From the Boston Globe, we hear that yet another Massachusetts town is considering expanding their school day and year by 30%:
[The city of] Peabody recently applied to the state Department of Education for a grant of approximately $25,000 to prepare for a possible extension of the school day or school year -- or both -- at one or more schools in the 2008-2009 school year.
School officials say they are focusing on adding learning time at the elementary and middle schools, but have no specific proposal in mind.
"In keeping with all our concerns to provide better educational opportunities for the kids, and to improve MCAS scores, we are taking a look at all the options on how to extend and revamp the school day," said Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti....
. . .
Hoping to keep the discussion alive, Bonfanti in January named a subcommittee to explore expanded learning.
The phrases in bold illustrate the sleight of hand they're using here. Minutes in school = minutes of learning, plain and simple, to their minds. Never mind all those kids who catch on at minute 3 but still have 87 more minutes to go on this particular math topic. Never mind the kids who learn in some different way, and spend 90 minutes staring at this math topic without ever catching on at all. No, never mind that we're talking about real, live, variable children-- expanded time in school simply equates to expanded learning, to the school administrator. Time is education. I guess by this logic, I should equate the total amount of time I spend in a doctor's office to the quality of my medical care.
I can only begin to imagine what this will do to the kids, or how the Ritalin prescriptions will skyrocket.
There are many kids who travel a half hour or more, each way, on a bus in order to attend school. This means their day is already 7 hours long. Increasing their schoolday by 30% would mean their day would last just under 9 hours. And then you have to figure in at least an hour for homework, conceivably 2 or 3 hours by middle school. Many adults do not spend that much time at work, even including the commute.
Alternatively they might expand the school year by 30%. Instead of 180 days, the kids would go for 234 days. But there are only about 260 weekdays in an entire year, less if you take into account holidays. Kids would get less than 4 weeks off under this scenario. There would be no summer vacation at all.
I said to my husband, "These people are crazy-- how can they think parents are going to put up with this?" But he pointed out that it was bound to be popular since most families are now two income, and this obviates the need for child care.
Over a dozen Massachusetts towns have already gone this route, for instance:
The extra time at Salemwood [grade K through 8] has allowed more classroom instruction on core subjects, [Principal Ron] Eckel said. Math instruction for children in kindergarten through 4th grade, for instance, increased from 45 to 90 minutes a day, and lessons on English language arts went from 80 minutes to two hours a day.
Mr. Eckel also adds that "I have no doubt at this point, after six weeks, this is the way to go for the future of American schools...."
Okay, pardon me here, but 90 minutes of math every day of kindergarten is frickin' obscene.
These people are a few cards short of a full deck if they think they can come up with an hour and a half of math 5 days a week for half the year. 90 minutes a day of... what, basic arithmetic? Using the number line to figure out 7 minus 3? For 90 minutes a day? That is insane.
My daughter would be in first grade this year. This is how we do math:
- "Math quiz" in the car. I probably ask 10 to 20 questions during your average car ride. We also count by 5's, 2's, or 10's and just talk about numbers and math. Still, it's probably only 5 to 10 minutes per car ride at the absolute most.
- She randomly announces sums and products. "Hey Mom, 7 plus 6 plus 1 is 14, right?" This happens several times a day. Also, "78 is even, right?" and "The four digit ones are thousands, right?" I don't know what sets her off thinking about these things.
- Maybe one day a week she does a math worksheet or two.
- Occasionally, less than once a week, she gets on a streak of playing with her calculator.
- Once or twice a week she plays around with marbles or Cuisenaire rods in a mathy kind of way, maybe for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Clock math comes up a handful of times daily, as in "There are 23 minutes until Tutenstein comes on, right Mom?"
We don't spend much time on math, but she learns very efficiently because she is not being pushed, she's learning concepts according to the development of her brain instead of a schedule, and because she has time to consolidate information. Consolidation means that you take time off to absorb information into memory and let the concepts arrange themselves in your mind. There is little opportunity for consolidation for a kid who attends school (plus does homework) for a total of 10 or 11 hours per day. Not to mention that if you cover math for an hour and a half per day, you teach almost every child to despise math. Both the ones who "get it" easily, and the ones who don't.
Beyond all this, though, I don't understand why so many people think it's okay for a kid to have so little freedom and happiness for so much of childhood. Is it right to force a kid whose brain isn't ready for division to attempt it anyway, for a couple of hours a day? Is it right to make kids study spelling words and memorize vocab definitions for 2 hours a day, or more if you include homework? Could they not absorb most of this material eventually, if allowed to read things they actually enjoy?
Childhood is not preparation for life, it is life.