Endless school

To compete with students abroad, U.S. children should be in class at least six days a week and 11 months a year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Denver students this week. AP reports:

“Go ahead and boo me,” Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. “I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short.”

“You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year,” he said.

Instead of boos, Duncan’s remark drew an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly: bored stares.

I think disadvantaged students would benefit from a longer school day and year — or from summer programs that keep them learning. But school six or seven days a week? Booooooo.

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  1. The public schools in this country have not demonstrated that they are using the resources they *already have* effectively (“resources” includes the time of the children as well as money)…what could possibly be the justification for giving them more resources to squander?

  2. Where will the funding for this extended school really come from? How likely is it that educators would be paid fairly for their expertise and their extra investment in a longer day or longer year? I hate to be cynical but I think it’s unlikely. Why would an educator sign up for that? Considering how few people are willing to get into or stay in teaching, I’m not sure if we could staff the proposed future schools.

    More importantly, how would more time in a system that is ineffective affect positive chage? Schooliness as we do it today doesn’t work very well, so more of it is just a waste of time (besides the resources as mentioned by David).

  3. Duncan is only partially right in the time component.

    Some schools and some students could benefit from more time in class, or after class, and on Saturday. Jaime Escalante proved this at Garfield two decades ago. However, some student are doing quite well with the current schedule, and there is no need for more time for many districts.

    In fact, some could do with shortening up the k-16 stint as it is, and students could benefit from a system that allows them to “get on with it” when more time in school at standard grade levels and curriculum is simply slowing them down.

    By the way, after a recent discussion of Duncan’s comments, one of my students created a Facebook page devoted to the idea of dual credit for qualified students, so they can get out of school more quickly. It’s called something like “The Michael P. Mazenko Really Smart Dual Education Revolution Plan.

    More power to her.

  4. One problem is that the extra time would be required of all children. Many kids get a good education now and some are taking ridiculous loads as high school juniors hoping to gain admittance to elite colleges. They need less time in school if anything. David Foster’s point that childrens’ time is a resource that is not well used is right. For those who are bored sometimes now, make their time in school more productive, not longer.

  5. I’m curious how he integrates this with his thinking on school choice.

    From the linked article:

    Last month, he said poor children who receive vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn’t mention vouchers.

    “I’m a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to,” he said.

  6. The problem is that for many children, their out-of-school time is spent in a lousy home environment. Something like 1/3 of U.S. households have the TV constantly blaring in the background. Roughly 20% of kids aged 6-17 do not participate in a single organized activity even though many groups offer financial assistance for low-income families. A sizable number of homes have few or no books (not even ones borrowed from the library). Often in these types of homes, no parent is able or willing to help the student with homework. These disadvantaged kids could presumably really benefit from more time spent in school.

    However, just because a certain subset of the student population might be better off with more time in school does not mean the same holds true for *ALL* kids.

  7. Lightly Seasoned says:

    School cannot, and I would argue should not, make up for every deficit in a child’s home life. If we really want schools to provide academic education, moral education, physical education, and everything else lacking in homes that are organized around the television set, then let’s just cut to the chase, set up boarding schools, and be honest about what the school is being asked to do.

    FWIW, in many places we do have an optional extended year — it’s called summer school.

    When not in school, my kid reads, socializes, is physically active, etc. I think she has wonderful teachers and enjoys school for the most part, but I want to spend time with her, too.

  8. The hours I work, and the amount of time it allows me to spend with my daughter, are one of the few things allowing me to put up with the stress of teaching Grade 8 in an urban environment. Take that away, and I will drop this gig like a greased anvil.

    Realistically, though, our school went to an extended schedule a year ago, adding 1 hour to the day. It added absolutely nothing academically. They now get 1.5 hours of Math and English every day. This has served, however, only to make the kids less efficient. When kids are in the room for 45 minutes to an hour, there’s a sense of urgency about what needs to be done. With the longer time period, the kids think “We’re gonna be in here for how long?” and are much less focused. In many cases, we actually accomplish less in the greater time period.

  9. Anonymous says:

    People who think like this scare the hell out of me. Lightly Seasoned said it well.

    All of this thinking of our kids as “products” which we are mass-producing in order to compete in society is part of what is destroying our school system. Do we really want the U.S. to look like India and China? Really? I fear that when it comes to both education and the economy, greed has replaced our humanity.

  10. Schools that are not effective in educating students with the time they have will not become better by extending the school day and week. Schools that are effective do not need the extra time.

    Sure we are competing against China and India. However, if I want to find the best scientists, engineers, businessmen, and entrepenuers in the world, I would look for them in the United States, not China and India.

  11. While I agree that our education system needs some reform in order for the U.S. to catch up and keep up with other countries, I cannot support sending students to school 6 days per week.

    Aside from my personal beliefs, was funding one of Duncan’s consideration? Adding a day to the school week seems completely unrealistic at a time when schools around the country (districts in Tampa, Denver, and more) are actually switching to a four-day school week to accommodate shrinking budgets.

  12. And what about life skills – those things that cannot be learnt in a classroom – like relationships with family members? Road trips with the family? learning how to cook a meal for a family? Having discussions that are meaningful? My opinion is that less school is wanted – not more – more time for creativity and fun. Who came up with the plan that so much English Math and science are the subjects required for all students?

    I live in China and would really hope that the attitude of what happens here does not become global – we need individuals who can think for themselves and be creative – not just copy others ideas.

  13. Dianne,

    I guess life in the 21st Century has gotten to the point to where we all (not just the kids, but adults, too!) don’t have the time we need to learn everything we’d like to learn, to experience everything we’d like to experience, anymore. 🙁

    Very sad… It’s no wonder that some people (perhaps people that should have been born in ‘simpler’ times?) crack under the pressure of the modern world and lose it.

  14. I can’t tell from the article whether Duncan was actually suggesting that students attend school 6 days a week/11 months a year, since the only quote attributed to him was that *schools* should be open 6/11.

    *Schools* being open 6/11 would probably facilitate the now not uncommon year round schedule where students only get 6 weeks (or whatever) off in the summer and a week off every 6-8 weeks. This could allow for some additional education without the insanity that classes 6/11 would cause.

    I don’t quite get the school on Saturday, either – unless the time were reserved for extra curricular activities that would otherwise be held after school.

  15. Mark Roulo says:

    I don’t quite get the school on Saturday, either…

    The Japanese do (or did) a ½ day of academic school on Saturdays. I’d assume Duncan was thinking along those lines.

    -Mark Roulo

  16. I worked in a Korean International School for a couple of years and built some good relationships with the students and teachers. The amount of pressure put on both teachers and students is immense. A 14 year old I was teaching English after school explained his day:
    He awoke at 5am to prepare for school, he had at least 1 and a half hour drive to get there. 6 hours of school. At least 4 (more often 5) private lessons in math, English, a musical instrument and other school subjects. He would eat with his family, then study until 1am.
    His mother confirmed that this was his schedule, and she also endorsed it, as he needed specific grades to get into his preferred university.
    He was in year 9.

    Let our children play.

    We already have them incarcerated for 5 days of the week. What can they possibly learn on Saturday that they didn’t get on Monday through to Friday.

    I have an idea. How about parents spend Saturday with their child, yeah, I know it is a wild idea, but we may be surprised at the results.

  17. Having school open 6/11 won’t help the lack of quality education in some parts of this country or some schools – I think we need to rethink the school structure first. Besides where will they find the quality teachers they need for this- we’re already in need. No one will do that much work on a teacher’s salary even if they do love the job. People(both students and staff) need time for their families and hobbies.