Lately there is a group of unlikely bed-fellows, including Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton, who are advocating longer school days and less vacation time.
Their argument is that our youth is undereducated and can't compete effectively with the rest of the world. Therefore, their conclusion seems to be that we simply don't have enough time to teach. Gingrich points out that our current school year is outdated, and we need to spend more time in the classroom.
This argument is greatly flawed.
I have been active in both the public and private school systems. I have seen what works, what doesn't, and why it doesn't.
Our education standards are not poor due to time constraints. They are due to disciplinary problems. Many public school teachers have told me that they could get the instruction out of the way in half the time if their time wasn't occupied in discipline and ineffective attempts at creating order out of chaos.
Many students (especially in public schools) come from homes where order and self-control are not imposed. They are then unleashed on the world by parents who couldn't care less. The school system is then expected to make all the difference by catering to these children, while the children with better societal skills are neglected.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
What is truly pitiful is that teachers are pouring the majority of their time and energy into kids who, at best, will be saying "Would you like fries with that?" for the rest of their lives.
Those of us who finally decided to home school our children have found that we can give them the exact same education in half the time. This is why my son became a college freshman at age 15, with a 4.0 GPA.
If we want to reform the schools, we do not need to waste our childrens' time any more than we already do. Instead, we need to improve our disciplinary standards. We need to stop penalizing teachers from referring students to the Principal when they are misbehaving.
And ultimately, we need to rethink our "No Child Left Behind" policies. Some children need to be left behind. Some children will never amount to anything. And we need to come to terms with this, or all children will be left behind.