Doing More Time in School: A Cruel Non-Solution to Our Educational Problems

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Those who want more forced schooling ignore students’ opinions.
School doesn’t work very well, so let’s make kids do more of it!

school_start_timesThat seems to be the policy enthusiastically supported by President Obama, by his education secretary Arne Duncan, by many teachers’ unions (as long as the teachers are well paid for the extra time), and by many education policy makers in and out of academia.

Kids aren’t learning much in school, so let’s make them start school when they are younger; let’s make them stay more hours in school each day and more days each year; and let’s not allow them to leave until they are at least 18 years old. Let’s do all this especially to the poor kids; they are getting the least out of school now, so let’s lengthen their time in school even more than we lengthen the time for others!

As I read and listen to the arguments for more forced schooling, what disturbs me most is the complete disregard for the opinions of students. Even Obama, who seems to be a good man and a kind father, dissed his daughters in a speech supporting more forced schooling. He said [here]:  “Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular—not with [my daughters] Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

A few days ago I forced myself, for the sake of science, to listen to a localBoston Public Radio program [here] on the argument for a longer school day. The guests were Chris Gabrieli, co-founder of Massachusetts 2020, which helped launch the Massachusetts extended school day initiative, and Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers’ Union. The focus of discussion was a proposal to lengthen the school day in Boston Public Schools by three hours—from its current six and a half hours to nine and a half hours! If the proposal is accepted, students would start each school day at 7 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.

Most students in this system are bussed, so, depending on the schedule, a student might have to get on a bus at 6 a.m. and then not get home until 6 p.m. Then he or she would have two or three hours to do homework before trying to get a little sleep; and then would rise at a little after 5 a.m. the next morning to get ready for another school day. On the face of it, the proposal qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment—punishment just for being a kid. But Gabrieli and Stutman are all for it. They claim that more time in school increases test scores. Hurray! Of course, test scores are the only thing that we care about when we think about kids.

Near the end of the program, a caller asked whether or not students, with their parents’ permission, could opt out of the extra hours.  The answer was a clear “no.”  In fact, in answering the question, Gabrieli cited students’ opposition to the longer day as reason for making it compulsory. He said, “If you ask the students at the end of the day how many would like to stay for more school, you are lucky if 10% say ‘yes.’” That was it—no more discussion of student opinion.  Student opinion doesn’t matter except as a force to counter.

More of the story by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn, click image