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School's IN forever

[this is another of those early morning/pre-coffee, unedited rants written on the fly. May be edited/changed later]

Jay Matthews in WaPo: Let's Have a 9 Hour School Day

Let's not.

Why? Why tack three more hours onto a school day when a portion of the six hours kids already attend is filled with fluff and filler? What could possibly be accomplished in three more hours besides making kids tired, bored and more anti-school then they already are?

Three extra hours of study every day added up fast. It produced hundreds of confident young scholars in an inner city school where such people are not often found. (Schools in affluent neighborhoods do not face the same pressure to extend the school day because their students often have parents who insist they do their homework, no matter how long it takes.)

Oh, I see. It's another one of these "social good" programs. Our kids will have to spend three more hours a day stuffed in a classroom, cutting into family and physical activity time, because people in certain neighborhoods don't have control over their children, or don't care.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. This amounts to three more hours of babysitting per day for people who don't want to take the time to make sure their kids are learning the skills they need to get by in life.

I barely have enough quality time with my children during the school year as it is. Between homework and projects, baseball and clubs (and my kids are only allowed to do one sport/club at a time), I think there's an hour free on weeknights for us to do anything together that's not school related.

In my eyes, that time together is far more important than anything they will teach my children in added school hours. Look at this:

They were doing a terrible job as Houston elementary school teachers but discovered that if they extended their teaching time, and mixed in some after-school motivators such as visits to the local Boys' and Girls' Club, student achievement improved dramatically. That inspired the KIPP school day, which starts at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., plus some Saturday morning sessions and required summer school.

What happened to letting kids be kids? There will be enough time after high school and/or college is over for these children to have a nine hour, year round workday. Saturday mornings? Sorry. That's OUR time. That's baseball time. That's sitting around in our pajamas, watching cartoons and enjoying each other's company time. That's getting in the car and driving to the beach or a museum time.

And I don't think it is the school district's responsibility to take your kids on "motivational" field trips. What happened to letting parents do the parenting? I know, there are some parents who are just not capable, or do not care enough, to provide quality parenting, but don't make my family suffer the consequences of their failings.

This has nothing to do with giving kids a better education. This about using school resources, not to mention school district dollars (paid for with YOUR taxes) to make up for lazy or non existent parenting.

It's not that I don't care about these kids, but there has to be a better way to help them out then to drag everyone else into it. I make sure my kids do their homework and project. I make sure they study. I'm sorry if there are people who are incapable of doing the same, but it's not my responsibility to give up my time, my tax dollars and quality time with my kids to rectify that. I am NOT a big a believer in the "it takes a village" theory of raising children. It's hard enough raising your own to be good, educated people with bright futures. I don't want or need the added burden of taking on someone else's kid.

My objection to a nine hour school day is not just about money, resources or raising teacher's salaries so they can provide babysitting for three hours a day; it's about what we are doing to our children. We are forcing them to grow out of childhood too fast. It's all about work, work, work and how much learning and regiment you can squeeze into one child's brain in the course of a few hours a day. Kids need some freedom. They need to gather in front of their houses and play kickball with their friends. They need to ride their bikes and play hopscotch or just sit around with a few buddies playing video games or watching movies. Why force the rituals and time constraints of the adult world onto a ten year old? Do you think this will prepare them for "real" life or toughen them up? No, it will only make them weary and humorless. Nine hour school days, plus time to do homework, projects and study leaves them no time to be children. They'll just be mini-adults. That's not fair.

Just as it's not fair to expect anyone give up three more hours a day to number crunching, spelling, history and a myriad of feel-good, wishy washy programs that chew into a portion of the school day. There are some schools that have done away with recess. Recess! It's just not natural to cram children into a building for six hours a day and not let them run loose at some point. No wonder these kids can't concentrate or get distracted. There's no time for rejuvenation. Even adults get lunch and short breaks during their workday. And most of us work a five day a week, eight hour a day job with weekends off. Yet we're now going to expect children to more than that? Does anyone else see the problem here?

I know I'm going to get attacked for being selfish and for not understanding the plight of children who don't have parents who care. But I am not your village. I am not responsible for your child. It's hard enough raising my own and doing it right. Don't expect me to make sacrifices because other people have failed. There are other ways for the city or state to help these children out without dragging every other kid into it.

And really, that's not it. That's not the whole issue. I am just so tired of bureaucrats and educators and education administrators wanting to suck the fun out of childhood.

WaPo link via Chris O'Donnell


A better first step would be to restore a little academic rigor (in place of the touchy-feely politically motivated feel-good stuff) during the 6 hours they ARE in school. I am a college prof and I'm amazed at the number of borderline-illiterate (or borderline-innumerate) recent high school graduates there are. I don't think we need greater quantity, we need greater quality, in the school day.

Although it well and truly sucks that there are some parents out there who basically raise their children to be feral, it's not fair to punish the parents who, like you, actually care about their kids and want to spend time with them.

