I am not a Catholic. I don’t attend church of any denomination. I believe in the public school model. Enrolling my kids in a local public charter school makes me feel hypocritical enough — I could never imagine myself even considering parochial school an option for my kids’ education.
Except today, I suddenly imagined it.
Starting this fall, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is going to do the one thing that I think could nearly instantly change the outcomes of American kids’ academic performance, including that of kids who go to notoriously low-performing schools.
They’re lengthening the school year by 20 days.
Studies of American schools show that a longer school year boosts learning and retention. The U.S. has one of the shortest school years among rich, industrialized nations. We also have one of the shortest school days.
On average, American kids attend school 180 days per year. This year, Los Angeles public school kids will attend school only 175 days due to state budget cuts. Other industrial nations — those countries with students who out-perform American kids — attend school more days than Americans. In Finland, school children attend 190 days of classes per year. In Germany, it’s 220.
Despite evidence that a growing number of parents want more — not less — school and that a longer school year benefits learning, cost has kept schools from making the change. In fact, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who announced the change for LA-area Catholic schools, said their costs would increase by 10 percent. Parents will have to pay an additional month of tuition, which runs anywhere between $200 and $800 per month.
The Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District Ramon Cortines has said he’d be more than willing to lengthen the school year for his students. But the cost is too much for the school district, which will see even further cuts as California state educational funding continues to shrink. This year, LA kids will attend school only 175 days; the remaining five days are mandatory furloughs for teachers and administrators.
In making the announcement, Mahoney said his Catholic schools — some 210 elementary schools, plus middle and high schools — were only trying to prepare their students for the future and that they weren’t trying to take away students from the public schools.
But I, for one, hope that this move invigorates lawmakers, budget directors, taxpayers, families with kids and teachers to consider a longer school year at whatever cost. If we look at the big picture, it could be a winning proposition for all: student success, less expense on remedial instruction in K-12, community colleges and universities, less childcare expense for families, better futures for (and a higher number of) high school graduates who then go on to be higher earners and taxpayers, etc.
I’ve attended and taught in schools abroad, and, having grown up with the long summer breaks of the cushy American school year, I’ll admit to some grumbling about book learning in July. However! I can also attest to a luxury of a longer school year — the ability to explore topics, consider problems and take a little more time with concepts and involved projects. A teacher in an LA-area school that had already gone to the longer school year bragged in the LA Times that her eighth-grade math students were working at a ninth-grade level. I wouldn’t use the longer school year to accelerate the curriculum. Rather, I would hope that teachers and schools would use the time to allow kids to master concepts and really develop as thinkers and learners.
But heck. Even an accelerated learning is better than the heavily interrupted and rushed program so many schools and students are forced to endure now.
What do you think? Longer school year?