Friday, October 2, 2009

Obama’s Extended School Year Plan

You can read about Obama’s thoughts on extending the school year here from a recent News report.

the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom," says Obama.

I say the challenges of a new century demand better time in the classroom.

“Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).”

I say let’s stop counting and comparing hours or days in school and start concentrating on the quality of instruction here in our public and private schools. Let’s also stop trying to compete with other countries but focus on learning how to cooperate with and work with others both here and abroad to meet the demands of a new, global century.

NASA is a good example of a program that integrates great minds from different cultures to work on common goals. Right now if you Google the International Space Station, you can see who is on it -- crew members from Russia, the U.S, Belgium, and British Columbia. Ten people from different parts of the world all working together.

The international space station is one good example of what can be accomplished when people from different nations come together and work on a shared interest. I'd like to see more of this kind of cooperative learning in our classrooms. Learning that really promotes and encourages working in a team instead of competing against others. It's not easy to work in a team, but it's important that we teach our kids how to do it well if we want to live and thrive in a global world.

But teamwork isn't the only thing that needs to change in public education. I think President Obama should focus on redefining the quality of instruction, instead of focusing on the amount of time kids are in school. If he asked me, this is the list I’d give him to meet the challenges of a new century in our public schools. I call it the G.P.S. - Guidelines for Public Schools:

· Fewer rewards & punishments – get rid of the carrot & stick mentality

· Teacher as guide, not expert – the "Guide on the Side," not the "Sage on the Stage" idea

· Student-centered curriculum – student interests & choices before teacher & curriculum mandates (find student passions & explore them)

· Change short subject chunks of time into large projects & themes that involve all disciplines

· Minimize competition – get rid of awards & honors/advanced classes, no tracking – all abilities should be together (unless severely special ed)

· Promote true cooperation and sense of working together among students and teachers

· Mix age groups (to learn from each other)

· Homework is the exception, not the rule (and only when it is meaningful & turns the students on to learning)

· Grading doesn’t exist in elementary & middle school

· Standardized testing doesn’t begin until high school, and then only minimally

· Assessments are performance based and not standards based

· Give as much time & money to the arts as to the traditional subjects like math, science & history

· Incorporate vocational & technology training into high school years

· No federal mandates tied to money, just federal guidelines or suggestions

· Give parents more choice in where to send their children to school

Why do kids love summer so much? Because it’s more enjoyable than school! If school were as interesting and fun as summer, kids, parents and teachers wouldn’t mind a longer year. See my earlier post about summer camp learning.

Your thoughts on Obama’s longer school day? Take the "Diablo" Magazine poll at:


  1. I completely agree that our kids do not need more time in school, they need more quality time in school. We should be looking at how they learn and what they are being taught and not counting minutes, hours, or days. And, by the way- how will we pay for these extra hours? Hmmm... This country is BROKE and BROKEN.

  2. My opinion: Compare "apples to apples"...
    It most certainly is not about the hours/days spent. We need to look at what is being taught and truly how is it being taught, if they are getting higher scores they are understanding more, thus being taught better/differently, testing them more appropriately. There is a reason for success... it is not time management. Clearly there is the "gap" if you will... if we're looking at someone else's success to guide us or we are looking to "match" it then we don't just add time...and say that is our problem.
    We must look at all of the components of what they are doing that is yeilding success. Because clearly more time of the same educating process will only be more time with the same result (or worse more drop outs!)

  3. I agree with your recommendations for the schools in the east bay and affluent communities. I think Obama is not considering affluent communities when he says schools need to provide more time in schools (although he never clarified this is just my assumption). I can see where more time in schools would help communities keep kids out of trouble. Like the inner cities where kids go home to an empty house with no supervision or extra curricular activities of any kind. Basically parents are absent trying to make money for the basic needs of a family, kids are alone doing who knows what.... yes we know what -making babies and doing drugs, watching endless hours of TV and playing video games, eating unhealthy cheap food, getting fat. Now I think those kids need more school, structured time where adult supervision can motivate them to do good things. I do think inner cities need more school, more training in vocations and less time to get in trouble. Again, Kerry I see the other side of the success of this wonderful community.

  4. well stated! I agree 100%.
    ~Darci O'Grady