Summer is over here. The kids went back to school earlier this week. Everyone is excited to meet new teachers and friends and get going with a fresh start to a new year. But yet, already I see some of the disappointment in some of my students, after only 2 or 3 days back. The reality of school work sets in and their self-esteem is already suffering.
For instance, a student who worked hard with me all summer to complete her summer homework on time is not praised for doing so, but rather told that the work will be collected next week because too many other students hadn’t completed theirs yet. Another student who is excited to do geometry loses his excitement when he finds out that they will be reviewing algebra for the first two weeks, a class in which he battled with for most of last school year, unsuccessfully. Not all the stories are bad, but enough to frustrate me when I hear, yet again, the push for longer school days or school years.
I am sure some of you will be surprised to hear that I am a proponent of year round school, if it is done effectively with breaks between units or quarters that would still entail the same number of days off the students currently receive. I think it would be beneficial to not have such a large number of consecutive weeks off for students. There is regression for down instructional time and I can’t ignore that. Your brain needs to be used continually and when you take time away from practicing something like multiplication or writing, it becomes a bit rusty and difficult to get moving again.
However, I also know that summer is a time for a student to recharge, especially those with learning disabilities that struggle in the classroom. It is a time for them to do things in which they excel like summer camps for their interests, watching neighbor dogs, baby sitting, or even just exploring the neighborhood pond looking for bugs and frogs. All of these are learning experiences of their own and I believe of great value to our kids who spend 6-7 hours a day sitting in a classroom without much real world interaction. (I seem to remember taking many more field trips as a child than the students of today are afforded.)
So, when Time Magazine prints a cover article such as “The Case Against Summer Vacation” I shudder. Especially when the print version of the article includes graphs that don’t necessary support their case. In fact, it showed that the number of hours our students spend in school was very high when compared to other countries in the world with higher achievement rates. So what does that tell us? According to this research brief put out by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), “Changes in instructional time do not generally increase or decrease student achievement, unless such changes go beyond unusually low, or high, amounts of time. Curriculum and instructional quality appear to have a much greater effect on achievement than do total hours of instructional time.” (ASCD, 2005).
Wow, from 2005? So this research has been around for 5 years and we are still talking about increasing instructional time? Yes, and I would again suggest that it has more to do with money for the teachers, administrators, and the unions than it has to do with educating students effectively. But it seems that no one is listening, so the controversy will continue on and those who want longer school days/years seem to have the loudest voices and the highest positions to affect change, even if it isn’t in the best interest of our children.