President Obama is convinced that a longer school year is the answer to all of our education problems in the United States. As indicated by Obama presses for longer school years, American students are “falling behind” other countries like China and India. These deficits are especially pronounced in the areas of math and science. Yet, President Obama laments that, for some states, money is still an issue.
As a teacher who has worked in a low-income school, I have seen the benefits of an extended day and an extended school year. The school I worked at offered after-school classes and intersessions during the winter and summer. The programs were for students who came to the school sometimes several years behind in reading and language. Since many of their parents didn’t have a high school education or the language necessary to help their kids, these students benefited greatly from the extra help. I saw them jump several reading levels over a one-year period.
Likewise, there are many success stories of extended school. In Kids reap benefits of long school year, there is the story of Robert Treat Academy, which “operates 205 to 210 days a year.” Based on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, this charter school had “the highest test scores among New Jersey urban public schools in 2008.” Yet the same article discusses how schools in Miami-Dade County, Florida, felt “fatigued.” Students saw the extra time “as a punishment rather than enhancement.” Burn-out and fatigue are things I have witnessed among both students and teachers involved in these programs.
There are several issues with extending the school year. The main one is money. As a teacher, in the financially struggling state of California, I am interested to see how an additional month is going to be paid for. Most of the districts I know have given teachers furlough days this year. A furlough day is where you don’t come to work. This sounds nice, yet it is unpaid. A few of these days per year, and this means a salary cut. Yes, there are some “bad apples” in teaching. Yet the good teachers who already work their tails off will need some extra compensation for this extra month of work.
The next concern is the focus on the additional time. Will it be spent on hands-on science and real-life experience? Or will success continue to be measured by standardized test scores? It seems that many of the extras, like art and music, have already been cut from many schools’ budgets. It is these special programs that encourage many students to stay motivated in school.
Finally, it is troublesome that there is a lack of concern on parenting these days. Indeed, we can keep children in schools from 7:30 until 5:00 or 210 days a year. Yet this is not going to stop them from going home to incompetent parents or dangerous environments. At some point, parents need to have some responsibility for their children.
Personally, I would not want my children in an extended day program or year. I would rather take them to see museums, read books for leisure and spend some time in the sunshine. Extended school years should not be forced on everyone. It may work for some, but it is not the solution for all.
Jessica Durando Kids reap benefits of long school year, USA Today
Erica Werner Obama presses for longer school years Associated Press