Students Beware: Longer School On The Horizon

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.

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James A. Restucci is the author of this blog. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Internal License.

15 Responses to Students Beware: Longer School On The Horizon

  1. TVNews says:

    I think that is a great definition of world citizen. One that encourages free economic development while keeping the interests of his own country foremost in mind.

  2. EagleWatch says:

    The concept of a “good world citizen” is fiction of those who believe the community of nations to be an actual community. This is the nature of post-Americanism — those who believe in “American exceptionalism” in the way that Russians think about “Russian exceptionalism”.

    If forced, I would define a “good world citizen” as anyone who promoted self-governance in those lands inflicted with autocratic regimes; promoted market repubublicanism in lands whose economies are centrally clogged by planning commissions, repressive bureaucracies, palaces and fleets of Gulfstreams; things like that.

  3. Libby says:

    “Try becoming a Congressperson” was a joke, Guys. I meant if you are looking for a job where your performance isn’t measured, Congresspeoples have it made. They are only accountable to their constituents every 2 years or 6 years and when that time rolls around, the “judges” of their performance have forgotten what it was that they did that they as judges didn’t like.

    As far as a “good world citizen” goes TV, that was a question you addressed to Jeanine, not me.

  4. TVNews says:

    Libby, From your mouth to God’s ears. But what does that have to do with what makes a “good world citizen?”

  5. jimr says:

    Libby, there are plenty of organizations who measure Congress’ performance; unfortunately, they don’t always tell the truth [:)]

  6. Libby says:

    Here’s a suggestion, TV…Try becoming a Congress-person!

  7. TVNews says:

    Jeanine, What is a good “world citizen?” That sounds a little scary.

    The United States lost the educational edge when we stopped teaching how to think and started teaching what to think. Until we can get over the politically correct garbage and get back to the basics no amount of additional time in the class room is going to help.

    Those that argue against standardized testing have yet to come up with a workable alternative. I think it would be great to have a job that never measures my performance. Good work if you can get it.

  8. Libby says:

    I think the Govt. involves itself in education matters for the same reason that it involves itself in any other social issue: The people [voters] demand it. For good or ill, people see the Federal Government’s role as “fixers of problems”. And that’s a fact–like it or not.

    Jimr, I can empathize with you over your predicament with your son’s education. I faced a very similar situation I think with my son. Of course, it was way back in the mid 70s. He seemed to the school like a very bright boy. His verbal skills indicated that to be so. But he was doing very poorly in school grade-wise and also interacting with his peers. By the time he got to third grade he couldn’t read. Period. So the school gave him an IQ test and sure enough the results indicated he bordered on genius. The school [which was a very good public one thankfully] had meetings with us and explained that they wanted to try some innovative educational tools on him. They said that they thought his problem was the reading materials that were typical for third grade level. He wasn’t in the least interested in the subject matter which involved “Choo-choos” and “the farmer and his chickens”. His mind was busy contemplating how and why the solar system existed and worked, and the mechanical intricacies of how railroad steam engines functioned. A group of dedicated teachers contributed their free time to tutoring him during the school day using sixth grade level texts. In less than a year he was reading very well. The point of this long monologue is each child has individual skills and needs, and it takes dedicated understanding teachers and much support from involved parents to educate children to their potential. We all agree to that.

    I guess the point is what worked almost forty years ago probably wouldn’t work today, sadly. But I don’t think it’s because of a lack of dedicated teachers. And I don’t think it’s because of Federal Govt. involvement. I think maybe it’s because our concept of what constitutes a “good” education is changing so rapidly due to technological advances that we and other countries too are stuggling to keep up and prepare the next generation for what it is going to face in the 21st century. If the length of the school day were extended, perhaps there might be enough time to teach children the basics that they absolutely need in today’s world [aka] math and science, and possibly introduce them to other subjects that we consider important or even vital. The standard “classical” education. History, geography, literature, music, art…One thing’s for sure, incorporating all of this would certainly take more hours than is currently being devoted to educating American children! But I digress…

  9. EagleWatch says:

    Ask the Congress to solve the problem 2+2=?, and they will proudly return an anwer of “grapefruit”. Congress doesn’t solve economic or healthcare or scholastic problems, it trades in politics. To ask politicians to formulate an educational policy is to ask for “grapefruit” answers.

  10. jimr says:

    4 words…National Flood Insurance Plan.

  11. jeanine says:

    What does a piece of paper asking for a parent signature have to do with American Literature? Nothing. It has more to do with the fact that we don’t teach children to take responsibility for anything, let alone their educations and teachers (k-12) are required to get parents involved. Most parents are not involved with their child’s education beyond signing papers.

    Why shouldn’t the Federal Government be involved with education?

  12. jimr says:

    Thank you all for your comments, my point in writing this blog post was to encourage debate on the subject.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of increasing the school day or year.  However, I agree with Jeanine that the system definitely needs to be fixed.  For example, my son Dylan is a brilliant kid, there is no doubt of that, his test scores are through the roof, and in most cases he places in the top 5% of the nation.  However, getting him to actually engage in classroom activites and turn in his assigments is like pulling teeth!

    If he can acquire the knowledge that he needs to pass the test with flying colors, yet doesn’t participate in class what does that say about the system?

