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Longer School Day and Year

Reformers who have never taught have no idea how exhausted teachers and students are as the school year winds down. Nevertheless, they argue that lengthening the time that students spend with their teachers would increase learning. I say their proposal is counterproductive to their objective.

Class time varies greatly across the country. Thirty states require 180 or more students-teacher contact days. But not all states define a school day the same way. Missouri says it is four hours, while Texas requires seven hours, which include lunch and recess. Moreover, quality is far more important than quantity. Massachusetts and Minnesota perform exceptionally well, even though they require less time in class than lower performing Louisiana and Nebraska.

Nevertheless, whenever enlightened school officials raise doubts about the connection between class time and student learning, they face a skeptical audience ("Minnesota requires fewer classroom hours than other states. Does it matter?" Pioneer Press, May 25). My recommendation is that any additional time should be devoted to staff development. Teachers in this country have so little opportunity to confer with their colleagues. Other countries take great pains to allow teachers to meet to share their successes and failures.

Yet when it comes to adopting what works in high-performing nations, the U.S. refuses to treat teachers as true professionals. Finland is continuously cited as a model. One of the reasons for its impressive performance is the respect accorded teachers. This includes providing them with constant support so that they can do their job as they were trained to do.

Which brings me back to the end of the school year here. I seriously doubt that anything substantive can happen by extending the school day and school year. In economics, the law of diminishing returns says that beyond a certain point, additional inputs will not produce proportionate outcomes. I maintain that the same holds true in education.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.
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