Now I want to look at it from a teacher's point of view. I have been teaching elementary school for 18 years and have taught to the very wealthy and the very poor. I am against adding time to our day and year. I truly feel there would be nothing to be gained by increasing our children's time in school. TIME is not really our issue. Most time in school is not being used efficiently; so to add more inefficiently used time will not provide any real growth.
In order for a student to progress at a good pace, I believe they need three things:
- A teacher who is competent in the subject matter
- Pre-requisite skills for the learning that is taking place
- A commitment by the student and/or parent(s) to learn the material
The reality is, most teachers are competent to teach their class. As much as the anti-unionists would have us believe there are scores of clock-punching lazy teachers being protected by unions, it simply isn't the case... and teachers are certainly not what is driving the condition of our schools.
I believe our largest failing pertains to pre-requisite skills. The truth is that up to two-thirds of the students in a given classroom do not belong there. The subject matter is simply too advanced or too easy for the student.
In an inner-city environment, such as I teach in now, the subject matter is too advanced. But in American schools we have a "ready-or-not, here-you-go" view of class advancement. Whether or not a student has the skills in place to move on... we move them on. Students are placed by age, rather than what skill they are ready to acquire. I have used this example before, but it would be like if I wanted to switch careers and decided to go to medical school. The registrar at the University looks at me and says, "Well, normally we would put you on a pre-med schedule to get in your sciences.... but if we did that, you would be in class with a bunch of twenty year-olds. You look like you are about 40, so why don't we put you in 2nd year medical school ... that way you would be in with classmates closer to your own age." To be on a class track that I am completely unprepared for could not be more demoralizing.
Consider also what it would be like for the professor, trying to teach surgical skills to folks who failed Biology 101 or couldn't stand the sight of blood... along with students who were ready to move on to their next year of medical school. Does that sound chaotic and wrong? In my class I have an even spread of Harry Potter readers, down to See Spot Run. My students are expected to be taught, and later tested on, the division/conversion/and reduction of mixed numbers - yet many struggle to add 13 and 7 in their head.
Anti public education folks will often point to studies that show that our students do worse the longer they are in the system. I believe this is because of our determination to advance kids by their age rather than their readiness.
I believe this also has a negative effect on my third category - student commitment. The longer a student, who is not ready, gets pushed to higher and higher levels... the more their commitment wanes. This of course brings out the misbehavior that is more and more prevalent in our classrooms. How frustrating it is to be pushed on to the next level, when you felt completely helpless in the previous one.
There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we approach education in our schools. Simply lengthening the time in a bad system will only increase everyone's level of frustration.