Obama wants nation’s children to spend more time in school

Says longer hours in other countries has US lagging

By Libby Quaid
Associated Press / September 28, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Obama gets his way.

Obama says American children spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage compared with other students around the globe.

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,’’ the president said earlier this year. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.’’

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late, and to let children in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

“Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy, and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two C’s to the honor roll.

But she doesn’t want a longer school day. “I would walk straight out the door,’’ she said.

Domonique Toombs felt the same way when she learned she would stay for an extra three hours each day in sixth grade at Boston’s Clarence R. Edwards Middle School.

“That’s three more hours I won’t be able to chill with my friends after school,’’ she said.

Her school is part of a 3-year-old Massachusetts initiative to add 300 hours of school time in nearly two dozen schools. Even reluctant Domonique, who just started ninth grade, feels differently now. “I’ve learned a lot,’’ she said.

Early results of the expanded learning time initiative in Massachusetts indicate that children in some of those schools do better on state tests than do children at regular public schools. The extra time, which schools can add as hours or days, is for three things: core academics - students struggling in English, for example, get an extra English class; more time for teachers; and enrichment time for students.

Obama and Duncan say youths in the United States need more school because students in many other nations spend more time in class.

Researcher Tom Loveless of The Brookings Institution looked at math scores in countries that added math instruction time. Scores rose significantly.

“Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don’t forget, these math periods in the US average 45 minutes,’’ Loveless said. “Percentage-wise, that’s a pretty healthy increase.’’