Monday, September 28, 2009

Will America Add More Instructional Time in Public Schools?

Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education and onetime CEO of the Chicago Public School system says that American school children need to spend more time in school.

Said Duncan to an AP reporter:

“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here. I want to just level the playing field.”

And yes, there is some truth to that. According to worldwide statistics, the United States, with its average of 180 instructional days (36 weeks) seriously lags behind the number of instructional days in countries that it is in competition with.

But with one big difference.

The American school day is much longer on average, than school days in European and Asian countries. Schools may be open for 38 or 40 (or in the case of Denmark, 42) weeks in other countries, but the number of instructional hours per year is by and large lower than in America.

So the solution, apparently, is to extend the school day even more and case studies tend to support this. Charter schools, for instance:

“Charter schools are known for having longer school days or weeks or years. For example, kids in the KIPP network of 82 charter schools across the country go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than three hours longer than the typical day. They go to school every other Saturday and for three weeks in the summer. KIPP eighth-grade classes exceed their school district averages on state tests.”

Leaving out, perhaps, that the students at KIPP schools are volunteers. They voluntarily enroll in these schools knowing that the hours are much, much longer.

In other words, not the typical American school child.

I think people are missing the point. In this case more is not necessarily better. America is one of the world leaders in the length of the school day. Japan, despite having a longer instructional school year, has 200 fewer hours per year of instruction. Yet Japanese students outperform American students in standardized tests.

More is not better.

The problem is not instructional time. The problem is instructional quality. The problem is how a teacher is regarded in these various countries.

The problem is an attitude toward teachers that one size fits all. That any old teacher can teach any old subject seamlessly. And more to the point, because of this attitude, teachers are not well-regarded in America.

Quality teaching occurs when you have quality teachers, not poorly paid baby sitters.

One hand washes the other.


Kenneth D.Franks said...

The problems with Texas schools are numerous. First the amount of time spent reviewing material for state mandated tests. Many students could pass these by mid-term but we review over and over the same skills hoping that we can get a few more students to pass.
We have too many fundraisers and interruptions of quality teaching time.
We have unnecessary behavior problems with students that could be avoided by removing the disruptive students to a small group in school suspension where they would not be allowed to interact with the regular class until they are convinced that their
disruptive behavior will not be tolerated.
We need to accept the fact that all students are not going to college and revive vocational programs for older students so they will have some work skills when they leave high school.
We need music programs in all elementary schools. There are benefits to this other than music knowledge. It helps with math and the ability to learn foreign languages with more ease. Just part of my list for public schools, K.D.F.

Marsha said...


I agree 100 % with Mr. Franks. Now if we can get him in a position of power to stop the stupidity of way schools are forced to teach under Mr. Bush's framework. God knows he (Bush) never learned much in school.

Anonymous said...

Sure -- increase the school day and the school year.

But are you ready to pay more to the teachers? The bus drivers? For the infrastructure and utilities? And are you ready for the lost revenue at vacation spots, and the resulting shrinkage of the tax base in those areas?

Just asking.

Hal said...

Nobody said it was going to be free, Anon. But then there are those out there who think it should be, and not have to pay anything in taxes or anything else.

And to those I only have to say this: you get what you pay for. Want a semi-valuable education? Pay semi-dollars for it.

And expect semi-educated offspring.

Anonymous said...

I'm asking because, after as many years as I have spent in education, I have seen too many efforts to require more from teachers and schools despite the lack of additional dollars to accomplish those goals.

And if you want what amounts to a 25% increase in the amount of time our kids spend in school, are we prepared to lay out roughly 20-30% more cash to accomplish that. After all, we would be talking an additional $10-15K in salary for every teacher in the state of Texas, right off the bat -- and that is only a single line-item.

Hal said...

You should know, Anon, since you have spent so many years in education, in Texas no less, that there is no quid pro quo in Texas. If you are expecting to be paid equitably for additional work, you know, like in the real world, you are in for a huge disappointment.