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Unpublished Column

I wrote a short column in reply to this article I read in one of the local papers, but the editors at the Echo Press felt it didn’t deserve space, So I’m going to post it here. There’s going to be a push to expand the prep level school year, and it’s based on bad science and bad comparisons. I’m going to re-write the column so I can submit it to numerous newspapers as this becomes a bigger issue in the coming years.

We all have fond memories of our childhood summers. Swimming, baseball, biking, some valuable TV time all mixed in with the relief that there wasn’t any school work to be done. It was wonderful, and those memories of mine are quite cherished now that I have entered the real world, where obligations don’t end in summer. It was nice to be a kid.

This is probably why the article from December 14th (Longer School Year Debated) had such an immediate impact on me. “They’re declaring war on summer,” I thought. In reality, that’s not true. But such reactions have to be expected from people like me who thought of schools as prisons more than learning environments. However, the idea intrigued me, as Superintendent Ric Dressen seams convinced that a longer school year will be necessary for young people “to compete in the global workforce.”

Because of my personal experiences in public schools, I look at such pronouncements with a skeptic’s eye. Understand, I am the eternal optimist. I believe in the goodness of people. I try to control the cynic within. For this reason, I won’t judge any other motives Ric Dressen and the Minnesota Association of School Administrators [MASA] might have in lobbying for a longer school year. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. So I’ll ignore the fact that a longer school year would mean more pay and more benefits to Mr. Dressen and other school administrators.

I’ll just relay some facts to Mr. Dressen which will show an extended school year to be superfluous. The United States, according to an article in The Economist, has more engineers per 10,000 employees than either Australia or Britain. Despite the outdated “agrarian economy” based education year, the United States produces more effective and highly educated people than Australia and Britain.

The outdated agrarian school year has also had the strange effect of giving the United States a higher per capita GDP and a higher score on the University of Michigan’s World Value Survey composite well being scale than either Great Britain or Australia.

There is another myth here that needs to be exposed. It is the idea that more schooling will make a smarter and more successful student. It is untrue; in countless studies throughout the last hundred years psychological researchers have shown that social intervention (by schooling or early start programs) fails to raise IQ. Most studies show temporary gains in IQ from students receiving extra education, but those gains disappear in adulthood.

Psychology researchers aren’t the only ones who have noticed this. In his book “Freakonomics,” economist Steven Levitt looked at how much a prep school matters in predicting future academic and economic successes of their students. What Levitt found will dishearten many of you. The school doesn’t matter. Bright and motivated students are just as likely to succeed fighting their way through a failed inner city school as they were in a wealthier suburban school.

It seems silly then to think a longer school year will really make that large of an impact on our economy and students. It hasn’t and it won’t. It will simply cost a lot of money. It seems like it would just be easier to let the kids have their summer breaks.


One Response

  1. There have been some problems with the link, so here if the entire article:

    Longer school year debated

    Celeste Beam, Staff Reporter

    Students may not like it, but it’s something they may have to get used to.

    An extended school calendar may not happen next year, but Ric Dressen feels it will happen within the next 10 years.

    Dressen, the superintendent for Alexandria School District 206, said that if schools want to provide world-class education, a longer school year would be needed.

    He noted that in China the school calendar has 250 days, in Australia there are 210 days and in England, the school calendar consists of 220 days.

    Currently, in American public schools, including School District 206, there are 180 school days in a calendar year, which is between 30 and 70 days fewer than other countries. And in a student’s school career – 13 years – it can add up to between 390 and 910 fewer days of education than what other students are receiving from around the world.

    This begs the question of whether or not American students are prepared to compete in the global workforce, Dressen added.

    Dressen believes that American schools should have a more balanced school year because there is a loss of learning that can occur during the three-month summer break.

    “I think it [a longer school year] needs to happen,” said Dressen. “Next year? No. In the future? Yes.”

    He also noted that the change would probably be gradual. In addition it will be challenging because of funding issues, but that it’s a great topic to start discussing now.

    Extending the school-year calendar has been a topic of discussion for several key legislators recently.

    Many believe that although they are not yet ready to change the current school calendar, they are prepared to at least consider extending it.

    In a December 9 Star Tribune article, Representative Geoff Michel, R-Edina, strongly supported the idea of a longer year. He reiterated the fact that more classroom days in countries such as China can add up to another full year of class time over a student’s academic career compared to class time for a Minnesota student.

    Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar said that the first reaction among parents is negative, but explanations about the need to prepare students for the rest of their lives in a global economy are sometimes persuasive.

    “It’s worth a legislative public debate,” Johnson said in the article. “But I would not even want to predict it will become law in 2006.”

    A study by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) provides evidence to examine the need for a more balanced school year.

    The study indicated that a more balanced school year would grant educators the liberty to spend additional time with students and it would allow flexibility to respond to different needs of different types of students.

    In addition, the study showed that during the summer months students are more likely to participate in “risky” behavior such as drug, alcohol or tobacco use or other criminal acts.

    The MASA study, however, also showed that there are issues schools need to consider to make the transition to a more balanced school year, including training of educators; effects on extracurricular activities; and additional costs to school districts including teacher salaries and student, facility and transportation costs.

    Dressen concluded by asking if examining the issue of a longer school year is the best process for student learning.

    “It’s a good question,” he said. “And I feel it will help shape the future of education.”

    What a crock, saying that more time and money will give them more flexibility in teaching students is like saying more money will help in purchasing a car. It’s true, but damn does it take a lot of money.

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