Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Longer School Terms Are a Bad Idea

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 Gingrich points out that our current school year is outdated, and we need to spend more time in the classroom.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.


Angela said...

Being one of those students that was neglected due to the other idiots I went to school with I definitely agree with this post.

I also feel that Americans are over worked and stressed enough in adulthood. There is no need to overwork and stress our kids out even more.


Scott said...

Wow... 'some kids should be left behind' that is a scary thought. You think there are problems with violence and unemployment now, wait until you start excluding kids from the education system.

While I agree that some kids need to be held back and discipline is a serious issue in our schools (and i include Canada in this), what we need is innovative educators to come up with viable solutions to aid the struggling KIDS.

I don't know how long the school year is in the US, but in Canada it goes from the day after Labour Day until the last or second last week of June. I think that is long enough. Kids still need to have kid time.

Ed said...

Well said. I think school shouldn't be mandatory and that if you misbehave, you might just have to find another school that will take you in.

I also think schools should be privatized so that you can take your child to the best school you desire or can afford. Then you will see schools compete by excellence instead of just running kids through for their tax dollar value to pay their salaries.

Finally, schools need to quit spending time teaching kids how to behave, how to have sex safely or not at all, how to eat or exercise properly, etc. Parents need to teach kids these things. Schools should teach kids science, math, language, arts and other core classes.

If we got rid of the distractions (i.e. kids that don't want to be there), got rid of bad schools who are just in the business for the money, and cut the fluff classes teaching stuff parents should be teaching their kids, the current school year would have plenty of time as it is and wouldn't need to be longer.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

A second major problem with time is the time used to create paper for the office. I think that a major improvement would come about if the number of administrators could be halved, and all of the working administrators had to teach at least half time in the class room (them what caint teach, administrate teachers). Schools in Georgia are now starting about the first of August and going well into June. The class day often begins at 7:30 or 8:00 and extends to 4:00 or later. When I lived in Finland, (generally accepted as one of the best in the world) my son, (3rd grade in U.S., but starting over in the first grade since he didn't speak Finnish yet, but not much older than his peers since the Finns didn't start school until they were seven) began school in mid-September, went to class at varying times, never before 9:00 AM, had organized PE including cross country skiing, learned to stand and bow when the teacher entered the room, and finished, having learned Finnish and when we returned to the states was so far ahead of his fourth grade peers that his teacher went nuts trying to keep him occupied.

Time is less important than what happens during that time. Nice post.

R2K said...

It seems the best educated kids spend much of their time doing things outside of the traditional classroom. This is also most attractive during college admissions, and will result in students best able to function as adults in the real world.

Just like American workers compared to those in other parts of the world, more time does not mean better results. We don't have the best per worker productivity, for example. Even with our really short vacations for most middle level workers.

Eshuneutics said...

This is a difficult debate since it polarises, invites camps to form. This is as true in the UK as the USA. The every child matters agenda, the UK adaptation of the no child left behind (borrowed from the USA along with certain daft approaches to reading) is a noble practice, however, it is turning teachers and schools into stressed organisations on the brink of collapse. It isn't discipline, in my experience, that eats up the day, rather the constant shifting from educator to social worker, a doubling of paperwork that leaves less and less time for quality work. In the UK, we are chasing quality without having a system based on quality. Only this week, the Government has been promoting more 1:1 teaching. Prior to this, I sat at a conference of 1000 language specialists. Only a handful were going to be involved in this kind of work. Why? We are too absorbed in management issues to teach in this way. This is such a fraught issue.