26 April 2011

Longer School Days?

Scholastic shares the above graphic which compares hours vs salary for teachers around the world.  The chart has many problems, but that is not the point of sharing it.  What strikes me is the fact that the United States has the highest number of hours worked.  I am unsure how hours are calculated, they are probably self-reported which can have its own set of problems.  However, as someone who has worked primarily with education as a teacher, volunteer and now managing AmeriCorps members in schools, this is troubling.

The latest craze is to increase the hours in the school day and even the school year.  The US consistently under-performs when compared to other nations across the board, yet it seems that our primary students spend significant time in the classroom.  To me, this indicates that there is a grossly high level of inefficiency within the current systems.  In my hack opinion it is systemic.

I have worked with and in extended day schools.  I think there are good reasons why they should exist, but if they only maintain the status quo and make the day longer nothing will change.  There are parallels to the development and nonprofit world here.  Projects and ideas which are failing because they are bad ideas do not improve because we add more people, effort, time and money.  It is possible, that less is more.  In education, it appears that a high quality education can be achieved by reducing the hours that a teacher works.  I would imagine that this would make the profession more attractive and reduce the level of burn out amongst city teacher and administrators.

Gendered classes, more teachers per student, and longer hours all sound attractive when looking at successful models which utilize them successfully, but the true impact might have nothing to do with those decisions.  Just because a high school in Chicago had a successful first class of graduates does not mean it should be replicated.  Rigorous evaluations should be used to determine what made the school successful and how it can be taken to scale.  We know it is not that simple, but it is far better than just replicating a success without knowing why it worked or what may have contributed to its success.  This is a lesson we could learn when discussion education and international development.