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This always seems to be some people answer to any problem.  Profits down, make them work harder.  Morale down, make them work harder.  Scores down, make them work harder.

Hard work is the archetype that seems to define the US. Everyone who succeed has done so by hard work, sacrifice and determination.  While this may be true, it does not follow that worker harder is going to solve all problem.  For instance have coal miners work harder to produce more coal is not going to solve global warming.  Requiring quality control staff to inspect twice as many parts is not going to solve quality problems in a product.  Creating a culture in which employees work longer hours is often not necessarily going to increase quality or decrease long term costs.

So why it is that all too often in school improvement do we focus on the length of the school day with no critical analysis on the implicatios?

To begin, there is nothing wrong with an optional longer school day or even school year.  Many students befit from such a things.  Athletes, for instance, depend on the longer day to gain additional physical skills.  Many students want and benefit greatly from academic tutoring.  Summer programs, be it for makeup work or enrichment, provides a continuity of education that many students desire.

The key element if this kind of extended day or year is that they are optional.  The coach, or teacher, or tutor, has a group of students that are motivated, or at least slightly more motivated than the students who are only in school because they or their parents will be put in jail if they do not attend.  The coach, or teacher, or tutor, chooses to work the over time, either as part of the contract or for extra pay.  This provides a unique situation in which there is an agreement between student, teacher, and administration to work harder.  It is a good thing.  These programs need to funded with pay of for the coaches and teachers, funding for nutritional meals, and bus service.

However, I do question whether asking everyone to committee to an extended day or extended year will be beneficial, that is increase the learning of the average student.  I would say the answer is a definite no, but at best it is a very qualified yes.

Imagine if you were asked to work an extra every day, or Christmas, or even Thanksgiving afternoon.  While some would welcome the extra pay, some would see this an intrusion.  Mandatory overtime has never been popular, even with employers.  They know that at some point the productivity and loss of morale will simply mean they are wasting money.

School is no different, except that we are not paying the students, but asking them to do hard work for some intangible future rewards.  Obviously some students see value in this, and some are willing to do a great deal of work, but the average student is just like the average adult.  At some point the effort reward graphs intersect and return on investment becomes negative.

So why are extended days and extended years pushed by people who should know better?  I think there are three reasons.

First, some people just think teachers do not do enough work for their pay.  They get too much vacation, they get out at 3, the unions are too powerful.  So the way to solve this is to make the work day longer. Teachers have to work longer, effective pay is reduced.  Presumably everyone will be happy because teachers will get a bit more money and everyone else can relish in the fact that teachers are working for less.

The mistake in this thinking is that teachers are professionals who are paid a salary to get a job done.  The time in classroom, the required time at school, is not the complete job, it is only the part of the job with mandatory hours.  There is prep time, professional development, and grading that must be done as outside time allows.  This is just like any other professional job, in which one has meeting, deadlines, but otherwise there can be a great deal of flexibility.  

Second, some people think that teaching is babysitting.  In many people minds, the school is there to keep the kids off the street during the day.  They want publicly funding supervision from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night.  Parents want to be free to drop kids off when they are ready, and pick them up when they need them back.  Business wants older kids off the street during the day so they do not cause problems.

But school is not daycare.  Effective teachers are not going to work for minimum wage.  Students are not going to tolerate hours in classrooms without teachers who can engage them.  Even if we add computer and carrer classes in the mix, classes with are hugely expensive, and cheap tutors, it is difficult to imagine the average student to be engaged for a day that many want to be ten hours long.

The third is testing.  It is not exaggeration to say that two months a year are lost to testing.  Some of this is high quality testing that does provide valuable information to students and teachers, but much of it is simply to provide ass coverage for administrators and politicians and divert tax payer funds to private firms.  These folks need to say they are doing something to make the evil lazy teachers do something, and buy influence and votes, so the testing is how to do this.  Remember that textbooks are not nearly as popular as they once were.  Testing keep that river of cash flowing out of the public treasury to private pockets.

That is not to say that nothing can be done to meet what is clearly a need of the population.  First, there is no reason why we can't have flexible days, particularly at the high school level.  There is no reason why a high school can't be open from 7am to 7pm.  We can have teachers choose shifts, and students and parent work out when is the best time for them to take classes.  This would solve a how slew of problems, but require administration to trust teachers to do the work.

