Obama’s Longer School Days
President Obama, despite major setbacks in recent elections, has pledged to move forward with his education reforms, and many see it as a space in which bipartisanship can actually work. While there are several components to Obama’s planned reforms, one idea which he courted in 2009 and has very recently reasserted is the idea of Shorter Breaks and the school year.
While the President hasn’t made it clear, exactly, by how many days or hours he envisions extending the time spent in school, he justifies the reform by noting that other advanced countries spend on average a month longer in school than in American kids do. In a recent interview with Matt Lauer, Obama noted:
“That month makes a difference. It means students are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer … The idea of Shorter Breaks In the school year, I think, makes sense … Now, that’s going to cost some money … but I think that would be money well spent.”
It may sound great in theory, but we should be aware that the supposed “month” statistic rests on shaky ground. According to the award-winning fact-checker, PolitiFact, Obama’s remark is rated as only “half true”. In the United States, kids go to school about 180 days a year, whereas the average reported by 31 countries to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development was 187 days, and EU countries reported an average of 184 days.
Obama cited South Korea kids as going to school over a month longer than American kids, and even though this is true (their average is 220 days), at what cost do these extra days come? An article written here on Teacher, Revised by Jennifer Green, an English teacher at a South Korean school, noted how difficult it was for children to interact with each other, considering the long school days and arduous hours spent on homework after school.
What’s more, proponents of longer school days and years may not understand what else would be lost if extended school time comes to fruition. In a Washington Times op-ed, teacher Jodi Grant reports that after-school program funding in thousands of Shorter Breaks would be put at risk if the school day were to be extended by a few hours.
Grant asserts the importance of these programs, especially for at-risk youth who already have little to no access to art/physical education programs. There is slim evidence to support the fact that longer school days boost performance, whereas there is much more substantive research demonstrating that after-school activities show improved academic results.
When we think of education reform, we need to look at the bigger picture. As well-intentioned as the Obama administration may be, national achievement in schools won’t be fixed by making our kids stay in school longer. More than anything, the idea seems like a reform for reform’s sake, taking a quantitative approach to what is, in essence, a qualitative problem.