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A Call for a Longer School Year

schoolbus

Do American schoolkids need to spend more time at school? Yes, argues Charles E. Finn Jr., in a recent Wall Street Journal essay. Finn, a former assistant secretary of education, frets that budget cuts are forcing many U.S. school districts to cut back to four-day weeks — despite evidence that shows that the more time spent in school, the greater the payoff, particularly for poor and minority students. Chinese students spend 41 more days in school than do their American counterparts, while it’s commonplace in Korea and elsewhere in Asia to have Saturday classes. Finn cites the successful Knowledge is Power Program chain of charter schools, whose students spend 60 percent more time in school than do public-school kids, thanks to longer schooldays, shorter summer breaks and Saturday morning classes. To be sure, Finn concedes, time spent in schools may not always lead to good results if too much of that time is wasted on nonacademic pursuits.

Longer days and shorter summer holidays will find support among working parents, especially those who are less well-off, he argues. But, he acknowledges, wealthier parents, who can afford lengthy vacations, summer camps, and afterschool music and sports lessons may balk at his proposed calendar change. Nevertheless, Finn says, for their own good — and for the good of the country’s future competitiveness — American students need to learn more than most are learning now. And the best way to accomplish that is with more time spent in schools, with a greater focus on core subjects.

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