Lesson 8.4: Real World Connection

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Does School + More School = Smarter Students?

How much time should children spend in school? Massachusetts was the first state in the country to pass a law requiring children to go to school. The law, passed in 1852, called for children to attend school 60 days a year. Now, most U.S. students must attend school three times longer than that - about 180 days a year. Yet, is that enough?

Many people do not think it is enough! In 2001, the governor of California announced that he wanted schools in his state to add 30 days to the school year. The mayor of New York City called for Saturday classes for students needing extra help in science or math or in learning to speak English. Across the country, schools are adding days to their calendars.

Time to Learn

For the 2000 school year, many schools in Oxnard, California, held classes on 195 days - and a surprising number of students liked it! Some students said that their teachers explained concepts better and gave them more help than was possible when the school year was shorter. Still, Oxnard had to end the 195-day schedule because it became too expensive.

Teachers today have more to do than ever before. They teach more courses and tougher subjects. They have to provide information on such new topics as diversity, safety, and ethics. In addition, they have to prepare students for state and national standardized tests. Because these extra tasks now have to be crammed into the traditional school year, teachers say learning has suffered.

Many supporters of lengthening the school year argue that U.S. students get lower scores on international tests than students in other countries because U.S. students spend less time in school. "If we want American kids to catch up with kids in other countries, Americans might need to spend more time learning, the way kids in other countries do," said education expert Chester Finn.

Some educators also argue that today's school calendars were adopted more than a hundred years ago, when most Americans lived on farms. Schools had to close in the summer so that children could help at home with farm work.

Today, with most parents working away from home, many children spend summers home alone. “What you have is three months of time in which children forget what they have learned and get into trouble,” said Delaine Eastin, a California school administrator.

Is More Better?

Not everyone agrees that children need to spend more time in school. Some say that schools just need to make better use of the time they have.

“Quality is the key to making time matter,” said education expert Julie Aronson. “Only when time is used more effectively will adding more of it result in improved learning for students,” said Aronson.

U.S. students are not falling behind children from other countries because they do not spend enough time in school, many educators say. They are falling behind because they do not spend enough time in school learning.

Using Resources Wisely

Adding days to the school year can be expensive. Adding 30 days to the school calendar throughout the state of California, for example, would cost about $900 million a year. Many critics believe that instead of spending money to keep schools open longer, money should be spent on new computers and more teachers.

Schools do not need more time, those critics say. What is needed is more teacher training and more after-school and summer programs. Schools should move nonacademic activities to after-school hours and use the entire school day for instruction.

Word Wise

diversity:
Variety or difference: Schools teach about diversity so that students learn to respect people with various backgrounds.

ethics:
Principles of correct conduct: Our ideas about ethics determine how we behave and how we treat other people.

standardized:
Generally accepted as being reliable: In our community, there is a standardized math curriculum for each grade.

effective:
Having a good effect: Doing your homework right after school is more effective than leaving for the evening when you are tired.

critic:
A person who finds fault: Critics of the plan for a new library say that it will be too expensive.

nonacademic:
Not related to classroom subjects: My favorite nonacademic activity is soccer.

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Activity

Are the following topics taught in your school? Think about how each of them applies to life in your own community.
  • diversity
  • safety
  • ethics
What might be some effective ways to teach each of these topics? Express your thoughts in a few sentences. Then be ready to discuss your thinking with your class.

Data Hunt

How many days long is your school year?

Suppose your state government voted to extend the school year to 195 days. Work with a partner. Get a calendar. Make up a plan for where to add the extra days to the school year. On the calendar:
  • Mark the date on which school began this year.
  • Mark off the number of days already planned for the school year. (Remember that weekends most likely do not count.)
  • Mark off the extra days.
(You may have to change where the holidays will be and decide whether to have several short vacations or fewer longer ones.)

Discuss your plan with a classmate. Explain why you think your plan would work best.