Idea of the day: longer and more school days

school-bus-topThe AP reports that the Obama administration is proposing a longer school year and longer school days.  Children in other nations, says Obama and the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, spend up to 30% more time in school.  America needs to align itself with the international norm.

As someone who spent all of her elementary school days and part of the middle school in China, I can attest to the astonishment that my 12-year-old self felt when I first came to the States and discovered that a normal school day was over by 2:30 pm.  In China, I have often stayed in class until 7:00 or even 8:00 p.m.  My memory of 5th and 6th grade involved going to school in the dark and coming home long after dark.  By comparison, the American school schedule, as well as the content of its classes, seemed like child’s play.

The long 2.5 or even 3 month summers were also a novelty to me.  In Beijing, the school year was out in mid-July, and resumed in early September.  We had at most a month and a half of summer vacation.

Personally, I think the change is long overdue.  President Obama hit the nail on the head when he called the current American school calendar an outdated one based on the “agrarian calendar.”  The only surprise, for me, is how long it took for people to catch on to this fact.

Obama justified his proposal in terms of catching up with international standards and making American students competitive against students in other (Asian?) countries.  But his proposal has an additional benefit: narrowing the achievement gap between students of different socio-economic classes.

Just yesterday, my friend and I talked about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (which I still have to read), a book that, as I have since learned, is really about education.  My friend mentioned the well-known study that Gladwell cites in his book by Johns Hopkins sociology professor Karl Alexander about “summer learning loss.”  Put briefly, the Alexander study shows that in Baltimore Public Schools, low-income students actually learn more during the school year than their middle- and upper-middle-class classmates, but they fall behind during the summer while their richer peers gained more ground.  Gladwell concluded in his book that although the conventional wisdom is that we must “improve” the inner-city schools, school itself is likely not the problem.  Too little school is.

If Gladwell and Alexander’s points are correct, increasing the length of the school year and the school days will not only make American students more competitive on the global market, it will help eliminate the advantage that richer students have over their poorer counterparts and make our education system more equitable.  Seems like a worthy goal to me.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree! (Hey, where’s the “like” button?) 😉

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