Guest Blogger – A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day

A few days ago, President Obama talked about increasing the length of the school day and school year. Before I even had a chance to fashion a response in my head, I received this piece from K, who has been teaching science at a small independent college for over a decade and has written for this blog before here. She spends her leisure time learning from her three young boys. You can read more of her random thoughts at her blog, raisingthewreckingcrew

A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day
by K, A College Teacher

President Obama advocates increasing the length of the school day and the length of the school year. More School: Obama Would Curtail Summer Vacation.

There are many problems with this.

President Obama seems to be arguing: if something isn’t working, what we really need is more of it. It just plain doesn’t make sense. While some countries provide more learning in more time, there are other nations that make better use of less time and have better student outcomes.

This also assumes that the best learning occur in school? I would argue that children need more common-sense approaches like turning off the computer, television, gameboy, and Wii to be thrown outside. And, we don’t need the government to do this for us… we just have to pull the plug. Explorative play seems the best solution to teaching students to think independently. Children need more opportunities to play free-style with real family time and real outdoor play – free-range style. They also need more emphasis on programs like Tinkering School, scouting, Odyssey of the Mind, Outward Bound, and any number of other creative initiatives that encourage outdoor adventure, problem-solving, and critical thinking. For their physical well being and their mental health, students need fewer worksheets, less time sitting at a desk, and more time actively solving problems and exploring.

What are the costs of all of this extra time? Do taxpayers want to pay more for a program that isn’t achieving to its potential? Who shall pay for all of this extra time? Is this a recipe for faster teacher burnout? Does this lost flexibility make the field of teaching less attractive? When will teachers find the time for the many learning opportunities (continuing education hours) that we expect them to achieve? How shall families carve out family time with their children with less and less flexibility? If we value the family, shouldn’t we protect family time?

Will more time in school have the intended effect? The evidence on this is not clear. I would argue that teachers don’t need more face time with students… they need to be encouraged (and allowed) to have more creative and innovative learning in the time they have. Less emphasis on rote memorization, less emphasis on standardized tests, and a greater ability to reward the truly innovative and encouraging teachers can improve learning far more than “face time”.

Let’s not let “don’t you care about education?” turn into a rallying cry for more school. I care about learning: I have three young sons in school and I am an educator. It is clear to me that learning does not only happen at school. Some of the most salient learning experiences come through exploration and adventure. Rather than making more school, we should advocate making more learning opportunities. And, we should make this idea known to schools, government agencies, and our political representatives.

13 thoughts on “Guest Blogger – A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day

  1. I’m honestly not worried about this. The simple truth is that lengthening the school day, or year, would cost a lot of money. For that reason it won’t happen anytime soon.

    The whole idea shows just how clueless our education reformers are. Spending more time doing stuff that doesn’t work won’t solve the problem.

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  2. Sure it works. For kids whose environment is so impoverished at home that they would be better off in school all the time. Do it for them.

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  3. Again playing to the lowest common denominator, Mr. Obama?

    Where is the innovation? What about tackling the problem from a supportive stance of the…parents? Parents need support so they can look after their children effectively themselves. Employment, childcare, healthcare, literacy.
    How about a multi-level plan, for parents, kids and teachers?
    I agree with K, more is not necessarily better.

    The thinking is so uni-dimensional, so linear

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  4. Quality,not quantity, is one answer. We have incrementally been increasing the school day through various means (homework being one of them), and it has not increased learning. The problem is not understanding the difference between being educated (schooling) and learning. Until all parties are willing to have a discussion about learning, we are spinning our wheels. Adding more time to the school day or school year is not addressing the issue.

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  5. I’m not totally against this idea, actually. My daughter went to KIPP for a year, and what we found was that the longer school day allowed for less of the “hurry up and learn” that can take place, the teachers had more time to work with the students and ensure that they grasped the concepts, and they also had more time to implement electives within the school day like music, art, and technology.
    I do agree that no one system is a fail-safe method of improving education. What I have found in the multiple schools that we’ve attended is that a principal with passion and knowledge and excellent leadership skills can do wonders.

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  6. I was alarmed when I first read this.

    It’s unlikely that cost will be a factor with the Obama administration. It certainly hasn’t up to this point.

