Monday, September 28, 2009

Longer school days a bad idea

"We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day," said President Obama last week and added, "That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st Century economy" (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008838703_schools11.html). The president suggestion is to either extend the time per day in school or go into summer. In addition to the extension of class time, the president is looking to increase the pay for teachers which the Unions are in favor of.

Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, likes the idea of higher pay for teachers as "Teachers want to make a difference in a kids' lives, and they appreciate a president who shares that goal and will spend his political capital to provide the resources to make it happen." While I agree with the president on rewarding teachers that do their job well, the trouble is with the Unions still in play the bad teachers will get rewarded as well. Plus, how do we really track a teacher's progress to determine if they are a "good" teacher or not?

I was talking to my cousin, whose wife is in education, a few months back about the need for changes in the educational budget. My cousin mentioned that teachers are evaluated by other teachers to determine how well of a job they are doing. As we discussed that having this type of peer evaluation is dangerous since Teacher A is not likely to give Teacher B a bad mark knowing that Teacher B will be evaluating Teacher A as well. The bigger question is how to evaluate the teachers that mitigates the "I scratch your back you scratch my back" philosophy.

As the president moves forward, I do not agree with any change to the school year that keeps the kids in school longer during the day. One of the proposal's being circulated is to change the school day to a 12-hour day. The kids will start at 7 a.m. and then get out at 7 p.m. The trouble I see with this approach is the government will take out one of the most important family opportunities; the dinner table. Too often parents find themselves chasing their kids around to volleyball, softball, debate, hockey, etc. and do not make time to sit down as a family to eat dinner.

Instead of making a good home cooked meal, these same parents, out of convenience, stop at a fast food joint to get the family their dinner. To add to the loss of the dinner table, if one has a child in extracurricular activities that will push their day later into the evening as well. The later evenings will reduce the time for homework and the ability of the child to obtain adequate sleep for the next day. Now, if the president was to look at using part of the summer to achieve his goal of educating the youth, I think I could get on board for that.

The agrarian calendar is losing its application; yet it still holds applicable in certain sectors of the United States. My thought on school is for kids to attend school in segments. The segments would be three months with a month off. This would break up the school year so students do not get fatigued and it would prevent retention loss that often takes place over the summer break. The calendar can be set up to allow July or August to be the month off during the summer time. But before any change in the school calendar is made the situation behind budgets needs to be addressed so school work smarter and rely on the drug of bigger budgets that result in higher property taxes.