Mar 10, 2014
From time to time, people (mostly bureaucrats) look at the achievement gap between American students and students from other countries and wonder what the schools are doing wrong, and how they (the bureaucrats) can correct it. One of the solutions they’ve come up with is that American students need to spend more time in school. I don’t feel that that is what the American education system needs.
The Department of Education routinely claims that we need to follow the example of other, ‘more successful’ nations, such as India or China, and provide more classroom time for our students. This is a misinterpretation of the data, however. The Center for Public Education has recently published a review that pointed out that students in neither nation actually spend more time in the classroom. The same can be said of other industrial nations that outperform the United States, such as Germany, and even Finland, which most regard as having the best education system in the world.
In schools that claim that a longer school day is successful, ‘success’ tends to be determined by grades on state achievement tests. The same ‘success’ can be achieved by spending the 6-8 weeks before the exams drilling students on standardized test skills such as how to answer multiple choice questions by keywords & cross-referencing other questions in the test that might ‘jumpstart’ what they remember, as well as the proper way to answer a DBQ.
The fact of the matter is that more time does not equal more learning. If the methods we use to teach aren’t working, spending more time and more money on using those same faulty methods isn’t going to magically work. Some people say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. When looking at the school day, let’s think quality over quanity.
Many superintendents have made the assertion that the root cause of why their students weren’t succeeding was that there wasn’t enough time for remediation. Humanities, Sciences, & Arts are being pushed out of the school day to make room for AIS courses, they claim. I wonder, though, if time is the true root cause. I wonder why we need so much remediation. What is the root cause of that? It seems that by tacking more time on to the school day, we’re medicating the symptoms rather than finding a cure.
‘But Mr. S,’ You say, ‘With longer school days, teachers will have more time to get all their government-required work done, and they’ll have more time to come up with fun, creative lesson ideas and give individual attention to students that need it!’
Yeah, no. With longer school day, teachers have more class, which increases the administriva load and fosters teacher burnout. Further, just because classes aren’t in session doesn’t mean that a teacher isn’t working. There are very few teachers that I know who end their day at 3.00 (or whenever the end of the class day is) and they do nothing else except go home and watch whatever the popular TV show is. The argument has been made that teachers might need to work on lesson plans during personal time, but might welcome being able to complete their work at a leisurely pace during school hours. For those that make that argument, I’d like to point out that much of our lesson planning, grading, whathaveyou is done during our personal time already. Our ‘planning periods’ are often already booked completing government-required administrivia.
‘Mr. S, that’s awful selfish, just thinking about you and your fellow teachers like that.’
Well, ok. That might seem like it. Not really, though. For one thing, burnt out teachers don’t help students out any. Secondly, what about burnt out students? Many of these proposals for longer school days speak of a 7.30 start time, and a 5.00pm dismissal. You don’t think that’s going to burn out students? At that point, you get into diminishing returns. Overtired and overworked students will at best start falling asleep in class and at worst start becoming serious disciplinary problems. Extracurriculars, college planning, studying for SATs, afterschool jobs, hanging out with friends – what’s going to happen when you take away time for that?
Further, you find yourself even deeper into the mire of what I’ve called ‘The Blender’ of jamming too much disparate information into a student’s head. A lighter per day load helps students focus on what they’re learning. You can keep students’ concentration better when they’re dealing with less information at one time, which in turn impacts understanding and comprehension.
So no, more time in the classroom isn’t the answer. Better strategies are needed. Make effective and strategic use of tools that we have now. Get earlier interventions so that you don’t need to spend time teaching 9th and 10th graders how to read instead of teaching them grade level appropriate material. By saying that we need more time in classrooms, we show that we’re still looking at students as products of a teacher – just more widgets to be turned out – and not as clients.
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