Obama supports 200-day school year

As the school year winds to a close, another push for a longer school year is making headlines. According to several reports, including one published in The Apple this week, both President Obama and Schools Secretary Arne Duncan support a 200-day school year.

The underlying rationale is that our kids need more time in school to learn those things which we believe they need to be academically competent. I don't disagree with the idea that our kids need to spend more time learning in school, but I don't think lengthening the school year is either the answer to that problem, nor is it feasible.  Let's examine why.

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Round Two of Race to the Top Closed

Well the deadline for Round II applications for Race to the Top is behind us and the applications are "in the can."  Now we sit and wait.

The idea behind RTTT was to help failing schools and districts rise about their current state and see a turn around in those schools.  Originally $5B had been earmarked.  At this point, $3.4B are available since some of it was already allocated in Round 1.

Interestingly enough, the first round of RTTT criteria had a strong emphasis on charter schools and assessment/measurement of classroom effectiveness.  What's "interesting" about this is that neither of these areas are likely to contribute strongly to actual "success" in schools. The prevailing research on charters has mixed results -- it seems that while some are doing markedly better than their public school peers, other charters are doing no better, and often worse.  In other words, sounds a lot like the public school system on a whole. (more…)

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Raising the quality of education doesn’t require more dollars

Of course budgets are seriously on the minds of school and district administrators these days -- we all know times are tough and the schools are looking at cuts.  Recently, an article in eSchoolNews made me stop and say, "Hey, wait a minute!" ("Survey: School budget cuts even worse next year"). In this article, school leaders said that the current budget shortfalls they were seeing were going to "threaten their ability to implement new technologies, raise the quality of instruction in their classrooms, and close achievement gaps among students."

That's where I sat up and took notice.

Ok, I can see where not having the money you hoped for would put plans for new tools such as technology on hold. But, notice the other things they talked about -- "raise the quality of instruction" and closing achievement gaps.

“Raising the quality of instruction” has very little to do with money, as it happens. One way to increase the quality and outcomes of instruction has to do with improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom. And, by that I don’t mean “get better teachers” — there are a lot of great teachers out there who aren’t able to do what they set out to do because of unruly and disruptive students. And THAT problem can bleed literally millions of dollars out of schools and districts every year.

It also has other “financial” effects like decreased absenteeism — get more students to come to school on a regular basis and you return money to the schools’ bottom line. Cut down on teachers who leave the profession because of burn-out due to poor student behavior and you’ll reduce the money needed to recruit and hire new ones.

Oh, and if you decrease the amount of time wasted in the classroom, repurpose that into learning, you’ll see better test scores.

Same with closing the achievement gap. One of the reason low-income, minority, and non-native students lag behind is because they are generally more vulnerable to not having acquired the social skills they need to be optimally prepared for classroom life.  If they enter the school system behind in these critical areas, they tend to continue behind without extra intervention in these areas and it has a negative effect on everything from academic achievement to the type of job they get when they leave school.

Making improvements in all of these areas does not require more budget.  In fact you can do all this within the same, or even reduced budgets. One requirement: enlightened thinking on the part of administrators to consider other alternatives that don't require additional funding. When the constant mantra in the last 40 years has been "We need more money for education," that's a tough change to make.  I think it's one that's needed because we'll never be able to tax and spend our way into better education.  That math doesn't add up.

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