    Mr. Obama (or maybe it was Mrs. Obama) that the family almost always has dinner together. It’s recommended for all families. He fails to state that 1) his residence is directly above his office, 2) he has a full time cook and housekeeper and 3) he has a wife who does not work outside the home. So, pretty much all he has to do is ride the elevator up to the residence, snarf down some meatloaf, and head to the living room to relax.

    I know they’re not heading through the drive through at Wendy’s after the homework’s done and before bed time because Mom’s been too busy working and helping with homework to cook anything nutritious.

    Heaven help me, I love my daughter. I love spending time with her. I love her insights into the world. I love to laugh and play “Tickle Monster”. I love to spend hours in the library with her, carefully picking out just the right books then reading them together when we get home. I love teaching her to knit. I love every minute I get with her. Those minutes are too rare as it is.

    I love picking out summer camps. We go to Magic Camp (best camp in the history of the universe), gymnastics camp, theater camp, and a just fun camp where they swim, go on field trips, and play all day (*gasp!*)

    Am I in favor of a longer school day and/or a longer school year? Absolutely NOT. Sorry, I like my child too much.

    Please write/call/email/fax/tackle your congressmen and let them know you’re against this. This will not be something that will go away with the next election. It’s a major, permanent change to federal policy.

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  7. Along with my previous post… “Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. ”They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”
    Well, Mr. Duncan and President Obama…..you’ve stated the problem. So, this may be controversial, but I believe the discussion needs to go further. .Why is it that families are working multiple jobs to make ends meet? Could it be because we have allowed a private institution (The Federal Reserve) control over our monetary system and through their actions they have devalued our currency? Could it be that? I think a serious discussion is in order before putting the band -aid on.

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  8. Several comments got my goat.

    This:
    >>Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

    >To which my mother would reply, “If all the other nations jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

    This:
    >>”Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

    >Over 20% of the population of the US lives in rural areas. While the kids may not be working in the fields (though many are, mind you), the rural economy is dependent on agriculture. In most areas, the farming season is June, July and August.

    >I don’t consider 20% of the population to be “not too many” nor should they be dismissed as not important enough to count.

    >>Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents.

    >OK, now I’m angry. How does being “poor” link to less parental involvement? I may not be the richest person in my neighborhood and I’m struggling to get by but I am most definitely NOT an uninvolved parent. Just ask my daughter’s teacher and principal. I think they’d like to see less involvement from me 🙂

    >>”Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. ”They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”

    >Yes, I agree, this is the gist of the problem. I work long hours to keep food on the table. Sometimes I have trouble making ends meet. I don’t qualify for any assistance because I make too much money.

    >How about we have the teachers educate in the 7 hours they have and let us have family time in those short hours we have the kids at home?

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  9. I don’t think Obama is up to anything particularly sinister here. I think he is probably just looking for a policy proposal he can make that doesn’t get him labeled a “Fascist”, “Communist”, or somesuch. Listening to the Glenn Beck level reaction, I guess he needs to try again. Don’t you know, he just wants the kids in school longer to give him more toime to “indoctrinated” them?

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  10. I have two kids and multiple years researching in engaging kids to learn using 21st century tools. My take is while kids only spend 18.4% of their time in school, it is not more school that will increase our academic standards and a child’s sense of positive self-image that comes with learning.

    Rather, it is what our children are doing out of school. I am a firm believer that fine tuned play can be very effective as a 1:1 teaching/learning tool.

    This is what we did with creative problem solving and learning in the two computer games we ship – ItzaBitza and ItzaZoo.

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  11. Why are K-12 students getting homework if they spend 6-7 hours in school? In fact, very little is accomplished “in school”. I personally think school day should be shortened to 4 hours and the school week to 3 days (a bit radical, but that’s what college is like)

    Sure the homework rate would increase a little, but the time saved of not sitting in class would be a LOT. It would loosen up some time for the students and teachers.

    In K-12 they are proposing longer school time. Interestingly, college professors like class time to be shorter. (hybrid classes)

    The real problem is terrible teacher quality. Standardized testing, longer school days, and reduced class sizes are all excuses.

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  12. “That means that private schools should be held to the same exact academic standards as public schools and it means they have to accept all comers – including the demographic “at-risk” kids.”.It seems like we’re getting a bit confused here. Aren’t “at risk” kids generally from families with little money? If so, how would they pay the tuition for the private schools? If the tuition comes from tax vouchers, how private are the schools? It seems to me that voucher based &#28p0;2rivate” schools are actually alternate public schools.

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