More hours and days won’t keep the teacher away

Hey kids! It’s time to strap down and get settled in your seats. President Obama wants to see you all spend more time in the classroom, so get comfy! Obama has proposed an extension of days per year and longer hours spent in the public school systems in an attempt to raise test scores.

Although there is good intent behind the proposal, it ignores the factors that will inevitably counteract with any future plans for education reform. Obama should choose either an extension of school days or longer hours in the classroom, but installing both is problematic.

In a country facing one of the worst recessions in history, finances, or a lack thereof, play an important role in education. Obama has already proposed a $255 million stimulus plan to help renovate and rebuild shambled schools. Funding for both projects will cripple taxpayers. If a school is to stay open longer, more money must be spent to keep it functioning properly. Since a school cannot operate without resources, wait until the next water or electricity bill comes in. How will taxpayers react then?

“This is yet another unfunded mandate and another thing for the public schools to do,” said Dr. Martin Handler, superintendent of Brandywine Heights School District of Pennsylvania to the Huffington Post. “We’re having a difficult time, frankly funding our current programs.”

Obama’s proposal also overlooks teacher unions. From a personal observation, teacher unions are difficult to cooperate with. Making changes within their contracts usually sparks months of controversy and are rarely resolved, if ever. The teachers’ union within my home state, for example, is one of the strongest in the country. The local government has little say in how much teachers receive in benefits and wages. Obama needs to consider how his proposal will settle with powerful teacher unions and if additional time is in breach of their contracts.

Obama must also consider the effects that a school extension would have on children; mind you, these students are America’s future. According to the BBC, researchers say that the average American child’s schedule is already too congested. Rather than spending additional time in school, children need to focus on participating in more social activities. If the child has a family, more time in school can also disrupt family bonding.

Aside from low test scores, Obama’s proposal for additional time is in response to foreign countries school systems, many of which have their students spending more time overall in the classroom.

According to the Associated Press (A.P.), Taiwan, Japan, and China have their students spending 190 to 201 days in school, while American students only spend about 180. Asian students are also expected to undertake between 16 to 21 years of education during their lifetime compared to America’s expectancy of 12 to 16 years.

American students, however, spend more hours per year in the classroom. According to the A.P. American students spend 1,146 instructional hours per year compared to Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), and Japan (1,005).

Either way, students in Asian countries continually outscore the U.S. in math and science. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution told the Huffington Post, however, that a slight increase in time during math classes is the key to producing better scores. Through his own research he has found that extra time has helped students tremendously.

“Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don’t forget these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes,” Loveless told the Huffington Post. “Percentage wise, that’s a healthy increase.”

Our education system needs to join the ranks of others in the world and quickly as to not fall further behind. Making small progressions such as choosing either additional days or hours will help us get there but dramatic alternations will only hurt America’s communities and wallets. America needs to think small to get big results.