It is maddening that Boston’s public schools must reach the precipice of collapse before they can use one of the most important tools of school reform — a longer school day.
This week, the School Department announced that it wants to turn the poorly performing Marshall Elementary in Dorchester into an in-district charter run by the education-management nonprofit Unlocking Potential. This change is entirely justified. In the simple act of converting from a regular public school to a charter, the school day would increase from six hours to eight. A year ago, Unlocking Potential took over the troubled Gavin Middle School in South Boston. Test scores soared, and the renamed UP Academy’s longer day clearly helped.
The looming change at the Marshall will benefit students. Yet it’s also a stark reminder of the mediocrity embedded into the latest Boston teachers’ contract, which imposes substantial restrictions on how traditional public schools can operate. Despite years of wrangling with the union, no breakthrough was made for a longer school day, leaving Boston with one of the shortest school days and least total school-year hours in the nation. The average day in the Boston Public Schools is now an hour shorter than in cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and Austin. But because of the Boston union’s stance, seeking charter status for a traditional school like the Marshall is the most practical way to substantially lengthen the day while making the staffing changes needed to make that longer day fruitful.
Nevertheless, the Boston Teachers Union now laments the change. Union president Richard Stutman said, “It was like a sudden death in the family, a punch in the stomach, and a sign of disrespect.” But far worse disrespect is being shown to students deprived of the valuable teaching and tutoring time they need.