One out of two ain't so bad.
Duncan believes that American school children should be in school at least six days a week, 11 months a year if they are to be competitive with students abroad.
I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short.
You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year.
Presently, this proposal is a waste of time.
Is more seat time really needed in today's poor instructional environment? If you're in the top third of the student distribution, you're already forced to endure an instructional pace that is too slow, resulting in wasted time and opportunity and plenty o' boredom. if you're in the bottom third of the distribution, you're mostly lost because the instructional pace is too fast. More seat time isn't going to help. Just because KIPP has been successful with an expanded school day and school year, doesn't mean that other schools will find the same success.
Duncan's comparisons with foreign countries is misplaced. The U.S. is competitive with foreign countries once you control for demographics. Our white students are competitive with white students from European. Our Asian students are competitive with Asian students from Asian countries. And no country does a particularly good job educating black and Hispanic students in large numbers.
If we want to do a better job educating students, we need to get government out of the education business and limit its role (on all governmental levels) to the education funding distribution and regulation business which is more difficult to screw up.
This is not to say that our currently antiquated system is ideal. It isn't. But there are bigger fish to fry before we force most students to endure more seat time. Our colleges are the envy of the world and they make due with about 20% less class time than our current system. Maybe we should reduce class time?
Duncan also believes that students need more choice.
I'm a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to.
Me too. The problem, however, is that current voucher and charter schools are too tiny to provide sufficient choice or develop an adequate market of educational choice from which students can chose.
Currently, most schools (private, public, and charter) look remarkably similar from an instructional standpoint. If you like your Model T in black you are in luck. There are a few reason for this.
- Lack of information on the relative merits of different instructional practices. (The Internet is starting to make a dent here.)
- Popular instructional practices (i.e., the norm) serve the middle-class adequately. (In fact, most instructional practices will provide adequate instruction to this population.)
- There are other non-instructional considerations (like school environment, extracurricular offerings, peer environment, school prestige, and the like) that are relevant and serve as an independent basis for picking one school from another
- The measures for measuring the relative merits of instructional are few and far between, not widely used and/or made publicly available, and are population dependent.
To improve, we need a well-functioning and competitive education market which provided real choices to students. And, the best way to accomplish this is to give the public school funding directly to parents and let them decide (within regulatory limits) the appropriate use of the funding. (After the system has been rebooted, naturally.) That stills sounds like a public education system to me.