Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Make LEARNING the Constant

There has been a lot of discussion lately about extending the school day or school year.  The Des Moines Register seems to be pushing for more seat time a couple of times a week.  Is adding more minutes to the day or more days to the year going to have the impact on student learning that we need? I am not so sure.

It is true, that students in other countries who are performing better on standardized tests have more seat time than students in the United States.  It's true that our school calendar is based on on agrarian society that no longer exists.  It's true that seat time is how Carnegie Units are measured. Using this rationale, one could definitely argue that going to school for more hours will increase the likelihood of students learning more. I mean look at the impact of spending hours upon hours of free throw shooting over the years had on Shaquille O'Neal's free throw shooting percentage:) If spending more time working on skills is the answer, as the Register proclaims, increasing the hours of instruction students receive will definitely increase our student achievement scores, or will it?

The problem I see with the idea of only increasing the amount of time students go to school, or with only increasing the number of days students are required to attend school, is that there is little discussion on improving what is actually taking place in the classroom or during the school day. We have tons of data suggesting that Iowa schools are not doing as well as they once did on standardized tests. How can increasing the time in schools not performing up to par increase learning? It won't, but it might help schools better prepare students for a world that no longer exists and who can do really well on NAEP.  That sounds exciting to me!

We need a system designed to allow students to learn what is expected in whatever amount of time that might take. For some students it could be an 8 hour day, for some students it might be going to school 200 days during the year, and yet for other students, it might mean going fewer hours and fewer days. Yes, I said some students could or should go to school for less time. We have students in schools throughout Iowa and the U.S. who are not challenged and who would gladly jump through any hoops we place in front of them, if it meant they didn't have to continue to go to school. We need a system designed in which learning is the constant, and time is the variable. We need a system that isn't based on doing well on NAEP and PISA, but in which students are able to actually develop a love for learning. Being able to adapt and learn more and newer skills is the world our students live in and will continue to live in.

This idea is based on the notion that what students are asked to know and be able to do will remain the same as they are now, and I haven't seen any increased expectations in this regard. Making the Common Core more clear and definitive isn't going to help students develop a love of learning, nor is it going to raise the level of expectations for students in Iowa. It will however, help adults measure how well students can fill out bubble sheets.

Is this the best we can do for kids in Iowa?


  1. Excellent post Deron! I am afraid the current path is not leading us away from uniformity and a "lock step" process of moving through #x of hours, #x days, at x grade level, because I am x age. We need to accept the fact that kids learn at different rates with different interest and in different environments. We need to create a system that embraces these facts rather than fights them, all while conforming to an "old system". Our system does beat the "love of learning" out of our students as it is currently designed. Until our reform efforts take a look at the root causes rather than taking a "add on" approach, we will fail to make significant improvements in what we do. We need to craft our redesign of our educations system with a blank sheet of paper, rather than trying to write overtop and "copy/paste" other ideas onto an antiquated design. Thanks for sharing your thoughts via this post!

  2. I watched Fahreed Zakaria's education special with my 16-year-old son the other night. He has seen Khan Academy videos, and his friends use them for extra help, but the idea of making the videos an actual part of the instruction intrigued him. He came up with the idea of breaking a class of 30 into A and B days, so every other day 15 kids would come to class for more personalized attention and on opposite days would stay home, sleep until noon and watch video lectures and take notes at their leisure. Now there are lots of reasons why this would be a bad idea....but part of the conversation with my son made me realize just how miserable the school day is for him, and he is a kid who likes to learn. He reads non-fiction for fun and loves going to museums. But high school is boring.

    Now, I know that learning can't be fun all of the time, that there is hard work involved too...but simply adding more of the same to the school day/week/year is absolutely not the solution. I also teach kids who would "jump through hoops" to get less time in school! We need to do school better first, then we talk about doing it more.