On Monday, President Obama endorsed the idea of a longer school year:
"I think we should have longer school years," Obama said on NBC's "Today" show during a special forum on education. "We now have our kids go to school about a month less than other advanced countries. And that month makes a difference."
Longer school years are nice, but I think longer school days might be better, especially for underprivileged students in disadvantaged environments. For kids growing up in these areas, one of the big problems is just the absence of any meaningful order. This letter in The Boston Globe, from a high school student, gives a good sense of what I mean:
I never did my homework or studied; being alone in a room, I saw only my friends’ faces on my walls, and I heard their voices seeping in through cracks of the ceiling and windows. In class, only they were on my mind, not how to annotate a paragraph or how to solve (x + 8)2. I didn’t care, because I knew that once 2:50 p.m. hit, I would be back to face my enemy after a 45-minute bus ride [Emphasis mine].
Violence, and fear of violence, simply isn't conducive to doing well in school. And more than violence, there's the fact that many underprivileged children lack stable families or reliable adults; like Tristan Wilds' character on The Wire, they're forced to make decisions that kids shouldn't ever have to make. I'm just musing here, but not only do longer school days provide time for more instruction in areas like language, music, and art, as well as more hands-on instruction, but for the kids who need it, more time at school keeps them away from broken homes, and near adults who care about them. Besides that, longer school days ensure that those students receive regular meals and enjoy a sense of safety.
Obviously, this isn't a panacea -- and would cost a lot of money -- but if other experiments with longer school days are any indication, it could be an important part of improving education for a whole class of disadvantaged kids.
-- Jamelle Bouie