If Mr. Obama has his way, students in the U.S. may be in for longer school days, a longer school year or possibly both.
In a statement quoted from the Associated Press, Mr. Obama warns that American youngsters spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.
“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president said earlier this year. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”
The president, who has a sixth-grader and third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let students in on weekends, “so they have a safe place to go.”
His Education Secretary agrees, Arne Duncan said in a recent interview, “Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today.”
Duncan goes on to say that students in the United States need more school because those in other nations have more school. “Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here”,” Mr. Duncan said. “I want to just level the playing field.”
This is not exactly correct, according to Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, children in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do those in Asian countries that consistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests – Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) compared with the U.S. school year of 180 days.
However, Educators still insist there is a strong case for adding time to the school day.
Mr. Loveless said, “Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don’t forget, these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes. Percentage-wise, that’s a pretty healthy increase.”
Having served overseas a good portion of my military career, I have to admit that the children I ran into in Germany, Belgium and France were, I thought “very smart” for their age, most speaking 2 or 3 languages fluently. One little girl who I met while in Luxemburg during Paton’s Day was seven years old, and spoke 7 languages flawlessly. As I understand it, these children were not “very smart” for their age, and were, with the exception of the little girl in Luxemburg, the status quo.
So maybe there are some good things to be said for longer school years (or a longer day); however, I am not so sure I agree with Mr. Obama or Mr. Duncan. For instance, according to the same article, Mr. Duncan’s vision of school is little different than yours and mine. He would like to see schools as “the heart of the community” and would like them open as late as 7:00pm on weekdays, and all day Saturday as well. According to Duncan, “3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents. They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”
This sounds eerily like government sponsored child care to me; it’s bad enough that we have bailed out banks, bailed out the auto industry, and health care is supposedly right around the corner; now we are going to use tax paying dollars to have our teachers act as babysitters for kids so that their parents don’t have to pay day care costs?
As I said before, a longer school day is not a bad idea, as long as it’s for the right reasons. Wanting our children to be able to compete on the world stage is a noble cause and one I can support; however using tax payer dollars to create an after school program to “watch” our children, in my book just doesn’t add up.