I have not been a big fan of Education Secretary Arne Duncan since the fiasco with the President’s school address. Encouraging schools to let kids watch the President’s address during the school day is one thing, but as for that lesson plan to the teachers – well, we know how that went over. Now the administration is proposing lengthening the school year. You can read the full story here.
His theory is that kids in other countries go to school longer, so we should too. As this article points out, however, the kids who traditionally but the U.S. students on math and science tests – those from Asian countries – have fewer instructional hours spread over more school days. In fact, we might be able to catch up with other countries on the number of school days by simply reducing the number of days off during the school year. Do we really need to have Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Day off of school? It’s not as if the kids will spend their day off honoring Columbus or Martin Luther King – it’s just a free day for them. Also, how many “institutional days” do we really need during the school year? If we can add 10 or 11 days to the school year by cutting out some of the days off, we could easily catch up to the number of school days that Japan and Hong Kong have.
Duncan does make a good point, though. Our calendar is based largely on the agrarian lifestyle that is far from the reality of most of today’s students. In fact, the more time kids spend in school, the less time their working parents have to cover with day care, after care, summer camps and other costly alternatives. However, do we want to go so far as to make the school system into a daycare system? Will having kids in school from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM help their education as much as it will help their parents with day care issues?
During the fall and winter months, when the days are shorter, kids would be going to school and coming home in the dark, which makes me a bit leary. Having kids wait at bus stops in the dark makes me worry about safety. During spring and summer months, when the weather is nicer, kids get more restless and want to play outside more. If the days are extended, more breaks and variety need to be included. Kids (mine in particular) can only sit still and learn for so long at a stretch.
On the other hand, summer can be quite long. I had my son in a theater camp for nine weeks during the summer, and he absolutely loved it. Even with that long a period in camp, I still had about two and half weeks of summer to “cover” for day care between the end and the start of the school year. I am glad he went through camp, because it kept him busy doing something other than watching TV for endless hours, had him socializing with kids of various ages, had him involved in learning activities, and had him learning in a way that doesn’t happen in a regular school setting.
I think kids need enrichment beyond the traditional classroom and the opportunity to explore extracurricular activities and interests. If the schools want to extend the school day to offer these extras, that would certainly benefit the students and some working parents as well. I think shortening the summer will help some students who tend to lose a lot of what they’ve learned during this time, because they have no opportunity to reinforce learning. My son’s school provided math exercises for him to work on over the summer, and we did work on those a little bit. I also enroll him in the library’s summer reading program every year, so we keep up with reading
With all that said, I still think the decision to extend the amount of learning time, how to use that time, and what resources to dedicate to the extended school hours, should be left to the states’ requirements and the individual districts, based on needs and affordability. If the federal government wants to help, they can provide grants to schools based on needs and requests. That’s my bias against too much federal intervention.