There seems to be a growing call across the country to lengthen the school day. Advocates from every political stripe see this as an easy softball issue. Really, who would be against our kids getting smarter?
Plus, one can hear the clarion call of fearmongering leaders who warn that Americans, after years of statistical gains, are either: 1) dropping out of school at alarmingly increasing rates, or 2) falling behind our industrialized-world counterparts in academic achievement. This can only mean one thing: we need more school time!
Let’s look at this more closely. First, the measurement of dropout rates has been a highly contentious issue. For such a seemingly basic statistic, one hardly knows where to turn. For instance, the 2000 graduation rate has been pegged in the United States at anywhere between 62 and 88 percent- depending on whose research report you’re reading. That’s a pretty wide disparity of numbers for something that one can imagine could be easily calculated. Really… we can land a man on the moon, and yet we can’t figure out a simple statistical datum with a disparity of less than 26 percentage points?
By most accounts, the dropout rate is (and has been for the past 20 years) between 10 and 12 percent with variable spikes and valleys throughout that span. There has been neither sharp increase nor appreciable decrease since 1990. This “alarming” dropout rate is certainly no reason to increase the amount of time kids spend in school.
Another tactic used by the panic-of-the-week politicos goes something like this (perhaps you’ve read an article like this before?)…
Headline: American Children Falling Behind Kids in (Japan, Australia, Canada, insert most worrisome country here) in (Science, Mathematics).
What kind of sick sport is this? Let’s pit the children of the world against each other in academic competition? What does the winner get? Really, I’m with Alfie Kohn on this one, when he says that these types of academic competitions and comparisons only lead to a culture that filters down… not only are countries pitted against countries, but states against states, districts against other districts in their state, schools within a district against each other… and ultimately kids against kids. How disquieting it is to know that my 7th grader is judged, not by the merits of his own learning, but, rather, by how he stacks up against the other 32 kids in his math class. In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn states (and I paraphrase): if all countries do poorly in terms of academic excellence, what glory is there in being at the top; likewise, if all countries do well, what shame is there in being at the bottom?
Surely, this artificial competition between countries, states, districts, and schools is no reason to elongate the school day. That this competition may be about money… well, that’s a different question, but I won’t digress in this post.
Many Youth-Development-Based programs operate today, but are being threatened by the spectre of extended day programs that the feds and states have implemented. In California, this has led to more state requirements and strings attached to funding while weakening some of the strengths of asset-based (Youth Development) programs. More on this in another post. The point being that the state (in California and other ‘forward looking’ states) are poised to co-opt afterschool programming to use it to create a longer school day. This is a nefarious and ill-advised idea.
Schools don’t need more time. Really- they have our children hostage six-plus hours a day, 180-plus days a year. Really, if they’re saying they can’t get the job done in that amount of time, why should we, the parents and public, be willing to give them additional time? Like marketing guru Dale Calvert told me over a decade ago… “don’t wish you had more… wish you were better!”