Saturday, October 3, 2009

You're Killing Your Brain Cells, Son

In what will surely be spun by the Right as a socialist plot to further brainwash America's children, President Obama is recommending to the United States schools that they add more time to the school year in order to be more competitive with other nations.

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president said, joking that the idea certainly wasn’t popular with his own daughters, before adding that “the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

Some critics have actually fired back on the merits of the debate, stating that we don't need a longer school year but rather we only need to make better use of the time we already have; more time should be spent on the tough subjects like math and science and less time should be spent on easier subjects like social studies.

While spending more time on analytical subjects may be a good idea, there is something to be said for actually spending more time in the classroom - especially for students in the Black community who may come from low-income households where proper education is an issue.

In his latest book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell presents a study by sociologist Karl Alexander of Johns Hopkins University that tracked the progress of 650 first graders from the Baltimore public school system over the course of five years. The students' results were broken down by their socioeconomic class - low, middle, and high. The study was able to produce some interesting observations:

1) during the school year, the children from the the low socioeconomic class were able to improve their reading and math test scores more than the children from the high socioeconomic class.

2) during the summer vacation, the reading scores for children from the high socioeconomic class went up (meaning they came back from summer vacation in the fall reading at a higher level than when the school year ended in the spring), the reading scores for the middle class students stayed roughly the same, while the reading scores for the low socioeconomic class students actually dropped.

Conclusion: "when it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session."

Longer school years: a good idea or a waste of spending?
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