AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Obama Pushes for More School, Less Vacation

September 30, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
In order to give American students a competitive advantage, President Obama is pushing to add more hours to the school year. But students, teachers and parents have mixed reactions.

Longer School Days May Become the Norm

In a recent announcement, President Obama declared that he would like to extend the school year and cut summer vacations short. According to the president, children in America spend too little time in school, a fact that could potentially put them “at a disadvantage with other students around the globe,” Libby Quaid reports for the Associated Press.

Along with adding time to the regular class day and shortening summer vacations, the president would like schools to “stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go,” Quaid explains. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says American students spend less time in school than kids in other industrialized nations. “Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” he told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

According to FactMonster, children in most industrialized countries in Europe, Asia and South America “go to school more days per year and more hours per day than in America.” Furthermore, the article suggests that every fall, a large amount of time must be spent “reminding kids of what they forgot over the summer.”

As Obama explained, the American educational calendar is outdated, based on an agrarian economy that is no longer in place today. “We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day,” KERO TurnTo23 quotes him as saying. “That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Although Obama is quick to admit that this new measure may be unpopular among parents and students, he feels it is a necessary step in order for American students to succeed. “[T]he challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom,” the AP quotes him as saying.

Reactions: Doubtful parents, stressed kids and high costs

Parents across the country have expressed mixed feelings about Obama’s suggestion. As a survey conducted by KWQC TV6 shows, many parents believe that additional time at school would take away from their children’s family time. “For a parent who works full-time, we struggle already,” mother Kerri Baumer explains. “We maybe get two hours a night together. By the time we're done with showers and homework the night's already over with.” On the other hand, Cara Guinn, another mother, believes that kids won’t “lose as much” of what they learn during the year if they’re “not out of school for three weeks” during the summer.

According to some experts, however, “President Obama's plan to smarten up American kids with longer school days and shorter summer vacations might bolster their grades, but it could also stress them out,” Rosemary Black reports for the New York Daily News. Instead of lengthening children’s academic days and years, Black suggests that education should be made more relevant and efficient.

Blogger Bob Myer agrees with this approach, suggesting that the main issue is not the hours and minutes spent in the classroom but rather the quality of the education that children receive. “[T]he matter isn't so much about the amount of time spent in school but rather how that time is used. Simply adding time, or forcing districts to add time, will not necessarily result in better educated students,” he writes in his blog American Thinker.

More time in the classroom would also require an increase in costs. According to Brad Barns, president of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association in California, “going through with the plan could be difficult, especially due to the state budget shortfall,” KERO TurnTo23 explains. According to his estimates, “an extra 15 minutes of school a day would cost around $7 billion a year in California alone.”

Similarly, Jim Foster, spokesman for the South Carolina State Department of Education, declares that “there’s no way the state could lengthen the school day or the school year statewide without a lot more money,” which they currently don’t have, Robert Kittle reports for the AP.

Related Topic: “Many US Schools Consider Four-Day School Week”

In January, a number of schools around the U.S. considered moving their students to a four-day school week to accommodate tough financial times. The idea could cut down the amount spent on transportation for students and general operating costs. Whether a shortened school week is helpful or harmful to students, however, is still up for debate.

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