You may be familiar with the restaurant joke that goes like this: two guys are complaining about a bad restaurant. The first says, “The food is just horrible”. And the second says, “Yeah, and the portions are so small!”
Looks like our nation’s educators didn’t get the joke:
Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.
The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities. Schools, working in concert with districts, parents and teachers, will decide whether to make the school day longer, add more days to the school year or both.
The big force behind this is Arne Duncan. Duncan is a bit mixed. He supports charter schools and enraged the unions by being civil to Michelle Rhee. But his “race to the top” mainly forced national standards on everyone. And his record in Chicago was, at best mixed.
Duncan is really big on expanding school. And by that I mean he thinks we should have school six or seven days a week, 11 or 12 months of the year.
Apart from the destruction of childhood this would entail, I am not convinced it would improve things at all.
Year-round schooling would only sour more children on education. By making it even more demanding than a job, children would feel like they were in prison. By not giving them breaks for vacations and family time and just running around enjoying life, you would squeeze some of the joy out of life. When I was in high school, I knew people were desperate to graduate just because they were so damned sick of school. We put kids in schools that much, they will all feel that way. I realize this trade-off may sound fine to a government hack like Duncan who sees children mainly as assets of the state needed to create wealth and power for him and his Harvard buddies. But most of see children as, you know, people. So even if this did improve education — and I don’t think it will — it may not be worth it.
(Yeah, I know that’s a nasty thing to say about Duncan. Fuck him. He wants to place a nasty burden on children.)
Year-round schooling really crosses me as just another twist of the “spend more money” paradigm that has defined Democratic education ideas for time out of mind. When they figured out that “spend more money” didn’t fly with the public, they rebranded it as “hire more teachers” or “make classes smaller”. But now the public has cottoned on to that, so they need a new euphimism. That fact is that year-round school means hiring more teachers, as came up in the recent Chicago strike. I have to think that’s at least 60% of the motive here.
But even if we ignore the shrinking of childhood issue; even if we ignore the spending issue; I just don’t think it will work. As I’ve noted before, our children actually perform reasonably well the first few years of school. It is only at higher levels that the performance falls. The problem is not that children aren’t manacled to their desks often enough. The problem is that we have a school system that is bloated, administration-heavy, has erased accountability and tried to make up for it by destroying any education freedom for students, parents and especially teachers. In one of his books, Phillip Howard describes DC regulations that micromanage teachers’ classes down to the minute. And, of course, no educational reform can overcome parents and students who just don’t give a shit.
You know what this reminds me of? Homework. For years, we were told that increasing homework loads were good for students. It made them study more! But recent studies are indicating that heavy loads of homework show little educational improvement but impose a huge burden on parents, students and teachers. They make children loathe education rather than embrace it. And many schools, including our local one, are backing down to more reasonable levels of homework.
The solution to bad schooling is not more bad schooling. If children can’t learn in the time they are already allotted, an extra 300 hours isn’t going to help. And it’s only going to make life more difficult for the students who are learning and the teachers who are teaching. I realize that there’s not a teacher out there who hasn’t gotten to the end of school year and felt like they didn’t get through all the material. But, at some point, you have to close the books for a few weeks at least.
I suspect this program may show some results: small carefully managed pilot programs often do but then those reforms fail when applied to a much larger sample. But we should oppose any attempt to expand this. It’s just not the solution.