Obama's call for a longer school year gets mixed reviews in Idaho
President Barack Obama, appearing on the Today Show Monday, said that money won't fix all the problems in the United States' education system and that serious reform is needed to help students keep pace with pupils from other countries. Part of the reforms Obama wants to see is a longer school year for students, despite the additional money it would cost.
The president's plea received mixed reactions from some political figures in Idaho.
Obama said the reality is that students in the U.S. attend school about a month less than students in other advanced nations. The president said the U.S. must reconsider its schooling structure to keep up. "That month makes a difference. It means students are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer ... The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense," Obama said. "Now, that's going to cost some money ... but I think that would be money well spent."
Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, said that a longer school year may be a good thing in the long run, but pointed out that additional reforms might be needed to improve education in Idaho. Chavez said that some students who don't engage in education programs on their own over the summer often fall back in terms of progress. "If they are not in a reading program to keep their juices flowing, so to speak, they lost ground," said Chavez, a retired teacher.
Would Chavez support an effort to institute year-round schooling in Idaho? Probably not. "There needs to be breathing room for teachers and students," explained Chavez, who said that once mid-June rolled around during her time in education, she noticed both teachers and students becoming worn-out and somewhat frazzled. "It's been tried by other schools and it has been abandoned.”
The Lewiston Democrat feels that a longer school year could be beneficial if teachers utilize classroom time efficiently and meet student needs. "I don't think it would hurt for our school year to go longer, but we need to look at the goal," concluded Chavez.
That sentiment is echoed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Luna told IdahoReporter.com Monday that lengthening the school year would cost extra dollars that the state doesn't have. "While it can be beneficial to lengthen the school day or year, it will cost money. During this economic crisis, we must find ways to use the time students currently spend in school more efficiently," said Luna. “If we could free up just 15 minutes within the day for additional teaching, it would equal nearly seven extra school days a year." Idaho public school funding was cut by $128 million due to slumping tax revenue forecasts.
Luna also said that technological tools allow teachers to cut down on busy work like manually analyzing student data.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, another former teacher, believes that if teachers would use an elongated school year to enrich student knowledge, then it’s something state lawmakers would be interested in doing. "There's a lot of ramifications of doing that," said Pence. "If it would increase student knowledge, we would give it a look over." But Pence believes that more seat time doesn't necessarily equate increased learning by students. "They [students] can be just sitting there, thinking about nothing," she explained.
She said that if the state were to add some time onto the length of the school year, schools should use the time to add more programs for remediation and advanced learning programs. "The more you have 'em, the more you expose them to knowledge," Pence concluded.