    I review his grades daily through the school’s online system, and I am floored when I see an F for something called the “Parent Acknowledgement Sheet”; because of this grade alone he has a C (74%) in a class that he has all A’s in.

    I am sorry, but how does a piece of paper that requires a parents signature have anything to do with American Literature?

    This is exactly why I agree with Jeanine, the system is obviously broken, and I don’t believe Mr. Obama or Mr. Duncan for that matter can fix it.  Matter-of-fact, I don’t believe the Federal Government should be involved period.

  13. jeanine says:

    In Los Angeles, CA a teacher, by the name of Raife Esquith, extends classroom hours, early in the morning (6am), into the evening (as late as 8pm), and on weekends and during holiday breaks.  Mr. Esquith does not get paid extra for the hours he spends making sure each of his students leave his classroom successes, he does it because he genuinely cares about the quality of education these children receive.  While this is one aspect in which Esquith differs from the average teacher, another is that he refuses to teach to the California State Assessment test.  He takes his students (the ones no other teacher wants (behavior problems, ELL, etc) and by the end of their year in Mr. Esquith’s class, they perform, in its entirety, a Shakespearean play.  Esquith’s students have been tracked from his fifth grade classroom through college, many of these children go on to earn scholarships to private middle and high schools and then on to Ivy League colleges.  

    Esquith operates his classroom on the idea that “There are no Shortcuts.”  This philosophy is one that has been lost in our current educational philosophy; instead, it has been replaced with standardized testing to measure teacher success over student learning; it has been replaced by kindergarteners learning to speed read rather than to read for comprehension; it has been replaced music and art being taken out of the school day in favor of WASL test prep sessions.  What is the end result of this?  More and more students falling through the cracks of the flawed system.  More and more people becoming teachers who should not be teachers.  

    The concern should not be teachers becoming government paid babysitters; No Child Left Behind has already guaranteed that.  Our teachers are already babysitters.  They are denied the ability to teach our children what they need to know to be successful world citizens.  In the state of Washington our constitution finds that our first responsibility is for the education of our youth, so why are we denying them that education?  We are denying them education, because too many have been sucked into the notion that test scores matter, that the only way to measure learning is through standardization rather than through testing children on the information they have been taught.

    Thus, while our children go home at 3pm to fill their evenings with an empty house, Sponge Bob, Gangs, Video Games, etc. European and Asian students go from the school classroom to an evening classroom (funny how the Brookings Institute ignores that).  Their educations continue into the evening.  It may also be interesting to note, that the child you mentioned in your post, was exposed to foreign language education from the first day of her educational experience, potentially even prior, whereas our schools are stripping bilingual education from the schools saying “we just don’t have the numbers to support it.”  Certainly they have the numbers, but they also have a number of people who view bilingual education as a tool for keeping the spanish speakers speaking spanish, rather than learning English.  

    The true focus of this issue is not on whether teachers will become socialized babysitters, but whether our school system needs to be reformed, from the top down, so that we can guarantee that every child learns to read critically, to understand what they read, so that they can make educated decisions about the questions they will face in life.  

  14. Libby says:

    Teachers acting as babysitters being paid for with taxpayer dollars is a very bad idea, I think we can all agree. However, I don’t think that that is the intent of the administration. I think the intent is to increase the student’s performance capabilities so that they will be able to compete with other children from around the globe who are out-performing them. Extending the school year and / or hours children spend learning in school is a suggested solution. Do you have another solution in mind that might accomplish the objective? The only other solution I can think of would be to make the parents responsible for their children’s performance levels improving. Many of them have already taken that position and are to their credit doing so. Don’t you agree? And many of them who can’t personally devote hours to educating their children to a satisfactory level [aka] home schooling–have made the financial sacrifice of enrolling their children in private schools or charter schools. That appears to me to be the “ideal” solution. I don’t think the Obama / Duncan administration disagrees with that. I think they have suggested the extended-hours solution as an alternative because practically, too many parents either can’t devote the time, or don’t have the money, or regrettably don’t care enough about their children’s education to solve the problem themselves. This solution to be sure would involve more “government interference” in the private lives of citizens. And we all would prefer that wasn’t necessary. If this should come to pass, I will wait to pass judgment on the program until we see whether it shows good results or not. In short I’m not condemning the idea yet. However, the minute those “babysitters” start teaching the children the chant, “Barack Hussein Obama..Mmmm hmmm” I’ll be the first to call for it’s elimination! LOL

  15. EagleWatch says:

    I have been known to get into 1957, four-door, two-tone snit on this subject (not a pretty sight). We spend copiously more per student than the rest of the world (to no avail), and now we are setting up to “spend” more time per student (more than likely to no avail). The problem isn’t the students, its the teachers/lesson plans/curricula.

    I have held for quite some time now that student testing should be on a straight scale – they either know the material or they don’t – and teachers should be graded on the curve (how there classes are straight-scale doing on standardized tests). That would give you a snap-shot of which teachers are getting through to their students and which ones aren’t. Reward those who serially do well and prune those who serially don’t.

    Pay for performance.

    To the real-world results-based evaluation of teachers, add vouchers so parents can choose among private, magnet and public schools for their children.

    I could go on and on, but, mercifly, I won’t.