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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Extend the School Day! Why Not Just Wear Red Suspenders?

9News.com of Denver reported over a year ago that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposes that schools lengthen their day, their week and their year. Was this a serious suggestion? This year the same dismal refrain is echoed by David von Drehle in the July 22, 2010 issue of TIME magazine under the title “The Case Against Summer Vacation.”

Duncan’s comments are more interesting for their lack of coherence with other complaints:
"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; 11, 12 months a year," Duncan said.
Boo!

Really, does this proposal make sense given the loud and tediously repeated claim that it is the teachers alone who are falling down on the job? It’s as if, in the face of complaints at NASCAR races that too many vehicles were underperforming, Duncan suggested the track be lengthened, instead of looking to improve the mechanics.

The second issue , the so-called competition, is so silly it boggles the mind. Pick a school kid. Fix him or her in your mind. Now tell me which Indian or Chinese kid he or she is competing with. Competing in what? When and where is the contest being held? What are the prizes or the penalities? Get specific. Can you? Every school kid “knows” that his or her competition comes from other students right in same class; not, from across the globe in Asia. (What economists and politicians “know” to the contrary is no less speculative!)

Do any adults, outside of Duncan’s Department of Education, imagine that they have lost their job because they failed to measure up to “foreign competition” when they were students? Could the present recession have been avoided had I and a million or more students like me, 50 years ago, spent more time in school?

Before we compel parents to submit their kids, at public expense, to the further detriment of their health and idealism, to incarceration in a school building with a longer school day, week or year, we had better get clear about several important things.

During this extended school day, school week or school year:
a. What’s supposed to happen?
b. Why is it needed? and
c. Is it cost effective?

To examine these issues further, see What Works? Under What Conditions? And Who Really Cares?

Cordially
EGR