Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama wants longer school year: Do you?

An excerpt from an AP story on SFGate:
Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

"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.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two Cs to the honor roll.

But she doesn't want a longer school day. "I would walk straight out the door," she said.

To read the full story click here.


  1. Makes sense. The U.S. summer vacation is even longer than the U.K.s, and too much is lost during the holiday. Maybe cut the summer vacation to 6-7 weeks.

  2. Read Outliers to see that the average Japanese kid is getting hundreds of hours more of school a year than the average US kid and multiply that by 13 years. That's a lot of schooling.

    And in California, kids go 1 hour less a day than most of the rest of the country (this started, I think back in the 70s or 80s - no one I know seems to remember.)

    My nephews in another state get a month more of school than my kids here in California. (180 hours divided by 7 hour day = 5 weeks of school.)

    Obama is absolutely on the right track - the key is that it has to be paid for - it costs resources to do it.

  3. Meanwhile, our governor want to shorten the school year to save money.

  4. I wouldn't mind seeing a longer school year if it included some hard core fun - more like a summer camp with an academic bent - so put together a robotics team, do a school play that's written and acted by the students, launch some rockets, learn to cook, dig in the dirt. I'm a stay at home parent and we definitely have an enriched summer, but I imagine that a lot of families can't afford $330 a week for Camp Galileo or other camps where your imagination and your brain are sparked. The school year isn't well set up for dual income families so year-round school would make it much easier on people. But I fear that a longer school year for my family would mean that kids won't get a chance to be kids.

  5. Sure, great idea, extend the school year ...

    but who is going to pay for it? Our idiot governor has already chopped the budget way down.

  6. YES! Lengthen the day and the year! And I agree with an above poster - make sure that the extra time is filled with more enrichment, fun, physical activity, art, music etc.

    Our gov sucks and is doing California a huge disservice.

  7. Also our CA government system is terrible in that it allows budgeting and taxing decisions to be controlled by a 1/3 minority plus one. We are living through a minority Republican coup right now as the Democrats have felt the need to compromise in order to save the most basic services.

    If we have a chance to reform state government, we have to take it in order to restore fiscal sanity. It makes no sense that we can create programs with a 50% vote but fund them only with a 67% vote. Currently, unfortunately, the sane voters and reps hover between 50-67% so we are stuck in no-man's land and fiscal hell.

  8. California has so many almost-unfixable problems right now it's Crazy. Maybe Pres. Obama's schooling changes, coming from a Federal level, would come with federal money? I don't see California coming up with one extra cent for extra class. *sigh*

  9. I agree with the above posters. Not only does this antiquated system put our children at a disadvantage globally, it also makes little sense in an era when most families are comprised of two working parents. Scrambling for childcare every Summer is a pain (and can be rather expensive).

    I don't think the teachers' unions are very keen on the idea but perhaps they would be more amenable if we paid our teachers much better salaries.

  10. I strongly agree that the school year should be lengthened. My two kids lose tons over the long summer break. Perhaps this is one where the parents are going to have to fundraise to support the additional days -- I for one would be happy to give money to see this happen.

  11. Yes--longer school day and longer year, with more nature-based and fun enrichment learning (such as camping trips) during the dry summer weather--these can teach science and other good things--interspersed with keeping up academic skills.

    Would that we would have the guts to invest $$$ in this as we invested tax dollars in the war in Iraq.

  12. The Economist had an article about this in the July 11th issue.

    "The country that tut-tuts at Europe’s mega-holidays thinks nothing of giving its children such a lazy summer. But the long summer vacation acts like a mental eraser, with the average child reportedly forgetting about a month’s-worth of instruction in many subjects and almost three times that in mathematics. "

    "The understretch is also leaving American children ill-equipped to compete. They usually perform poorly in international educational tests, coming behind Asian countries that spend less on education but work their children harder. California’s state universities have to send over a third of their entering class to take remedial courses in English and maths. At least a third of successful PhD students come from abroad."

    "reformers are also up against powerful cultural forces.

    One is sentimentality; the archetypical American child is Huckleberry Finn, who had little taste for formal education. Another is complacency. American parents have led grass-root protests against attempts to extend the school year into August or July, or to increase the amount of homework their little darlings have to do. They still find it hard to believe that all those Chinese students, beavering away at their books, will steal their children’s jobs. But Huckleberry Finn was published in 1884. And brain work is going the way of manual work, to whoever will provide the best value for money. The next time Americans make a joke about the Europeans and their taste for la dolce vita, they ought to take a look a bit closer to home. "

  13. Longer school year in exchange for a shorter K day in SFUSD. SFUSD is way over the state minimum minutes in Kindergarten, since the requirement takes half-day programs into account.

    I agree with the previous poster who argues for hard-core fun, too - the full day does allow for cool programming and activities, but many of these cost money in terms of supplies and/or personnel. Not all schools can provide these.

  14. A shorter kindergarten day wouldn't really make much difference for many kids because those from working families would end up in after-school programs until their parents picked them up anyway. SFUSD went to full-day kindergarten about 10 or 12 years ago, I think, to cut down on the costs of busing.

