WHILE serving as a superintendent of schools, I heard one of my
experienced teachers state that the three best things about
teaching were June, July, and August. While I chuckled, I couldn't
help thinking, "With comments like that, it's not surprising that
parents are withdrawing their support from the public schools."
For the entire history of our public-school system, we have had
extensive summer vacations. We also have vacations during the
school year: Thanksgiving, Christmas break (whose length equals
many adults' annual vacation), other holidays, and spring break.
School is in session 175-180 days - less than half the year.
In addition, the school day is short, usually less than six
hours of class time. Studies have found that "time-on-task" is the
single most important factor in quality education. Yet schools
generally spend about three hours a day on meaningful instruction.
The school buildings themselves usually constitute the largest
single investment the community has made, larger than the city
hall, county buildings, hospitals, or parks. With a 24-hour day and
a 365-day year, schools are potentially available 8,760 hours a
year. We use them about 1,080 hours per year - 12.3 percent of the
potential time! No other business in town could survive using its
facilities at 12 percent of their potential.
Many teachers spend most of September - one-ninth of the total
school year - reviewing the previous year's work with the students.
We are wasting a great deal of time - roughly a year and a half of
a student's total public school career. If we can salvage an
additional 20 minutes per day of instruction time, over the course
of a student's 13-year public school career we can add 780 hours of
instruction - roughly 156 days, or almost one full year.
Some educators state that students can't stand school more than
180 days, five or six hours per day. They would have us believe
that students are needed at home, that children need to be outside
during the summer months playing.
In high-achieving countries, students attend school up to seven
hours per day, as many as 240 days per year, with no ill effects.
Some studies indicate that students are healthier during the months
they attend school. Most American children have little to occupy
them during summer vacation. Many sleep until noon, then watch
television until midnight. If both parents work, they are left
either with a sitter or unsupervised much of the day. Daylight
savings time gives children and their parents more than adequate
daylight hours for outdoor activities.
How about educators themselves? Many people agree that teachers
- at least the good ones - are underpaid. …