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Obama supports 200-day school year

June 12, 2010

As the school year winds to a close, another push for a longer school year is making headlines. According to several reports, including one published in The Apple this week, both President Obama and Schools Secretary Arne Duncan support a 200-day school year.

The underlying rationale is that our kids need more time in school to learn those things which we believe they need to be academically competent. I don’t disagree with the idea that our kids need to spend more time learning in school, but I don’t think lengthening the school year is either the answer to that problem, nor is it feasible.  Let’s examine why.

Adding 20 days to the school year represents, on average, an 11% increase in education days.  Certainly extra days in school will come at an extra cost.  In case you haven’t heard, our schools are complaining about lack of funding, to the point where some schools/districts such as some in Oregon and California are considering reducing school weeks to 4-days instead of the usual five. Where will the additonal funding needed to keep schools open an extra 20 days come from?

At the same time, we know that this extra time will not mean students will have an extra 20 days of learning time.  If you recall from earlier posts, there is a significant amount of productive time currently lost in our classrooms due to disruption and behavior management issues.

If we consider that our classrooms are losing 30% or more of productive time because of unruly and unfocused students, this alone represents 60 days lost out of the current school year. And in the state of Washington alone, this means more than $2B wasted if you only consider the loss of time in the classroom.

If President Obama and Mr. Duncan want to increase the amount of time students spend learning, we can have this right now, within the current budget if we only reduce the time wasted by one third.  By improving the effectiveness of the classroom, we regain productive time, put this wasted money to work, decrease discipline problems, reduce teacher attrition…and raise test scores.

No, this isn’t theoretical.  Schools using SocialSmarts have seen just such results.  Our schools have reported 43% increases in student time-on-task. That’s the same as an additional 25 productive classrooms DAYS. And that results in up to double-digit improvements in academic test scores, so it proves that more time on learning leads to better achievement.  The good news is, we don’t have to spend more money to do it because the “solution” is self-funding in terms of regaining use of money and resources presently wasted.

I know that increasing efficiency isn’t really how most people think about improving education, but in a time of fiscal challenge — when was the last time schools weren’t concerned about budgets, though — in our present economy, isn’t it important to think about how we can do better with what we have?  Classroom effectiveness is a buzzword right now, but most people are thinking about assessing and measuring it, and not so much what to actually DO about it.

Before we start making more “bandaid” decisions about stretching out the school year, let’s ask that question I like so much: “What problem are we trying to solve?”  If the problem is “kids aren’t spending enough time learning in schools” then there are different — and better — answers than precipitiously deciding that a longer school-year is the way to do it.  Making more of the time they are currently in school is not only feasible, it’s realistic, and it’s fiscally practical.

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