  15. It would be great to have more school hours and a greater mix of academic, physical and creative activities. It would be great to have universal health care. It would be great to have roads that are not full of potholes. Good luck getting any money to pay for it. In this country we like weapons, wars, prisons and "freedom." Education is for elitist pantywaists, if you can't pay for health care that's your fault, and infrastructure requires thinking past the next quarterly shareholders' report and beyond one's own interest.

  16. 11:01. Read the above comments. A lot of countries do a lot more with less.

    True, we've spent too much on defense, but that is not the reason that the California education system is in such trouble.

    So stop wallowing, 11:01.

    Lengthening the school year is a great idea. It would certainly help most families who struggle to find childcare for their families. They pay big bucks for that and I am sure they could instead put those bucks back into their schools.

  17. I'm a teacher and fully agree with the idea. When we start up in the new year, concepts covered the year before have to be revisited and even retaught since the children forgot them over the summer. My students, many of them on free-lunch do nothing all summer and sit in their homes. They are soo excited to return to school (and their friends) and learn in the Fall (and after Xmas and Spring Breaks)--- so different than my own upbringing.

  18. Let's increase teacher salaries and perqs along with the increased hours. Teachers already put in too many unpaid hours and deserve appropriate compensation for the important work they do.

  19. Obviously, to increase the school year in length, teachers' salaries would also have to increase.

  20. Yep, I'm teaching those kids with the ridiculously short school days when they hit the UC system. It's not pretty. Most of them work at about the 9th grade level in the humanities, probably even worse in the math and science disciplines.

    A month more of regular instruction into summer, and enrichment programs for the rest of the summer for those who choose, would go a long way. But I agree, this state is a disaster and unwilling to nurture its human capital.

  21. 11:04. It might be obvious to you, but that doesn't mean it'll be obvious to various school districts--like SFUSD--who are cutting corners wherever they can.

  22. I'm a teacher, and honestly higher pay alone wouldn't make up for lengthening the school day. I already put in 9-10 hour days at school; on many days I go home and work another hour, at least; on weekends I'm averaging 3-6 more hours. What I need right now is a classroom aide, paid prep time, and a well-supplied classroom. Any suggestion to lengthen the school day without providing those three things is rather chilling, no matter how much more money is offered. Lengthening the school year seems more feasible, but remember many teachers use their summer "vacations" to take the classes and do the professional development that is required to renew our credentials.

    I don't think we can expect to increase our kids time in school by putting it all on the teachers that are already in place. We'll need to hire additional staff, which is more expensive than just paying current staff more. Personally, I'd love to see it happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

  23. I have no sympathy. I regularly work 70-80 hour work weeks as do most folks I know. Many put in 4-5 hours a night after their kids go to bed plus 10-12 hours at the office a day. I personally think 9 hours a day and a couple hours a on the weekend sounds like a part-time job; not to mention winter break, ski week, and summer vacation of months. I, however, do think classroom aides would be effective to deal with what I perceive is rowdy and unengaged behavior in the public school classrooms. Longer school year would be great but until they fix the funadmental problems with the public schools in terms of educating students and having a process in place that effectively deals with discipline problems and differential approaches to outliers (kids way behind or way ahead) without disruption to the rest of the class, really what is the point. Further, there seems to be no reasonable assessment of teacher competence. I think there needs to be a better system in place to pinpoint and address teachers who just are not effective in engaging and educating students. My biggest disappointment from what I have seen is the complete lack of respect by the students for the teachers evident in the kids running amuck even in kindergarten. There are exceptions, but they have been rare.

  24. "I, however, do think classroom aides would be effective to deal with what I perceive is rowdy and unengaged behavior in the public school classrooms."

    Is this a perception or have you actually seen it? Most of the classrooms I've been in have been well-organized, calm learning environments. I have seen an occasional out-of-control classroom, but they have been at both private and public schools.

  25. Comment to 3:01

    3:01 said: "I have no sympathy. I regularly work 70-80 hour work weeks as do most folks I know. Many put in 4-5 hours a night after their kids go to bed plus 10-12 hours at the office a day. I personally think 9 hours a day and a couple hours a on the weekend sounds like a part-time job;"

    I doubt that you are making the average teacher salary of $50,000.

    I am SO TIRED of people who make a quarter to a half million dollars in salary expecting the same time commitment from teachers who earn 1/5th to 1/10th of their salary. It is so uniquely American...

  26. People fail to realize that American teachers (unlike Japanese teachers!) work with virtually no breaks all day long. No time to call your children or your doctor, no time to check email. Bathroom break when you're lucky. Thirty minutes lunch break, but you spend most of that prepping for the rest of the school day. After school? Meetings, prep work, contacting parents. I won't hold my breath waiting for your sympathy, 9:24, but don't count on me signing on for more teaching hours for token amounts of extra pay. The last superintendent already tried with her "Dream School" movement; experienced teachers said "no thanks, sounds more like a nightmare."

