Why Increasing School Hours Won’t Solve the Education Problem in America

Kids (and I bet a fair number of parents) in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee are groaning tonight. These five states will be adding another 300 hours to the school year in 2013. The reason? To make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level. Now I’m no expert, but I don’t believe that adding another 300 hours is going to do much to help American students to compete with their Indian and Asian peers. I do, however, see how this is going to tick off a lot of teachers.

The preconceived notion that children in other countries spend more time at school isn’t necessarily accurate. According to this article from The Center for Public Education, the U.S. requires as many (or in some cases more) instructional hours than other countries. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that students in other countries do receive an additional 300 hours of instructional time. Adding another 300 hours of time to schools here in the U.S. still won’t make much of a difference and I’ll explain why in a minute.

However, I do think that using the hours we already have in a more constructive way could absolutely benefit American children. Ask any teacher and she’ll tell you that she spends the first month+ of school reteaching everything that was sucked out of the students’ brains over summer break. I think year-round school wherein students attend the same number of days, but those days are broken up differently (for example: 45 days on, 15 days off) is beneficial for everyone. Teachers don’t have to waste time combating summer brain drain. Students don’t get burned out on school because they get frequent breaks. Teachers who can start class on time and actively teach through the duration would make better use of the allotted time, but unfortunately, here in the U. S., teachers spend more time teaching kids how to behave than they spend teaching them their times tables.

I don’t think adding hours, in and of itself, will do the trick. Sure, some kids will take advantage of the extra time and it will make a difference for them. But overall, I think it will have little effect because it isn’t the amount of time American kids spend in school, but their general attitudes about education that’s the problem.

I recently read an article on NPR that stuck with me. In the article, Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world spoke of the differences between Eastern and Western learning. He told a story of how they had given a class of first grade American students and a class of first grade Japanese students an impossible math problem to work on. The American students worked on the problem for an average of <30 seconds before giving up and complaining that they didn’t know how to do it. The Japanese students, on the other hand, worked for the entire hour until they were told to stop.

Now, I’m not into the whole tiger mom thing and I’m not saying that Eastern ways are better, but we can still take away some positive aspects of Eastern culture and incorporate them into ours.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called and emailed parents practically begging them to support their child and to demonstrate to their students that learning is important. But for so many parents, homework just doesn’t seem to be a priority. All too often, these messages seem to fall on deaf ears.

And then these same students say things like, “I don’t got no time to do homework.”

“Do you have jobs after school?”


“Are you in sports or clubs?”


“Do you do volunteer work after school?”


“Then, how is it that you don’t have an hour to spend on homework?”

It’s these same students who ‘don’t got no time for homework’ that then ask, “Why I got a F?”

“Ummm because you don’t do your homework or study for tests?” I suggest.

“It’s stupid that we have to do homework. Teachers should just give us good grades for coming to school,” is their response. And that is precisely the problem I see — this overinflated sense of entitlement. They don’t need to work; teachers should simply give them good grades.

Everyone owes them something. They shouldn’t have to work for it; it should be given to them. If it doesn’t come to them immediately and easily, then why bother? I was talking to a teacher today about the number of kids who failed an open-book test. The kids were allowed to use the text book and their notes to take the test. And they failed it. “Because it’s too hard to look up the answers.” This attitude honestly floors me. And it especially leaves me flabbergasted that so many parents seem to support that behavior and the belief that they are entitled, and certainly don’t need to put forth any effort to earn anything.

A coworker called it the “McDonald’s Mentality”. They want it and they want it now. They don’t want to work for it because it’s just not worth all the trouble.

In my opinion, until attitudes about education are changed, the number of hours spent at school will have little effect on learning.

To read more from Dawn, check out her hilarious books Because I Said So (and other tales from a less-than-perfect parent) and You’ll Lose the Baby Weight (and other lies about pregnancy and childbirth) here!

I don’t always waste time, but when I do, I enjoy playing on Facebook. Come with me, my friend.

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