Lengthening school year is not the right way to increase scores

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The college bubble may soon engulf even more of our lives, if President Obama and the Secretary of Education have it their way. They have proposed a lengthening of the required hours in a school day or in the school year. They believe that in this global economy, American test scores must compete with foreign ones, and more school is the answer.

Some flaws exist in this assumed causation, however. First of all, American students already spend more time in classes than do many of the countries that consistently outscore our students in standardized tests. The Brookings Institution estimated that the average U.S. student spends about 1146 hours in school each year, as opposed to Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong, who all average about 900–1000 annual hours. Americans do, however, spend a lesser portion of the year in school, with more break times than competitive countries.

According to researchers, these extended breaks from school, such as the long-awaited summer vacation, have the potential to make or break a student’s education. While wealthier children often are cared for academically by their parents, disadvantaged children fall prey to problems of poverty and a lack of parental involvement, and fall behind in math and reasoning knowledge.

In a country where we continue to fail in our test scores, and where the high school and college drop-out rates are 30 and 45 percent, respectively, according to the Department of Education, there is no doubt that something must be done.

Especially in a time of a strained economy, the cost of adding more school time is not cheap. Programs that already exist in some Massachusetts public schools have shown to cost between 12 and 15 percent more that what is regularly allotted per student in most state budgets.

Many charter schools have implemented both longer school days, a school day every other Saturday, and a shorter summer vacation. It is true that these schools’ eighth-graders have shown to exceed their state district average scores. It is also true, however, that there are many other factors at play here. Students attending charter schools are often from more enriched societal backgrounds. Thus, a divide exists between higher- and lower-scoring schools. Part of the work that must be done should be in evening out the education gap.

The President and education secretary should also recognize that reducing the time students get to take for themselves is decreasing a whole other side of education: the life experience side. American students need their breaks to remember that there is a life outside of school.

It is clear that some change must come to American education. But, as of now, Obama’s plan remains unconvincing and the answer yet unclear.