  27. Being a numbers person, I looked up a Manhattan Institute Study I ran across a while back which indicated that SF teachers get paid $46.70 per hour (they included prep time and grading time, the idea was to get the hours actually worked) which was the second highest in any metro area. I am sure there are teachers who can personally attest that they work longer and harder but this is the average. In the U.S. overall the average was significantly less - $34.06 per hour.

  28. Hah! I quote your Manhattan Institute study:

    "Virtually all teachers worked from 30 to 40 hours per week, which included paid lunch and rest periods, as well as preparation and grading time IF SUCH ACTIVITIES WERE CONSIDERED BY THE SCHOOL TO BE A PART OF THE TEACHER'S WORKDAY(caps mine)"

    "It is possible that teachers, as well as other professionals, put in some hours at home that are not captured in these numbers, but those hours would not be considered required for their jobs and thus are not part of their paid employment."

    The lesson planning, bulletin board hanging and grading I do after contractual hours is not considered required? Tell it to my principal, MI!

  29. It is so uniquely American to wear such long work hours as a measure of pride and achievement. I was married to someone who worked 10-12 hours a day at the office and more in the evenings/mornings and weekends. He was/is very well-compensated, but I would have happily traded three-quarters of his salary for more time with me and with the children. Typical story of young marriage of two professionals; he was so much more driven than he specifically said when we were just starting out; in our dreamy days we said we were going to share childcare but he cited work pressures and I kept dropping hours as he kept adding them--I wanted my kids to have at least one parent. Those kind of hours mean your children are being raised by someone else--perhaps a nanny, or your wife (yes, there are exceptions but this tends to be a gendered division of labor).

    Labor unions fought for the 40-year work week and won us the weekend, but corporate American is winning it back by luring people with higher salaries and "professional," exempt job titles. But you're still a wage slave--a high-priced one, but the company owns you.

    And as the worth of everything (like housing) gets inflated in region like ours where so many work for these salaries, it has made it unaffordable for those who do not see a $300,000 salary as being worth missing your kids' childhoods. I'm now divorced (people in my ex's professional pretty much all get divorced....not my choice at the time, but such a relief now that I am living a sane life with someone who is not only focused on his career, and who has much more time for my kids than their father does, even still).

    Anyway, back to teacher pay and extended hours. In our area, with our cost of living, they are not paid better than anywhere else. Compare the cost of buying or renting a home in Indiana compared to here. Many of our teachers commute from outside the district because they cannot afford to live in SF.

    If we had access to real bucks to invest, I would put it toward recruiting, training, retaining teachers with livable professional wage (not $300,000, but more than $50,000). Districts could negotiate more flexibility in some cases (paying more for experienced teachers to go to challenged schools, paying more for math and science and language teachers). I might ask for slightly extended hours, but I would couple that with teachers' aides in every classroom in order to lighten the pressing workload (grading papers, teaching differentially) and make those extra hours pay off while also reducing stress for the teachers so that the extra hours would be more palatable. Or maybe there can be job-sharing with one teacher taking the early shift and the other taking the afternoon and afterschool shift. Or summer program. Etc. We can be creative!

  30. Our family chose Argonne--the only year-round school in SFUSD--specifically because we liked the fact that our kids would get that extra 5 weeks of time with friends in school. With summer broken into two shorter breaks, it means less time for students to 'forget' what they learned so teachers don't waste time at the beginning of the year reminding the class what they already studied end of previous year.

    Also, with that 'extra' weeks of school, it means less stress on the teachers and students to study to meet school testing requirements and more time for project-based learning and enrichment like field trips, etc. We thinks it's working great for our family. And the high test scores suggest it's also a plus for the rest of the students at Argonne.

  31. Longer school day? Longer school year? No thank you. It's time parents stepped up to the plate and spent more time with their kids.

    When this happens, I'll be the first teacher out the door.

    It's not our job to raise your children. Furthermore, it saddens me that parents don't seem to be concerned with the time they would miss out with their children.

    Parents are the primary educators. They need YOU!

    As a parent, I'm baffled as to why anyone would want this! I'd pull my kid out of any program that deprived me of my time with her.


  32. That's nice, 10:39 and I sure as heck wish I could walk out of my job at 3:30pm every day. Surely you have some inkling that middle class families are struggling to make it on two incomes these days....something to do with the decline in real wages in a generation.

    Please spare us all the moralism about your being sad because our kids need more time with us. We know they need us. We rush to the BART as soon as work gets out so we can get to our kids. We devote practically all the rest of our non-work time to our kids, and finish up chores and work late at night. This is 21st century parenting. It's not Ozzie and Harriet anymore.

    And no, I'm not wasteful with my money, and I send my kids to public school in part so that I don't have work even longer hours.

    All that said, I think the proposals are specifically aimed at closing the opportunity gap--studies continue to show that extended and enriched learning hours, whether during the school day or summer vacation, are effective in raising achievement of at-risk kids. Most of us middle class folks (despite what you no doubt think of our working-parents schedules) provide our kids with books, parental time, and enrichment activities, so the time "off" is not such a loss academically. Not so for many children.