If they really have to have an "extended" day, why not make it optional - so the kids who hate being with their parents (or the parents who hate being with their kids) can enroll in it and leave the rest of the folks alone?

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my son's third grade teacher. She regularly assigned homework that required the parents to participate - my son needed to do part of the assignment, and I needed to do the rest. I complained vigorously that I was no longer in school, and that she didn't really have the right to assign me homework. She told me that she didn't feel that parents spent enough time with their kids, and this was her way of making that happen! I explained to her (and the principal, later) that I had better things to do with my kids than do homework. The arrogance just astonished me, but this teacher was a real piece of work anyway. She also told me that my son's creativity "bothered" her. What?!!!

She also told me that my son's creativity "bothered" her. What?!!!

Heh. I hope you said, "Good."

I swear if they try a stunt like this in our school district, I'm homeschooling. Seems like I get a little closer to that decision every day.

Okay, so we're going from the industrial education model to theeee....incarceration education model???

You've hit the nail on the head with this one. There is something seriously flawed with our current educational system. I agree with Keiran... I've got an ongoing discussion taking place in my head nearly every day over this, and hope to one day grow a pair and just DO it. As for what's actually being taught (or not, as the case may be) in schools, I agree that this wishy-washy, touchy-feely crap has got to come to an end. I'd like my kids to learn how to write a proper paragraph more than I'd like them to spend twenty minutes of "quiet time" doing nothing more than coloring worthless worksheets every morning before actual instruction begins. But I guess I'm kinda funny that way.

We had a run-in with a teacher over something like this a few years ago. My daughter was in 4th grade, and she told me about one little boy who was totally disruptive, unable to follow the simplest instructions - the kind of kid who used to be put in the "special class" before that became non P.C. My daughter was upset that this boy was ruining everyone's day and wasting everyone's time. Later at a parent-teacher meeting, the teacher gushed over how well-behaved my daughter was, and told us she had placed our daughter in a work group with this little monster because "she was a good influence on him." I told her that my daughter was in school to be educated, not to solve her discipline problems, and demanded that she separate this boy from my daughter. It was done, my daughter was happier, and her grades went up.

So they're in favor of following the Japanese "cram school" model. How lovely.

At my kids' Catholic prep school, they have 99% of the kids at LEAST testing 3 grade levels above the kid's actual grade. They do this with only 6 hours a day (4 on Fridays)

That being said, the most important things my kids need to know to have healthy, happy lives will be learned outside the classroom. Some of the lessons will be painful (rejection, racism), some will be fun (fishing, jamming on the guitar), and some they won't appreciate till they are older (sunday school, A trip to Washington DC, going to the symphony hall). School is important, but teachers aren't the educators of my children. My wife and I are. The school is only subcontracting the parts we don't specialize in.

Amen, and Amen!

What ever happened to letting a kid be a kid. The most important lessons in life have always been self taught. They come from allowing a kid a little freedon so that they can learn a little respnosibility and accountability. If the schools would throw out all the PC crap, enforce disipline, and focus on academics we wouldn't be in this mess.

Yeah, I wish I had come up with something more interesting to say to the teacher who said my son's creativity "bothered" her, but frankly I was too incredulous to say anything. Another teacher at that school called us about the same son the year before, because he liked to pretend he was a dog or cat during class, and kids thought he was "weird". The teacher wanted him psych tested and labeled. We asked her if she had asked him to stop this during class. "Why, no" she replied, "I didn't want to upset him." Uh - crazy lady teaching my kid: you are responsible for maintaining order, and it is okay to tell kids to stop doing something they shouldn't be doing. By the way, this bothersome child will be starting college in the fall, has self-published 2 books, and just completed his first movie. What a troublemaker!

A better way to improve the school day would be to utilize block scheduling. Instead of cramming 6 subjects into 6 hours each day, restructure them so that each period lasts at least two hours. After all, by the time the bell has rung, the kids are settled down and in their seats and the teacher has dispensed with taking attendance, making announcements, etc., how much real teaching time is left?

A longer class period would allow for more teacher contact per student, more group discussion and projects, and the time to complete work during class time while having the teacher available for questions. Develop a program for volunteer classroom aides (an untapped volunteer resource are retirees who can give kids valuable insight and benefit of their experience - and would foster communication between the older and younger generations).

I've had the advantage of experiencing attending both parochial and public schools, and have had two children graduate from public schools so far. I've also worked in Alternative Education, specifically the programs for students who have been expelled from public schools or who are in Juvenile Hall. I've seen the failure of public schools firsthand and have seen how desperately the teachers' union works to hold onto a system which, despite their protestations, is designed to promote job security first and puts the true best interests of students last.

There are many ways to truly reform public education in this country. Just talking about it accomplishes nothing - teachers and administrators must accept the fact that low test scores ARE a reflection of their job performance and they must be held accountable.

Personally, I taught all my kids to read before they started school because I didn't trust the schools to be able to do the job. All of my kids excelled in English, reading comprehension, and writing skills, and all of them developed a love of reading that I doubt the school's teaching method and curriculum would have taught.

