Saturday, October 3, 2009

No to longer school days and to longer school years....

A few days ago I read that the Federal government, more specifically the Department of Education was proposing that schools have a longer school day and that summer vacations be eliminated. Since reading the article I have tried to get some information about this strategy from the DOE (Department of Education). I haven't been successful. But it is interesting how irrational I become just thinking about this course of action being suggested for our schools.

Let's review. Ever since President Bush proposed the "No Child Left Behind" school program, our public schools have, in my opinion, been going down a slippery slope. Fast! But don't rely on my opinion--read the book, "Tested." It was written by Linda Perlstein, a respected journalist who before researching and writing this book covered education for The Washington Post. She is an excellent journalist and an even better researcher. This book pretty much tells what happens in a school trying its best to score well on the tests for "No Child Left Behind" programs. That program proposed by Bush was a disaster. Many states opted out.

So what is happening today. If my sources are correct, the present administration (Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan) wants the schools to have longer school days and to eliminate summer vacation. I even read that the need for summer vacation was not justified as children were not needed to harvest crops anymore. Good lord, I wonder who thought of that old chestnut.

So what is happening. We are apparently not doing well teaching our children when compared to other nations (mostly European countries like Norway, France, England but also Japan and New Zealand), the industrial type countries. The reports suggest that we are (the U.S.) pretty much down at the bottom of the pile. But hold on here. Let's examine this just a bit. Most European countries end their secondary schooling at the tenth grade (for us the sophomore year). Those that pass certain tests go on to college while many go on to work in the trades. We're comparing our high school graduates to college kids and the cream of the crop so to speak. Of course we don't look that good. Let me pick the upper decile of students in some of our best high schools and let's then redo the comparison. I think we would look a lot better.

But I'm also concerned as to what we're measuring. Rules? Rote information? Passages from literature? My point is that I have had undergraduate students from Indonesian, Japan and China. And some Canadian India teachers. I had two students from a Balkan country and for the life of me I can't remember which one. All...., no, ALL these students were wonderful people, very bright and intelligent but pretty much devoid of problem solving skills. American students by and large are better at problem solving. We're not good on memorization stuff. Perhaps we need to work on that but I like having our students be able to solve problems and think outside the box.

You've read it here before--I really like the statement, "we need to teach our children to walk down paths that we have never traveled on ourselves."

So I think the first thing we need to do is decide what we want our children to learn. How much history? Teach ALL the wars from the War of Independence to the Gulf Wars? Do we teach how the white man pretty much took all the land from the Native Americans? How much mathematics should we teach (yes, I know we've been down this road before)? Here is a hot topic--how much sex education should we be teaching? Do we teach penmanship and/or keyboarding (typing for your older readers)? Should we teach politics in the schools? The road to a successful curriculum is paved with speed bumps, pot holes, and washouts. It is a tough row. Once we decide what we want our schools to teach then we can start teaching. Only then can we begin to test to see how we're doing. And given our multi-cultural background of this country, we cannot test our school children and compare them to each other. I am so tired of hearing that the country schools tested better then the city schools or that the inner city schools showed an improvement compared with the suburban schools. No, no, no, and no. There are too many variables in this type of comparison.

First, set the curriculum, test the kids, then teach the curriculum, the re-test the kids and subtract the scores of the first test from the second test. That is how much you have taught these specific children.

If we are not teaching the students in our schools well, how is having a longer school day and a longer school year going to improve their education? For the life of me I don't understand. There are several of you who say I simplify things too much. Perhaps I do but in this case I'd like someone to show me where I am wrong. I have not seen any research that supports this notion of more teaching of material to our students.

If you had a teacher(s) that made learning fun and you were happy in how you learned, but sure to say a silent thank you to that teacher. I say a silent "thank you" to one of my professors most every day.

1 comment:

  1. Well Les, I think the issue of year-round school is more than how we assess students. Many studies have shown that year-round programs lead to better retention. I believe that the impediment to year-round school is money. Some LEA's that implemented year-round programs experienced a 25% increase in associated costs. Since many states claim they do not have the money to pay for their current programs, how will they pay for year-round programs? The State of Georgia has experimented with some year-round programs and modified its funding formula so the programs are cost effective. This shows that it can be done within a state's education budget.

    Unfortunately money has overshadowed what is actually good for our kids. NCLB was actually a good idea. We should assess students progress. But, as you aptly pointed out, what are we assessing. The WASL is/was(?) an attempt but as many teachers tell you, they find themselves teaching to the test. In fact, the Bellingham SD had an 4th grade program that pulled out a select number of kids and provided them with special test prep classes so they would do well on the WASL. I had to ask why this was being done with only a select set of students. I never did receive a satisfactory answer, at least none that I thought was credible. My guess was they wanted to make sure that any marginal students had some extra help that would help to pump up the districts numbers.