Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More is Not Better

In the last week there has been a lot of coverage of the upcoming addition of 300 hours to the school calendar in 5 states.  New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Massachusetts will be requiring students to spend more time in school in order to "boost student achievement." 

When I first heard this, I had a flashback to a dinner party at a friend's house a few years ago.  I'm not going to mention this friend by name so as not to cause embarrassment, but she is a terrible cook.  Everybody enjoyed the time with friends, but nobody enjoyed the dinner.  The instant mashed potatoes were runny enough to be a soup, the meat was drier and tougher than a leather jacket, and I learned that peanut butter and lime are flavors that do not mix well in a dessert.  My wife and I politely ate enough as to not be rude while we were there, but quickly pulled some leftover pizza out of the fridge as soon as we got home.

The problem with the dinner party was not that we needed more food.  The problem was that the food needed to be better.

That's how it is with our schools right now.  As long as we are providing education that focuses on test-prep, teacher directed lecture, irrelevant canned textbook lessons, and treating students as data that can be manipulated; more of it is not going to fix any of our problems.  In fact, it will probably make them worse. 

Just like forcing me to eat more of that brisket would have had awful consequences, forcing students who (correctly in most cases) have learned that school is irrelevant to endure more of it will not make the problem better.

As has been pointed out by many others covering this story before, American children already spend more time in school than their peers in Finland, Japan, South Korea, and other countries that we perceive as being "high-performing."  More time in school has not made us better in the past.  It won't make us better in the future.

What will make us better is to change our approach to education.  Make it student-centered.  Make it relevant.  Make it about learning and not about test-taking.  Because, if we do it right and teach our children to love to learn, they'll do it all the time.

They won't need to be in school all those extra hours in order to learn.  They'll be doing it everywhere they go and in everything they do.

And when that happens, other countries will be trying to figure out how they can design their education systems to be more like ours. 


  1. You make a great point...that if we're doing it right, learning will happen all over the place at all times of the day. What's more, if we allow learning to happen in our schools the way it would happen away from them, we could actually teach our students not only to love learning, but how to learn with the tools they have more effectively.

    1. Exactly. Assuming that kids need more time in school to learn comes from a belief that students need teachers to instruct them in order for learning to happen. That's simply not true. Kids learn all the time. They learn how to complete the next level of their video game. They learn what statistics are most effective in showing that David Wright had a better year than ARod in 2012. They learn how to make cookies. They learn thousands of things without us. Our job should be to be catalysts for that learning and to help them make connections between what they love and what they need to learn to be successful at it. If we did that, they'd learn about the things they are passionate about all the time.

  2. Great point Mike! However, I would like to see more time for teachers to collaborate. I do think that is missing in our educational system.
    Cheers! Karla

    1. Yes! When we look at countries like Japan we see that children spend less time than ours in classes, but teachers spend much more time meeting with each other to discuss what practices are successful and what didn't work. Our system could use more of that.