Friday, October 16, 2009

The “9 to 5” School Day?

When I read the news recently that President Obama wants to extend the school day, my anxiety level crept up a notch. The school year had just begun, and I was already dragging my poor kids out of bed before dawn and struggling to squeeze in homework, dinner, showers, and reading before bedtime. Longer school days would mean even fewer hours at home.

The story that many news organizations carried in late September was based on comments the President made back in March 2009, during a speech about education reform. Following is an excerpt from the transcript, which can be found at

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas. (Laughter.) Not with Malia and Sasha -- (laughter) -- not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

I’m a big proponent of education. I believe parents should instill the value of education in their children and make school a priority. Not only do children acquire important skills and knowledge in school, but also they learn vital life lessons, such as how to interact with peers and function independently.

However, I’m not in favor of longer school days or years because more time in school means less time engaged in other activities with educational, cultural and social value, such as extracurricular activities (music, sports, art), family time, reading and, perhaps most important, sleep.

It’s not even clear that longer school days would benefit children. The Associated Press reports the following (

“Children in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do those in the Asian countries that consistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) compared with the U.S. school year of 180 days.”

I think we’re already putting too much pressure on children today, from kindergarten through high school. Kindergarten is no longer an experience that eases kids into school with low-key activities such as coloring, singing, and show and tell. Now, it’s more like first grade used to be. And high school students are under a ridiculous amount of pressure due to the highly competitive college admissions environment. They’re stretched thin, sleep deprived and stressed out.

Meanwhile, an extended school year would impact segments of our economy that enjoy a boost during the summer, such as travel and tourism. And how are we—as a nation—going to pay for extended school hours.

Longer school days means more costs. And less time for kids to be kids.

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