Longer school days? Longer school years?
I have a great deal of respect for Joanne Jacobs, but she said something in a recent post about improving education for disadvantaged kids that I completely disagree with. Near the end of her post, Not By School Alone, Joanne says this:
I think providing quality K-12 schools for poor kids is job one; this includes a longer school day and year, making after-school programs and summer school less important.
The ideas of lengthening the school day and lengthening the school year have often been suggested as reforms for our K-12 education system. They were especially popular in the early 1990s when we were suffering through a recession, and Japan seemed to be kicking our economic backsides. Many talking heads on TV blamed our education system and pointed to the longer school year of the Japanese.
If our interest is in trying to get kids who are already learning to learn more, longer school days and years makes sense. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here. We are talking about kids whose achievement in school is miserable.
During the years that I've taught at the junior and senior high school levels, the basic reason for low achievement by students has been consistent: they don't try very hard. For the last decade I've been teaching a basic class, and I've seen another problem there. Kids who fall behind--and some of these kids are willing to try--end up being placed in classrooms with a large number of kids who won't try and won't behave. This makes it impossible for anyone to learn. Although I've never taught in an inner-city high school, I think it's a safe bet that there are a lot of classes with a lot of kids who don't try very hard. And I think it's a safe bet that the learning environment in many of those classes is hopeless.
If education for disadvantaged students is ever going to improve, those are the two issues that have to be addressed. Somehow we have to convince them to try, and we have to put them into classrooms with reasonably good learning enviroments. Having longer school days or years won't do either of those two things.