Lengthening learning time is important to improvement
Flying largely under the media radar until recently, the Obama administration has taken on the forces of the public school status quo – notably the teachers’ unions that, while not much of a factor in Mississippi, are strong in other parts of the country.
President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program has given states incentives to reward teachers for student performance and to make it easier to start charter schools, both vehemently opposed by teachers’ unions, as well as to pursue other innovative initiatives.
Obama pointedly said last week that it’s time to give poor teachers help to improve, and if they can’t get better, to usher them out of the classroom.
Most people probably agree with that. But on another topic mentioned by the president and championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan – a longer school year – there would likely be considerably less consensus. That’s unfortunate because if the United States is serious about competing with the nations that now outpace us in student performance, more time on task for schoolchildren is essential.
Mississippi currently requires schools to be in session for 180 days. Most states are somewhere close to that number.
Countries like China and India – our chief economic competitors – average 20 or more days longer in school than we do, basically a month more of learning. Japan goes to school year-round with short breaks interspersed throughout the year.
We can’t fathom that because we’ve always had a lengthy summer break. There’s no educational reason for it; it’s a holdover from an agrarian era when children were farmhands. It has no basis today other than it’s a tradition strongly ingrained in our culture.
The lapse of time over the summer break demonstrably slows the learning process. Students tend to forget what they learned. Much of the early part of the new school year is spent making up for that loss.
Of course, the big question – even if opposition to the concept could be overcome – is how to pay for it, especially in austere budget times like these. That’s what some Northeast Mississippi superintendents asked when the Daily Journal questioned them about the president’s remarks last week.
Budgetary concerns also motivated the Mississippi Senate’s passage last spring of a bill that would move in the opposite direction, reducing the required number of school days from 180 to 175. Thankfully that bill didn’t make it through the House.
If we’re serious about improving the education our children are getting – giving them the tools to compete in the global economy everyone is aware of these days – an extended school year has to be part of the discussion.
NEMS Daily Journal