Hey I already have a 9 hour school day. 6 hours of school and 3 hours of baseball practice. (spring only, we aren't allowed to do anything in the fall)

Out of a school of 2200 kids we have over 1500 involved with after school sports or Marching Band. Most will spend 9 hours a day at school.

As for a 2 hour class. Sorry that just will not work. Not that I can't lecture for 2 hours, I can and would. But we have 90 minute classes and by the end of my class the kids are shot.

Think about the last meeting you were at that lasted 2 hours and you didn't want to kill someone to get out of it?

You nailed this one. 9 hours of time-wasting crap is NOT better than 6 hours of time-wasting crap. Dumping all the PC rubbish and getting back to teaching actual useful knowledge is the solution, not just more of an already failed system. It is quite possible to teach a very comprehensive curriculum in 6 hours a day as long as you don't waste time teaching "Wisdom of the Rain Forest Peoples" and "Wymyn's Herstory" for half the year.
I'm not too sure about 2 hour classes, though...attention span and all that.

I have an item on this at my place (and Toren, I swiped your comment; I hope you don't mind).

Two hours is about three times my attention span on a good day, and this isn't an especially good day.

It's not as though the entire block would be spent listening to teacher lectures - it could be broken up into small group projects, individual work, etc.

Both of my sons and my daughter (now a sophomore) all have said they would welcome a set-up like that instead of the typical 6 period day.

The point is that there are other models that could work. Why are we locked into one model? Same goes for the 40 hour work week; 8 hours spread over 5 days. Many people would gladly work 4 10-hour days and then get three days off.

And what will happen when the children who have never had an unsupervised moment are in charge of the world?

A friend of mine has a daugter in college at USC (we live in Sacramento). She was talking about how she didn't want to drive to LA to pick up her daughter for Spring Break and 8 days later drive her back. This involved 28 hours of driving in a short period. I asked why not have her take the Greyhound bus home? She was appalled, her daughter (20 yrs old now) had never ridden a bus without her parent or a chaperone.

And this is a girl who is supposedly going to become a physician. How will she ever know what to do - she's never been unsupervised.

6 hours a day is plenty long for instruction, especially since most of the teachers in my school, myself included, are regularly at school for an additional 2-3 hours a day anyway. Now, an optional afterschool program, run by totally separate staff, is not a bad thing for those students that have no where healthy to go afterschool but it should not be run by the teachers and certainly not funded by the school system.

As for the teacher-bashing in the comments, yeah, there are bad ones ... just as there are bad laywers, doctors, and business people. The difference is, no teacher gets into the profession to make themselves rich. Why is it that no one talks about the good teachers, the ones that actually make a difference?

I don't think Michele was blaming the extension of the school day on the teachers. We have very little say in what happens and, trust me, we are never asked for our opinion either before or after a change in policy. It's the Superintendant and the school board that control it all. If you don't like how the school system is run, make a change there.

My wife is a teacher and has to deal with a moronic bureaucracy to get her job done. She taught summer school and was told that the kids were not to be given a grade lower than the grade they got during the school year. She got in trouble at the end of the summer when some of her kids who did poorly got lower grades. She tried to get a direct, written order to change her grades. Instead, she fiddled with the averaging (there were several reasonable ways to average the student's scores) to get closer and then just kept her mouth shut. She won't be teaching summer school again, I don't think.

She also has competing curriculum requirements. The school district and the state have certain requirements. The state has certain standardized tests that must be passed. The federal No Child Left Behind Act and other federal requirements add to this mess. The requirements are sometimes incomaptible or require more teaching time than she has (certain performance levels trigger certain types of supervised instruction - if too many kids trigger this, she spends all of her day just on them). She mostly teaches the kids what they need to know and then works in the required B.S. as she can.

Many of the teachers are burnouts who just fill in check marks and meet minimum requirements. They've been worn out by the system. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm and to excel when there is no reward for achievement. Teachers get paid solely on years of service and degree level. They can get additional pay for certifications. There is NO discretion in their pay.

I know that measuring performance of a teacher is hard. But that's no excuse to not do it. I've heard that same excuse for why doctors shouldn't be graded or evaluated. The fact that it's hard just means that more work needs to be done to figure out how to do it.

I've also run into the homework assignments that require my work. For my little ones, it's understandable. The homework assignments were rare and were usually creative and kind of fun. If teachers start pulling that s**t when my kids get older, I'll have to go raise a stink.

I think school choice would be a nice solution to this problem. Parents who choose to be active in their kids' lives already, can opt for schools that don't intentionally involve them in homework assignments. Parents who, through other obligations or through neglect, don't spend time with their kids already after school can opt for a nine-hour school day. (As I recall, the KIPP schools mentioned in the post as paragons of the lengthier day are charter schools.) The longer days appear to be helping a certain subgroup of students. Why not let every child and parent get what they need?


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