I just dropped off my youngest to Kindergarten - Chinese Immersion in Minnetonka School District. For now, the school calendar follows the same pattern as it has for years in the Twin Cities. But times are changing and a lot of talk surrounds the economy and the under-performance of American children.
The Case for Starting Before Labor Day - will it make a difference?
I know of a handful of school districts in the Twin Cities, including Hopkins right next to my kids' school, who started early. There is a three-year study in SW Minnesota comprised of 25 schools to see if adding a few days before Labor Day can improve NWEA test scores, which are given in early October and in the Spring to ascertain progress.
What most districts want is the ability to set their own calendar. Rural and urban communities have different needs and certainly, a superintendent and the school board are capable of handling the responsibility, right?
How many PRODUCTIVE hours per week are our children learning?
Here's a thought - why not add additional minutes to the actual school day? My daughters attend school from 8:40 to 3:20.
- 50 minutes of that time is lunch/recess. That's 5 hrs and 50 minutes of instruction per day.
- There is a "special" subject, so take out 30 minutes of not "teaching to the test" - 5 hours 20 minutes
- Let's assume another 30 minutes is eaten up transitioning from one activity to another, taking attendence, disciplining the class and other random time-suckers in the day. 4 hours 50 minutes
For just under five hours daily (24 hrs/week), assuming our kids are well rested and fed, are they getting the education they need to be competitive in the world? I'm told that because of long summer breaks, teachers often use the first month to review what was learned the year before to catch everyone up.
I did the math and as much as I liked our last week's vacation over Labor Day, I don't think our kids are getting enough QUALITY instruction hours. According to this article, the national AVERAGE school day is six hours of instruction. I've just shown that actual instruction hours are inflated even at one of the best performing districts in the state.
A professor at Marquette University agrees with my position, citing it's the constructive hours of instruction, not the time, that is the factor in providing the optimal learning situation. South Korea and Japan outperform American children in Math and Science and have only THREE HOURS of active instruction per day (but go to school about 1 month longer than US kids).
The evidence leads us to believe we need to structure the day at our schools differently. Block scheduling is being used at several schools in Minnesota - the University of Minnesota sponsors a website with more information on what schools are using block scheduling. Block scheduling provides the opportunity for more focus on fewer subjects.
In conclusion, what I feel MN students need is more academic focus - whether it's at school or at home. There are more distractions from learning than ever (phone, television, internet, competitive co-curricular activities, blended households, two working parents). It's not just time with books and teachers that make the difference - it's what that student is thinking about the subject at hand. If they truly understand the material, national testing scores will naturally rise.