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 Despite the outdated “agrarian economy” based education year, the United States produces more effective and highly educated people than Australia and Britain.
The outdated agrarian school year has also had the strange effect of giving the United States a higher per capita GDP and a higher score on the University of Michigan’s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.
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