
The bill would also require the school to find a private or non-federal public funding source, such as state grants or philanthropy organizations, to match 10 percent of the federal grant money, a stipulation intended to help the programs remain sustainable after the initial grant money has run out. The matches can be money or an in-kind contribution in the form of volunteer staff time, meeting spaces, or equipment.
Those in-kind contributions of staff time might be critical to her plans’ success. Harris’ plan takes pains to ensure school staff wouldn’t be overburdened by her vision, a key concession in an environment in which teachers have taken to the picket lines to protest long hours and low pay. Teachers and administrators would not increase the amount of time they work unless they volunteer additional hours and are compensated fairly for them. “This could be a real win for teachers,” Brown explains, noting that an extended schedule would give schools the chance to get creative about who has responsibility for students throughout the day. “It shifts the mindset from one teacher being responsible for a group of kids all day to the school and community collectively watching students.”
This is ultimately where the plan, if it were to take effect nationwide, would cause major problems. You have far more schools than there are private and non-federal funds available to help each and every one of them, and should this plan go from pilot to federal policy, you will not be able to avoid the use of teaching faculty to man the aftercare hours.
Sure, the compensation they are suggesting makes it competitive and perhaps even financially worth the time and effort, but when it’s all said and done, you’re asking teachers to arrive at school at least an hour before school starts and they will probably have to stay after school a bit to plan and prepare for the next day. That’s twelve hours a day at school, and if you believe that teachers don’t bring their work home with them, then you are very sadly mistaken.
You also have a problem in that those teachers who have to stay at their own schools to work aftercare are going to be late in picking up their own children from aftercare at their schools. So now those teachers are in a bind, they will find themselves overburdened, and ultimately you’ll see teachers burn out even faster than they are right now.
The fact of the matter is that, while it’s easy to say “You have to partner up with non-federal funds and private companies,” the act of doing so requires a lot of time and effort administrators and school districts don’t always have, and so they “volunteer” their own staff to run the after-hours tutelage. Between over-packed classrooms, stacks of bureaucratic paperwork that detracts from the actual teaching part of teaching, administrative dictates that force teachers into small, unimaginative boxes and canned curricula, there is absolutely no more room in their lives for another “volunteer” assignment from a principal who wants to try and earn that sweet, sweet federal money for their school.
What Harris is proposing is actually not a bad idea, provided there is a way to ensure enough participation at the local level to ease the burden from already overburdened teachers. There is no way to guarantee that, however, and this will ultimately chase teachers away.