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Where’s the payoff for longer school days?

Submitted by on Thursday, 9 April 2009 No Comment

First off, let’s get over the notion that American students are at a disadvantage because the school days are longer in China and India.

The lofty goal of the Chinese education system is nine years of school for everyone. The current average is 6.4, which ranks 45th in the world, according to nationmaster.com. India’s 5.1 years ranks 65th.

The world leader? The United States, at 12. Chinese and Indian children would have to be in school around the clock to make up for the fact that they spend half as many years in classrooms as American kids.

Having dispensed with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s mythical reasoning for lengthening American kids’ time in school, let’s get down to discussing the research.

Um, where is it?

There’s research dating back two decades that shows achievement increases are startlingly low. There’s data that show lengthening the day dramatically increases costs.  There’s a report that says quality of time is more important than quantity and recommends that policy-makers analyse how kids are spending their time before moving forward.

The research must be there somewhere, or else Duncan wouldn’t have been so brash.

“It doesn’t matter how poor, how tough the family background, socioeconomic challenges,” Duncan told CNN. “Where students have longer days, longer weeks, longer years — that’s making a difference.”

In Massachusetts, grade schools involved in a pilot program are making gains on an achievement gap with students statewide. But three  years into the program, the gap persists nonetheless. And the data look at proficiency, not excellence. Participating schools also have a boatload of help from universities and colleges that simply isn’t going to be there in every state.

Maybe extending the school day is a great idea – it certainly would be a boon for working parents.

Or maybe it’s like the theory that year-round schools would boost achievement, a notion that didn’t pan out in real-world conditions.

Maybe we should find out a little more – fund a few more pilot programs in states that don’t have Ivy League support – before we invest a ton of money nationwide in something that might not work.

We can’t do it just because it works in some charter schools. A student body that self-selects – or is self-selected by parents – isn’t the same as the enrollment at schools that have to try to educate everyone.

Oh, and get off the China and India kick, too. It’s easy to trumpet the top rung when the average student doesn’t make it to the American equivalent of junior high.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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