We can also have year round schools in which each segment of the year is independent.   We could, for instance, have 15 or 16 week trimesters with 6 days of vacation built in, 4 statutory days for testing, and two weeks in between.  This would give  65-70 days of classes room instruction.  If we mandated 55 minutes classes every day, this would be equivalent to what we have now. It would also solve the problem of have an extremely compressed spring semester due to excessive testing.

Teachers would only be required to work two trimesters, and do two addition weeks.  Student could choose to attend two or three triumesters per year, and be counted truant if they missed two consecutive period.  Perhaps if they attend three trimester they can take the electives courses that we never seem to have time for.  This would be radical reform, but if we are going to talk about reform, why not be radical

Originally posted to lowt on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 09:32 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Have to disagree with this (18+ / 0-)
    Mandatory overtime has never been popular, even with employers.
    I've found that mandatory overtime is extremely popular with emloyers if the employees are on salary and earn nothing extra for the overtime. 60-80 hour weeks were the norm, not the exception, when I was in software QA. In fact, IBM, with an expected 55 hour work week (at the time and in my group), offered the shortest work week I'd ever had in the field.

    I had an employer expecting us to be there 24/7, sleeping under our desks and showering in the company shower. I had another employer mandating 20-22 hour days and putting me up in a hotel in a dangerous neighborhood, away from my husband, starting a week after we were married. I've been mandated to be on call 24 hours a day so that the half of my test team that was in Ireland could always call me, waking me up, for any issues. Due to time differences between Ireland and the US West Coast, the calls generally came between 2 and 4 am, when I'd already worked a 10 - 12 hour day. We were told flat out at one lsrge, extremely well known company, "If you aren't working at least 60 hours a week, you aren't working hard enough."

    This was my life for 15 years. The computer industry needs unionizing. I'm not holding my breath.

    Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

    Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

    by Kitsap River on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 12:24:00 PM PST

    •  this. (7+ / 0-)

      You are so right. I finally got out of IT  (25 years in it) because I was just sick and tired of putting in those punishing hours for no extra pay, and being on call ALL THE TIME. Carried a cell phone AND a pager and my life wasn't my own. After I got called out of my Mom's birthday party, Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations, and many many nights of 2AM phone calls, I said the heck with it.

      I'm now an office manager for a small business, about one third the pay, but I'm way more relaxed and not doing tons of work without getting paid for it. Which, BTW I wrote a whole software package for that last company which made them millions. What I saw? Pretty much zip. And no gratitude either.

      BTW KR, many congrats on your recent marriage!! (At least I gather that's what happened from lurking here in comments in various diaries.)

      You haven't had an easy life, at all. You deserve every bit of happiness I know you are feeling right now.

      Old Mamasan would certainly be glad to know that Ronnie's gotten past it. I'll tell her the next time I see her. Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis

      by Rosebuddear on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 03:58:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Recent marriage? Not quite. Here's the story. (6+ / 0-)

        Charles and I got married almost 9 years ago, here in Washington state where we live, but we swore a vow prior to our wedding or even our somewhat earlier handfasting that until there was full marriage equality in our state, we would not use the terms "husband" or "wife" or "spouse" about each other and refer to each other only as "partners" (though "my beloved" and other such neutral terms were OK, too). As a result, we have waited almost 9 years (almost 9 1/2 since our handfasting) to refer to each other as husband and wife. Yesterday the givernor signed the referendum that the voters approved to keep our state's marriage equality law, and licenses started being issued at 12:01 am this morning.

        When the governor signed the referendum, Washington state had full marriage equality by law, so now, at long last, we can refer to each other as husband and wife. We have kept our vow of solidarity with the LGBTQ community for all this time because it is that important to us, and because that is my community, too.

        Because all people in our state can marry the person they love, our vow is complete.

        Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

        Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

        by Kitsap River on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 05:31:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The mandatory overtime will continue (12+ / 0-)

    until morale improves.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 12:38:52 PM PST

  •  The key US myth is that if you work hard and (8+ / 0-)

    play by the rules, you will succeed. Hence, it is necessary to apply the corollary "If lacking success, try harder" or to admit that the deck is, at least in part, stacked.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 01:41:12 PM PST

    •  But if you don't work hard you don't have a chance (0+ / 0-)

      unless you are one who was fed from a golden spoon (but is living off the fat of your family really "succeeding"?).  

      The myth  is that working hard somehow guarantees success.  It obviously doesn't.  But for almost everyone, a lack of hard work is certain to lead to failure.

  •  Additional time won't go to instruction (7+ / 0-)

    I guarantee.  More BS dog and pony shows, more "collaborative time", more "professional development" (week after week of how to suck eggs).

    FWIW, I got to school at 6:15 this morning.  I left at 4:45.  I ain't doing any more than that.  Bite me.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 04:05:43 PM PST

  •  Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    native, qofdisks, Be Skeptical, lcrp

    I cannot speak for the experience of others, but based on my own observations of my daughter's path through the first handful of school grades, I believe an argument could be made that that the education system currently overemphasizes advanced subject matter at the expense of learning fundamental skills.

    The example that chiefly comes to mind is a task that involved long subtraction. My daughter was attempting to use a technique that she had been taught that required the calculation of multiple columns simultaneously - a powerful shortcut to be sure, but one poorly suited to a student still struggling to perform long subtraction one column at a time.

    I have seen other concerning examples since - for instance, a needless focus on memorization of overly specific scientific terms over the teaching of general concepts; reading comprehension tasks of such nuance that even my wife and I were unable to gauge the correct answer; or the constant presence of an inch thick social studies textbook.

    To my mind, this is a somewhat different yet no less concerning misuse of the time efforts of students - potentially on part with (and most likely connected to) the deservedly maligned fixation on continuous testing.

  •  Indeed, if we are going to talk about reform, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lcrp

    why not be radical? These are excellent suggestions from lowt. Our educational system as it stands is dysfunctional, and needs a complete re-thinking.

    I doubt that a universal philosophy of education in the USA is either possible or desirable. What is needed in a place like Watts LA is not what's needed in the suburbs of Seattle WA or the rural areas of Missouri. We need to de-couple education from ideology, and give far greater leeway to individual teachers, as to what and how they will teach.

    And we need to pay our teachers much better than we do. The profession should be rewarded at the same level as that of doctors or lawyers. Highly, in other words. And at the higher parts of education (HS and beyond) we should require teachers to have real-world experience in the subjects they are teaching.

    The university degree in "Education" that many highly-paid teachers ( or perhaps, administrators of teachers) possess and get paid for is not nearly as valuable to students as the hands-on knowledge of experienced professionals whose wisdom goes largely untapped.

    The very idea that one could study for years to be a professional "educator" is absurd. And yet many do just that. And get paid well for it.

    Teachers at all levels should be respected by society at large and by the students in their classrooms. They should be paid at commesurate levels to the degree of their knowledge. In places like Korea and China, teachers are practically worshiped by students, which results in far better academic performance than we are able to achieve here in the USA.

    You treat teachers like shit, as expendable cogs in a pre-determined system, as under-paid wage earners rather than as essential harbingers of the future, then you're gonna get lousy teachers and lousy education for the next generation.

    "The pessimists may be right in the end but an optimist has a better time getting there" -- Samuel Clemons

    by native on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 07:01:35 PM PST

    •  Clemens (0+ / 0-)

      and did he really say that?  He was proudly pessimistic, esp as he got to his white-maned period.  He did say, "The man who is a pessimist before forty-eight knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little."  

  •  We're having the opposite problem here... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    qofdisks

    in California.  The school district my mother-in-law works for cut 10 days off of school this year (after already cutting 3 days the previous year), and if it wasn't for the passage for prop 30, the school district was threatening to cut quite a bit more.  I'm hoping that the new tax revenue generated puts a stop to that trend, not only for her livelihood, but in the best interest of the children.  She works in an inner-city school, so those students need all of the reinforcement of curriculum they can possibly get.

    I wish more schools would adopt a year-round curriculum.  In addition to the time wasted on standardize testing and preparation, a number of weeks every fall are lost as many students are unable to retain material from the previous school year, so teachers must dedicate precious time to reviewing concepts.  Not only would this prevent interruptions in learning, but prevent burn-out of both students and teachers, because of the frequent small breaks.  I'm a college student, and after a practically non-stop 16 week long semester, my brain is pretty fried.  The summer holiday is about 10 weeks long, plus an additional 2 weeks at Christmas time.  A pattern of 6 weeks on, 1 week off, with a 3 week Christmas and summer break would amount to the same number of instructional days.  

  •  the average student is just like the average adult (0+ / 0-)

    This is the key piece of information that adults need to consider, whenever they make super-human demands of someone other than themselves.

    "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

    by Reepicheep on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:03:19 AM PST

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